For years, the golden switch engine has traveled countless miles without leaving northeast Brainerd.
But it's the end of the line for Potlatch's industrial switch engine.
Friday was expected to be the last day for the hard-working engine as the last loads of inventory were moved and the mill shutdown continued.
In winters past, the switch engine hauled coal on weekends to help fuel the steam plant. Most work days involve steady effort moving five to six rail cars at a time on the flats in the Potlatch yard. When going up the grade from the rail entrance to the yards toward the mill itself, the engine pushes two or three cars.
A long handle, about knee level as the engineer sits in the cab, moves the engine from forward to reverse. The engineer's seat is a world of horizontal moving levers and round gauges.
A front lever with a metal button at the end opens the throttle on the 300-horse-powered diesel engine. A lever placed higher and farther back operates the brake. And a nondescript upturned handle brings on a throaty horn blast.
The horn sounds as the little engine passes by sand road crossings on the Potlatch yards. There are a little more than two miles of rail track in the switch yard area at Potlatch.
Larger, multi-colored Burlington Northern Santa Fe engines bring train cars from the BNSF yards splitting First Avenue Northeast as the tracks run along Evergreen Cemetery's border to Potlatch. Once on the Potlatch switch yard, the General Electric switch engine picks up the rail cars.
Engineer Clem DeRosier knows just how much push the rail cars need to glide up the track past a switch before coming to a rest. A gradual 7-foot drop, mostly unseen to the naked eye, naturally brakes the rail cars.
Training fellow workers to adjust to those track nuances is something DeRosier no longer expects to do.
It will be a different Monday morning. After years of going to work to operate the little engine, DeRosier will be staying home.
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