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Trains 605 - 606, The Tonopah Express

By Fred Boland, Machinist 1928-1980
Bayshore Shops, Southern Pacific Railroad

Rudy Hamann, the now retired engineer, and I were young apprentices together. He came 3 days after I, and after over 5 years of good times and bad, we were laid off July 31, 1933.

After the first year, in 1929, we were eligible for a trip pass, We brought our blankets to work, endured the razzing of our friends and crossed the bay on the 5 PM ferry. We climbed on train 248, the El Dorado, pulled for years by a P5 locomotive, 2442, a light Pacific 4-6-2, but with the more modern Walshaert valve gear.

At Sacramento we transfered to a gas electric that went to Auburn. We got off at Roseville. After sleeping out all night, we explored the Roseville shops. In those days the shops were deteriorating, just like Bayshore, but they had two roundhouses, one for the average size locomotives and a "Malley" house. Today the "Mallet" house turntable is still in place out by the snowploughs, and they still use it once in a while to turn a plough or a diesel to head it in the proper direction.

The next year, 1930, we went to Sparks, and again, slept out beyond the last switch to the East. It felt cold, and when daylight came, we saw frost all over our blankets.This was the last time we did this because we could see that there were too many desperate people who would do away with you for the dollar or two in your pocket.

The next year we went to Portland and stayed at the Y. We rode an old 60 ft. Harriman coach over the Siskiyous, the only occupants on the old train 8, the Shasta. The train later became 9 & 10, the Shasta Daylight, streamlined in yellow and red, which traveled over the Cascades on the "new" line of 1923.

To get back to the Tonopah Express. I can't remember which train it connected with, but it started out around 9 or 10 PM from Reno. In 1930 it consisted of an old ten wheeler, two passenger cars, and a Pullman from San Francisco.

In 1937 my sister and her intended husband eloped to Reno. With his permission she tipped me off, so I got a pass and was present. After the ceremony I felt badly, but I recovered and went out to Sparks. I planned to ride the Express back when it came around 5 PM. The Fast Mail left Reno at 8:30 PM and was over two hours faster than the premium train,# 27, the Overland Limited. The only drawback to this train was it's 5 AM arrival in Oakland, which didn't bother me because it was home territory.

The Express was over an hour late, but I wasn't too worried because all trains stopped at Sparks to change crews. When it came, it was comical. The engine was 2345, a ten wheeler, not too ancient for the times. Next was 21 box cars, a baggage car, and a very old passenger car with a stove pipe sticking through the roof brought up the rear. The 2345 pulled out of the way and went back to the roundhouse for water. A waiting goat reached in and grabbed the 21 box cars and took them over to the yards. The 2345 backed to a coupling with the two so called passenger cars, the air was tested, and we started out.

As my pass was only to Reno, I did not dare use it beyond. It only cost 25c on this train. There were 20 or 22 pass riders returning to their homes after twelve hours of mauling the Malleys over the Sierras. There were two paid fares. I was one of them.

The conductor was a spry little old man in stripped overalls. He took my proffered 50c because I didn't have two bits. He went all over that car trying to find someone to change four bits.

I couldn't believe it. There was an old coal stove in the corner and a big coal box full of coal. After you thought about it, it made sense. With plenty of freight cars between the car and the locomotive, where the steam heat was, you had to revert to the days when the railroad was being built.

That engineer practically made up the hour's loss in the three miles to Reno, the old five cavity whistle wide open all the way, and us bouncing around well over sixty miles an hour in a coach that ordinarily went 20 to 30 miles an hour up the branch. 

In a year or two the 2345 was transferred to the Western Divison where it worked on the Newark local freights 417 and 418. They generally carried about a dozen cars of salt back to Oakland in 417's consist for ship ballast.

With her new 6 chime whistle, that engineer could play the prettiest tune as she came through Oakland, right about sunset, trailing it off to almost nothing. Only the switch engine 1292 had a better tone, in my view. Today (the late 70's) the line is cut back to Mina. Big trucks 86 feet total length, with 68 foot trailers carry the ores and other products on the highway right alongside the abandoned right of way.