Engineer’s Journal – April 25, 2005

Published by Bill Johnson on

This subdivision was the first experience I’ve ever had with tone lined switches. The territory is DTC (Direct Train Control) but doesn’t have ABS (Automatic Block Signals) in between the DTC control points. Instead, each switch for the siding must be addressed by transmitting a series of keyed tones over the radio to the switch. When properly addressed, the switch either shows a green indication on its signal and give a verbal confirmation over the radio that the switch is line normal or gives an approach (yellow) indication and gives a verbal confirmation that the switch is lined reverse (diverging). It worked well except for one switch which wouldn’t respond to a tone so we had to stop and hand throw the switch before proceeding.

Just before Simsboro, LA, we overtook a rail grinder. When we got to the west switch at Simsboro siding, we took siding and backed the train onto a rock company spur so that we were completely clear of both the mainline and the siding. There was a tie gang working on the mainline ahead of us, and since we had left late from Bossier City, we had missed our opportunity to get past the tie gang before they started their work.

Since we had a long way to go and we were concerned about our hours of service limit, it was decided to park the train and have Willy Meyers, David Bartee and I take a 4 hour rest period. We headed over to a country store called Magnolia Corners and had a big breakfast. I took a nap in one of the rocking chairs in the store and David took a nap in the back seat of the Suburban. Just before noon, we headed back to the train. Keith and Bill had everything ready to go. Fire Chief Charlie Edwards had driven his 1928 Ford Phaeton over and it was nice to see an old car. We visited for a few minutes while Jon St. Vigne got us authority to enter the line and then we were on our way. As we were leaving Simsboro, we passed the school and all the kids were out on the lawn to watch the train travel by and cheered as we passed.

This is when things started to get complicated. The rail grinder had passed us by while we were parked in Simsboro. One of the high rail vehicles accompanying it broke down and fouled the mainline approximately 6 miles in front of us. In addition, the tie gang was also still working a little further east and had the main shut down. We had four eastbound trains behind us and three westbound trains that we had to meet. The rod bushing on #2E was still running hot and we had to attempt to keep our scheduled speed so we wouldn’t further complicate an already dicey situation. Thankfully, the high rail was able to get into the clear and we continued past the tie gang who had gone into a spur track to clear up.

Ruston, LA

There were a large number of folks present as we arrived in Ruston, LA. There was an overpass near Louisiana Tech that was absolutely packed with people and you could hear them cheering from overhead as we passed by. As we pulled up in downtown Rayville, the area was packed with people. We did another quick greasing on the problem rod bushing and were soon on our way.

We took siding at Calhoun, LA near a school that had all the kids turned out to see the train and met the three west bounders before proceeding east. We also gave the problem rod a shot of grease while we were stopped. Ron Larson had been shadowing the train and we said our goodbyes to him as he was heading home to Austin after being our savior with the air pump.

As we entered Monroe, we passed through another defect detector and this time we triggered two alarms, the usual 5F but also 3E.  Since we were about 1 mile from our “whistle stop” in downtown Monroe, we elected to keep going and do our inspection in Monroe. We were crossing the big truss bridge over the Quachita River in downtown Monroe when I noticed a videographer set up at the other end of the bridge. He had his tripod set squarely between the rails. As I got closer, I gave a few warning toots on the whistle and he wouldn’t move. I got within about 50 feet of him when I opened up on both whistles and he finally got the message and moved clear just in time.

We went about 3 more blocks and spotted the train. The rod pin was completely dry and we pumped some more grease into it, but it was now so hot that the pin grease just turned to hot oil and ran right back out again. We elected to go a little further down the line to Magenta where we could stop next to a siding in case the dispatcher needed to run another train around us. The pin had cooled a little more, but now we couldn’t get the grease pump to work and the reservoir can was stuck on the pump. We pulled out the Alemite gun and were able to pump some grease onto the rod.

Ray Duplechain and I had a brief discussion that it looked like we probably wouldn’t be able to make it to our overnight stop at Delhi, both from the standpoint of the hot rod bushing and the Hours of Service 12 hours for David and I was drawing near. I did some quick mental calculations and thought that there was a possibility that we could still make it. I found that if I kept the locomotive at around 30 mph, the rod wouldn’t get too hot as long as we stopped regularly to inject grease. However, we still had a “whistle-stop” at Rayville to make along with some grease stops and I knew it was going to be tight.

We headed east and made it to Rayville where we doubled up on a “whistle-stop” and put another shot of grease on the rod bushing. We headed down the line until it was about time to make another grease stop. I was running time calculations in my head and knew that we were now on an extremely tight window. I radioed back to Conductor Meyers and told him that we needed the grease crew to hit that rod like a NASCAR pit crew and t we had to clear up and be rolling in 5 minutes. They hit the rod with the Alemite gun, got a charge of grease on the bushing, and we met our time mark. We got within three miles of Delhi and I could sense that the rod was again getting hot. I did another quick calculation and radioed back that they would have 3 minutes to shoot the problem rod.

By golly, the guys pulled it off and it now appeared that we could make it to Delhi mechanically, but would David and I run out of time? We had been doing a double spot at most locations to unload the ramps for the train and I radioed back that we’d only have time to get the train parked and would not be able to do the second spot. We pulled by the switch in Delhi, the switch was lined and the derail was taken off, and we backed into the siding and stopped the train right on the minute of our 12 hours – much too close for comfort!

We loaded our gear into the Suburban and staggered to a local eating establishment to get a quick bite to eat and then went to the Best Western for the night. After the long, stress-filled day, I was really ready to crash and really slept well.