Home Open Account Help 238 users online

Railroaders' Nostalgia > Christmas Day trip 1996!


Date: 12/25/19 20:03
Christmas Day trip 1996!
Author: santafe199

After I took MRL promotion to engineer in the spring of 1990 I decided I would make myself available during major family-oriented holidays, especially Easter & Christmas. But as a single adult male of the species (with no known offspring… ;^) I sorta figured New Year’s Eve was all mine! I quietly let crew office personnel in on my theory and it seemed to be a mutually beneficial idea. That’s not to say I ended up working every single Christmas. Nor did I get the opportunity every New Year’s Eve to “go out among ‘em”, as my late railfan friend Dick Humphreys used to say when chasing the fairer sex.

This benevolence of mine actually came into play a few times in my 23 years with MRL, even after I had enough seniority to hold my own regular turn as an assistant engineer. By 1996 I had the luxury of being able to exercise my choice between a select few daylight switch jobs in Laurel Yard or a regular turn on the road to Helena. Yard jobs provided more off-time at home, but road jobs always paid better. It was (still is) the classic tradeoff for a wage earning, railroading head-of-the-family. During the last quarter of ’96 I was holding a regular turn as assistant with senior engineer Jeff McCandless. We had gone on duty on a 123 manifest train at 0620 in Laurel on the 24th. After tying the train up at 1700 in Helena, MRL stuck Jeff & me into a waiting crew van, licked a stamp and “mailed us” right back home to Laurel. It was a nice holiday gesture, one that MRL would make for the crews when they could. We tied up back in Laurel at 2230 and I told the crew office they could call me the next morning if they were in a pinch. Normally, considering the timing I would have stopped by my local dart-league bar and tipped back on a couple of cold ones. But on an educated hunch I went home and hit the rack. It was a wise choice…

Just after 6 AM Christmas morning my phone rang. I picked it up and learned I was being “jumped-up” off my regular turn to work as an engineer on a 121 train, on duty at 0805. It was a nice little train, even if it wasn’t an intermodal. We had 57 cars at just under 2600 tons. And we had 4 big 6-axle units. There was more: being so short of men my assistant engineer would be a brand-new switchman who had practically just hired on. That meant he wouldn’t be qualified to run. I should have no problem, but still I quietly thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t stopped by the ol’ watering hole the night before.

It had been snowing during the night, but MRL hadn’t run any trains west for well over 8 hours. My newbie partner & I got our track warrants & paperwork in order and went to work. We got our power out of the house, on the train & got air-tested without any undue delay. It was overcast daylight by the time we were ready to roll. There was lots of snow around the yard, but the key switches were clear and we didn’t have to stop for any sweeping or digging. And then a light bulb went on! Before we even got out of yard limits it dawned on me this might be an interesting trip.

By 1996 my infamous railfan hibernation was gaining lots of (non) momentum and I was leaving my Kodachrome equipped Canon A-1 at home more often than not. By the time our nifty little 121 reached Rapids (1st siding W of Laurel) I knew I was going be sorry I didn’t bring it along. The fresh, virgin snow was drifted un-disturbed over the main line in numerous places. It looked like there hadn’t been a train over this track in days! We were indeed the first train to break through last night’s snowfall. In fact, on arrival at Helena I can estimate that over 40% of the rail mileage Laurel to Helena was hidden under snow. And we never met a single train. We had busted through drift after drift after drift, but nobody was there to see or shoot any of it! What a pity.

With our train’s tonnage vs HP make up we easily pulled Bozeman Pass with no helpers. And the usual weather miracle occurred. Where we had overcast skies up the east side of the Pass, it was beautiful sunshine down the west side. And the virgin snow was piled as high as ever. At Bozeman we gracefully came parallel to Interstate-90. Even at only 45 MPH we “BOOFED” our way through countless snow drifts. If any railfans would have been on I-90 pacing us with a video camera they might have shot the best video of their lives! We blasted tons of granular snow so high, it powdered back down on our train many cars back. Looking into the nuclear furnace of the afternoon sun, from inside the cab each snow drift explosion looked like a million-zillion tiny little diamonds shooting into the ether. It was completely stunning, a scene I’ll never forget. I was absolutely SICK that I hadn’t packed my trusty Canon for the trip…

1. Though obviously not the same train, much less the actual SD40-2 I rode in, this sample of my very early digital photography is a good representation of it. This train is westbound in wind-blown, near-blizzard conditions. Had we met any train during our remarkable ride, this could very well have been the view afforded our opposing train crew. Photo taken November 13, 2009 at Belgrade, MT. Engine # is unknown…

Enjoy the rest of your holiday, and thanks for listening!
Lance Garrels
santafe199



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 12/28/19 18:11 by santafe199.




Date: 12/27/19 04:39
Re: Christmas Day trip 1996!
Author: atsfer

Cool photo!!   I used to run old cf7's on the McPherson sub right after a big snow and the first thing you learned was that just before you hit a big snow drift you held down on the whistle or it would get plugged up with snow.  But, we still had to stop once in a while to shovel off the hood so we could see at all.   



Date: 12/27/19 08:34
Re: Christmas Day trip 1996!
Author: tomstp

Great story.  Really enjoyed that.



Date: 12/27/19 18:41
Re: Christmas Day trip 1996!
Author: Ritzville

Thanks for a really interesting narrative!

Larry



Date: 12/28/19 15:22
Re: Christmas Day trip 1996!
Author: OliveHeights

I really enjoyed that story Lance



Date: 12/31/19 05:44
Re: Christmas Day trip 1996!
Author: co614

Nice story, thanks for sharing. Reminds me of a trip we had during the ACE 3000 test runs in Jan. 1985 in West Virginia pulled by C&O 614. On one of the eastbound days pulling a 4,500 ton coal train we never passed another train and soon learned that due to the extreme cold that day ( wind chill was minus 35 that morning) the CSX diesels fuel systems were freezing up between the diesel belly tanks and the prime mover. That one day we were the only train that made it over the division from Huntington to Hinton. and that got a good bit of local/area press.

  It was so cold that a heavy layer of frost/ice formed on al the exposed inside surfaces ( windows, cab walls, ceiling) and stayed there all day !!!! That's always been my benchmark for " really cold" ever since.

   Happy New Year. Ross Rowland 



Date: 12/31/19 08:39
Re: Christmas Day trip 1996!
Author: Trainhand

I worked very few Christmas Days. When I was single, some years I would volunteer to work. There was a crew clerk, who had bad habits, would just take your block home with him on whatever day you wanted,for the small sume of $50.00 and a qt.or handle of Wild Turkey. That way you never marked off or marked up, and your attendance was good. When they moved the clerks to Jacksonville, that racket got broken up.



Date: 01/01/20 06:25
Re: Christmas Day trip 1996!
Author: KimHeusel

Great story Lance. Thanks for sharing it. I think we all - railroaders and non-railroaders - have left home without our cameras and later wished we had them.

Kim Heusel



Date: 01/03/20 17:15
Re: Christmas Day trip 1996!
Author: engineerinvirginia

co614 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Nice story, thanks for sharing. Reminds me of a
> trip we had during the ACE 3000 test runs in Jan.
> 1985 in West Virginia pulled by C&O 614. On one of
> the eastbound days pulling a 4,500 ton coal train
> we never passed another train and soon learned
> that due to the extreme cold that day ( wind chill
> was minus 35 that morning) the CSX diesels fuel
> systems were freezing up between the diesel belly
> tanks and the prime mover. That one day we were
> the only train that made it over the division from
> Huntington to Hinton. and that got a good bit of
> local/area press.
>
>   It was so cold that a heavy layer of frost/ice
> formed on al the exposed inside surfaces (
> windows, cab walls, ceiling) and stayed there all
> day !!!! That's always been my benchmark for "
> really cold" ever since.
>
>    Happy New Year. Ross Rowland 

I remember how cold it was that year.....I took the battery to my truck in the house and I slept on the floor in the living room next to the Warm Morning gas heater! In Clifton Forge where I lived at the time, it was 20 below at night and a balmy 5 below during the day for a solid week! Only one pipe froze and a saddle fixed it up surprisingly. 



[ Share Thread on Facebook ] [ Search ] [ Start a New Thread ] [ Back to Thread List ] [ <Newer ] [ Older> ] 
Page created in 0.0869 seconds