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A view from the right side of the cab with Pictures and Ramblings of a Retired!!! Soo Line Engineer
Snow Plows out of Superior WI on the Soo Line
Russell Snow Plows are the most dangerous trains to operate. Visibility out the engine windows is totally obscured by snow as soon as they drop the flanger (cleans out between the rails). Your lucky if you get a glimpse of the number on the back of the plow. Your only perception of speed was what the speedometer said. The Plow operators whistled for the crossings. The train is obscured by the flying snow making it hard to see by automobiles at crossings. The older Engineers stated that when a Russell Plows derailed it had a history of turning around and then taking the front of the engine off. If I was lucky enough to have two units I always operated from the rear unit. The first trip that I made was with a F7 for power. They had a tarp wired over the generator to keep it dry. When we started to plow snow there was so much water coming down from the radiators over the cat walks alongside the power plant from the snow coming into the radiators I thought that we wouldn't make it. You couldn't see past the generator for all the water drops and steams. We did make it to end of the trip but towards the end we were plagued with ground relay problems. The traction motor blowers would pull all the mist in the engine compartment and blow it through the traction motors. On the GP9's they would tape all the lovers on the outside of the engine compartments that the traction motor blowers pulled the air from. This caused the blowers to pull all the heated air in the cab out. Some of these trips were damn cold because of it.
The story of how the plow got stuck at MP 134 on the Brooten Line.
The track ran along a hillside with a cut through an embankment that was mostly on the West side. There was a large field on that side of the embankment that the snow could blow across and then fill the cut. The snow was mixed with dirt from the field and this distressed the plow operators because the dirt made the snow much more solid. When we approached the long drift they would just nose into the drift slowly and form a wedge with the front of the plow. They do this to prevent the front of the plow from ridding up the slope of the drift and then derailing. Remember what usually happens when a Russell derails? Track speed was 35 mph at that time. We then backed up and took a run at the drift. We hit it at about 30 mph and stalled before reaching the highest portions of the drift. We were able to back out of the drift that time. It was then decided to back up further and cut the Caboose off and hit the drift at 50 mph with only one operator on the plow and just myself on the engine. There was a farm crossing just before the drift that wasnít the smoothest and it wasnít when I went over it at 50. The plow operator would call out the distance to the drift as you approached it. When we hit it everything in the engine cab slid to the front of the cab. I was sitting in the Engineers seat with my feet on the front wall bracing myself hoping that the front window of the engine didnít blow in from the pressure of the snow and fill the cab in an instant. I had closed the inside window that had the storm window over it. Lucky that I did as the front glass on the storm window blew in and the storm window filled it with snow in an instant. The stop was abrupt. Well less than the distance between two telephone poles. We went about a hundred feet more into the drift and that was it. We were unable to back out of this time. We were just able to back the engine out after the Section Crew shoveled the snow from between the engine and plow so the Brakeman could turn the angle cock and pull the pin. It took the section crew almost two hours of shoveling before we could get the plow out. We then backed up to hit it again. This time the plow operator requested that we not go over the farm crossing as fast as the first time. The plow has a set of bars that extend down along the rails to cut a groove for the flanges on the wheels. The first time over the crossing at fifty miles per hour was so rough for the plow that the flange cutters took out part of the crossing planks. We were just able to make it through the drift without stalling.
The trips I made on the Plummer Line with snowplows were made with the W-213. You pulled the W-213 with a flat car between the engine and the plow. This afforded the plow operator a better view of what they were approaching. They then could lift the flanger when necessary and retract the wings when required.
Trips on the old DSS&A line from Ashland WI to Ewen MI were made with a Jordan Spreader. The reason being that the snow was so deep across there that they had to lift the wings up so they could wing it out into the woods. I never have seen it snow so hard in all my life as the way it snowed around Thomason and Bergland and down into White Pine Mine. There was seldom a wind and the flakes tended to stick together and come down in chunks. It was something to see chunks two and three inches across coming down really gracefully. I have some pictures of snow on top of the telephone cross arms that was two feet high and two feet wide at the top. When I get to them I will post them with the plow pictures. On the old NP track from Superior to Ashland they never plowed it. The snow between the rails would ball up into ice balls. It was just like you were running over large marbles. There was so much drag from it you seldom had to use the train brakes to slow down. The old double ended DSS&A Baldwin Engines had a flanger that they used to clean it out with.
A lot of snow was plowed with just the plow or pilot on the front of the engine. I remember one trip on the Superior to Ashland Line at Wentworth when the snow was rolling over the top of the front handrail on a GE U30C (Soo 800's) Many trips on the Ewen Line we had to stop and shovel the snow off the nose of a F7 so we could see out the front windows. You usually tied a rag loosely over the whistle so that it wouldn't plug up with snow.
The problem with a lot of snow was that it built up between the cars in the train. It could cause you to stall. The worst of it was that it would cause the air hoses to uncouple. It was difficult for the Brakemen to get to the uncoupled hoses because of the deep snow. When they did get to it and re-couple the hoses the snow had taken a "set" and you couldn't start the train. You would then have to take the train out in pieces.
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Superior, WI 54880-2333