Friday, June 12, 2020

I Stopped the North Coast Limited

I helped put myself through College working for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy in the summer of 1964 and the Chicago & Northwestern in summer of 1966. These were great jobs for a student because you received the same wage rate as the railroader on vacation.

For the Northwestern I worked mainly as a switchman in Proviso Yard in the west Chicago suburbs close to where I lived with my parents and four siblings (we lived a block from the CB&Q three-track race track 15 miles from Chicago). I even pulled pins on the hump a couple of times. I also caught from the CNW extra board a round trip on freights to and from Clinton, Iowa. And worked a few times switching in the CNW's Potato Yard closer to downtown Chicago.

I remember one 4th of July I did two tricks in Proviso Yards because no one else wanted to work. I made double time and a half of the wage rate for the jobs. In the mid-60s to a college boy that was big money. Probably adjusted for inflation it still would be for 16 hours of work. I had eight hours off between 8-hour tricks and went home to eat and catch a little sleep. I remember sitting on the front porch of a green and yellow CNW Fairbanks Morse switcher almost asleep (the burbling of the diesel was almost like a mother rocking and singing you) as the sun came up.

But this story is about the CB&Q. I worked as agent in a half a dozen stations, rural and urban. At the Lisle suburban station I sold a lot of tickets but had no idea how to balance the books. After all I was a physics major! There was no adding machine. I remember they said I lost about $30 and they docked it from my last paycheck that summer. I was also a student leverman at Union Avenue Tower, an interlocking tower which controlled the west end arm of the wye south of Chicago Union Station. Every Zephyr, every dinkey (CB&Q suburban train), every train going to the washer, and every transfer freight between the Q's Clyde (Cicero) Yard and railroad yards to the south came through the plant. Plus some trains off and on the St. Charles Air Line did too. It was a pistol-grip plant. I don't remember how many grips it had but 75 would be reasonable. I was a student for the first trick, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a week. There were trains every few minutes. To have three or four trains in the interlocking plant was not uncommon. The four track CB&Q narrowed to two tracks around the west to north leg of the wye. Dinkeys had priority over Zephyrs because it was assumed that a few minutes to a commuter were more important that a few minutes to an intercity passenger. I never got to operate Union Avenue Tower by myself. But I did Montgomery Tower just beyond Aurora on the Galesburg main. A major wreck occurred there with a detouring Rock Island passenger train coming up the branch and a Zephyr just a few days after I left working that tower because school had started (the interlocking logic failed due to conversion of the plant to CTC, i.e., human error).

But this story is about the Burlington's Oakland Tower (no longer existent) which was about three miles south and a little east of St. Paul Union Depot. The Milwaukee Road and the Burlington had parallel single tracks through the plant. The Milwaukee's was closer to the Mississippi River south of Oakland Tower and had less of a grade northbound to St. Paul so northbound trains would run on it. Southbound trains ran on the Q, which ran more on the bluff south of Oakland. This made for mostly left-hand running for the ten miles from Newport south of Oakland into St. Paul Union Station. The Q had a modest freight yard against the high bluffs north of Oakland Tower and to the east of the joint double track mainline called "Dayton's Bluff," the name of the bluff above it. The Milwaukee Road had a large freight yard north of the tower but on the west side of the tracks name "Pigs Eye" for a lake that was almost across from the tower. The main purpose of Oakland Tower was to let trains in and out of Pigs Eye Yard.

About mid-summer I was assigned the swing shift at Oakland Tower. This means I worked two days a week when the first trick operator/leverman had his days off (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.). The next two days I substituted for the second trick man. Then I worked the third trick for two days. Thus I got one day a week off. This made sleeping and eating interesting. I was 17 and could easily handle it. I stayed in the YMCA in downtown St. Paul. Ate mainly at the diner looking like a railroad passenger car that is still there as a greasy spoon in downtown St. Paul. I have eaten there since.

Oakland tower was a strong-arm plant. The strange thing about it was you had to put the order boards down to let trains in and out of the leads to Pigs Eye Yard. I never understood why. One day I forgot to put them back up. I cleared the regular interlocking signals for the next northbound train, the North Coast Limited. Normally when the order boards are down the tower operator is on the ground and hooping up orders to the conductor and engineer. I was in the tower unaware of my mistake. The train came to a screeching halt about half way through the plant. I bet a few drinks were spilled in the diner. I realized my mistake and urgently called the dispatcher. He told me how to rectify the situation, a Clearance Form saying I had no orders. By then the conductor was up in the tower calling me every word you can't put into print. I got written up for delaying the Northern Pacific RR’s hottest train 3 minutes.

I received a phone call from Chicago the next day saying if anything ever happen like that again, forget my summer job. It didn't. Anybody know why the order boards had to be down to get trains in and out of Pigs Eye Yard?


The first of the two photographs is an interior shot of Oakland. The other is of the Q's northbound Morning Zephyr crossing over from the Q's track to the Milwaukee's track. The tower and the order boards are to the left. The southbound order board is down. I can't remember if you could put the order boards up before you cleared a non-Pigs Eye route.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

My Favorite Caboose, Central Vermont 4014

I spent the summer of 2013 volunteering at the Railroad Museum of New England.  One piece of rolling stock which was quite impressive is CV 4014. It was built February 1925 by a Central Vermont B&B gang. Replaced a car of same number lost due to a fire.  It's a gem of a renovation.  Fans, it does not get any better.

1. Yes It's That Orange!
2. Some of the collection at the RR Museum of New England in Thomaston, CT.  Closest is NH 529, an RS3.

3. Al Pomeroy, owner and renovator of the caboose (buggy in New England speak), rides the cupola. The interior paint scheme is as was found under 1/4 Masonite that was universally applied over tongue and groove interior by the CV late in its service life.

4. Central Vermont Buggy 4014 at the Railway Museum of New England -- looking from the cupola end. Note, owner Al sometimes works on the caboose on Saturday and drives the train on Sunday. Yes, the caboose then serves one of it's original purposes -- an RV.

5. The fold-up table on the wall is original to the car and was moved to various positions along this side of the car during its service life. The coach seats are the owner's addition.
6. Original desk.
7.  Al is at the cupola end of the buggy.
8. The correct replacement stove was found shortly after purchase.
9. This is the non-cupola end of the utterly gorgeous wood caboose. 
10. One of two documented versions of the Maple Leaf.  This is the correct version for this car.
11. Trucks and underframe painted to match the body style.

Enjoy Al's love,
I sure did,
Marty Bernard

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Blog of the Private Rail Car "Black Hawk"

by William F. Howes, Jr.

Black Hawk 92 in Lincoln, Neb. October 21, 1956

Black Hawk exterior as built

Blackhawk being iced on B&O Train #8 at Cumberland, Maryland on July 25, 1966

On B&O #8 at P&LE Station, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 25 1966

Interior Rear, a car is coupled on behind

Dining Room, 1966

On B&O Race Train, Del Park, Wilmington, Del. on June 3, 1967

1975, on the rear of a C&O freight train was taken in Potomac Yard.

Below are two photos of the car taken in Camden Station, Baltimore, MD on January 19, 1969 by Marty Bernard.

Below is a picture of Bill on the Black Hawk probably Spring 1971 from Dale Rockwell.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Cab Ride in the Deccan Queen Pune to Mumbai (formally Bombay) India on February 11, 1982 PART 2

Please see Part 1 first at

Another meet.
 Young women using the tracks as a walking path.


Track work.

Kanjurmarg Railway Station in Mumbai.

Housing right along the tracks, Mumbai.

WCM5 20090 with the Deccan Queen just arrived at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus Station) in Mumbai (frormally Bombay) on February 11, 1982.

End of Blog.

Cab Ride in the Deccan Queen Pune to Mumbai (formally Bombay) India on February 11, 1982 PART 1

In early 1982 I was consulting to the United States Agency for International Development (US AID) on energy and environment relative to India's Transportation System.  What better way to get to know a transportation system than to ride it.

The Deccan Queen or Deccan Queen Express, is an Indian passenger train that connects the two largest cities of the Indian state of Maharashtra, i.e. Mumbai and Pune. The service was named as Deccan Queen after the nickname for Pune: Queen of the Deccan. Wikipedia

The Deccan Plateau is a large plateau in western and southern India. It rises to 100 metres (330 ft) in the north, and to more than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) in the south, forming a raised triangle within the south-pointing triangle of the Indian subcontinent's coastline.  Wikipedia 

This is looking out of the cab of the large electric locomotive.  I'm on the right side of the cab, the motorman is on the left side.  The railways were built by the British so everything is left-handed.  The U.S. example is the Chicago & Northwesrern Rwy.

We have just left Pune (pronounced poona)  on this very nice morning and are headed for Mumbai about 80 miles west and somewhat north.

There are vertical bars outside the front windows appear in most of the photos.

This photo is looking back at the substantial train.

At that time Indian Railways had active steam.

 We met a freight train powered with an electric, very similar to the one I was in, and pushed by two diesel locomotives.

Out the cab window.

Another look back from the cab.

A passenger train headed toward Pune.

Saw this across some fields.  Wonder if it is 2 foot gauge.

A commuter train headed toward Pune.

And another meet with an Electric like ours.

Please go to PART 2