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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

San Luis Obispo operations-3

In this post I’d like to present another segment of my interview with Malcolm (Mac) Gaddis, who was electrical supervisor at San Luis Obispo in the early 1950s. Here he adds some anecdotes about a slightly later period in addition to some San Luis stories. Previous posts with parts of this interview were Part 2 of this thread, at, and in Part 1 of the thread, at The first segment I posted was in the thread on “Modeling freight traffic: Coast Line 1953,” which can be viewed at:
     Here are Mac’s comments.

     “After I left San Luis Obispo, I was a test engineer for awhile, mostly working on the dynamometer car, then I went from that to being traveling locomotive supervisor. On that job, I covered the entire system. One of the early things I did on the dynamometer, I had made several Ogden trips in it, and it had a Krumbeller heater in it, which circulated heated salt brine around the car. But it was terrible. We could be burning up at one end, and at the forward end, where the recording table was, you could have two inches of ice on the floor. We got tired of that, and you had to stoke that thing, as well as a great big cast iron stove to heat water for the shower. You needed a shower regularly, it was filthy dirty there, as you were right behind the locomotive and collected all the exhaust and plenty of dust from the roadbed.
     “Anyway, we got the car into the Los Angeles General Shops in 1957 or ’58, and I got rid of the Krumbeller heater and the big cast iron stove both. I got one of those little mobile home stoves put in it, and a 30-gallon water heater which I bought myself, and then we had the icebox changed around so we could put dry ice in it. I got a pot-bellied caboose stove put up in the front end, which was the only thing I could get at the time, and I got the car painted two-tone gray at that time, it had been dark green, you know.
     “The only trouble was, we had a fellow named Ben Hinchman who was Superintendent in Los Angeles. I knew him remotely, I had been a supervisor
for him years before, so he knew who I was. We’d been in there a week or so, the car was about finished, and he came by to see what I’d done to the car. Well, I showed him I’d had it painted, had these four propane tanks added, which I’d gotten from the general car foreman as surplus, I’d paid for the water heater myself, and I don’t remember how we got the little stove but it wasn’t charged to the car bill. So really all that was done was painting and cleanup and a few repairs.
     “He said, ‘That’s impossible. There’s forty thousand dollars of work charged to this car.’ And I thought, something is really phony here. I had to figure out who was coming out on the long end if I’m on the short end, because I would have to answer for this charge. I found this Bill Kershaw, who I’d known for years, and he was overhauling the business car Los Angeles, and he’d overspent his budget by just about forty thousand dollars. He happened to see No. 137 [the dynamometer car] come into the shop, and he got his excess charged to me. As far as I know, that charge never got off of there.
     “That kind of thing was fairly common on the railroad. At the San Luis
roundhouse, there was always some locomotive in the house, stored unserviceable, like the 1629, and they’d sit there dead for six months, you know. Then perishable season would come around, then they’d move them out. But meanwhile, roundhouse employees had to charge time to engine numbers, and the 1629 was right there by the time clock, so we finally moved those engines outside and made sure we rotated engines through those stalls by the time cards.
     “In the yard at San Luis, there was a south-end job, and a north-end yard job, and they would usually use the Consolidations for those jobs. We also had a Twelve-wheeler, 2918. I remember being up at Bayshore when 2918 was on the scrap line. It had a nice big number plate up front, and I went over to the store department foreman and asked how I could obtain it. He said, ‘Well, if it’s scrap, help yourself,’ and I think he even loaned me a wrench. I’ve still got the number plate in my garage. What floored me was three months later, into town comes the 2918, and for front numbers they used some mail box numbers. It bothered me, but not enough to put the plate back on.
     “About 1954 or ’55, we got some strange engines in from Arizona, 3300s I think, then we had an Alco diesel switcher, then some more steam engines. We even had a GE 70-ton engine, I think it had come from Tucson, but it didn’t do very well on that grade in the San Luis yard. When I first went there, we always had a full painted Daylight engine, either to change out or to help 99, but that changed and we mostly had black ones. When we had the Alco RSD-5 engines, they were too slow for the hill, but I remember them trying to help the 4400s up the hill. There was probably about one mile where they actually helped instead of the 4400 pulling them.
     “Normally engines were changed on all trains, but there was water for both directions at the depot, and water and oil on the main line down by the roundhouse. Engines could have run through, but usually changed. The oil was always good and hot down by the roundhouse where the steam lines were close to the boiler.
     “When they started putting Baldwin diesels on for local service, we had a lot of trouble. You would think the diesel with two trucks would be much less rigid than an 8-driver Mike, but those Baldwins, with those six-wheel trucks, they were turning over rails practically every day. We had all kinds of problems with them, especially on those old sidings. I guess they probably tried the RSD-5 engines on that duty too, but they weren’t around too long. Pretty soon we got SD9s instead.
     “A few years later, I was over at Bakersfield, where they used those same Alcos on Tehachapi. While I was there, they got in a whole new batch of Alcos. I saw Carl Meyer there, and was complaining to him about the 7000s I had gotten, 6-motor Alcos with a 251 engine [rebuilt RSD-5s into an RSD-12 carbody], greatly improved over those RSDs, 5300s we called the RSD-5s, which had the old 244 engine. Meyer says, ‘You’re lucky.’ I asked why, and he says, ‘All the time I had the 5300s, they were so bad, they wouldn’t accept them for trade-in, so I had to keep running them.’ They were actually reasonably successful on Tehachapi, but the engineers didn’t like them. They were a little rigid, and they rode rough, which is what the engineers really disliked. Then they would make up stories that the engines couldn’t keep up. Finally they sent all those RSD-5s that weren’t rebuilt to Texas.”

There is more to the interview, and I’ll post additional segments as time permits.
Tony Thompson


  1. I met Mac first in 1967 in his volunteer work with kids. As a railfan/modeler I enjoyed listening to his many stories. In your interviews I can "hear" his voice. Thanks - Vern Hill

  2. You're welcome, Vern. The text I've been posting is transcribed right from the tape. All that is omitted is an occasional comment of small talk, not related to railroading, and occasionally when Mac would start a sentence over, I left out the words he replaced.
    Tony Thompson