Sunday, August 14, 2011

Modeling freight traffic: Coast Line, 1953-Part 11

I have recently reviewed photos in my collection which have a bearing on the freight traffic I should model on the Coast Line in 1953. In addition, I’ve looked through two recent books which contain good photos of the central part of the Coast Line (near San Luis Obispo). The books are Dallas Gilbertson’s California Rails 1950s (Four Ways West, 2008) and Rod Crossley’s Chasing the SP in California, 1953-1956 (SP Historical & Technical Society, 2011).
     Both books contain a number of interesting views. Pages 37 to 50 of Gilbertson’s book include photos of local trains south of San Luis Obispo. He does not seem to make the distinction Mac Gaddis always emphasized to me, that SP terminology called the trains operating to midway between division points “turns,” and trains operating over shorter territory were “locals.” Thus south of San Luis, there was a Surf turn and a Guadalupe local (in the early 1950s, two Guadalope locals operated each day in summer and fall).
   Here is one of Gilbertson’s photos, one which I obtained from Dallas as a copy slide while he was still alive. It shows the Guadalupe local returning to San Luis Obispo with ten reefers in tow. The location is Callender and the date is May 1954. (The same image is on page 44 of his book.)

In his book caption, Gilbertson stated that these were empty cars, which I suppose he believed because hatches are open, but it was emphasized to me in no uncertain terms by PFE people I interviewed that PFE cars were not operated with hatches open unless they were in vent (ventilation) service. I would therefore think it much more likely that these are loaded cars, perhaps from Guadalupe packing sheds or picked up in interchange from the Santa Maria Valley at Guadalupe.
     Gilbertson also states in the caption that this is the Surf train, and perhaps it was, though in normal operation the Surf turn would only have picked up and set out cars beyond Guadalupe, leaving Guadalupe and westward switching for the Guadalupe local (or locals).
     The ten refrigerator cars seen here comprise eight PFE cars and two ART cars (third and ninth from the head end). I discussed the impressive proportion of ART cars on the Coast Line in a previous post (at: Note also in this photo how varied is the degree of weathering on these cars. This is a common theme in photos of transition-era reefers, as I illustrated with additional photos in an earlier post (see:
     Here is another example of a local near Guadalupe, a detail of one of Richard Steinheimer’s fine photos at the DeGolyer Library. (It was included in Signor’s and my book, Coast Line Pictorial). It’s from a later time, February 1956, so steam has been superseded by a Baldwin road switcher, The consist happens to be ten cars, just like the Gilbertson photo above, and nine of them are reefers: one FGEX car at the front of the string, followed by a BREX car, while the third car ahead of the caboose (barely visible at the edge of the image) is an ART car. The other six reefers are PFE. At the head end, of course, is a battered GS gondola. Since so many photos of these locals show trains as short or shorter than the ones in these two photos, I can safely model them that way--a good thing since I don’t have layout space for long trains!

     Rod Crossley’s book contains more photos than Gilbertson’s, particularly at San Luis Obispo, and is an essential resource for anyone interested in that area at that time. The photos are black and white, in contrast to Gilbertson’s all-color book, but the information in them is invaluable. He documents the steam power assigned at San Luis as well as anyone could, and provides numerous views of the King City and Surf turns, as well as the Guadalupe local. His photos of the locals, however, are scattered through the book, so some diligence is required to find them all.
     These two books not only provide modeling information, but for me are also a great source of sheer inspiration. These are wonderful photos of the place and time I’m trying to model, and I never get tired of paging through these collections of images.
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony,
    Just wanted to say thanks for this continuing series. Except for waybills (I'm just not that into operations), every post has been educational and useful. Our new house is building as I type and I can't wait to start pulling boxcars out to see where I've gone wrong .
    Thanks again for this series.
    Jim Pattison

  2. You're very welcome, Jim. And if you build a layout in the new house and starting running trains, you might find that you DO have an interest in operation. I love building models, but I love operating them too.

    You can always come back later and review the waybill material to see how much of it fits what you want to do with the layout.
    Tony Thompson

  3. Oh, I'll run them- a lot. It just won't be organized. At least that has been the way of my previous layouts, but who knows? Now retired with more time on my hands I might end up digging back into the waybill posts.

  4. Just found a new copy of California Rails 1950s. Not many around just 3 years after publication. More reading to do. It never ends but what joy!


  5. Thanks for letting us know that new copies are still out there, George. I know you'll enjoy and by stimulated by the book.
    Tony Thompson