Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Modeling freight traffic: Coast Line, 1953-Part 3

An important part of my understanding of Coast Line operations comes from my long interview with Malcolm “Mac” Gaddis, conducted at his home in San Jose in 1992. I had brought numerous 8 x 10 photos, employee timetables, and other materials to talk about, and Mac kindly consented to my taping the interview. Subsequently I transcribed the tape (a seriously tedious process), so that I have a paper text of what we discussed.
     Mac told me that he was an SP employee in Los Angeles until his transfer to San Luis Obispo (SLO) in January 1951, for the post of electrical supervisor. His main responsibility was cabooses, the newer ones of which had electrical generators, and he also did electrical repair and maintenance for passenger equipment and motive power as needed.
     Mac was something of a railfan, and kept his camera in his shop area across from the SLO depot, so that he could get a shot of anything interesting that happened. In fact, he loaned me his entire set of SLO negatives, and I had prints made, then returned them. Some of those images appear in the book about the Coast Line which John Signor and I published, called Coast Line Pictorial (Signature Press, 2000).
     Here’s some of what he told me about operations. I’ve chosen the parts relating to my two previous posts on this topic, and Mac’s words are in quotation marks.
     “There would be a Surf turn, mostly for the White Hills Branch, and they would sometimes meet the turn from Santa Barbara, but usually not. The local would go down to Guadalupe and come back, and do a lot of switching, perishables, maybe beets, and sometimes interchange with the Santa Maria Valley. Sometimes they would bring perishables back to SLO, or if it was heavy, they would spot them for a through train, like the “Watsonville Perishable Block” (WPB). That was a hot train. It would arrive in SLO with 60 or 70 cars, we would add to it, and it would fill out in Guadalupe to a full train, then run through to LA. Parts of it would go east from there. When it was a big train like that, it ran around three in the afternoon.” [about the scheduled departure of Train 916]
     At that point I asked if this was the same train as the “Smokey.” He said no, the idea of a perishable train originating in SLO (or Guadalupe) was from later years. [Evidence I’ve seen indicates that the “Smokey” originated in 1954 or 1955.] He then continued with more on the locals.
     “Those locals ran with Ten-wheelers, Moguls, or Consolidations. Now King City [turn], that was run with the 3251 or 3264. You needed a Mike to get up the mountain. And that job, you would go up there to the west leg of the wye at Camp San Luis to pick up ore. There was a mine dump there, you would pick up a gon or two of chrome ore, with maybe 8 or 10 inches of ore in the bottom, and it would be a full 50 tons, about the heaviest cars we saw. That ore usually went north, a pure black stuff, but I don’t know where it went exactly. Then the King City job, on the way back, they would pick up at Paso Robles, Atascadero, various industries along the way. They might have some perishables, but sugar beets, not more than a few cars. Any more would go in the full beet trains.
     “We used to laugh, because we would have two cab-forwards taking beets north, and two going south. There was Union Sugar one way, Spreckels the other, and it made lots of business for the SP. Those beet trains were usually extras, which was a little unusual on the division, extras like that.
     “George McCarron was one of the SLO engineers, and he ran the King City turn. He had his own whistle on the 3251, it was more of a UP whistle. He was just broken up when they started putting those Baldwin road switchers on there. In those days the conductors always had the same caboose, assigned, you know. They would sleep in there on runs like the King City. Some of them had special beds, all kinds of things fixed in there for their own use, linoleum floors, extra shelves.
     “At that time there was a little livestock on the Coast, a few cars. We had some grain traffic too, some in box cars, with those paper grain doors. The really new, clean cars would be used for sacked sugar. You couldn’t have nails sticking out of the lining with those sacks. We would probably do 10 to 15 grain cars and 5 or 6 sugar cars a day. I think the sugar cars were mostly Union Sugar. We switched at Callender but that was before they made coke there. They moved tank cars.
     “Auto parts? I don’t remember any special trains, but the cars would be in the manifest trains. Now these photos [looking at some of my 8 x 10s], you can’t go by those train numbers, because they just used the next number in the timetable when a [particular symbol] train was ready to go. Some days it would have one number, the next day maybe it was a little later, got a different number. They ran second sections sometimes when we had a lot moving.”
     I asked about the long time span between trains arriving and departing, for example at San Luis Obispo. Why was that, I asked.
     “Well, a train came in, they would switch it out, maybe shorten it to go up the hill, or make it bigger to go south. If you had really low-priority cars sitting in the yard, like empty drop-bottom gondolas, they might sit awhile before you had space on a train to move them out. Hot cars like perishables of course would go right out. Now this photo, that’s our 2829, with that rectangular tender. I think Duchessis was the engineer who ran it all the time, and his fireman was a guy called “Numb Nuts.” It got one of the yard jobs. They had two, a north-end job and a south-end job. We also used 2918, a Twelve-wheeler, on the yard jobs, sometimes a Ten-wheeler.”
     This is just a sample of Mac’s informative comments, relating to freight traffic. There’s much more than this in the entire interview, including some good railroad stories, but I’ve selected the traffic parts for this post.
Tony Thompson


  1. Thanks for posting some interesting insights re: Coast Division operations circa 1953.

    Where does your branch line join the coast main? To what extent do you physically model the Coast Division? Is there an online map of your branch?

    I'm interested in the thought process that went into your decision to accurately model main line operations (at least during daylight hours) and a fictitious branch, industries, and operations. Could you elaborate?

    This seems to be one way of achieving a good compromise between modeling a real branch with limited operations or scenic possibilities, such as White Hills or Ojai, and modeling a generic SP main with or without a branch where there may be too many "degrees of freedom".

    Robert Simpson

  2. Thanks for the interest and comments, Robert. I haven’t posted a “prototype” location map yet, but mean to do so in a future post. The branch is envisioned to diverge from the main south of Oceano.

    I got the idea for a fictitious branch line from the year I lived in England. Many exhibition layouts there (traveling from exhibition to exhibition) use the fictitious branch idea. This means you have familiar locomotives, cabooses, signals, depots and other structures, in short all the things that comprise the image of a particular railroad. This is far better for creating a plausible railroad scene than an invented railroad, where all those “image” things are freelanced.

    But you do freelance the location, thus, I guess, essentially taking the position that you’re mostly a modeler of a railroad rather than a modeler of a particular place. The English approaches to this do model the general scenic and other characteristics of the REGION in which the fictitious branch is located, and I do the same.

    I’ve tried to create industries (at the risk of being compressed into too few towns, thus being more “industrial” than this part of the Coast really was) which do represent the kinds of traffic which were present on the Coast. I’m not going to have a pickle factory, or a coal mine, or a lumber mill, but will have some of the industries that really were there in the 1950s.

    The branch is obviously very small--and it’s a small layout--so I have to make some of these compromises to obtain any traffic at all. But I really emphasize PLAUSIBLE, in industries, rolling stock, and traffic patterns. That’s why I want to know as much about prototype traffic and operations as I can--and of course rolling stock and locomotives.
    Tony Thompson