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mmmmA Circular of the Times, II: Roseville Herders Abolished

Sometimes historical significance kicks you in the butt. From ancient times, Southern Pacific employed "herders" (called switch-tenders on some other RR's) to guide trains in and out of yards. A highball from the herder's green flag, or green lantern, told a headend crew to "come ahead; you're all lined-up". In the days before direct radio communication between trains and yardmasters, this made obvious sense, but once radios came into general use, many herders became "featherbedders" in the finest railroad tradition. One of the best and non-productive jobs that I held early in my career was the night College Park Yard/ roundhouse herder in San Jose. I gave the hostlers a bottle of Old Crow so that they wouldn't mind lining their own switches; rarely lined a switch for a train off of the Milpitas main (College Park Yard # 20); watched TV; mostly slept.

In the mid-1980's, new crew consist agreements between SP and UTU changed this, eliminating most herder positions. By then, I was a fireman in Dunsmuir (the last one ever hired there, BTW), and after my first couple of trips on the South End Pool, found a message (below) posted on my home terminal register room wall. It came as a surprise - prevailing conventional wisdom amongst employees concluded that Roseville's Yard was too labyrinthine and busy to lose many of its herders - but here it was, eliminating ALL herders, thus kicking me in the butt, because heretofore I had concentrated on learning the road, not Roseville Yard. The message plainly stated that "firemen", like brakemen, would be expected to line switches in that seemingly-indecipherable place, meaning: woe be it to me if I caused a movement to stop because I had screwed-up its alignment. Railroaders were absolute perfectionists in those days, and were vocally intolerant of the most minor of errors, especially from dumb firemen. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. I actually had previously learned more about the yard than I thought, and found that I missed the ground work of my recent switchman/brakeman days. Now, if those old farts just would let me run the engine...