Sheridan HelpersWhen I first came to Sheridan in 1975 there was no helper pool as there is now. All helpers were called off the extra board. Since I was a young engineer I worked the extra board, for 11 years to be exact. In those early years of the Powder River Basin coal expansion the BN was perpetually short of crews. Layoffs by the regular road pool crews were hard to come by so road pool vacancies were somewhat scarce. That left the extra board working mostly helpers. Sometimes I thought the extra board was a helper pool.
Not all helper work was pushing coal trains. Heavy freights also got a boost now and then. Imagine yourself in the cab of a BN SD40-2. It is the lead unit of your two unit helper. Its nose is nuzzled up against a caboose. You are in Run 8. It is a fine spring morning so the windows are open. The beat of the SD40s, the creaking of the caboose, and the squealing flanges is music. Drawbar blocks have been placed alongside the caboose drawbars. They prevent the force of the helpers from skewing it too far sideways and derailing the caboose. You are shoving hard on the tail of train number 75. Even so, the full power of 75's four SD45s on the point and your two SD40-2s on the rear can only manage 15 mph up Parkman hill. Hang your head out the window and listen.
Belle AyrThese photos were taken long ago folks. The slides are starting to fade and have mildew damage. 1977 was so long ago that Gillette, Wyoming, now one of BNSF's larger crew terminals, did not even have any crews of its own. The Sheridan extra board protected the only jobs that originated at Gillette, the Belle Ayr helpers. I hated them. You would get sent down there for 7 days at a time. Here I am arriving at the Belle Ayr Mine and about to couple onto the rear of the loading coal train. We'll couple up on the move as the train continues to load at about 1 mph. After it is fully loaded it will stop momentarily so we can couple up the air. Then it is a full throttle struggle up the hill to Whitetail where we will cut off and the train will continue to Donkey Creek. In 1977 there is no southern exit from the Powder River Line and no C&NW nor Union Pacific on it. The headlights straight ahead are on the lead unit of the train whose caboose we are about to couple on to.
Rule Note: Yes the markers on these cabooses should have been removed when the helpers coupled on. The helpers were part of the train they were shoving when coupled onto one and the helpers carried the markers for the train. Many conductors did not bother to remove the reflective red markers from their cabooses but all turned out the red marker light at night. (I complained if they didn't. It shone in my eyes). I never heard of any one ever getting in trouble for this infraction.
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