Friday, March 14, 2014

The Scavenger.

Here's four locomotives. To me, they're linked forever in time, and not just because of their location of operation, or their era, or their owner. Bear with me.

Burlington Northern F3A 702: It was unusual enough to have seen an actual "chicken wire" F3A in service in August of 1979, where we see the former Northern Pacific 6000D storming southbound across the White River bridge in Kent, Washington with train #139. This one was one of two BN F-units still in service sporting a "bolt on" nose door headlight, presumably salvaged from a long-retired Northern Pacific FTA unit. That in itself made this locomotive a favorite of mine. Not visible in this view is the locomotive's original three window porthole configuration--on the fireman's side only, the portholes on the engineer's side having been removed sometime after the merger.

Burlington Northern C636 4368: The true monsters of locomotion on Burlington Northern, here's the 4368 leading a sister and small-by-comparison C424 off the Columbia River drawbridge and into the yard at Wishram, Washington, in July 1977. Though BN's ten former SP&S C636's were matched in horsepower by scads of SD45's and 45 F45s on BN's roster, their appearance just seemed tougher: the combination of the rounded cab, the curved fuel tanks, bitchin' Hi-Ad trucks and that snow shield above its radiator fan up front that added that much more bulk. Another all-time favorite! And of the 636's on the railroad, the one I seemed to come across the most.

Burlington Northern RS11 4194: Okay, so this is the 4193, substituting for the 4194, which I guess I don't have any photos of. But, it's doing it's thing at Linnton, Oregon, just west of Portland, in April 1979, a former Northern Pacific unit working with ex-SP&S RS3 4064 on the wonderfully-nicknamed "Linnton Tramp." The RS11 wasn't anywhere near as popular as EMD's GP9, but they were similar locomotives of the same era.  The were the only high-hood B-B Alcos of any note. They didn't get up to Seattle very often, it seemed, as they were highly-regarded on switch jobs and locals near their home base in Vancouver on former SP&S lines.

Milwaukee Road U36C 5802: The U36C wasn't an overly-popular locomotive among American railroads; General Electric's attempt at matching EMD's wildly popular SD45 fell flat (but at least it was more popular than Alco's last-gasp C636), but Milwaukee Road picked up four of them (and 6 SD45's). Two of them achieved a bit of infamy for being banished to the west end of the railroad along with a bunch of GP40s in 1979 when the transcontinental fleet of SD40-2's were moved onto the eastern core of the railroad. They were the biggest and newest locomotives operating the lines west of the Dakotas. Here's 5802 at Cedar Falls in February 1980, tied down in the yard as the Tacoma Rotary plow appears after a stint on Snoqualmie Pass. A month later, 5802 would lead the final train east out of Tacoma on the evening of March 15, ending nearly 70 years of operations of the Western Extension.

These locomotives are long gone, cut up years ago for scrap. Seemingly nothing of them survived. But follow me into my attic, above the garage.

Back behind an old sleeping bag, boxes of my wife's family photos. Push away a big heavy box of old newspaper and magazine clippings. There. These number boards of plastic and fiberglass and steel are where these locomotives are united through time, where these magic numbers 702, 4368, 4194 and 5802--digits from my youth--survive three decades after their locomotives they identified ceased to exist.

I acquired one in trade; the others were, um, "liberated" in late-night raids from storage yards or scrap yards. If I hadn't gotten em, it's unlikely someone else would've. It's not like I had immediate plans for these souvenirs: I've schlepped them from Seattle to Idaho, from Colorado  to Utah, back to Seattle and now down to Texas. I've always planned to mount them on a wall, perhaps illuminate them from behind for a theatrical effect. But after thirty years, I've still not gotten that far. But at least I've still got these small scraps of their existence with me.

I'm sure my wife wonders why I've held onto these for all these years. I think most railfans acquire stuff like this for the same reason, keeping stuff that really isn't worth anything except in its value of sentiment. I don't have much of a collection. The biggest thing I have is a semaphore blade, and it, too, has been hauled from town to town with me. 

The reason we save this stuff is simple. It isn't because of its value. It's because, besides photographs, that's about all that proof that remains that they existed at all.


Nick Fotis said...

Aahhh, more C636! We have their export editions (MX636 with Dofasco trucks) in Greece, still soldiering since 1974 (after a heavy rebuilding bringing these to Dash-7 specifications).
Seven of the ten are still working (the rest were lost to collisions).

I remember seeing the 6341 on the cover of "Northwest Passage" by Rob Leachman (I own this book, as most others from the series) in Cooks siding, and being impressed with their brutal styling.
I am looking forward to acquire 1-2 from Bowser when these get delivered...

Photography is (sort of) an exercise in keeping a memory. If you do not have a photo, did it really happen?
Never scavenged items from scrapped locomotives, but I understand why some people do that.

What I do not agree is people removing number plates etc. from locomotives supposedly kept for museum operation (or even active ones). But that's another story...


Nick Fotis said...

Forgot to note that there are also twenty MX627 in Greece still operating (the smaller brethren of MX636, with 12V engines instead of the 16V 251F).
It is astonishing, but all survive since 1974!


Unknown said...

Made a note to myself the other day while my friend Donna and I were making photographs in the Snoqualmie area:

FR MAY 15, 2014
Saw the Milw today. Took some pictures of the right-of-way, but they weren't running any trains today, we we went back to the motel.

Glad you cleaned up on the Milwaukee. The stuff I have that's worth looking at would take up about 60 seconds of your time.

Wayne Depperman

Anthony Gentile said...

Came across this on a search for pics of a BN RS3 for a model I'm thinking of doing.
Excellent stuff,although a bit sad to see.Blair's name affixed to photos of the Northwest is synonymous with a region of the US like Nate Clark with Florida and Greg McDonnell with Canada.
These pics reminded me of a 1981 Trains mag issue titled "An Alco adieu",still one of the best.Lo and behold the following comment was from Wayne Depperman,who I believe wrote a great piece in that issue about the ghosts of Wishram.
You guys are a link to that time,and it's good to see you're still around.
Getting lonely here in Alco town.

Anthony Gentile