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Edition #224  June 15, 2014

A Possible Career Ender

Photographer: Tom Gildersleeve

                                                                                              Photo by Tom Gildersleeve

 

A Possible Career Ender

I completed my undergraduate studies at Stanford in December, 1959, and was immediately awarded a commission as a second lieutenant in the US Air Force as a result of having gone through ROTC.  I was expected to report to Gunter Air Force Base in Alabama in March of 1960, but before heading east I wanted to photograph some very interesting logging railroads in the Pacific Northwest. 

Top on the list was the Rayonier logging operation on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  It was the biggest steam logging operation in the country still in existence at the time, but the clock was already ticking on them.  They were in the process of completely rebuilding the trackage of their main operation, which ran from a reload at Crane Creek near Quinault Lake southerly through their headquarters (appropriately named Railroad Camp) to a log dump at New London, and planned to replace the steamers with diesels when it was complete.  They fielded a broad stable of steam locomotives of various types and wheel arrangements, including compound 2-6-6-2 and 2-6-6-2t mallets.  Of all the steamers they had, compound 2-6-6-2 mallet No. 38 was for me by far the most interesting.  It had been built for Weyerhauser in 1934, and was acquired by California's Sierra Railroad in 1952.  It only lasted there for three years before being picked up by Rayonier for their operations out of Railroad Camp in 1955.

February of 1960 would not normally have been the ideal time to do photography in western Washington, which gets some of the heaviest rainfall in the continental United States, especially at that time of year, but it was what was available to me.  It was a wet place, and offered very little in the way of Kodachrome weather, especially the ISO 10 version then available, but Kodak had recently introduced a new film called High Speed Ektachrome that was blazingly fast at ISO 160.  It was grainy and not especially sharp, but it had the ability to handle the dark, wet weather at a time when no other color film could do so.  As you can see in the photos, it was definitely High Speed Ektachrome weather.

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/images/cleardot.gifThese two scenes depict a sequence taken near the summit of Humptulips Hill on February 10, 1960, at a location where the railroad crossed Skunk Creek.  In the first view, locomotive 38 is pulling a loaded log train passing a speeder in the distance and approaching a water tank for a refill.  The tank, with its massive logs to support it, was rather unique; I never saw anything like it on any other railroad.  While the engine was watered I changed my position to capture the southbound departure of the train.  That placed me on a high, steep fill in tight quarters.  After the engine passed I noted that the log cars were rocking rather significantly from side to side as they passed my position.  It left me with a very uncomfortable feeling, but there was no place for me to go.  Suddenly, a couple of hundred feet from me one of the approaching cars offloaded its logs.  Had all the logs completely come off the car, it would have presented no problem, but the leading edge of one log was still attached to the car, which was dragging it right at me!  Quarters were tight, with limited options to avoid the situation.  Fortunately the log finally broke loose and came to rest 15 feet from where I was standing!  Obviously had things gone slightly differently, you would have had to forgo the pleasure of reading about this photographic adventure!

After that experience I entered the Air Force a month later, which resulted in a three year tour of duty in Ohio, and then continued on with my life in California, photographing what I could over the years.  One thing I never did again was place myself in a position where I could be at risk of being clobbered by a train or railroad car.

As for Rayonier, they opened their new, dieselized line in 1962, which bypassed the location in these pictures.  However, they retained the 38 as backup power.  It was regularly used four days a month while first one, and then the second diesel went into the shops for servicing.  It was finally retired in 1967.  It eventually ended up in McCloud, California in pieces, and is now in Merrill, Oregon, still in pieces.  The railroad itself continued to operate until 1984, when it was scrapped.  Today hardly a trace remains to show where it was, and the site of Railroad Camp is virtually unfindable.

Tom Gildersleeve

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