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Admiral Biscuit


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Chapter Notes: Cab Ride (Destination Unknown) · 10:11am Nov 25th, 2021

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with Council Bluffs. The Big Boy must move on, and so too must Sweetsong; the rails are calling out their song. A train isn’t meant to stay in one place, and neither is Sweetsong.


Special thanks to AlwaysDressesInStyle for pre-reading!

As with other large goods moved in bulk, a train is the best way to move them overland. From the earliest days of automobiles, they were shipped by rail to customers far distant from the factory.

First, they were loaded into boxcars (most things were back then).


Then specialty boxcars with wider doors to make it easier to get the cars in and out, or with end doors instead of or in addition to the normal side doors. And then before too long specialty flat cars were built with multiple decks. Two levels for trucks and three levels for cars.


Those still exist, but now they have side panels and top panels to protect the automobiles from theft and vandalism. There were also experiments with loading the autos vertically, and the Chevy Vega was designed with this in mind. It wasn’t successful; AFAIK all the Vert-a-Pac train cars are gone.

Railroad cars can carry a certain weight (and just like with trucks, there’s a maximum allowable weight), and the cars are designed with that in mind. A heavy cargo means a small car, one that ‘grosses out’ (i.e., gross weight) quickly. A light cargo means a big car, and those are said to ‘cube out’ (exceeds cubic capacity before weight). Automobiles cube out, and that’s why autoracks are so big.

The Auto-Max is even bigger; it’s basically two autoracks mashed together into one single car--the middle part is supported on one set of wheels. It’s 145’ long (44 meters), 20’ tall (6 meters) and can carry up to 22 vehicles.


BNSF is the final form of a bunch of rail mergers. The first half of their name is “Burlington Northern,” which was formed in 1970 from the Great Northern Railway, Northern Pacific Railway, Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway, and the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. (They’d been attempting to merge since 1901).


Meanwhile, the SF is for the Santa Fe, more properly named the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe. If nothing else, they’re well known for their ‘warbonnet’ paint scheme; if you bought a model train since about 1950 to about the present, it was probably offered in that scheme.


The BN bought the AT&SF in 1996, and it covers most of the US west of Chicago.

One of the advantages of diesel-electric and electric locomotives over steam locomotives was that you could couple several together but only need one crew in the lead locomotive to operate all of them. If you need 2100 HP to get that train where it needs to go, you can just couple three 700 HP locomotives to it. Or four, so you’ve got a spare if you need it (this is called ‘protection power’). In fact, in the early days of railroading, cab units and booster units were often semi-permanently connected and numbered as such: UP 57A, 57B, 57C, 57D, for example. But it was more flexible to just think of them all as their own unit and attach the required amount with no concern if the numbers matched.

Or the paint scheme.


The caveat was that they all had to be connected together with MU (multiple unit) cables: if you had locomotives elsewhere in the consist (like pushers on the back of the train), they needed their own crew.

Now, though, radio controls are good enough that you can put the locomotives wherever you want in the train. Such units are called Distributed Power Units, or DPUs.

I haven’t paid enough attention to them on the mainline to know how commonplace the ‘Unoccupied DPU locomotive’ sign on the windows is, but it’s there in one Hobo Shoestring video, when he rides one. I would assume that’s so in case the worst happens, first-responders aren’t wasting their time trying to get into a locomotive that (in theory) doesn’t have anybody in it.

This time around, we have what is probably the most well-known train song: City of New Orleans.

Written and first performed by Steve Goodman in 1970, it’s been performed by Arlo Guthrie, Willie Nelson, John Denver, Johnny Cash, and Judy Collins, as well as many others. There are covers of it (according to Wikipedia) in Dutch, French, Hebrew, Finnish, Norwegian, Latvian, Icelandic, and Slovakian.

The Illinois Central really did have a train named “City of New Orleans”; Amtrak now operates that train.


Comments ( 6 )

A couple blog posts back, I used a cover image of Twilight and Spike watching a passing train, and I have just now discovered that there is a song to go with it:

For intertrain locomotive communication, I wonder how reliable, with the correct form of teminals and connectors, standard LAN cables are, given modern tech can get 100 Mbit Ethernet speed on bog standard POTS copper?:rainbowhuh:


Data speed is not so much the issue in industrial communications as is reliability, connectivity and error control. Over here I believe they still use a radio based system to control unmanned locos positioned mid consist and/or end of consist in some of the older (70s to 90s) trains. Data speed is very low, in the 120-1200 baud range but it is highly error checked at several levels and is quite sufficient to control the locos and maintain all status reporting to the loco crew in the lead loco.

Hardwire never took off due to reliable connections between consist units being far too difficult to maintain... the number of connectors which were damaged or unreliable was far higher than were serviceable at any given time in the original trial trains.

Mind you, this info came from my time building computer and radio networks in metallurgical coal mines up north and spending time talking to the loco crews who transported the coal from the mines to the ports. I am definitely no rail expert but still remember the info from back then and did get to spend some time helping diagnose and repair a couple of control module issues as a favour to the blokes so they could keep their schedules.

That was an awesome picture of all those Vette’s.

"As with other large goods moved in bulk, a train is the best way to move them overland. From the earliest days of automobiles, they were shipped by rail to customers far distant from the factory."
...Should those sentences be in the opposite order?

As usual, thank you for the chapter and blog post. :)

(Oh, and in a bit of good news, Google Earth has had the labels fixed, at least -- so that helped in following along with Sweetsong's travels a bit. :))

Who knew Toad made such a lovely flower display.

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