Saturday, June 18, 2011

San Luis Obispo operations-2

I thought it might be interesting to provide more segments from my interview with  Malcolm (Mac) Gaddis. Mac worked at San Luis Obispo in the early 1950s, and his recollections are not only interesting in their own right, but are vital chunks of information for anyone modeling the San Luis area or wishing to operate that area prototypically. Previous posts with material from this interview were either entitled “modeling freight traffic,” such as , with more added under the title “San Luis Obispo operations,” at
      In this post, I will concentrate on Mac’s remarks about San Luis itself, and about area operations.
     I began this part by asking about facilities and locomotive usage, while showing some 8 x 10 prints of San Luis Obispo scenes.

     Gaddis: One thing I found, in 1951 or 52, we put a 5000 (4-10-2) on the front of 99 to go up the hill, as a helper, a few times. That was very rare, and I was glad I got a photo of it one time. I found out they were taboo, thev were never supposed to go beyond the west switch of the yard. They were okay south of San Luis, but weren’t supposed to be used on the hill. If it was absolutely necessary to move west, they were supposed to have special lubrication put on and they were supposed only to be run light. Even then the track crews would gripe plenty.
     I remember we had a cab-forward on the front of 71 once, and some kids had put spikes along the rail west of the depot, maybe a quarter of a mile west, and it derailed. That wasn’t a tight curve, but it was extremely difficult to get it back on the rails. It took four or five hours, with a contractor helping, and it was only the lead truck that was off. It was the helper, so the train was stuck.
     I’ve always been on good terms with dispatchers, and I would call up and ask ’em, with some locomotive move like three light engines moving, “what’s going on?” They would say, “Oh, we’re balancing power,” and I’d say, “That covers anything, doesn’t it?”
     Cab-forwards had to be turned on the wye at San Luis, because the turntable was too short. One of the things I used to do when I first went up there, the first 6 or 8 months, I had friends from LA and they would work their way up to San Luis, because they wanted to run a cab-forward. So what I used to do, I would let them run the cab-forward around the wye. If there were two of them, we could end up with two trips and the engine back the way it started out. Kermit Morgan was the roundhouse foreman, afternoons, and I remember one time, we had gone around the wye and came back with the engine headed the wrong way. He was a little irritated, so he climbed up, and he said very little. He checked the water glass, checked the fire, checked the pressure, and he asked me something about running an engine. I said, “oh, yeah, I can do that.” So he just climbed down and didn’t say anything, but I guess it wasn’t usual for an electrical supervisor to run the engines.
     [looking at photos of yard facilities]  They had a ready track, engine track, down there south of the sand house, and a “high track” up at the yard level, with two tracks lower down. Roundhouse foreman’s office and crew caller’s office was a squarish building right north of the turntable. It was in no records, no AFE, no blueprints. It was like a lot of things on the railroad, you go out and liberate some materials, do a little work, first thing you know you have a building.
      My electrical shop was in that long, low building across from the depot and just south. Actually it was several buildings together. The north end was the carmen’s building, or the switchmen, Johnny Zacker was the lead car inspector. Then next was the caboose supply room, and Frank somebody was the caboose supply man, with Franz Farrar was the second shift caboose supply man. Then there was a big coal storage area, then my little shop was last, just by where Osos Street went across. Then up across from the depot was a signal shop and a telephone shop. Dave Gleason was the lineman there.
     The oil storage tank was across from the roundhouse. There was a boilermaker helper, name of Sundquist, it was his job to pump those tanks. Then there was a boiler on the other side, to supply steam all over the roundhouse area. There was a locker room there, just north of the roundhouse, where the roundhouse foreman’s office was. Then there was the car foreman’s office just south of the boiler house, and some shanties they used. There was an old combine way down at the south end of the yard, or maybe it was an RPO, but I could never find out what its origin was. Switchmen may have used it, or it might have been for storage. We used to laugh about the switchman assigned down there, he was a great one for sleeping.
     One time, the Guadalupe local had pulled in there, about four or five o’clock in the morning. I guess he must have whistled at least ten times, and no one gave him a signal, or lined him into the yard, it was lined for the main. The local had orders, you know, for which track to come in on, and nobody would line him in, so they shut off the fire and the crew proceeded to go to sleep. I don’t remember who discovered what in the morning, but they had to send a switcher down to pull in the dead local. By that time the crew could claim they were “dead on the law,” though I’m sure they weren’t at the time they went to sleep.
     Those locals ran with smaller engines when they had steam. While I was at San Luis, they started putting those big Baldwins (AS-616) on the turns. I would get sent down there pretty regularly, but even working at LA, I really wasn’t an expert on Baldwins. And some of the things I picked up the hard way, because the Baldwins I had seen, didn’t have the dynamic brake on them. I remember one I had a hard time starting, because it was still in dynamic brake and I wasn’t aware it had them at all. It was up in the short nose, you know, with a blower, you know.
     The turns had run with Mikados before they got the Baldwins. The tough job was the King City turn, because they had to go up Cuesta on the way out. Then on the way back, they would pick up at Paso Robles, Atascadero, various industries along the way. There might be a few cars of perishables, but usually not beets because they would go into the full beet trains. You might bring some beets back down and add them to the trains at San Luis.
     I lived up at Hathaway crossing, around a mile from the depot. A train of 80 or 100 cars, he would be entirely out on the main by the time he got to Hathaway, and he would whistle for the crossing and at the same time pull his throttle all the way out. We lived just one house from the track, and that would just shake your windows out when it was a cab-forward. Trains coming down the hill, like a beet train, would pull in there at Hathaway, whistle out the flag, and they would walk the train, dropping the retainers. It would take 15 minutes or whatever it took to walk the train. Then he would call the flag in, whistle off, and then whistle for the crossing. After we lived there a few months, it never bothered us, we never really heard it at all, even the Lark and Starlight in the night.

I think I’ll stop here, and add some of Mac’s own operating stories for a future post.
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony,
    Thank you for all these great blogs, but especially for the personal reminiscences of Mac and any other Espee railroaders. Those are, IMHO, the most important items to pass on the community. All of your other information is spectacular, the reminiscences are the "crown jewels".



  2. Tony,
    Invaluable information. Wonderful!

    I've appreciated everything you write about the SP. My dad worked for the SP but I never asked about what he did or where he worked (Alhambra Shops).

    I don't meet too many back here in Kentucky who knows about the SP so the stories you share are great.

    Please keep 'um comin!

    George Corral