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Railroaders' Nostalgia > "Chance Encounter with Rocky the Goat"

Date: 04/08/17 09:19
"Chance Encounter with Rocky the Goat"
Author: KeyRouteKen

Hi Everybody--  (A special set of greetings to all the actual "railroaders" on this forum-- You were a dedicated breed and thank you for your years of service)  ...    Everybody probably wonders why the infamous "KRK" never worked on the railroad...   I admit I was tempted to get into Train Service or MOW (Signal Dept) because of my expertise in Electronics.  However, when I became old enough to get a job, so much had changed like the old days in SP's West Oakland Yard--no more STEAM--  many buildings torn down.  So I went to the telephone company instead and retired after almost FIFTY years with "Ma Bell" ...   Enough about ME !!  Let's get to my story I think you'll like !!
 I thought I would share the following story of a railroad trip I was fortunate
to participate in back in 1967 when I was getting ready to ship out to the Western Pacific portion of the Pacific Ocean with the United States Navy.. This was during the Vietnam War era and I saw several different foreign countries during my tour.  I became a highly decorated Navy Veteran and accumulated some NINE medals.  But I did enjoy serving my Country onboard a Naval Destroyer and sailing around the Western Pacific.   I also did things like rent a car in Hong Kong and drive to the Chinese border in uniform; get sent to Wonson Harbor in North Korea to attempt a rescue of USS Pueblo as a member of "Operation Formation Star", and get a complete private, escorted tour of the Japanese National Railways, with a driver!! There are so many things I could share including the famous initiation ceremony crossing the Equator and entering King Neptune's realm.. Maybe someday!

But, several days before flying out of Travis Air Force Base and leaving my homeland, I had a chance of a lifetime to meet up with a four-legged creature named "Rocky the Goat" in the Cascade mountain range of Washington State. So sit back, relax and enjoy the following true-life adventure ............. "A Chance Encounter with Rocky the Goat" .....

""A Cab-Ride Story Extraordinaire’ …""

The following adventure happened to me some 50 years ago and to the day I die, I will never forget it !

It was January-1967 and Winter had already deposited some heavy snows in the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest. I was still living at home in my native Oakland, California and within the next two and a half months, I would ship out via Travis AFB for the Vietnam war zone and related areas. I was a mere twenty years old at the time.
In mid-January, I received a phone call from my cousin “Bill” in Seattle inviting me, if I had the time, to take a ride with him from Seattle to Wenatchee, WA via TRAIN. “Bill” was a conductor on the Great Northern Railroad-- route of the famous Empire Builder passenger train. He was qualified in both freight and passenger train service.
I accepted his invitation and made arrangements to travel by train from Oakland—16th Street Station to Seattle, WA. While in Seattle, I would be Bill’s guest for the next three or four days in his Seattle home.
After getting all settled in, the next evening would be what would turn out to be the cab-ride of the century. We left Bill’s house that evening around 7 pm and headed directly to GN’s big Interbay Yard. Bill had me sit in his car while in went into the yard office to register and pickup his marching orders.
• When he returned to his car, he told me to go ahead and get out, grab my bag, and follow him into the darkness. There was a freight train on one of the departure tracks consisting of about sixty-five cars of various kinds and powered on the head end by an A-B-B-A set of EMD F7 diesel units. It was then that I found out our destination would be Wenatchee after an all night climb across the Cascades.
Bill asked me if I wanted to ride up front with the engine crew or ride with him and the rear brakeman in the caboose. I told him that even though I had nothing “personal” against him, I would prefer to ride with the engine crew. (grin)   He fully understood and so he escorted me over to those big F7 locomotives, with “Rocky the Goat” hanging on the nose of the lead Unit and told me to climb the ladder and go inside.
This I readily did and came face to face with the engineer and fireman with very surprised looks on their faces who promptly wanted to know WHO the heck I was. Fortunately, Bill had climbed in right behind me and after a few brief introductions and the knowledge I was Bill’s cousin, all was well and we were one big happy family!
Bill went back to his office in the caboose and before I knew it, the highball was given and we left Interbay bound for Everett, WA.
It was around 8:30 pm when we got to Everett and we stopped there momentarily to switch in a “few” more cars. We then headed East toward Skykomish with our F7’s pulling a total of 121 cars. At “Sky”, they cut in another foursome of F7’s about 60+ cars back, to act as Helpers over Stevens Pass as well as negotiating the mighty Cascade Tunnel, eight miles in length.
When all was ready to proceed, the engine crew called the Dispatcher on the radio for clearance. Now remember this, here we sat with 121 cars and eight F7 locomotives, heading East toward the town of Cashmere via the Mother of all rail tunnels, and the dispatcher wants to know if we could get over to Cashmere “BEFORE” the Westbound “Empire Builder” comes trotting through. Our response: “SURE WE CAN” !!
Yeah, right!! We had a LOT of weight to move from a standing start but we thought we would take a chance and give it our best shot ! And besides, they had an additional “crewman” to help out just in case. Someone who previously was somewhat experienced at operating streetcars and interurbans at the Rio Vista Junction future-museum site.
Well, c’mon now-- at least the track gauge was the same !!
Back to my cab ride adventure… The dispatcher gave us the OK to proceed Eastward from Skykomish towards the ‘Great Tunnel’. During the waiting period at “Sky”, the engine crew and the head end brakeman decided it was time to play a couple of games of ‘cards’. They all gathered primarily on the left side of the Cab. The engineer told me to “sit in his seat” on the right side of the cab. I had all these impressive looking controls in front of me. But I didn’t dare touch a thing.
Anyway, the engineer came over and started the train and we started up the grade to “Scenic” and the West Portal of the Cascade Tunnel.
When you approach that historic opening, especially late at night in the snow, the view appears like a small “rat hole” and you think you are not going to fit. But of course we did. Inside the tunnel itself, you can see the round circles on the ceiling, every so often, where brackets used to hold the 11,500 volt catenary of the electric days, abandoned some eleven years earlier.
During the tunnel transition, the engineer left his seat to resume the “card game”. He had inserted a wooden peg to satisfy the deadman’s control. That 20-year old kid from Oakland, who would someday be christened “KRK” by John Stashik of El Cerrito, CA was now “in-charge”of this eight mile trek over to Cashmere. During our travels, the dispatcher asked if we could make a certain amount of time. So the engineer yelled over to me to “open the throttle more”. He said it was just like operating one of those old Interurban cars--- sure it was !!
So I followed his directions from across the other side of the Cab and opened the throttle a LOT more.. Those damn locomotives about jumped out of their shoes. Sure beat running a Lionel train set, didn’t it ?
Beyond the limits of Cashmere, the card games were over and we all returned to our original seats with “KRK” sitting on a seat in the middle between the engineer and fireman. The miles kept adding up and we finally reached the outskirts of Wenatchee and GN’s big “Appleyard” complex.
It had been a long trip and I was tired and wanted to get some sleep.
I asked my cousin Bill where we were going to sleep. He told me that the GN has a special rate for train crews at the “Wenatchee Hotel” . Infact, he told me that when I got to the Front Desk of the hotel to sign the register, to follow these exact directions:

1. Sign your name.
2. Put City of Seattle.
3. And then, Great Northern Railway.
I did exactly that !! The desk clerk said, “That will be THREE dollars”.
Yes, I said THREE dollars. And I received an absolutely clean, beautiful room, all for ME ! After getting a few hours of sleep, we all got up, got dressed, and headed to the dining room for a great Dinner.
After dinner, we gathered up our personal belongings and headed back to the depths of Appleyard. Another freight had arrived, bound for Seattle and was shorter in length. Only about 65 cars and a couple of Jeeps for power. The fireman sat in the rumble seat, and I played “fireman” for the whole trip back, sitting in his seat on the left side of the Cab. We finally arrived the next morning back at Interbay in Seattle.
The trip of a lifetime had come to an end. Rocky the Goat and KRK had become close friends. It was a friendship that would last for many years!

Footnote** ---
On July 31, 1994 my stepfather had passed away in Lebanon, Oregon after a long illness. He was in his eighties! Three civic groups merged their talents and put on a huge reception in his honor to help save my Mother from doing any work during her grieving. We went to a large hall for the reception, after the funeral service up the street. The crowd was huge that was waiting to get in. My folks were well known in town because of the number of social activities they had been involved in. This was the Community’s “thank you” to my Mother when they took care of the reception for my step-dad.
While I was waiting in the lobby of the hall to go in and eat, I voice rang out in the crowd and said, “Hey Kenny- remember Me” ? It’s Bill !!

Here was an old guy with white hair who I had not seen since my days in Stevens Pass on the GN. It was my cousin Bill!! He had come to the funeral because my step-dad was Bill’s uncle. I walked right up to him and at first, never said a word. Instead, I threw my arms around him like a big bear hug, looked right into his eyes up close, and the very FIRST words I actually said were: “I will never forget that trip” !! I almost wanted to cry.
It was only then that we started exchanging pleasantries. We had great stories to share while eating at the reception. By the way, Bill’s uncle “Hans” was a GN conductor out of Great Falls, MT. More railroad relatives! Can’t get enough of ‘em!

UPDATE (2013)… This story was absolutely true and was a rail experience I will never forget. I met a lot of wonderful GN employees who all had a mountain goat as the common denominator. I always cherish the experience!
Forty-six years later after this adventure took place, if we tried to repeat it today, what with Homeland Security, the FBI and various other agencies, we would probably be locked away in another type of “hotel”!
Thanks for reading more of KRK’s many memories !!



Date: 04/08/17 13:00
Re: "Chance Encounter with Rocky the Goat"
Author: wa4umr

Great story, and well told.  When I first looked at it I noticed it was quite long so I grabbed something to drink before I started.  It was written so well that I took the first drink and didn't touch it again until I was finished.  All through the story I too was thinking, if you tried that today you'd be in big trouble and the crew members would probably be fired.  Heck, you  can't even take pictures from a public space without problems in some locations.  

I too worked at the fone phactory, 31 years when they moved my job out of town.  Three years in the AT&T 4A long distance switch and the rest of the time doing special services, first for AT&T and then BellSouth after divestiture.  

Thank you for your service in the Navy.  I did my time in the Army, two years on Okinawa.


Date: 04/08/17 17:00
Re: "Chance Encounter with Rocky the Goat"
Author: Margaret_SP_fan

Ken ---
That is absolutely wonderful story!  You told it very, very well,
and I felt I was right there with you in the cab of the Great 
Borthern F &.  You were one very lucky guy ot have gotten
those incredible rides of a lifetime.  Yes, railroaders are a 
very special breed.  Those were the dayts.......wish we cold 
bring the good parts back again.

You are a superb story-teller, and you could easily write a book.  
More stories, please, when ya have the time.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/11/17 20:41 by Margaret_SP_fan.

Date: 04/08/17 23:43
Re: "Chance Encounter with Rocky the Goat"
Author: up833

That is a great story. My railfan experience was honed on the east side of Stevens Pass, watching manned helpers.  About the USS Pueblo tho..what would Trump say?  Its still in North Korea..! Fail..
Roger Beckett

Date: 04/11/17 12:28
Re: "Chance Encounter with Rocky the Goat"
Author: ShastaDaylight

Wonderful story Ken! So glad you got to ride those F-units across Stevens Pass, and thanks for sharing your adventures with the rest of us! The GN was my favorite of the northwest roads (although I liked them all...) and the trip over the Cascades has always been memorable. Thanks again for sharing this great account of your great trip on the Great Northern!

Best wishes,


Date: 04/11/17 13:10
Re: "Chance Encounter with Rocky the Goat"
Author: TAW

Great story and well told.

BN was still al ot like that when I started in 1977. Maybe if today's railroads were not so anti-interest, they would have less of a turnover problem.


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