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Railroaders' Nostalgia > The day I tried to drown an SD45!

Date: 09/17/20 18:25
The day I tried to drown an SD45!
Author: santafe199

On May 18, 1979 I tried my best to drown an EMD SD45 locomotive!!! I was not quite a year into the Santa Fe (1st) leg of my 32-year career in train/yard service so I was still pretty much a ‘greenhorn’. But in order to accomplish this potentially noteworthy feat I needed help. And help was there in the form of my semi free-spirited, 30-something year old engineer. Although I wasn’t yet in the habit of recording the names of the engineers I worked with in my time book, I have a very good idea who he was. However, in deference to the fact he later on entered into AT&SF management to become an RFE elsewhere on the system, I will withhold his name to protect the guilty.

Let’s set the scene: Santa Fe’s Middle Division, seniority district #1 was quite unique. Out of Emporia, KS we had 3 separate, away-from-home, main line crew-change terminals. Sand Creek (Newton) was for Colorado-bound traffic to & from. Arkansas City was for Oklahoma & Texas-bound traffic to & from. And Wellington was for California, Arizona, New Mexico & some west Texas-bound traffic to & from. Local agreements involving crew rotation & mark-up order we had in place at the time were pretty simple. The practice of first in/first out within a given pool was the rule of thumb. But a procedure was needed to make sure “inbound” crews would be marked up in their proper order. All inbound crews would “show arrival” at Merrick on the west side of Emporia. It didn’t matter if you were crawling into the eastbound yard at 10 MPH, or galloping at track speed down the eastbound main for a depot crew-change. The arrival time at Merrick determined which of the crews, including any extra board men, would “mark up” first back into their respective pool rotations. Sometimes marking up right ahead of another crew or extra board man could mean going back to work many hours earlier than the next crew/man. So no matter who was inbound the prevailing attitude for all crew members was to haul ass to the arrival time at Merrick just to mark up ahead of some other close train.

So now, with 3 away from home terminals to kick out eastward trains there were quite often times where a couple of inbound trains would end up “racing” each other to the arrival point at Merrick. And the dispatcher’s flexibility allowed him to line eastbound trains off the 4th District straight into Merrick over the single track TCS (CTC) south main. Concurrently the DS could line an inbound train coming off the 1st District (passenger) main through the crossover at Ellinor, and right on into Merrick over the eastward half of the DT, ABS main tracks that faithfully paralleled each other from Ellinor to Merrick. But there were often complications. For example: a crew on an eastbound dog out of Ark City might get clipped en route by a crew on a hotshot out of Wellington, and have to “show arrival” at Merrick way behind that hotshot. But since they were out of different originating terminals there was no adjustment. But if a crew on the same Wellington hotshot ran around another crew (or more) out of Wellington, then the hotshot crew “carried the other crew(s)” with them on into Emporia in order to observe the first in/first out rule of thumb mentioned earlier. OR… a single inbound train might be carrying 2 or 3 deadhead crews. That meant if you “lost the race” to Merrick with that train you now marked up behind all 3 or 4 crews, instead of just the working crew. An interesting twist is the fact that the Middle Division’s 4th & 1st Districts were easily within radio range of each other. Today they still are of course, as BNSF Subs. So a train on one District might hear radio transmissions from a train on the other District and know they might be able to fudge their speed a bit to win the race to Merrick. You should get the picture…

But now that you’re thoroughly confused, let’s proceed to the merry month of May in 1979. My crew & I had ridden train 188 Q-1 down to Wellington on the 17th, getting tied up after midnight at 1:05 AM. Getting exactly 11 hours off, my crew was called back on duty at 12:05 PM for train 811 P-1. This train was usually made up with a block of orange SFe reefers followed by a ‘main bulk’ of trailer vans. It was always a 70 MPH train, but it often came up a few horses short of maintaining absolute track speed over the entire Division. I once got a huge guffaw out of Mr J Dave Ingles concerning the 811. I was laying over in Milwaukee on a trip to the east coast, giving an impromptu SFe slide show for him & Mike Schafer. I showed a slide of an 811 just leaving Wellington. When I voiced my description of the train consist he chortled and mimicked me: “…a LESSER 70 MPH train! Gawd, I LOVE IT!!!”.

Riding this 811 out of Wellington turned into an adventure, almost into a disaster. We had units 5674 & 8769 with 5613, the fateful SD45 on the rear. Over the radio going through Augusta we could hear a 473 train over on the 1st District talking to an unknown entity. But they were just leaving Newton so we knew we could easily beat them to Merrick. My engineer even commented on the fact. No sweat. But then… we were contacted by radio and told westbound train so & so was having engine problems. The Power Bureau wanted us to set out our rear unit, the 5613 in the setout track off the siding at Aikman so that westbound could easily pick it up. Now we were in danger of losing the race to Merrick with that 473 train up yonder on the 1st District. My engineer leaned over his console and said: “Whadduya think, kid?” I knew he was asking if I was up for trying to set a speed record for setting out a big road unit. I also knew the switch stand AND derail were on the wrong side of the track to be in his line of sight from 3 big unit lengths away. I thought about it for a few seconds and came up with a plan. “Tell ya what: I’ll cut you off and take you up over the switch. I’ll get it lined, come back across and give you a back ‘em up signal. Then I’ll cross back over the track and sprint for the derail and you just bring ‘em back easy.”

Let’s pause here, for a weather report. It must have been raining hard recently. During this rushed process I had noticed a rather large puddle of murky water in the ditch just off the setout track. Back to “the plan”. The plan was good. It was working great. I got the switch lined, gave my engineer the signal and with switch key still in hand was now running for the derail. This would be the derail with the rusty lock on it. REALLY rusty lock. In a mild panic I tried 2 or 3 times to get the lock open. NO DICE! So I burst into my engineer’s line of sight giving a (stop, stop, oh puh-leeeeze stop) washout signal from hell!

All of a sudden my breakfast from back at Wellington started doing flip-flops. I’d say it was in my stomach, but by this time it was just a bit further south. And it’s amazing how a sentence or 2 can flash through your mind 27 times in 2 seconds! “You’re about to put a Santa Fe SD45 over on its side in the swamp! And for good measure you’re about to knock over a cantilever searchlight signal!” These thoughts have been burned into my memory cells for 41+ years now. I was mildly aware of the “phssst” sound of the emergency brake dumping. THEN… in some incredibly detailed slow-motion I saw the lead truck wheels of the 5613 lock up and start sliding on the weed-overgrown setout track. I saw the moment of contact with the derail. I heard a hard metallic ‘clank’ as the non-rolling lead axle took pity on me by grabbing the derail and ripping it right out of the ties it was on. I was aware that it landed a few feet away upside down. My body control went AWOL and I started to tremor just a bit. If I had been a smoker, I would have had 3 cigs lit up, going for a 4th. Then I became aware that the 5613 was stopped, and was still standing upright. Still standing upright. Still stan… Then I heard my engineer’s 40 yd dash clomping boot-stomps approaching, accompanied with: “Oh, don’t tell me what you’re going to tell me. PLEASE don’t tell me what you’re going to tell me!!!” With every nerve end in my almost 24 year old body going through some sort of weird electro-shock therapy I just said “…nope, we’re still on the rail!” Now we both turned our attention to the upside down derail. I shoulda had a camera! All 4 spikes now came out of the bottom of the derail and made identical 40 degree (give or take) turns toward the nether region…

By this time time my engineer had regained most of his composure. He told me to go to work at getting those bent spikes out. He would go recover the brakes so we could shove the 5613 back far enough to clear the hideously vacated derail spot on the ties. He came back to make the MU cuts and gave me HIS plan. “You keep working on those spikes while I move the other 2 units ahead, then I’ll come back and give you a hand.” I managed to get the last bent spike out as he returned with 2 used spikes and another pathetically rusty spike that looked like it had been driven back in 1898. “Here ya go kid, put the derail back on and here’s a big rock you can pound on the spikes with.” Now completely at ease he stood over me with arms folded, watching. He might have been at ease, but my nerves were still a bundle of psychedelically sparking wires. I got the 3 spikes pounded in and stood up. My engineer said: “Now kid, take the derail back out and turn it around so it will flop over ON the rail…”

True story…

1. AT&SF 5590 is westbound in the siding at Aikman, KS. That’s the very same set-out track where 8 years later I would try to drown 3600 horses worth of EMD motive power. And knock over the mid-siding intermediate cantilever signal. Barely visible are the derail sign & the switch stand where I committed my shameful rule-breaking sins. I find it somehow fitting that the lead SD45 in Jim’s photo is symbolic of the rear-unit SD45 on my 811 train 8 years later...
(James W. Watson image info: taken circa summer 1971)

BTW: We still beat that 473 to Merrick… :^)

Thanks for listening to my confession!
Lance Garrels

count-down to norman ah bates

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 09/17/20 18:38 by santafe199.

Date: 09/17/20 19:00
Re: The day I tried to drown an SD45!
Author: SD45X

That'll DOOOO!!!   ROFLMA!!

Ow ow ow my sides hurt now....

Date: 09/17/20 20:12
Re: The day I tried to drown an SD45!
Author: ATSFSuperChief

You had a very sharp engineer with you that day. What a great way to narrate that story. Makes the first drinks go down very easy while smiling.

Don Allender

Date: 09/18/20 08:10
Re: The day I tried to drown an SD45!
Author: twjurgens

Great story!  The best laid plans......?

Date: 09/18/20 10:05
Re: The day I tried to drown an SD45!
Author: chiefbuilder

You really lucked out that day, Lance!

Date: 09/18/20 13:56
Re: The day I tried to drown an SD45!
Author: retcsxcfm

Now you know that those derails work.LOL
You guys got by with one that time.

Uncle Joe

Date: 09/18/20 20:56
Re: The day I tried to drown an SD45!
Author: AndyBrown

Excellent story!  Top notch; thanks for telling it.


Date: 09/20/20 22:14
Re: The day I tried to drown an SD45!
Author: BoostedFridge

Fantastic tale.  I'm glad you added the postscript about the result of the 'race' against 473 too

Date: 09/22/20 12:22
Re: The day I tried to drown an SD45!
Author: Coalca

That's quite a tale. Your life easily could've gone a completely different direction had that derail held firm. 

Date: 09/24/20 14:51
Re: The day I tried to drown an SD45!
Author: LocoPilot750

I remember backing into the elevator track at Douglass one time, but nobody thought to take the derail off. We backed one entire truck over it backwards. Everything was on the rail, but we couldn't flop it because it wouldn't clear the fuel tank. We backed up a little to clear the tank, but then it wouldn't clear the sanders. Had to roll the other truck over it to, and got enough room between the units to remove it finally. No damage we could see except it skinned up the orange paint. We sweated it for 90 days, but got away with it.

Posted from Android

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/24/20 17:11 by LocoPilot750.

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