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Railroaders' Nostalgia > And a "Bad Trip" was had by all--Pt 1

Date: 11/18/21 22:49
And a "Bad Trip" was had by all--Pt 1
Author: cewherry

A few days ago in comments about Burlington Northerns' line that ran through the town of Buckley, WA.,
I remarked that one of my worst trips as an engineer had been over a portion of that route to which,
member flash34 encouraged me to elaborate on that experience.

When I say "Bad Trip" it's not in the sense arising from 1960's drug culture, rather my usage is in the traditional
sense of when things go awry and the knowledge, from experience, that there's a better way.

I was assigned to the engineer's extra board at BN's Balmer Yard in Seattle that July morning in 1981 when I
was called for an "Enumclaw Turn" that would originate in Auburn, about 22 miles south of Seattle, where BN's
former Northern Pacific main track over Stampede Pass connected with the main line running from Seattle 
toward Tacoma and beyond. At the time, BN maintained a yard as well as extra boards for engineers, conductors,
trainmen and switchmen at Auburn but, as often happened, on this day the engineers board was exhausted,
(no rested bodies available) so the call was made to Balmer to send an engineer to Auburn for the "Turn".
That engineer was....me.

I was a relative newcomer to the BN but not to the industry; having left Los Angeles the previous August for
the 'green pastures' of the Pacific Northwest after an almost 20 year association with Southern Pacific in various
capacities including engineer for the last 10 years. My engineer training on the BN, which was a requirement even
though I had been a 'promoted' engineer for over 10 years, included several trips over the "Auburn Hill" as it was 
known by the crews. On my first eastbound 'student' trip, as we rolled off the bridge spanning the Green River at 
Palmer Junction, just east of Kanaskat,  I asked my engineer about the wye that connected the track that led off
into the woods. "Oh, that's the line down to Enumclaw...used to go all the way to Meeker...maybe it still does.
But nobody ever goes down there anymore", was his reply. I was to find out this day, there was more to the story.

When I arrived at Auburn the morning of July 21, 1981, I drove to the roundhouse and entered the office. 
Inside, on the chalkboard, I saw the numbers of the units assigned to my "Enumclaw Turn". Surprise; instead
of the one or two engines I had expected, I found no less than five units; three covered-wagons and two geeps.
Hmm, I wondered. Why five units? My trainer engineer failed to mention any reason requiring such horsepower.

I found my units, inspected them and when ready, moved down toward the yard office where I dismounted and 
went inside to find my crew. Of course, I'm the new kid in town and I don't recognize anyone so I find the 
yardmaster and tell him that I'm ready. The man tells me there's been a colossal mistake by the caller and that
my conductor has just now been called. Oh well, things happen. 

A door opens in the office and a tall, fifty-ish fellow steps into the hallway and asks if I'm the engineer on the 'Turn'.
"Yes, Enumclaw Turn, that's me". Seizing the moment, I ask: "Say, what's up with all the power?". TM: "Don't
you know, you've got 140 cars to pull off the branch today." ME, snarkily: "All in one gulp, I suppose".
TM: "Why, sure---you can handle that---can't you." Before I can continue this cat and mouse game the yardmaster,
with one of the brakemen, who I also don't know, in-tow tells us to get our power off the roundhouse lead and
couple to our train while we wait for the conductor. While waiting for our leader, the carmen complete our air test.
Both brakemen are in the cab and I use the time to ask about what we're going to do today. It soon becomes
apparent that neither of these two guys have ever been to Enumclaw either but to their credit they're game to give it
their best. Presently, a great swirl of dust approaches from the direction of the yard office, stopping next to the units. 
Our conductor has arrived.  

The conductor leaps out of the trainmaster's car, climbs the ladder to the cab and thrusts the flimsys at me. 
"C'mon, lets go. We've got 140 cars to get off the branch and we can get away with anything on the 'hill' for
the next six-months!!" It is apparent, our conductor has promised the TM that we'll pull off a miracle, of sorts,
no mater what the odds are against us--especially considering he has a crew that is inexperienced on this 
particular piece of railroad. One lesson I learned early on in my career is that when people begin to get excited
about some perceived 'goodies'; safety and common sense tend to fly out the window. This conductor has chosen
to barter for his personal gain and I'm not prepared to join him in any folly. It looks like it's going to be a long day.

I open the orders and carefully read. When I finish, I hand them to the brakemen. The conductor is squirming 
with eagerness to get moving. While they are reading I ask the conductor: "Just what is this Balmer engineer and 
these two brakemen going get for our participation in your scheme today?"

Aw, c'mon; let's just get going" he mutters as he descends the ladder and makes for the air-conditioned trainmasters car.

End Pt 1


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