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Flying Boxcars Etc.        =        TT00050

= 12/= 30/2002 5:22 PM      = ;         Bill Kuebler        =           A recent post relating a story of a Geep powering the North Coast Limited reminds me of another, similar story.

 

Dilworth engineer Fred J. "Fritz" Lewis was running trai= n 25 one night in about 1965 or 1966, on his way to Jamestown.

According to his account, he was a little late and going 78 miles = per hour. He was approaching the west switch of the siding at Fife on the 51-mile long tangent. Fife is three miles west of West Fargo and ab= out eight miles west of Fargo. Fife siding was on the north side of the westward main. In those days dispatchers frequently put out train orders t= hat read, "FIFE SIDING BLOCKED WITH CARS". The siding was often used= as a storage track for various cars, including cars to and from the West Fargo stockyards.

 

Well, on this night, a strong wind from the east northeast blew. <= span class=3DGramE>Very unusual to have a wind that strong from that direction.= The prevailing wind direction was westerly. An empty boxcar on the siding, apparently not coupled to any other cars and = with its door(s) open, caught the wind and "sailed" westward. The bra= kes were probably not set properly. Anyway, the car rolled to the foul point, = up and over the derail, derailed...and like the EverRead= y bunny, it kept on going and going...until it stopped somewhere near the sw= itch points. The boxcar was entirely on the ground, with its west wheel set up against the field side of the north rail of the main track, and the east w= heel set some distance to the north of the north rail. In other words, the car = was at a cockeyed angle to the main track, with its western end afoul of it. A= nd because the car was entirely on the ground and the switch points not affec= ted, nor was the main track substantially damaged, the block signal indicated c= lear.

 

It was about 12:30 am and dark. When Lewis's locomotive headlight picked up the boxcar, it was too late to do anything but put the brakes in emergency and watch the show begin. His fireman just happened to be back i= n the engine room--fortunately on the south side of the unit. Fritz big-holed it= for grins (which would change his speed at the point of collision from 78 to 77 miles per hour), then went over to the left side of the cab and lay on the floor, hoping for the best. In a few seconds...BANG!

 

Fritz's account of this moment was rather funny. "That damn b= oxcar wasn't in the clear, but she sure cleared after we hit 'er, heh, heh, heh!" Another memorable phrase from his account= , this regarding his first sighting of the boxcar:

"All I could see were those big 'NP' letters getting even big= ger real fast!"--or words to that effect. That= remark led me to believe that it might have been one of those big double-door 50-= foot cars, but in any case, it was an NP car with the big "N.P." lett= ers.

 

As it turned out, the boxcar must have somehow flipped up and over= the right side of train 25's locomotive, or maybe spun around to cause multiple collisions along the side of the train, because there was extensive damage= to all three units and the first two cars in the train. As for the lead unit,= both the upper and lower headlights were wiped out, as were the classification = light and number box on the right side of the nose. All the grabs on the lead un= it's right side were gone or bent to some cockeyed and useless angle.

The lead unit's right windshield--the one on the engineer's side--= was completely smashed in, as were the right side cab window and the window on= the right cab door. If memory serves, Fritz also said that the horns above his= cab were wiped off and he had no whistle. Thinking about all that damage makes= me wonder just what kind of a maneuver that flying boxca= r did. Perhaps the car came apart in some manner and various parts of it went different directions, but I never found out if that was so. Fritz never sa= w the boxcar again after he hit it. He was later told that what was left of the = car was found quite some distance to the north of the main track.

 

So there, at milepost 16 in the middle of nowhere sat No. 25 with = no headlight, no whistle, and plenty of damage. The good news was that none of 25's equipment derailed, and the main track had almost no damage. Most tra= ck damage occurred to the switch and turnout rails--yet not enough to activat= e the block signals. The locomotive was still fully functional as far as being a= ble to power the train. So, according to rule, Fritz had to run the rest of th= e way to Jamestown at restricted speed (20 miles per hour and prepared to stop short of any obstruction). According to the same rule, he was supposed to "blow the whistle frequently" and ring the bell continuously, but he would have= been unable to do the former if the whistle was inoperable. So...he just ran ve= ry slowly and rang the bell; that was all he could do. The weather was mild, = so the smashed out windows were more a nuisance than a serious problem. Seems= that he said he had no radio in the lead unit, either, probably because the ant= enna was wiped off as well. Anyway, he was instructed to continue his run west = with the engine that way.

Unbelievable.

 

I don't recall if they went all the way to <= st1:place w:st=3D"on">Jamestown, where a GP-9 was waiting fo= r them, or if the GP-9 was sent east to intercept them at some point. In any case,= a GP-9 was pressed into duty on No. 25. I'm not certain, but I think it was either the GP-9 often assigned to Jamestown yard from the mid-60s on, or possibly the engine then assigned to the Turtle Lake branch job. Those engines were 344 and 343, respectively. Either way, the = Geep was not geared for passenger service, nor did i= t have a steam generator, but fortunately, this event did not occur in cold weath= er. Once the Geep was on the front of 25's train, = the train could go track speed from that point on, and that's the way it went = all the way to Dickinson, where the Geep was pulled off and a cab F-unit= taken off of train 2 was added to 25. No. 2 went on its way minus one unit, and I have no idea what they did with 25's original locomotive units. I cannot imagine that they ran it like that all the way to L= ivingston, minus all the grabs, but for all I know, they did. I have never found out--except that Fritz Lewis told me that it definitely left Jamestown with the damaged units opera= ting, but with a Geep on the head end.

 

Not too many instances of a Geep powering train 25= or 26.