Saturday, January 12, 2013

Some Background--Workin' on the Railroad

The second story in my upcoming collection is one very near and dear to me. I've been a railfan most of my life, perhaps coming by that naturally since both my grandfathers were in the railroad business. Granddad Morgan ended his career as a passenger conductor for the Chicago and Alton, a line long absorbed into what is currently the BNSF. Grandpa Witt was in the administrative side working as a clerk for the Louisville and Nashville, another long-gone rail line. My brother, with whom I currently live, retired just last year from a 35+ year career in the maintenance side starting with the Denver and Rio Grande and ending with Union Pacific where he was a union official for the last ten years or so but he had plenty of time out where the wheel meets the steel and was an invaluable technical adviser for me as I wrote this story.

Years ago when we were growing up in the Verde Valley in central Arizona we looked forward to the visits two or three times a week of "The Local," a mixed or "manifest freight" that Santa Fe ran down through the Verde River Canyon to Clarkdale. Business picked up for some years there in the 1950s as the Glenn Canyon Dam was under construction and many hoppers full of limestone for the cement were hauled out. The line was a challenge to maintain, an incredible feat of engineering for the time it was originally built early in the twentieth century. A few years ago I rode the route from Clarkdale to Perkinsville on what is now mainly a tourist excursion line. It was a truly awe-inspiring experience. I crossed the infamous bridge over SOB canyon and looked up at the sheer cliffs that in spots boxed in with just a ledge above the river, barely wide enough for a single track and in places hewn out of the white, gray or red stone.

 My brother and I even became friends--and probably pests--with some of the maintenance people who came in to repair and maintain that track, absorbing like sponges information that later formed his life work and part of my store of experience about which to write. I took pictures with my precious little Kodak box camera and offer here  a couple of them and a  couple taken the day I rode the train myself. All of this was the foundation for Workin' On The Railroad.

 The color shot on the right is behind the depot which was roughly center in the b&w shot above it. And the color on the right is the same track where the cars are parked in the b&w one above it but looking west instead of east.

During my brief sojourn in Hurley, New Mexico I also observed the South West Railroad's operations there bringing in supplies for the local mining and smelting operations and hauling out the products. This effort has now expanded up into the hills beyond the village of Hanover where some new mining activity is in progress. I observed that on a visit to the area last October.

Although the big railroads have mechanized and modernized much of the work and use more huge complex machines than men, these smaller special purpose short line railroads still do a lot of work the old fashioned labor intensive way. I chose to set my tale around one such line. It does not exist but many of its kind do. I have not finished either Alton and Roane's adventures or the complete story or stories about the San Juan and Southwestern I am sure. There may be some men who work on the carpentry or Bridge and Building (B and B in the vernacular) and even in the rolling stock parts of the business. When they are ready, these tales  will all be told.

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