Thursday, August 25, 2011

San Luis Obispo operations-4

In this post, I will offer another section of my interview with Malcolm “Mac” Gaddis. He worked at San Luis Obispo in the early 1950s and had many recollections of how things were done. I taped my 1992 interview with him, and have transcribed the entire recording.

     “Now Jimmy Jordan, he was Superintendent on the Coast for many years, he liked to go up and down the division on his business car, you know, see how work was being done. He often came down from the Bay Area with his car on 72. Then he would stay overnight, usually with the car up there by the freight house.
     “One of the interesting things I did, Jimmy’s car might be set different places, but he never wanted to be down by the roundhouse, it was too noisy. We had a steam pipe that went up there to the freight house to supply his car, but we usually didn’t have enough pressure in it. He wanted his car kept quite warm, especially in the wintertime or if it was good and foggy in the summer, so I remember putting a 4300 up there for him. It worked out fine, we had the extra engine available, and with a spot fire in it, it was fine for heating the Old Man’s car.
     “One time we had an incident with Jimmy right there. That was when the E units were new. They often came up on 75, the Lark, and went back on 76, and they would pull them off 75 and hold them up near the depot, on the storage track up by the freight house. The track had derails at both ends, that we would just never set, you know, we never used the derails except when Jimmy Jordan was around. Well, that time when Jimmy was in there, the E units came off 75 and a steam engine took the Lark north. They shoved the units in there and lined the derails. Then 76 comes in and the other crew, going to move the E units out onto the main to get out of there, they forgot all about the derails because normally nobody ever used them. Of course the engines went right on the ground.
     “They had to put a 4-8-4 on 76 to go south, and they left the rerailing exercise till morning. I got a few photos  of that. Yeah, Jimmy raised hell about the whole thing, his car was right there, and he knew all about it. I’m glad I wasn’t the one who had to explain why nobody checked for open derails. But I’m sure Jimmy knew exactly what the situation was.

[Mac’s photos of rerailing the E units are in the book by Thompson and Signor, Coast Line Pictorial (Signature Press, 2000), pages 154 and 155, along with an edited version of this story.]

     “The conductor always had the same caboose, you know, assigned. They would sleep in there on runs like the King City turn. Some of them had special beds, shelves, all kinds of things fixed up in there for their own use, however they wanted it. We had this one guy, Luster, I think his name was, and his brakeman was Lee Pilot, called “Starchy” because of his starched overalls. He had linoleum in there, a beautiful caboose, 1256, I think it was, and Starchy’s job was to swab it out before and after every run. Luster was always elegantly dressed, parked his Cadillac at the end of the depot. Luster was really the crabbiest old guy I ever worked with. I don’t remember his first name, but he was called “Turdhead,” which tells you something.
     “I recall Starchy came to me to complain that his trucks were running rough. He did that about three times. So finally I called Rogani, the master car repairer at Bayshore, and had the caboose shipped up there. They changed out the trucks and the draft gear and sent it back. Starchy had it about a month, and I asked him if it was okay. He says, ‘Aw, they didn’t do anything for it.’ I said, ‘Well, they put rubber draft gear in it, and they put those new trucks in it.’ But he wasn’t happy at all.
     “Next thing I know, he files an accident report, claims he hurt his back with the rough ride. So I had to fill out all this paperwork, then I had to report to Robinson, the assistant super, and I was in all kinds of trouble since I hadn’t taken care of this caboose. When he filed a second accident report, I sent the caboose back to Bayshore. The caboose came back again, and I called Starchy on the phone. ‘Oh, it’s great,’ he says, ‘they finally fixed it,’ but he wouldn’t be more specific.
     “I was curious, so I took my keys and went to look at the caboose. They all had private locks on the cars, but I had to have a set of keys. I was in there looking, and Starchy happened by. ‘Starchy,’ I said, ‘just what did they finally fix on this caboose?’ ‘Well,’ he says, ‘they painted it. I wanted it painted.’ ‘Why didn’t you just tell me that? You’ve filed accident reports, gotten me into trouble, and you could have just told me you wanted paint.’ ‘Well,’ he says, ‘I thought if I got it sent to Bayshore, they would just paint it. And they finally did.’
     “I remember this guy Hinterman, one of the grouchiest old engineeers I ever knew. Sometimes he wouldn’t even speak to his fireman. One time I had to go down to Santa Barbara, because there was a problem with Jimmy Jordan’s car. He had gotten air conditioning put on it, and he couldn’t stand the noise. It had a Waukesha ice machine and a Waukesha engine generator, so this Jack Pauley, his clerk down there, told me Jimmy finally said, ‘Just turn the goddam thing off.’ So he turns it all off, leaving the fan running. By morning, everything was completely dead. I came down on 98 and brought a set of jumper cables and my electrical tools. Jordan’s old lady had gotten a table and chairs off the car and was sitting in the shade of that big fig tree there at the depot.
     “Jordan was so damn mad, with his old lady over there in the shade. He didn’t usually have her along, but this time he did. I had to get the diesel switch engine over there, since it had a battery I could jumper with, and then I sealed it all up so he couldn’t turn it off, and got everything going good. His wife was so delighted. She wanted to know what I wanted, this was about 4:30 or so. I got a really big steak, and I was in there eating it, when he came in. He basically liked me, but he had been saving this steak, so he was fairly mad. He didn’t have much to say.
     “I went down to the depot to see what I could catch coming back, and it looked like I could get 95. So Hinterman comes in and says ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I was down to fix the Old Man’s car, and I’m going back on 95.’ He says, ‘I’m going back light with a 2-10-2 in about twenty minutes. Come back with me and you won’t have to wait.’ I asked who his fireman was, and he really didn’t answer, but I went along to the roundhouse with him. The engine had a spot fire in it, and I didn’t see the fireman around anywhere, so I got up in the engine with him and got the atomizer going and put some fuel in it, and we backed out and I put the water in it myself.
     “Then we picked up the fireman, and he got up in the cab, looked at us and never said a word. I had about 200 pounds of steam in it and water about where it belonged, and I said, ‘Here, this is your seat.’ ‘Naw,’ he says, ‘you’re doing fine.’ So he sits on that little rear seat, for the brakeman, you know, and as we went along, I’d show him what I was doing and he’d nod at me. Finally, I guess we were all the way to the top of Shuman hill, and he was paying a little more attention, so I got him to sit on the seat, and showed him where I had everything set. Meanwhile, Hinterman sat over there and never said a word. When we got going down the hill, I explained to him to be sure and keep the water up. He got it pretty full and going down the hill, Hinterman really opened up and it was just like a percolator, there was water everywhere. By the time we took the siding at Guadalupe, the whole engine was soaking wet, and Hinterman was cussing us both.
     “I turned to this guy, and said, ‘I guess we’ve never met.’ The fireman says,
‘Yeah, I’m new. I’m off the Florida East Coast.’ It was all diesel, you know. I asked, ‘What? How did you draw a steam engine?’ ‘Beats me,’ the guy says, ‘I never fired one in my life.’

There are a few more segments of the interview which I’ll post later.
Tony Thompson

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