Tickets... PLEASE!
SP Tickets
Wx4 Grab Bag

Before the coming of Caltrain, Southern Pacific Commute train crews consisted of a head conductor and a variable amount of helper conductors and brakemen, depending upon train size and anticipated passenger load. A brakeman did not issue tickets, but depending upon the conditions and how well he liked his conductor, he might assist with station ticket collection and with hanging hat checks.

After my first few trips as a greenhorn commute extra brakeman, I drew a weekend assignment with a fine old conductor, Tommy Meader, with whom I would work again on many occasions, including a trip to San Luis Obispo on the Starlight, in which he spent much of the time giving me a guided history tour of the passing lineside. I immediately liked Tommy, who appeared to be well beyond retirement age. His high-pitched voice was endearing - He sounded like the Muppets' Grover. Sadly, he was not always 'present' mentally. He once reminded me that our Commute train was supposed to stop at "the track" - not Bay Meadows, but rather Tanforan Race Track, which had burned down in 1964, more than a decade previous.

I caught my first trip with him while I was still learning the ropes of Commute service. I could see that he was performing his job in an orderly, kindly manner, but he nevertheless was struggling to get around on a bad pair of legs.. Because he was such a sweet old guy, I felt obligated to help him. I had more-or-less caught-on to the hat check system of keeping track of passengers, so I decided in mid-route to start pulling expired hat checks and tickets (hat checks were used for pass riders; one-ride tickets were hung like hat checks). This I did, as we passed out of each zone.(tickets were sold by zones of several stations each, rather than by individual station). After three zones, or so, , I suddenly was slammed with the realization that I had been pulling hat checks and tickets in reverse order! I now had a coat pocket stuffed with those punched for the zones ahead of us, rather than behind. OY!

I realized that this meant poor Tommy would be asking a goodly number of passengers a second time for their tickets, which they no longer possessed, a very embarrasing prospect for all parties. I considered my options in a near panic, and realized that there was no way that I would be able to properly re hang that great wad of cardboard.

Quickly concluding from this that Tommy basically was screwed no matter what, I adopted the only prudent course: I would save myself. With that, I proceeded to empty my pocket onto a convenient vestibule floor, and then ran off to tell Tommy that the passengers had reported a guy strolling through the cars yanking hat checks - and yes, I had located the miscreant's work lying about a vestibule floor.

Accompanying me to the vestibule, Tommy surveyed the damage and sighed in his high Grover voice., "Ed, this is most distressing..." I felt about six inches tall, but it was still better than fessing-up. This was the days of old-school railroading, when mistakes big and small were not tolerated. This blunder would have put me on all of the old-head conductors' shit lists, once it got around. And, in retrospect, I would have missed that guided tour and his many other acts of kindness in the future. I desperately tried to make up for the incident in future trips - I surely hope that I eventually balanced the scales with him.

Tommy, old soldier, wherever you are: I confess, I confess... May you rest in peace!