In 1966 and 1967, Southern Pacific provided a rare spectacle for me – construction of a brand-new main line.
In 1876, the railroad completed its San Joaquin Line from Central California over the Tehachapi Mountains to Los Angeles, then it proceeded to build the Sunset Route east toward El Paso and New Orleans. However, by the middle of the Twentieth Century, the Los Angeles area had become a bottleneck for traffic to the southeast, so SP planned a bypass. Read more
Derailments are a fact of life in railroading. Today teams of well equipped, well trained contractors wearing high visibility reflective vests are called in to help. Their specialized equipment makes quick work of most derailments and cleanups. But for many years, the railroads maintained wreck trains equipped with flat cars carrying replacement wheels and huge steam cranes, along with tool cars bringing everything, including the kitchen sink, to the scene.
In spring 1967, Maine Central (MEC) train B-12 was meandering on its usual run along the Kennebec River, just south of Dresden, Maine. This was a daily, routine trip from MEC’s Bangor interchange with the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad at Northern Maine Junction to Portland. Something went wrong—probably a broken rail or wheel, dragging equipment. or whatever—which resulted in about eight cars “on the ground.” Happily there was no leaking cargo or injuries. Once the damage was assessed, the engines took the front part of the train on to Portland, and the caboose and rear end of the train was towed back to Waterville and routed down the back road via Lewiston and on to Portland.
That left the derailed cars and damaged track to be dealt with by the Waterville wreck train, which was dispatched along with track and car department crews to get started on the delicate and dangerous job of re-railing the cars and clearing the line.
Pictures of railroad accidents usually make the news, but photos of the crews doing the cleanup work, not so much. On this job, the crews working under the supervision of the wreckmaster have been careful and methodical in clearing the wreckage. The cleanup has gone well, and after working through the night, all the cars are back on the rails and ready to be towed back to the Waterville shops. New track is in place, and soon the railroad will be back to normal.
Here’s the weary crew riding on the open deck of the tool car, just under the big hook’s boom. Their difficult job is complete, nobody got hurt, and you can tell by their tired but relaxed expressions that they are pleased with their work, and know the railroad is ready for tomorrow’s B-12.