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Edition #201 July 1, 2013
Morning Crossing of Depot Slough
Photographer: Tom Gildersleeve
Photo by Tom Gildersleeve
Morning Crossing of Depot Slough
Georgia Pacific 2-6-2t No. 9
crosses Depot Slough just north of Toledo, Oregon, on its way to the reload on
December 4, 1959. Toledo is in the rain forest belt of western Oregon, about
six miles inland from the coast, and was dependent on lumber for its existence.
At one time it boasted the largest spruce mill in the world. It also played a
significant role in my family history. My father grew up there in the years
following the turn of the 20th century. Because of this I was familiar with the
place and still had an aunt and uncle living there in 1959. Until late that
year, however, I did not realize that there was a logging railroad there,
although I had known for years that the sawmill had a 2-6-2t, and just assumed
it was there for mill switching.
The railroad itself was unique in that it used disconnected trucks instead of logging flats with frames, the last such railroad in the United States to do so. In effect the logs themselves formed the "frame" for each pair of trucks. It made it easy to dump the logs, and a train consisting only of a string of trucks was also a lot shorter and lighter to handle than a normal log train of empties. Of course no frame meant no air brakes either, so brakemen would run alongside the train to crank the brakes when necessary. Also, on the trip to the reload, which was mostly uphill, they needed to use a stick on the last car so the crew could see at a glance whether or not they had their complete train.
The experience surrounding the taking of this photograph paints a picture of what it was like to be a coming of age railfan in the 1950s, when the world as I had known it was going very rapidly into history and I was scrambling to get as much of it as I could on film. Late in 1959 a close friend, Chuck Heimerdinger, learned of the logging railroad, and was told that it had ceased operations. Then we encountered another friend, Charles Givens, who gave us the eye opening news that they had not shut down yet as far as he knew, but the end was coming soon. We immediately made a phone call up there and verified that it was still operating, but was due to shut down in about a week! Chuck was on a flight up there early in the week and spent several days photographing the operation. He also got to know the crews pretty well and was very hands on in helping them with some of their activities. At the time he flew up there, I was in the throes of my last month at Stanford and concluded that there was no way I could get up there in time. As that week wore on, however, I decided that I had to get there myself. There was family history there, not just another logging railroad to be photographed. So, I opted to cut a day of classes and on the afternoon of Thursday, December 3, 1959, I departed Palo Alto on a 675 mile overnight trip as a solo driver to get myself up there for the last day, Friday Dec. 4. It should be noted that Chuck had been there several days by the time I arrived, and for the entire time he had been there the weather, as he described it, was early morning fog which eventually lifted, followed by incessant rain which moved in right afterward and lasted the rest of the day. He got very little sunlight on those days. So, here I show up and the sun comes with me for the only day that week that had good sunlight!
We caught the down train coming in from the reload and then did a lot of early morning shooting at the log dump. Once the engine had finished its work there it would water up and take a string of trucks back out to the reload, so Chuck and I positioned ourselves at the southerly bridge over Depot Slough to capture the departure. It was a short distance north of the log dump; you can see the spout for the water tank at the dump in the background of the picture. As we waited there, Chuck suddenly realized that the yard switch just beyond the bridge was thrown the wrong way, which would have necessitated the train coming up at low speed, stopping to throw it, and then gradually starting out from a standing stop to proceed across the bridge. Chuck ran all the way across that bridge and threw the switch so that they would be able to come roaring across without stopping, as you see in the picture. Without that switch having been thrown it would have been a very different picture. As to everything else in that scene, obviously it was all laid out for me so that I just needed to get the exposure right for a backlit train using an untried film (High Speed Ektachrome) that was new in the marketplace, while aiming the camera well with an inverted telescope viewfinder entirely unsuitable for action work, and pushing the button at the right time. It is my opinion that High Speed Ektachrome was one of very few color films at the time that could have taken that picture successfully. The 10 speed Kodachrome of the period was extremely contrasty, and shadow areas went very black very fast, with no detail to pull out. The Ektachrome was very grainy and not very sharp, but it could still register some detail in the shadows on the front of the engine while getting a decent exposure elsewhere in the scene that was in sunlight. The lighting for the scene was dramatic, and the mist hanging in the air made it perfect, providing a clean outline of the engine roaring at me over that bridge. There is one other little detail that does not show well in the picture. Considering that it had rained constantly for days prior to that Friday, the trestle was absolutely saturated with water. When the sun hit it, steam started boiling off the timbers. You can see a little of that between the second and third timber under the deck, and I suspect that some of what you see along the train is coming from the deck and not the engine as well.
By the time we finished our day of shooting, most of it in sunlight, word had come down from the head office granting a two week reprieve for the railroad. Ultimately a second reprieve occurred, and the final day ended up being December 31, 1959. I went off into the Air Force in March of 1960, and came back through Toledo again in 1963 after I got out. At that time what remained of the bridge was still there, with no deck and no tracks, just rotting away. I have no idea what is there today. It has now been over 50 years since I took that picture, and I've acquired a lot more skill and better cameras over the years, but I don't think I have ever photographed a more captivating scene of steam action.
It should be noted that in a real sense this photo was a collaborative effort even though I was the one who held the camera and pushed the button. I already mentioned Chuck Heimerdinger, but Charlie Dischinger also got involved more recently, and it is his Photoshop work that is on display for the posted image. He absolutely brought it alive in a way that I could never have done.
As a minor aside, I should add that the 2-6-2t was not the standard power for that line. They threw the 9 into service because there was a problem with one of the structures on the line and they were concerned about the weight of the 2-8-2s they normally used. Since abandonment was imminent, they chose to use the lighter engine and not repair the structure. No. 9 went to its eternal reward not that long after the railroad was abandoned, dropping into a gulch in the movie "Ring of Fire," which was made in 1960.
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Revised: 07/01/13 06:24:06 -0400