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Saturday, October 6, 2007

07-10-06 PHOTOS: The SPRING in Springfield (Or How I Learned To Stop Railfanning and Love The Cold War)

This photo set is a little bit of a mishmash, but there weren't enough photos to really justify multiple posts. There are three, count'em three topics. The first is a routine survey of SPRING tower in Springfield, MA. The second pushed the "on topic" definition of "fixed guide way" by profiling Lock #2 on the Champlain canal. The third abandons it all together with my visit to an Atlas Missile Silo dating from the heydays of the Cold War.

SPRING tower, or SSE-274 in New Haven parlance, was the last tower on the Springfield/Hartford Main Line. It stood at the junction of the Boston and Albany and the throat of the Springfield Union Station in Springfield, MA. At some point in the 1970's I-91 was built right over the junction and SPRING became like that little lighthouse under the great gray bridge...only somewhat more ignominiously has its top chopped to fit in the close clearance. Used by Amtrak until the 90's, SPRING now sits as an MoW hangout, invisible to all except those passing by on a Springfield Shittle or the 44x LSL Shittle.

The Champlain canal is a contemporary of the Erie Canal and like the Erie is run by the NY Thruway Authority. It connects Lake Champlain with the Hudson River a little north of Waterford. Lock #2 is slightly south of Mechanicville and has the distinction of being paired with the oldest operating hydro-electric power station in the country, which has been making use of the 20 foot drop to generate 5MW of power since 1897. Lock number 2 is special because it is one of only three locks on both canals to still have its original power station for powering the locks. The small hydro turbines are kept in a high state of repair as a living museum by the locktenders. The locks are worked by their original GE motors and control equipment, which looks like it just came out of a trolley museum. The tender on duty was nice enough to give me and my friend a personal tour of the equipment. There wasn't much canal traffic in October so he had plenty of time :-)

The last piece of living history I visited was a disused Atlas F missile silo located up near Plattsburg, NY, within the Adirondack Park and just south of Pocamoonshine. It was one of only 12 missile silos ever station east of the Mississippi River and marked the final evolution of the Atlas SM-65 ICBM system. The other Atlas models used soft launch or so called "container" launch systems where missiles had to be raised into position. The Atlas F was placed in a 130; deep by 80' wide silo where it could be fueled below ground and then raised vertically up to the surface for launch.

The Atlas F system was only used for a few years before it was replaced by more reliable Minuteman and Titan II systems. All of the silos were generally sold off for $1. Today most sit idle and flooded, but some have been turned into homes. I had gone to this one expecting to find an abandoned field, but was surprised to find it looking inhabited and a guy raking leaves. Instead of being some sort of survivalist with an assault rifle, I found an artist from Vermont who offered to give me and my fiend a personal tour (Wow, I'm pretty good at getting surprise tours).

Aside from the silo there is also a two story control centre. This has been renovated into a living space that preserves most of the original 50's look, with some modern touches like plasma TV's. The silo itself is being cleaned out. It suffered some damage by scrappers who owned it before and sat flooded for nearly 40 years. The launch doors are stuck open and because a local scrap yard is holding the pneumatic rams hostage for $17,000 each. The Australian owner bought the place for a meer $186k and wants to turn it into a multi-level rave venue. The next step is to blast all the lead paint off and then seal over the sludge with several feet of concrete. Then they'll install 3 rave levels and a deep swimming pool in the bottom. They even have a website, its pretty sweet.

You can view all of the fun and exciting pictures at:

And of course you know there's going to be a photo tour.

SSE-274 aka SPRING tower. Then the freeway came the tower stayed the same, but everything around it changed.

SPRING tower, side and rear.

The diamonds at CP-98. The searchlight signal is controlled by the CSX Boston Line dispatcher. The modular stack by the Amtrak Springfield Line dispatcher. The the modular stack recently replaced an older New Haven H-5 searchlight.

Jumping over to the Champlain Canal, here is the lock #2 tenders house and power house.

The fixed dam at the lock.

Here are the two house power turbines. The front one is spinning lazily due to a leaky valve.

Here is the synchronizer gear and the speed governor.

Original GE 10hp electric motor.

The motor doesn't go just on or has speed control just like a trolley car. Here's the glass and wood relay case.

...and the camshaft controller. As the gate opens the cam opens and closes the contacts to change the speed and torque of the motor.

The lock is adjacent to the Mechanicville Hydroelectric station. You can even zoom in to see the turbines. I heard there were tours available for the power plant, but not on this day.

Here's the topside of the Atlas Missile Base. There's a support quonset hut, stuck open blast doors and the emergency escape shaft in the foreground. The guy has even managed to collect a Gamma Goat! Amazing that I was able to spot such a thing, cause I know you all haven't heard of it.

Entrance to the control bunker, complete w/ Hummer.

Launch control console, one of the many items left behind after the silo was sold. Missile development was so rapid in the 1960's that this base was only in service for 4 or so years. Millions of dollars spent just for a few years of service. Goes to show the intensity of the arms race.

Top level of the control bunker showing the escape shaft.

The engine two-level control room was suspended from the concrete shell by massive pneumatic shock isolators. Seismic vibrations from a nearby nuclear blast could have ruined everything in the control room. The entire missile launch complex was also shock isolated by suspending the entire inner structure from massive springs. The springs were attached to steel beams set 70 feet into the Canadian Shield. We didn't fuck around back in the Cold War.

Retro clocks and retro chairs...boy, this guy has a good attention to detail.

On the way back to New Jersey I took this video from the rear of my Amtrak train through UNION interlocking to document it before it was re-signaled.  In the video I cause a westbound local NS freight and northbound NJT ACL deadhead move on the 'A' Track.

Anyway, I hope you found this interesting even if some parts weren't exactly rail related. Still, both canal barges and missile elevators are fixed guideway they count!! d.d b.b

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