Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Montana May

With no cucumbers this year, I decided the time I'd normally be putting those seeds in the ground would be beter spent in Montana. So long about Memorial Day Janice and I made a quick run over to Bozeman to check in on eldest son. This really wasn't a railfanning trip, but with the early morning hours mine to spend...I thought it only right to spend them along the MRL and Bozeman Hill. So here's a little sampling of what I saw.

The morning local drops downgrade towards Bozeman at Trail Creek. With still pletny of snow and sudden warm temps, the creeks were really roaring.

No trip is complete without some early morning glint on the eastside of Bozeman Hill. Here a westbound pops into view....

With a 3-set of ACe's shoving on the rear.

With the advent of DPU's on the "heavies" (grain and coal) the Livingston Helper is now cut-in as opposed to the old system of pushing on the rear. Rather than cut on the fly at the summit, (Muir) the helpers now make the trip all the way to Bozeman where they are cut out. In a predawn scene, a westbound coal train, with a 3 set cut-in ACe helper a a 2 set DP on the rear rolls into Bozeman.

Cutitng helpers into the DP trains requires extra switching in Livingston. A westbound coal train has split its train east of the yard. While the head-end pulls the upper cut clear of the road crossing, a 3-set ACe helper moves onto the main where it will pull the lower cut of cars west to rejoin the train. The coupling complete, the switchman double checks the connections.

Loaded and cocked, the manned cut-in helpers and the two rear DPU's each wait for the command from the head-end engineer to continue west.

A sign of better days in for the shops at Livingston.

A little predawn action: eastbound grain MT's slip downgrade as the sun just begins to kiss the hills in the background.

It wasn't all trains by any stretch of the imagination. A day spent at Yellowstone allowed for some nice images of the park still under a fair mantle of snow.

So once again, the Big Skies did not disappoint.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Spring Sampler

A few BTW's before the good stuff. In our family the saying was always "pudding". This dates back to the pre-Jello Instant Pudding days when Mom would cook pudding over the stove. It was never a guarantee. If she did it right, the mixture would cool and "set-up" into pudding. If done wrong, it would just stay a soupy mess and Mom would be pissed. So you see, the proof whether or not it was done right was in the "pudding". We're farm folk...not golfers.

Here's another old saying that is coming true..."womb to tomb". I'm combining a barley crop that I planted last spring. I'm filling a truck that I take each morning to my main employer, Conway Feed where I off load the grain. I then go inside the mill and turn that barley into cow feed which I pellet. About mid morning I hit the road to gather in grain orders...orders for feed that I made and will be delivered to those customers. Feed containing that barley. Womb to tomb...I'm really getting sick to seeing that barley!

Anyways...time for some train photos. If you look a few posts back, you'll see some shots taken during this past winter up on Stevens Pass. Here's a few taken this spring during the thaw.

Morning starts with the usual clouds hanging over Cowboy Mountain and a westbound "Z" popping out of the Cascade Tunnel.

Damaged goods left over from the snow battles; the ladder from one of the East Scenic signal masts, the the crossing sign at Merritt.

Here's two of an eastbound stack train. First we see it topping the pass at Berne, and then topping the final little climb out of the Merritt basin.

This was definitely the winter that would not go away. Westbound contains bask in the spring sun as they thread the "slot" west of Merritt with a two set DPU helper. A few miles up the hill....the same train is nearly invisible behind the thick flakes of a late spring snow squall.

The final shot of a good day is of the conductor of our westbound stacker giving eastbound grain MT's a roll-by down at Skykomish.

Stay tuned..next up are the results of a quickie spring trip to Bozeman.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

No Different than the Ancients

I think we have all seen the images of third world people harvesting wheat. Bundles, or even just loose stocks of grain are brought in from the field, usually by hand. The cut plants are spread out on the ground where some local form of domesticated four legged animal is tethered to a crude home build swivel and walks on top of the grain in an endless circle. As the animal passes by, a person with a wood rake pulls away the straw. Next, women with large shallow baskets scoop up what remains and toss it into the air, catching the heavier grain and allowing the lighter chaff to blow away. It is an ongoing process, more grain stocks are thrown under the hooves of the animal, more straw is raked away, more of the separated heads are tossed in the air and caught.

This is one of the earliest documented agricultural process, the harvesting of wheat.

What is absolutely amazing is that the modern day giants of farm equipment, the combine is nothing more than a mechanical version of that same process. The mechanics have improved, yes, but the theory, the actual how it gets done has not changed in thousands of years.

A combine got its name simply because that is just what is does, it "combines" all of those ancient process I just described into one mobile machine.

On the front, the header, with its tell tale turning reel cuts the grain stock and feeds it into the machine, just like the native men hauling bundles from their field. The stocks, straw and grain head are then fed into a rotor surrounded by a concave. The spinning rotor rubs the material against the bars of the concave causing the grain heads to separate from the straw and the actual kernels to pop out from the protective chaff. High capacity, but it is no different than a mule or ox walking across the grain endless times.

Falling from the rotor and concave, the longer straw is shook loose as it and the kernels "walk across" the first of two screens. Like a man raking away the long stocks. All the while, a powerful fan is blowing air across these screens, causing the lighter straw and chaff to exit out the back of the machine and the heavier grain to fall through the oscillating screens. This is exact same theory as women with woven baskets "winnowing" the wheat in the hot afternoon breeze. Finally, the cleaned grain is elevated to a holding tank at the top of the machine where it is periodically augured into trucks. Just as the women empty their baskets of the precious grain.

We think we are so smart and advanced. In a combine, there are no new ideas.

I've been doing some custom wheat cutting over the past two weeks. The whole time I kept thinking, what I'm doing is etched in stone in Egypt and in caves here in the US. I'm no different than the ancients.

The proof is in the pudding. A landowner inspects a load of wheat I just combined to make sure the ancient principles are being closely followed.