6

World's stupidest train crew

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Over time, I’ve probably read 10,001 railroad accident reports. Virtually all come down to mechanical failure, the elements, or one person’s poor judgment or incompetence. Very, very few involve the stupidity of an entire five-person train crew. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the doozy of them all. Come with me down memory lane and relive the Night of the Big Sleep.We’re on the Rock Island Lines in Oklahoma, on the Memphis, Tenn.-Tucumcari, N.M., route. Extra 1301 West leaves the crew-c...
1

Frontiersmen of the Powder River Basin

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
It's safe for me to say that Powder River Basin coal from eastern Wyoming changed the face of American railroading. The revenues from hauling this coal kept several Midwest railroads solvent. More important, that coal revenue financed the rebuilding and upgrading of railroad infrastructure in the western two-thirds of the country.   Today you can easily forget that all this didn't just happen. People made it happen, people like Lou Menk, the chairman of Burlington Northern ...
0

Hell in a very narrow place

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
I ran into Paul Kingma by serendipity, at Penny’s Diner in Bill, Wyo. Bill is where Union Pacific recrews its empty coal trains and sends them off to the Orin Subdivision mines to be loaded. Then the loaded trains are recrewed again before heading south to South Morrill, Neb. Paul (that’s him, on the left) said he is a Union Pacific engineer, so we spoke about the big derailment six miles to the south. A loaded BNSF Railway coal train, CNAMCCM, from North Antelope Mine, had dumped 34 of its 130 ...
2

Amtrak scenery doesn't get better than this

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
Someone gave my wife a book called 1,001 Things You Must Do Before You Die. Come to think of it, maybe I gave it to her. But that’s too many things to do. I’d be lucky to finish ten of them. So I will make it easy for all of you. Here is the one thing to do before you sign in at the Big Celestial Roundhouse: Experience Amtrak between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, Cal. When you’ve done it once, you’ll want to do so another 1,001 times. I’ve spent all of today, almost 14 hours, riding up an...
1

Chime whistles in the choir loft

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
At church last Sunday, the recessional hymn was a golden oldie: “The Church’s One Foundation.” I had sung it a hundred times growing up. I whispered to my wife, “This is really taking me back.” Indeed it did. By the time we were halfway into the first verse, I was pretty wiped out, tears welling up in my eyes and my voice unable to continue singing. Suddenly I was not in an Episcopal sanctuary in 2009 but carried back to the choir loft of the First Presbyterian Church of Sulphur Springs, Texas. ...
3

Brain surgery on the main line

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
My column in the September issue about the calamities that befall trains on the North End Subdivision of CSX (“Where Bad Things Happen to Good Trains,” page 14) provoked a lot of responses. My favorite concerns the really bad night on BNSF Railway’s double-track Chicago-Galesburg line recently.   Union Pacific enjoys trackage rights for some of its intermodal trains over BNSF between Chicago and Kansas City. UP recrews its trains midway, at Fort Madison, Iowa. Our story begins with UP int...
5

The making of a railroad executive

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
From Rollin Bredenberg comes a note. “Did I ever show you this?” he asks. Attached is a story that appeared 48 years ago in the San Antonio Express & News. The accompanying photograph shows 16-year-old Rollin beside Southern Pacific’s San Antonio Division superintendent. Rollin looks just the same today, by the way. He’s just added 48 years of age to that enthusiastic face.   The son of a dairy farmer, Rollin grew up near Lacoste, Texas, west of San Antonio. In his subteen years ...
5

Mr. Big to the rescue! (Day 8)

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
What I'm about to say I cannot prove, but I feel in my bones it's so. And what my bones are saying is that last year someone, a Mr. Big, got to the Class I railroad chief executives and said something like this: "Guys, we've got to talk the talk and walk the walk with Amtrak trains. People are turning to railroads for travel, and the late Amtrak trains we're running are about to become a bad political issue. We have enough bad political issues as it is. So pitch in.&q...
0

Bumps down memory lane (Day 7)

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
I began in Mena, Ark., astride Kansas City Southern's northern neck (KC-Shreveport) and snug against the Ouachita Mountains. As the morning wore on, I worked my way north through incredibly beautiful landscape on the western edge of the Ozarks, sometimes on back roads (to stay near the tracks) that you'd need topographic maps to find; past such places as Marble City, Baron, and Lyons, all in extreme eastern Oklahoma. And to pass the time as I drove, I imagined passing the Souther...
0

Good blood, bad blood (Day 6)

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
I invited myself into Thomas S. Carter's life 31 years ago, on my first assignment for Trains. David Morgan titled that September 1979 story "President Carter (Tom, That Is) Puts a Railroad Back Together." Cute, eh? Tom was in his sixth of 13 years running the Kansas City Southern Railway, but before that he had led a fascinating railroad life. With an engineering degree from Southern Methodist, he joined the Katy Railroad after World War II as an assistant bridge engineer, and by ...
1

The great Texas desert (Day 5)

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
     Going from Pecos, Texas, to the edge of Fort Worth is an experience everyone should have. Just don't do it the way I did, in the middle of summer, during a strength-sapping heat wave. Half a dozen years ago, when I began this annual west-to-east ritual of driving alongside Union Pacific's Texas & Pacific Route it was trapped in a vicious drought that had driven many sheep ranchers off their land. You would have to reach Sweetwater, roughly two-thirds of the w...
3

The $2,300 photograph (Days 2,3,4)

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
In about half an hour, the mechanic in Las Vegas, N.M., determined there would be no quick, easy fix to my malfunctioning transmission (see "My Star-Crossed Adventure"), and began disassembling it piece by little piece. Watching him work was like witnessing abdominal surgery, what with all those things spilling out. I was determined to get my show back on the road, no matter what. I had until 9 that evening, Day 2, to get 388 miles to El Paso and meet Tom's plane for our train-scou...
0

My star-crossed adventure

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
     In the abstract, my plan was sound, even inspired. I would leave the Vail, Colo., area by car on Day 1, meet my friend Tom in El Paso the next evening and on Days 3-4 we would explore Union Pacific's Texas & Pacific line to Fort Worth. On the morning of Day 5, I'd deliver Tom to DFW Airport and work my way to Texarkana, to follow Kansas City Southern's line northward. On Day 6 I'd reach Kansas City's suburbs and on Days 7-8 drive the rest of the w...
4

Dog Days on the Desert

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
            I’m just back from a week of full immersion along part of the second-busiest rail-freight artery in the country, BNSF Railway between Kansas City and Belen, N.M. Let me start by saying that things aren’t well. BNSF reports carloadings down 19 percent versus a year ago, and it sometimes seemed to me that all the lost business leaked from this, its Chicago-Los Angeles line, known as the Transcon. This is the route that two yea...

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