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December 1997 - Page 53


was out of action for a month. The 5305 has not had reliable dynamic brakes since the day i t arrived, and NWP's diesel mechanics finally gave up trying to deci pher the locomotive's idiosyncratic wiring plan. It has finally found a home, when not i n the shop with a persi stent o i l l e a k , p u l l i ng t h e S c h e l l v i l l e H a u ler through the gentle landscape of the south end, far from the steep slopes of the Laughlin Range. Maintenance problems for two locomotives, GP9s 3850 and 3844, were eliminated on July 1 0. The 3850 was switching at the north end of Wil lits Yard that morning when the 3844 and the 3825 roll ed away from the fuel track. They picked u p speed as they continued northward toward the 3850. The runaways slammed into the switcher, pushing it 1 000 feet up the line and putting its two crew members in the hos pital. Miraculously, their injuries were minor, but the damage to two of the locomotives was terminal: their pilots drooped l i ke pained expressions, their backs bent beyond repair. The 3 8 2 5 i s noticeably hunch backed but continues to run, though according to one

employee "nobody wants to use i t . " M ain Photo: The Scotia It would ordinarily be good news for t h e railroad South Freight, with GP9s that lumber shipments are on the rise. But short on lo 3788 and 2782, makes a comotives and employees to operate them-"Who's through run from Scotia to gonna come work here? They a l l read the Willits, July 30, 1 997. papers."-NWP struggled throughout summer t o get the cars over the hill from Willits. Each S D 9 can pull six to eight loaded cars over Ridge Summit, but often times there were only two working locomotives avail able. As a result, the loaded cars were arriving in Willits from the north faster than the Willits Hauler could move them south. Hopper cars, heavy with river gravel shipped from ashmead to Ukiah, added to the Willits bottleneck when they weren't spreading the rails and causing derailments along the Eel River. At least the frequent derailments i n the canyon-twice in three days i n mid-July-gave the trains south of Wil lits a chance to get caught up. The Willits Hauler might spend a full day shuttling cars a few at a time from Willits over the summit to Redwood Val ley. Twelve hot summer hours later, the freight had moved a total of 1 7 m iles. The Schellville Hauler coming up from the south could not make it all the way to Redwood Valley without running out of time on the way back to Schellville. Thus, the Schellville crew would have to drop its northbound cars at Geyserville, leaving 46 miles of railroad between two trains that were sup posed to meet. This, of course, sent a ripple of prob l e m s northward: When t h e e m p t i e s d i d n ' t get t o Willits in the evening, the north freight o u t o f Willits the following morning had no cars to hand off to the south train from Scotia. In turn, the Scotia and Arcata switchers were left with no cars to spot at the lum ber mills around Eureka. Since nature has made running NWP m erely form i d a b l e , t h e F R A stepped i n to make i t nearl y impos s i b l e . After repeated inspections, the FRA halted summer pas senger excursions be t w e e n H e a l d s b u rg a n d Wi l l i t s , costing N W P a n important source o f rev enue. On July 2 5 , a celebrity wine train was to run from Asti to Hopland. Instead, the passengers sat in the coaches at Asti ABOVE: On July 3, 1 997, the and pretended they were moving. The FRA also im Willits Hauler heads south posed a 1 0 mph speed limit on most of the 2 7 3-mile bound on Ridge Hill near railroad, making for long workdays for the crew and milepost 1 27. plenty of overtime pay for the company. This i n turn, of course, leaves the railroad with less money to make all the repairs needed to erase the speed restrictions. This catalogue of bad news began with the obser vation that NWP doesn't need any more negative pub licity. So how does one put a positive spin on the rail road's current situation without being naive or fool ishly optimistic? Trainmaster Chris Simas t hought about it. "Hmm. You want to write about the positive side and not just the bad news? Wel l , we've got good people working here . " The bright side o f the N W P story-and i t s hope for surviving beyond this winter-is indeed provided by the employees. Engineer Ed Lynch literally brightens the picture by hand-washing the locomotives, often after working a 1 2-hour shift on the Willits Hauler. "See how hard I work to make your photographs

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