A Close Call at College Park Yard
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About a month after hiring out with Southern Pacific as a switchman in San Jose, one of my fellow new hires - a fellow named Jennings, if I recall correctly - and I pulled the helper vacancies on the midnight depot goat. After filling the station tracks with the morning commute ”Fleet”, we progressed up the tracks to College Park Yard to dig out freight cars for spotting on the Permanente Branch.
SP laid out College Park Yard (now a shopping center site) back in the days when freight cars were the size of cracker-boxes Although equipment dimensions, particularly width, grew over the years, the distance between the rails remained the same. With modern cars, there was so little space between standing equipment that you had to stand sideways. When we arrived on the proper track at the west end of the yard, the foreman told we rookies to go find our cars. He stayed in the cab to swap lies with the engineer. A cut of boxcars stood about ten feet ahead on the adjacent track, but immediately next to our engine that track was clear. Thus I had maneuvering room to shine my lantern alternately on the switch list and down the dark alley towards our cars. Of course this meant that I was well in the foul of the next track, with my feet just outside of the rail. Suddenly, a split second after I heard a loud BANG, that boxcar that had been ten feet away slammed into my shoulder, spinning me around to discover Jennings right behind me standing astride the rail! Without really thinking, I hooked him with my arm, and my momentum sent us awkwardly flopping into a pile, thankfully in the clear.

Unbeknownst to our crew, an extra job had just then begun switching the opposite end of the yard, and had kicked a car into the standing equipment. The fact that we almost died settled in later. Of much higher concern was our social standing as new hires. The first words out of Jennings’ mouth as we struggled to our feet were, “Do you think that the engineer saw us?”, exactly what I was thinking. We looked up at the engineer’s back faintly showing through the closed cab window, and concluded that our lives were safe from embarrassment, at least until the next screw-up.

College Park on a different night