As a rule, I did not carry a camera in my grip while on the job. A rare exception was a Summer, 1980 trip on the Oakland to Watsonville Junction segment of the OALAC (Oakland to Los Angeles Containers), Southern Pacific's last attempt (per my faulty recall) at flagship freight service between the Bay Area and the LA basin before deregulation hit full force that fall.

I suspect that this was my second trip on the OALAC. My call for a previous one a few days earlier came from a stressed crew clerk who warned me to get to work on time, because the OALAC was new, hot and bird-dogged by management. Surely enough, I went on duty at 5:00 PM and the road foreman anxiously shoved us out the door towards our train at 5:03. Our train "owned" the railroad, and after departing, in typical SP fashion we sailed down the line for less than ten miles before we got color (yellow, red signals) from the switcher doodling around inside yard limits at Mulford - apparently uninformed about the importance of the new hotshot.

The second time around, I knew the score: I would ride a "straight shot" (no intervening switching) to the Junction on a fine summer evening; would be flushed out of the lead unit by a road foreman intent upon instructing the engineer upon the particulars of SP's GP40X "fuel savers" (for a description of the SP's GP40x 'experience', see Lettuce Make the Best of It, GP40X's and Farm-Fresh Produce Delivery. Thus I elected to place my camera in a grip already maxed-out with provisions in preparation for a stay at Watsonville's threadbare Hotel Resetar. Officially it was a no-no to use a camera while on duty, of course, but this was overlooked as long as it did not interfere with your work. I'm told that nowadays an employee caught in the photographic act is summarily proclaimed a terrorist, stripped of his / her safety vest, horsewhipped, and then drummed out of the service to the tune of "I'm NOT Workin' on the Railroad". Being in blissful retirement myself, I cannot confirm this, but I digress. In my rush to get on the road to work, I failed to throw in extra film, thus I only was able to record the Oakland to San Jose portion that you see below.


In the above photo, we see the OALAC's lead unit du jour waiting next to the West Oakland yardmaster's tower, GP40X master unit number 7201. Following it are a GP40-2, GP40-2 number 7655 and a GP40X remote unit, either the 7230 or 7231. Behind the power, you can make out the train stretching down into "The Tie Pile". Today, sans tower, this the location of UP's Intermodal facility. Note the clerk, whose name eludes me, preparing to climb back into the carryall for a return to our crew's on-duty point, the Bay Street yard office. In the middle of the picture is the ubiquitous-to-SP-yards call horn, a.k.a "squawk box", used by switchmen, carmen, car clerks and others to converse with the yardmaster. Pack sets - handheld radios - were virtually nonexistent until the reduced-crew agreements of the mid-1980's required them, contractually and practically. Time to climb aboard.

I settled down in the second unit, thankful that I didn't have to endure a ride on a hemorrhoid-inducing GP40X. Time to depart.

click on the images below for larger versions


First good roll: At Elmhurst (located in San Leandro), SP's double track split into the Hayward (former Western/Central Pacific Transcontinental main) and Mulford (old South Pacific Coast) Lines. The reasonably tight curve at the entrance to "The Mulford" provided the first good roll of the train, seen here crossing Edes Avenue. This is where we got stung by the Mulford Switcher on my previous trip.

Drawbridge once was an unincorporated collection of hunting / fishing cabins in the San Francisco Bay marshes between Newark and Alviso; named after the two SPC / SP bridges located there. The SP's later swing bridge over Coyote Creek was not replaced with a fixed bridge until the early 1980's (best recollection). The hamlet's only practical links to the outside world were small boats and SP trains. During Prohibition, two hotels and several establishments provided questionable and illicit comforts to its inhabitants. The last full-time resident reportedly moved out in 1979. Many of the structures seen in these three photos are still there, but have since sunk several feet into the muck. The center shot shows the train crossing Coyote Creek.

Further on (see below) the train rounds the sweeping 'S' curves just north (timetable east) of Alviso. As to why SP labeled a piggyback train a "C" train is a mystery; must have had something to do with advertising or wishful thinking.

On one night this same summer, I was on the head-end of another eastbound at this same location with the late, and somewhat infamous engineer, Bill Reinhorn. We noted a yellow signal west of the curves and Bill eased the train down to the required 40 MPH. Then we resumed BSing about who knows what - Bill was a great talker - as we snaked through the curves. At the bottom of the second curve I regained focus enough to realize that we were about to pass a red speed. I yelled an alert to Bill, who immediately shot the air without thinking, before noting that the tracks were clear all the way to Alviso, at least (career lesson learned: keep a handle on the idle jawboning).

We came to a stop in two pieces, meaning that I had to go back and change out a knuckle a few cars behind the head end. The other brakeman, George Faithhorn (who later went firing in Dunsmuir a few weeks before me) showed up unexpectedly from his caboose cushion just as I was slipping the pin into the new knuckle. George was not pleased, probably because my quickly-cobbled-up explanation of what happened did not ring true. The rest of the trip went fine, but on the next night, as I was napping in the cab of our west train that was waiting to depart from the top end of Watsonville Junction Yard, Bill decided to whip out his forty-five revolver and take a little target practice on a nearby fence-sit (lesson learned: tag along with Bill to beans in Watsonville after dark, because that forty-five was a big discouragement to muggers)

Alviso's picturesque Laine's Grocery (far left) has long been a favorite location for local railfan photographers. Note the van, a likely foamer-mobile. Back in the first few years of the Twentieth Century, my father traveled to the nearby South Pacific Coast station from grandpa's Palo Alto dairy to board the narrow gauge bound for Mt. Herman, where he attended summer camp. The Alviso route eliminated a baggage-laden change from standard to narrow gauge trains at Santa Clara and was, importantly, cheaper.

At the time of the photo at immediate left, the large state "insane asylum" - as mental hospitals used to be called in less sensitive times - at Agnew's (Agnew in the SP timetable) had been closed for eight years, but its depot and freight house had closed much earlier. The depot took on a new purpose in 1963 housing the Cal Central Model Railroad Club (it still does), but the freight house burned in the 1990's.

The vicinity of Santa Clara Tower and station (left) has been big Friday night foamer hangout since the late 1960's, at least. The station, the sole remaining San Francisco & San Jose Railroad structure, has hosted the South Bay Railroad Historical Society's headquarters and model railroad since 1985. The tower was also a train order station until DTC in the mid-1980's. Directly across the main tracks was Brokaw Road shanty, which sheltered switchman working the west end of the Santa Clara / San Jose yard. Notice the engineer framed by the 7201's elephant ears.

At the far end of the yard was Newhall Street (above right), where the yard office and the yardmaster's tower stood. The yard was already in decline by 1980, although only local employees seemed to be aware of it - 1978 was the first year that a regular second lead (classification) job was not assigned for the summer midnight shift. By 1980, Brokaw Road no longer had assigned lead jobs, any needed switching was performed by industrial jobs that still went on duty there. Above left, we see Newhall Tower and the herder shanty, with a U30C peeking out of six track. The right photo shows parked SW1500 2601 and gutless wonder GP9 2883 - the darn thing would barely load 200 amps whenever I worked on it. During the recession in 1983, I was furloughed from train service and worked on an extra track gang assigned to overhaul the yard's primary receiving track, Track One (closest rail to the train), with an assortment of elderly and worn out small machinery. It took us a month to redo about one mile of track. It is now Caltrain's Main Track One, and most of the other tracks in the pictures are long gone.

I learned how to mount and dismount moving equipment (no more than 10 MPH!) during switchman training class at College Park Yard (left). I also first heard the sound of a torpedo, or rather: multiple torpedoes, that the switch crew assigned to us placed along the track when the training officer wasn't looking. The instructor feigned outrage about egregious violation of safety rules and misappropriation of company materials, but everyone understood that it was part of the initiation into the service. Here, we see SP's first SW8, number 1104, shuffling cars at the west end of the yard behind SDP45 3208, which was backing down the westbound San Francisco main from Cahill depot, after coming in on an evening Commute run. Behind the 1104 and tank cars is the Pacific Motor Trucking (PMT) terminal, the location of a Trader Joe's today.

A hundred feet further south we find SW900E 1194 (left) waiting for an assignment on Roundhouse Four. My first ride as an employee was on the 1196 during the aforementioned training exercise, when the switch crew suggested that we adjourn to "Beanie's" restaurant out on the Western (Milpitas Line) near the Eighth and Taylor shanty - fourteen people decorating the switch engine! These locos were not popular with portly engineers because the #6 brake valve jutted out of the console and made swiveling around on the seat during switching moves rather uncomfortable. Local engineers also found them wanting in the power department, when compared to the 1200 HP Fairbanks-Morse goats that they had replaced five years previous. Note the fuel and oil-laden muck along the tracks. When the Lenzen Avenue Roundhouse area was reconfigured in 1959, SP tore up the wood plank catwalk that once ran the length of the various service and storage tracks, exposing a half-century's-worth of steam locomotive slime, which was later ballasted-over in varying degrees; not effectively here.

A little further on, we encounter GP40P-2 3198, on Roundhouse Two (upper right). Minus its steam generator, and renumbered 7601, the unit soldiered-on well into the 21st Century for UP. SP's 3202 (right), along with its fellow SDP45s, did not fare so well, since they never went through the Sacramento Shops for rebuilding. All were retired within five years of losing their Commute assignments. Note the hostler easing the big unit onto the turntable as the operator prepares for a spin, with the RIP tracks and sheds of the car shops in the background. Finally, we see one of the most-photographed buildings on SP. Modelers of this scene should take particular care in determining the proper height of the Palm tree, and the extent of bougainvillea growth for the month of the year that they are recreating. I'd also recommend dribbling some used motor oil along the tracks for authenticithy.

At this point I ran out of Kodachrome 64, and proceeded to lay into a "thousand-miler" (large sandwich) that had been singing to me from my grip. Now, why would I remember eating a salami and cheese, but not the names of the men with whom I worked?

Our train arrived for a "main line change" at Watsonville Junction before dusk. Thus it was dark by the time we had registered with Chester the desk clerk at the Hotel Resetar (Hi Chester! Do you have a room with a hard bed and a TV?) and chuck our grips into our rooms. This meant that the Miramar Grill and Bar, across the street from the Resetar, was the only restaraunt within safe walking range of the hotel. We all probably wished that Reinhorn was in town and hungry.


SP Index
Welker's Commute Headend Trip
This old auto map of the locale described on this page shall be replaced by a Western Division map when I regain access to my darn scanner.