Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Still chuggin' at 75

This newspaper article by Bonnie J. Yocum was originally published in The Daily News on Saturday, October 14, 2000. I originally posted it on my website on June 1, 2005; I had very closely replicated the original layout of the article, but it didn’t translate into this new format.

Saturday, October 14, 2000

Still chuggin' at 75
Since 1925, Weyerhaeuser's little railway has been moving millions of tons of timber goods through area

Godfrids Ositis with Columbia & Cowlitz GP20 #701 in Longview, Washington in 1998

Godfrids Ositis, 81, of Longview, says that in all his 28 years with C & C, he never missed one day of work. 'No accidents, nothing,' he said. Born in Latvia, Ositis immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1950. He retired from the railroad in 1981 as a section foreman. Photo by Roger Werth / The Daily News

Riding the C & C:
'It gets in your blood'

By Bonnie J. Yocum

8:31 a.m.

I'm in the front seat, high in one of two 2,000 horsepower locomotives pulling 32 cars of lumber, empty chip bins and rolls of newsprint.

"This is where I sit all day," says engineer Daryl Greer, 49, of Castle Rock. Two black consoles with red high-voltage warning stickers stand in front of him.

"As far as our job goes, I think it's the best," says conductor Gordon Jones, 47. "Because you're not standin' in some machine. You're moving all the time."

Weyerhaeuser Co.'s C & C Railway is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and still trundling strong. It moves more than a million tons of cargo every year, linking up with bigger trains that distribute local products across the continent. It's a little railroad with broad shoulders, moving more freight per mile than most rail lines in North America.

The C & C runs from the plant site up to Ocean Beach Highway and then to the northeast, snipping a corner of West Kelso before running over the Cowlitz River and terminating at Rocky Point, north of Kelso.

Long lured to trains, I rode the C & C Thursday to see what 75 years of railroading feels like.

Cowlitz River Railroad Bridge in Kelso, Washington in 1925

This 1925 historical photo looking west toward Beacon Hill shows a wooden trestle and the beginnings of a steel bridge, still in use today, across the Cowlitz River.

8:35 a.m.

Gordon hops off the train with flares in his fist to flag the crossing at Industrial Way. Someone had crashed into the red striped warning gate early that morning and knocked it out of whack.

Yellow and blue earplugs shaped like lollipops poke out of our ears. The engine shudders every few minutes as we roll alongside the Mint Farm toward Ocean Beach Highway. Tssssssss.

Robed in smoky October mist, Mount Solo looks farther away than it is.  Evergreens and poplars alternate on one side of the tracks. Blackberries bramble along the other.

1930s Logging Railroad Locomotive & Crew
Logging by railroad was in its prime in the 1930s.

8:42 a.m.

School buses, moms, dads wait as the arm goes down and we cross Ocean Beach, 30th Avenue, Pacific Way. Whoooo whoooo whoo whoooo. Two long, one short, one long at every crossing.

The C & C line is a ribbon of Longview's secrets. The dingy back sides of apartment buildings. Fenced backyards, patio umbrellas folded up from the wind and white plastic chairs tipped against a table to spill the rain.

A homeless man dressed in green and gray awakens from his cardboard bed and waves soberly, a half-salute, as we pass. Two empty shopping carts tilt in the dirt near him. Somber Catlin Cemetery slopes above the tracks.

8:55 a.m.

We turn north and skirt Columbia Heights in a stretch the trainmen call "Milco." It looks like someone has uprooted a couple colorful trees and slapped them against the tracks, leaving thick sprays of yellow and orange leaves.

Beavers from a nearby pond have been felling trees over the tracks recently. "There was one a week there for a while," Daryl says. Luckily this morning, the trainmen don't have to play lumberjack.

9:14 a.m.

At the Rocky Point switching yard, pigeons flutter over the tracks. The trainmen's lingo is foreign. "Oh-two and four coal off of three, or one, wherever they're at," Gordon calls into his radio.

Tied at their tails, C & C engines 701 and 702 chug back and forth, slotting the cars away until the paper, the lumber, the empties are all on different tracks. Crashes ripple from the engine on down the train, a domino effect of sound.

After a morning snack of Pepsi and corn dogs at Talley's Pacific Avenue Market across the street, the crew heads back to the tracks. They hook up 36 new cars, mostly fresh-smelling pine chips and coal bound for Longview.

9:41 a.m.

It doesn't seem fair that of all the people who pass this way, I'm the one who found a dollar out here on the tracks.

We're walking the train, checking brakes and counting cars before leaving Rocky Point. Gordon tells me about the transients, mostly Mexicans, who occasionally call out from the open boxcar doors. "Hey! Got a cigarette?" or "Which way is this train goin'?"

Graffiti on the cars, which travel all over North America, mark time and distance.

The Texas Madman 7-'90.

Ed Says: The Shadow Knows, 1841.

And my favorite, next to a drawing of a jumbled little train: Alone in the hard blackness, a line is coming in. Freight life continues. 7-8-98.

10:04 a.m.

We head back over the slatey Cowlitz, our thousands of pounds supported by a weathered brown trestle built in 1925 and still holding strong. My face against the glass, I watch white flotsam slipping down the river far below.

As we pass Westside Highway Produce, I look back to see the yellow caboose rolling over the bridge.

10:28 a.m.

As school kids at Northlake Baptist run waving alongside the train, Daryl lets me pull the black whistle handle and signal the crossing at Pacific Avenue.

Looong. Looong. Short. Looooong. I may have held it a little too long at the end.

"That one gave me goose bumps," Gordon laughed.

Tell me about it.

Workin' on the railroad

Tom BraceTOM BRACE, 76, of Longview.

19 years with C & C. Retired in 1984 as vice president and general manager of the railroad.

"I love (railroad work). I listen to the locomotive whistles every night, even if it's four o'clock in the morning. I listen to see if the engineers are blowing the whistles the way they're supposed to by law.

"It gets in your blood."

Noel DavisNOEL DAVIS, 63, of Kelso.

40 years total with Weyerhaeuser, 27 with C & C. Retired in 1995 as trainmaster.

"Anyone who works for a railroad is romantic. It's something you're always proud of.

"You gotta have a train, you gotta have a truck. You gotta have 'em both."

Wayne KeegenWAYNE KEEGEN, 65, of Longview.

38 years with C & C. Retired in 1994 as general manager of the railroad.

"It went by so fast."

"I really enjoyed working here. ... I really enjoy what I'm doing now, too. Nothing."

Byron WilliamsBYRON WILLIAMS, 67, of Castle Rock.

29 1/2 years with C & C. Retired in 1989 as train master and terminal superintendent.

Used to "cut" string of cars from the back of a 20 mph train to relieve the locomotives on tough uphill pulls: "You had to jump off the train in the dark."

Gail CrandallGAIL CRANDALL, 57, of Castle Rock.

32 years with C & C. Retired in 1998 as accountant.

Remembers when the City of Longview tested sewers by filling them with smoke. "Well, they did that down in our business one day." Smoke rose out of a toilet and Crandall says all her co-workers thought it was a fire. "Well, those guys all took off and left me sitting there. They didn't even tell me."

- The Daily News

C & C railway: The hardest-working 6.5 miles you'll find

It takes a luggin' and keeps on chuggin' - even after 75 years. It's the Columbia & Cowlitz Railway's diamond jubilee, and C & C workers old and new gathered Friday to celebrate.

At the old air shack next to the tracks at the Weyerhaeuser Co. plant in Longview, dozens of workers, some wizened and retired, some green and limber, munched burgers and cake as Rail Services Manager Art Mahlum spoke about the grand old C & C.

The 6.5 mile route is one of the shortest of 16 "short lines" in Washington, Mahlum said. But the railroad carries more than a million tons of cargo every year, giving it one of the highest tonnages hauled per mile of any railroad in North America.

About 15,000 cars a year travel each direction on the C & C line, which runs from the Weyerhaeuser plant in Longview across the Cowlitz River over one of North America's largest wooden trestles to Rocky Point, north of Kelso. There, C & C rail workers drop off cars full of finished product for the big boys (Union Pacific and Burlington Northern-Santa Fe) to haul all over the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The C & C trains then return to Longview's industrial area with loads of raw materials, and the process starts over again. The train runs two times a day, six days a week.

The railway has 16 employees, three bright blue locomotives, 1,500 cars and one caboose.

Aside from Weyerhaeuser, the C & C serves NORPAC, Solvay Interox, Maverick Steel, Northwest Freight Car Shop, SMI Chemicals, and Pacific Lamination.

Source: Weyerhaeuser Co.

Related Links:
The Daily News

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