Sunday, August 9, 2015

GNRHS invited to participate in BNSF-Interbay celebration

BNSF Railway's 20th anniversary celebration
Interbay Roundhouse, Seattle, Washington
Saturday, August 8, 2015

BNSF – the corporate combination of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroads – came about with the formation of a holding company back in September of 1995. Although the two companies did not formally merge as BNSF until December of 1996, the origin of the holding company is generally used to acknowledge the genesis of today’s BNSF. Ergo, the company is currently celebrating the 20th anniversary year.

Ten years ago, GNRHS was invited to join BNSF and its Interbay (Seattle) locomotive servicing employees in observing their 10th anniversary. GNRHS was ably represented at that time by members Bill Sornsin and Lindsay Korst. [Read about that event here:]

This year, both of those gents were unavailable, but in their stead GNRHS was represented by Bob Kelly, Andrew Klamka, and myself (Scott Tanner).

Map of Interbay Roundhouse. Photo by Andrew Klamka.

This event was once again organized for the purpose of recognizing current and former BNSF employees and their families with a day of fun. Many younger couples came out with their kids, while some older employees and retirees brought grandkids. This non-public event ran from 1100 to 1600, but set-up was well underway by the time we all arrived.

Bob, Andrew and I arrived at about 0900 and quickly set about putting up our displays. The temperature was in the mid-60s. BNSF had two large tents set up side-by-side. The weather that day was a tad iffy, especially for early August. It remained mostly overcast during much of the day, but it never rained. In fact, the sun made grudging appearances through the afternoon, and that warmed up the temperature to the mid- to upper-70s by day’s end.

Scott with some GN display items.

Standard 6-foot tables were arranged under the tents, toward the outer edges, in a large U-shape to maximize the space in the interior for folks to walk about. Bob brought a few hundred GN pinback buttons to hand out, along with an ample supply of “Rocky Booster” stickers. He also brought good supplies of GNRHS membership brochures and flyers about the Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive, the Skykomish Historical Society, and the “Great Northern Day” scheduled in Skykomish this year for Saturday, September 12th. Andrew Klamka will be a featured speaker at that event. He has been researching the movement of aircraft and aircraft parts by the Great Northern Railway over the years.

On one early break, I made it over to the check-in table that had been set up for employees and their families. I explained who I was and what I was doing there, and the nice guys running the tables quickly had me loaded up with a complimentary BNSF t-shirt, a meal ticket for the big picnic spread, and a couple of raffle tickets. I reported back to Bob and Andrew, and they made it over to pick up their goodies, too.

Check-in table. Blue BNSF t-shirts in nearly every size.
Alisha Walker was our contact at BNSF and to my knowledge was one of the key organizers (or perhaps THE key organizer) for the whole event. She works in Mechanical Administration for the Interbay Locomotive unit in Seattle. The set-up for the employees and their families was very big, and well-organized. It appeared that everyone, of every age, found fun things to see and do all day.

Bob, Andrew, and I took turns spelling each other at the tables. We all took a tour of the beautifully restored Great Northern caboose which was on display and open to all for a look-see. I had quite a conversation with BNSF’s Jim Lee (who helped coordinate things 10 years ago, and was the liaison for GNRHS that time) and a couple of other BNSF employees who had worked on the caboose.

Jim Lee of BNSF shoots a photo
for a BNSF employee and family.
Caboose interior.
There was a certain amount of disagreement and uncertainty about whether the caboose was first constructed by BN in 1980, or was of older vintage and was in fact originally GN. I asked one of the men who worked on it if the intention had been to utilize the GN markings to in some way keep old trademarks current for legal reasons, but he said he had never heard of any such intention. He said all he knew about it was that someone felt it would be a nice showpiece for Interbay to salute the GN heritage.

Photo by Andrew Klamka.

Traction motor on display. Andrew Klamka photo.

Jeff leads the tour.
Andrew and I also went on a tour of the Interbay Roundhouse, led by recently-retired Interbay worker Jeff Sappenfield. Jeff retired with over 40 years in railroading. He gave us a great tour of the facilities, beginning with a quick introduction to several mechanical items out on display. We walked through the massive Materials Department, where tons of spare and replacement parts are inventoried. Next we went into the 6-bay locomotive servicing area. The two outer bays do not have overhead cranes, because the clearance is much narrower in those bays and cannot accommodate the tracks needed at the ceiling to run the cranes.
Cylinder components.

One of the locomotives, BNSF #6903 (SD40-2), was open to visitors to climb aboard and inspect. We were encouraged to have a seat in the engineer’s chair, which of course I couldn’t pass up. Andrew noticed the placement near the center of the cab window of a “Loco Cam.” A BNSF employee confirmed our suspicion that it is used primarily like an aircraft’s “black box” to provide a video record in the event of a mishap of any kind. As far as I know, #6903 dates back to about 1973, when I presume it began life sporting “Cascade Green.” It was later painted in one of the BNSF Heritage schemes, but on this day was sporting the so-called “Nike swoosh” scheme.

Phoney hoghead.
BNSF 8122 (an SD60) takes a roundhouse bay alongside BNSF 6903 (an SD40).

Through one of the open roundhouse bays we could all view a nicely cleaned up SW1000 yard switcher, BNSF #3606. Built in 1972 and run as BN #381, this SW1000 is now used exclusively for yard service at Interbay (and in fact may have been from its start). We were told it has an alternate electrical power system that allows it to act a lot like one of the airplane tugs at the airport, shuttling the bigger locomotives into the roundhouse bays for servicing so the roundhouse does not fill up with diesel exhaust.

Bob Kelly brought a 7-foot-long photocopy of a circa 1922 blueprint of the Interbay Yard. This drew a lot of attention, especially from the older rails. Bob explained to some of the folks who came by that the roundhouse had originally been in another location. Or two (I wasn’t in on those discussions). I do know that at least one Interbay veteran was surprised to hear that.

Balloon Master Sculptor Adam Lee
at work (and play, at the same time!).
Under the two tents we shared there were people representing “BNSF Wellness” (an employee health and fitness organization), the BNSF Police Force (with Operation Lifesaver materials), Employee Assistance Program, and a diversity council. There was also a fellow hired to entertain the kids (and adults!) with his terrific and creative balloon figures. He brought an elaborate balloon sculpture representation of a BNSF locomotive, which was a huge hit. Especially for the lucky kid he gave it to near the end of the event.

Topsy Turvy Bouncers also provided some bounce houses for the kids to play in, as well as a dunk tank that featured several foremen and managers that their employees delighted in getting wet.

People literally pulled up chairs to listen hopefully for
their tickets to be called. Nearly everyone took home something.

Two separate raffles were held, with dozens of prizes handed out. Between us, Bob, Andrew, and I were issued a total of 6 raffle tickets. Five of our numbers were called. Bob and Andrew each decided they didn’t need any more coffee mugs or beer coozies at home, so I ended up with all of those. When the two “big prize” tickets were called (both during the first of the two raffle sessions), all that was left was a little girls’ pink bicycle. None of us had use for that, so we told the folks to draw again. Other “big prizes” were more very nice bicycles, a BNSF golf bag, several beginner fishing pole sets with lures, and a 3-burner gas grill. There were plenty of happy folks who took home goodies.

This was once again a very nice event, and a lot of fun for the GNRHS to participate in. Several rails showed keen interest in the GN history and even the possibility of joining the society. A few of the older retirees we visited with are honest-to-goodness GN veterans, so they seemed to especially appreciate the effort to keep the GN spirit alive and on people's minds. Some folks we spoke with said they have historic photos they’d like to share, and Bob made contact with them for follow-up.

It would be great to be able to do something similar again some time – with any luck, maybe sooner than ten years out. But even if it’s another ten years, we’ll be willing!

There's always time for a railfan grab shot! BNSF 6236 is on the point, sporting the paint scheme BNSF introduced in 2005 to help celebrate the 10-year anniversary. How appropriate.

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