The Leaning Tower of Newhall
Updated: 5/2/24
SP Newhall
Wx4 Grab Bag

One day back in the late 1970's, a switching movement that was shoving cars into the east end of the yard picked some switch points underneath of Southern Pacific's (San Jose) Newhall Tower, and before the engineer could stop the movement, one of the derailed cars accordianed into the tower, placing sizeable dents into both a tower leg and the yardmaster's psyche. Luckily, the tower merely rung like a bell, rather than carreening down, like the guard tower in the opening of the old F-Troop tv show, into the herder's shanty.

In late 2014, kind reader Ross Church forwarded the following info and photo. The story comes from former SP Yardmaster Bill Chrisman, but Ross was unable to recall where he found it. Along with the story came a photo apparently taken by the late Russ Danley, the long-time Newhall yardmaster better known as "Buddha" amongst employees. He was a no-nonsense guy (this extended to his usually sloppy, grubby clothing), a damn fine yardmaster, and those of us who stayed on the "right' side of him could not help but love him for all of his idiosyncracies and wry wit. My friendship with him pre-dates my career with SP. Russ passed away earlier this year.

Russ Danley
Yardmaster Bill Chrisman's narrative:

Photo [below] was taken in 1978-1979. I had given up my yardmaster seniority and Russ Danley (aka Budda) bid the vacancy which was the afternoon tower AGYM position. I was working the afternoon lead job that day and witnessed the derailment. The OWWCY had been yarded in trk #2 with a set out to either trk # 3 or 4. It's pickup was in either trk 4 or 5. When they pulled out onto the lead via trk #1 they split the #3 switch and made a reverse movement over the split switch which resulted in the derailment. Switchmen in the shanty were across the mainline on the Santa Clara Drill. Chris Mills, Lead Car Inspector, was in the tower with Russ and when the car leaned against the tower leg it caused quite a vibration in the tower. Chris came down the tower stairs and told me, "Screw this, I'm outta here!". She finished her shift in the carmen's shanty across from Yard office.

The aftermath, photograped by Russ Danley: The "safety phrase" certainly could have been some of his handiwork.

A couple of months later, as an an eastbound chain gang (Pool 4) brakeman, I was bringing a 30 car +- setout back into yard #2 from yard #1, when a boxcar picked the darn bull switch that lead to the #2/3 switch. This was problematic, since the engineer couldn't see me in those days before trainmen carried handheld radios. The yardmaster (not Danley) was supposed to be passing my signs to the hoghead via the tower radio, but as soon as he saw that the move was lined and coming back, he returned to his paperwork.

The offending switch: hidden behind the "victim" tower's far left leg; 2-3 switch in foreground, center; yard #1 to right of tower. The herder's shanty sits at the tower's base. This photo is from1966.

After what seemed an eternity, he glanced up and noticed me frantically waving my wings, giving a washout sign like a giant seagull. He started, and no doubt noticed the dust beginning to engulf the tower as the cut of cars plowed through the dirt. The POP of the car's emergency vent valves came a few seconds later and the cars bumped to a stop. This time, though, the cars mostly scattered away from the tower, the nearest one missing the bull's eye by a good twenty feet. Yep, in the midst of it all, I was thinking "Oh oh! F-Troop!"

Later, as the crew and I stood around with our hands in our pockets wondering what to do, the terminal superintendent, Walt Chelonis (recently a yardmaster / tower inhabitant), showed up, rolled his eyes and threw up his hands at the sight of the plugged yard throat. He came over to us, and after I explained what happened, he gave us a wink and asked where we wanted our last paychecks sent and wandered towards the tower. Subsequently, he hand-signalled us cut-off and highball signs as he began to climb the tower stairs to enquire about the state of the yardmaster's underwear. We did this pronto!

Newhall Tower kept that cocked leg until the day it was torn down.

SP Newhall Wx4 Grab Bag