Thursday, January 26, 2012

San Luis Obispo operations-5

I haven’t posted a Mac Gaddis segment for awhile, so thought I would add one here. “Mac” was the late Malcolm Gaddis, long-time SP employee, who worked at San Luis Obispo in the early 1950s and in later years on many parts of Pacific Lines. Mac passed away in 2010. I interviewed him at his home in San Jose in 1990, and afterwards transcribed the tapes I recorded while he talked. Part 4 of this thread can be viewed at: . In this segment, some parts are not about the Coast Line, but they are interesting stories anyway.

     Here are Mac’s comments:
“The SP always ran big trains. I remember one time in Bakersfield, first time I went there, I saw a poor little Consolidation, 2831, with 127 flat cars, it about tore up the yard trying to get traction to move that train. They had to use an 0-6-0 to get it started, and they set up the main line all the way to Fresno to make sure he didn’t have to stop anywhere. He could never have started up again.
     “The Santa Fe was totally different. They ran shorter trains with big power, like those Mountains they had. They would call over to the SP to find out when the next Tehachapi drag was due out, then they would call their train for ten minutes earlier.
     “Of course, the Santa Fe dragged a lot of slow trains over there too. I remember one time at Cliff, they had piled up 40 flat cars in one pile. I got up there about four o’clock in the morning with Jim Strong, who was the chief engineer. What had happened, they had a lumber train, and they had EMDs on the point and those big Alco Alligators on the rear, and were going along the double track in Run 8, probably 18 miles an hour or so. The guy on the front end gets a red block at the end of the siding, and he shuts off, without setting any air or anything. 
     “Well, the Alcos, they were still in Run 8 and kept right on coming, and these flat cars just went every which way. So Jim Strong and I decided that one way to get the main line open quickly was bulldoze ’em over the side, and we had a Cat D8 up there and pushed em right over the cliff, and by seven o’clock it was about cleared up.
     “Bob Robinson, the Division Superintendent, came up there, and he didn’t exactly understand what we had done, but the road was clear. We never did have a record of how many cars we had shoved over the bank.
     “About two years later, D.J. Russell was coming up there in his business car, and coming around that curve, he was way out in the very corner of his back platformso he could see over the side. He loved to do that, see everything on the railroad. They’re standing out there, and Russell says, ‘SayBob, what’s all that mess down there?’ 
     “So next day, we had a little staff meeting, as soon as the Old Man had left, and Robinson had to call everybody in and pass along some of the chewing he’d gotten. ‘Gaddis,’ he says to me, ‘how did all those goddam cars get all down that hill?’
     “I said, ‘Oh, gee, that was a long time ago, and I’ve forgotten all about that.’ He looks at me and says, ‘Ohsure.’ Anyway, he must have driven back up above Caliente to see it, and he was telling me, ‘those all have to go, get rid of all of them.’ We got a junk dealer to go in there and salvage all of those cars.
     “I guess the worst wreck I got involved in on the Coast was at Guadalupe. There was a four-unit diesel, a fairly hotshot train westward on the main, and the Guadalupe local had a cab-forward. It must have been heavy with beets that day. He had switched out his loads, sawed all the way back up, then run down again.
     “Apparently he had gone far enough to clear the signal, and the four-unit diesel coming down the hill into town, doing 45 or 50, just saw three greens in a row. The Mallet had pulled up again and they met right there, laid them both right over, probably the worst mess I ever saw. All four units on their side, the Mallet over the other waybut nobody was killed. They had all seen it coming, I guess, and managed to get off the engines.
     “One time in a strike, management had to operate. I remember working on the Coos Bay local with three Baldwins and 42 log cars, just loaded to the gills. We started east early in the morning, pulled up to the top of the mountain, and went to eat. When we came out again, well, my brakeman was out of the accounting department, and his expertise was close to zero. The conductor was from the safety  department, and I told them both I wanted retainers on all the cars to go down the hill.
     “Of course, they're saying ‘What are retainers?‘ so you have to go back and show them where you turn this little lever, ‘turn it like this.’ They wouldn’t ride on the locomotive, but wanted to be in the caboose. That was okay. I was surprised, those Baldwins actually had an excellent dynamic brake, and they did quite well, no slipping at all. They would ring the alarm bell when they got up to about Run 6, and they would call me on the radio, and I’d say ‘Just keep going.’ They were built so sturdy, I wasn’t worried about the overload.
     “We used the Baldwins on the Coast for awhile, mostly for local work, and they had plenty of pulling power, but the trucks were so rigid they were always damaging the track. The Roadmasters would really gripe about them. Eventually they were moved off the Coast. 
     “Now about the Cuesta tunnels, they had water cars up there for protection. They had them there for years and years, in case of fires. It was four or five cars, usually two with platforms on the top and a couple just with water inside. I don’t recall if any of them had spray heads. Some were on each side of the summit. 
     “There was a siding just above the summit tunnel, between there and Cuesta siding, where there were work cars. You know they worked on those tunnels for just years. They dug out almost six feet of the tunnel tops, with 3-foot gauge cars to pull out the dirt. They could only do a little work at a time, because the line was kept open all through the project, and when they finally got the job done, those work crews must have been shocked. Probably they thought they had a lifetime job.”

     I have a little more from my interview with Mac, and I’ll include it in a future post.
Tony Thompson