Category Archives: Railroads & trains

Created by a 14-year-old boy trapped in a 64-year-old man’s body

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On this day last year, I was in Promontory, Utah, for the 150th anniversary celebration of the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.

In May 1969, I was a lad of 14 living in Kingsville TX with my paternal grandparents. My dad (then deceased), granddad, and three uncles all were working for Missouri Pacific Railroad in Kingsville, Corpus Christi, Victoria, Taylor, and Palestine.

Sadly, no one was willing to take me to Promontory for the 100th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

I was a sad and depressed boy of 14.

I put the 150th anniversary celebration on my calendar, swearing that I would make it if I were alive in 2019.

I made it, spending May 9-12 all over northern Utah and western Wyoming, getting hundreds of pictures and dozens of videos.

My favorite video from that week in Utah shows the two largest operating steam locomotives and their passenger cars leaving the historic 25th Street Station in Ogden on May 12 heading back home to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

I followed them to Evanston, Wyoming, and then headed home to San Diego myself.

Here is my video, created by a 14-year-old boy trapped in a 64-year-old man’s body.

Where do I cancel?

Out & About

On Saturday, March 14, I drove to Visalia, California, a distance of 327 miles. It was a 10-hour round-trip. My purpose was to speak to the Visalia Succulent Club on Nature’s Geometry in Succulents.

Cover of "Nature's Geometry: Succulents" by Russel Ray

I got to go over The Grapevine, a 40-mile stretch of Interstate 5 over the Tehachapi Mountains from California’s San Joaquin Valley to Grapevine.

The Grapevine

It’s a monster of a road because there’s a lot of semi traffic doing 5-10 mph in the slow lane, and semi traffic doing 10-30 mph in the second lane. Traffic in the other lanes is cruising by at 55-65 mph, with some doing up to 90 mph in the fast lane. The weather can be atrocious because of the height of the mountains, raining at the top (4,000 feet) but clear on both sides, and even snow at some times of the year. Couple the weather with the wide range of speeds, and there always are various accidents.

The meeting was at 6:00 p.m., and since I got there at 10:15 a.m., I had a lot of time to explore. Visalia and its sister city of Exeter were quite beautiful with all the trees that were blooming.

Strawberry Tree (Arbutus sp.)

Flowering Maple (Albutilon sp.)

Redbud trees

Flowering trees

Exeter, with a population of 10,000, had a very cool little downtown area. There were murals on the exterior of 32 buildings. I didn’t find them all, but the following one, #15 and titled “Tracks of Time,” was my favorite.

Tracks of Time

In Exeter, I found a bookstore with lots of local history books, so I bought one, a hard-cover edition of a book that itself is difficult to find.

Visalia Electric Railroad

The bookstore also had a cat. I’m one of those who have to take time out of my busy schedule to pet a cat, so this little one got 15 minutes of love and attention from me. Look at the expression on his face as I told him that I had to go but would make him a Facebook star.

Exeter bookstore kitty

With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, when I got home at 4:00 Sunday morning, I decided to self-isolate, not because I think I might have caught something in the Central California Valley but rather because at my age (65 years and 8 days) and with my high blood pressure; skin cancer and seborrheic keratoses; BPH; and constant coughing, sneezing, and trouble breathing due to a deviated septum from a broken nose sometime in my early childhood (according to the otolaryngologist), I’m in the high-risk category. My constant coughing and sneezing also might cause concern to anyone within hearing distance. I have pills to help control the coughing and sneezing, but I never know how long before they take effect and when they might expire.

I’m keeping a journal of my days at home in self-isolation., trying to keep things in perspective.

Day 1—I have decided to self-isolate. Since I am retired, between watching television (although no sports), gardening (lots of weeds to pull and flora to plant), and taking care of Little Queen Olivia (who doesn’t seem to be real excited about me being home all day), self-isolation shouldn’t be too hard.

Day 2—After a day of drinking margaritas and watching the Hannibal series on Prime TV, I can definitely state that drinking margaritas all day does not make you poop. Thusly, I am out of margaritas, but I have 1,618 rolls of toilet paper.

Day 3—Little Queen Olivia is completely oblivious to the fact that I am home and willing to give belly rubs.
Little Queen Olivia

Day 4—Self-isolation isn’t so bad, but I do find it interesting that there are 8,471 grains of rice in one box and 8,552 grains in the other box.

Day 5—It’s been raining all this week, with 3½ inches these past two days, and it’s raining hard right now. Pulling weeds and planting flora is going very slowly. Ah well, that means I definitely still have things to do during the next nine days of my self isolation.

My self-isolation will end on March 28, and three days later my 90-day free trial of the year 2020 ends. Where do I cancel?

Hope everyone is doing well in these weird times we’re living in.

The historic Southern Pacific Railroad depot in Bakersfield

Halls of History

Never fails! When I’m out and about doing one thing, trains seem to crop up here and there.

When I was in Bakersfield on February 11 speaking to the Bakersfield Cactus & Succulent Society, I had to go downtown and check out the historic Southern Pacific depot.

Looks like this:

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

When construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad line had reached the southern San Joaquin Valley in 1874, Bakersfield was the preferred stop. However, a land dispute between Bakersfield and Southern Pacific resulted in Southern Pacific building its tracks two miles east of the Bakersfield, in Sumner, a town laid out by the railroad, as many towns were back in those days. A small depot also was built.

When the Bakersfield depot opened on June 27, 1889, it was located in Sumner, California. Sometime between 1888 and 1892, Sumner incorporated under the name Kern City. In 1910, Kern City voted to become part of Bakersfield.

The depot originally was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, comprising both a train station and a hotel. One of the station’s most defining features was the long arcade stretching along the north side and connecting the station and the hotel.

In the late 1930s, Southern Pacific wanted to demolish the depot and build a completely new one. Instead, the depot was remodeled, providing a more streamlined appearance by removing many of the ornamental Romanesque features and transforming the depot into a Spanish Colonial Revival style. The steep roofs, part of the original style, were kept. Additional expansions included a section in the Moderne style.

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

The depot served Southern Pacific passenger trains that ran on the San Joaquin Valley Route: San Joaquin Daylight, Sacramento Daylight, Owl, and West Coast.

Eventually the hotel closed and was converted to office space; I could not find the date of its closing. Closing the hotel also resulted in half of the portico (on the hotel side) being enclosed.

It currently is used as an office building and crew change center by Union Pacific, and on very rare occasions (about once every ten years), it serves as a stop for Amtrak’s Coast Starlight when Union Pacific’s Coast Line is closed. When that happens, the Coast Starlight goes through the Tehachapi Loop. Getting a video of Amtrak on the Tehachapi Loop is #1 on my Bucket List. Here’s a video of a long BNSF freight on the Tehachapi Loop in February 2017 showing the front of the train passing under the rear of the train:

BNSF freight on the Tehachapi Loop

The depot itself closed in 1971 with the founding of Amtrak and the termination of individual railroad passenger trains, thus ending Southern Pacific passenger trains through the station. The office portion would continue to be used by Southern Pacific, and later by Union Pacific.

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

There is a nice Amtrak station not too far away, and there are plans for two new rail systems, both having a stop in East Bakersfield near the historic Southern Pacific depot. Kern County also has been toying with the idea of a regional commuter rail system which would use existing Union Pacific tracks. Not to be left out, Bakersfield also has been mulling a future light rail system. Both systems are not on the drawing board before 2025.

Probably not as comfortable as Amtrak

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A Southern Pacific Railroad wooden passenger coach car built around 1875 in Sacramento, California.

Southern Pacific Railroad wooden passenger coach car

It was converted to a railroad maintenance car in 1913 and used until 1938 when it was abandoned on tracks near Yuma, Arizona.

After deteriorating for 53 years, Don Trigg of Yuma acquired it in 1991 and donated it to the Yuma Crossing State Historic Park where it resides.

I visited on August 21, 2019.

It’s a big, big boy

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I have been tracking the historic Union Pacific Big Boy #4014 steam locomotive since it returned to the rails in May after being a static museum piece at the RailGiants Museum in Pomona, California, for 53 years.

I visited Ogden and Promontory Point, Utah, for the 150th anniversary celebration of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. More on that trip in my blog post here: Historic trains in Ogden, Utah.

After Big Boy finished in Utah, it returned home to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where it is housed at the Union Pacific steam shops. There it stayed for a few weeks before it embarked on a 2019 tour of Union Pacific territory but only on tracks owned by Union Pacific or tracks over which it has trackage rights. First it went to the mid-west, including Chicago. Then home to Cheyenne for a break.

On September 27, it headed to California, arriving on October 11. That’s when I sprang into action, hopping in my car and chasing it throughout Southern California—Bloomington, Victorville, Barstow, Yermo, Colton, Beaumont, Indio, and Niland.

I only have 31,415,926 pictures and videos which will take the rest of my life to process, but following are some of my better ones so far.

The picture and video below is of Big Boy 4014 going north through Cajon Pass on October 12, heading to Victorville from Bloomington. Big Boy 4014 was built in November 1941, and this is only the second time it has been through Cajon Pass under its own power, and the first time going north, which means it was climbing a 2.2% grade, quite steep for trains. Cajon Pass handles about 150 trains each and every day, going north and south, for both Union Pacific and BNSF.

Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 in Cajon Pass on 10/12/19

Once it climbed out of Cajon Pass, it made a pit stop in Victorville before heading to Barstow. It took me quite a while to get out of the Cajon Pass because of the crowds….Big Boy train watchers in Cajon Pass on 10/12/19

….so I did not stop in Victorville. Just drove by the station to have a look-see. I headed to Barstow, a historic station with a historic Harvey House depot still standing….

Harvey House in Barstow, California

….so I knew there would be crowds there. Indeed there were.

Crowd watching Big Boy in Barstow on 10/12/19

Interestingly, Big Boy spent 2½ hours just south of the Barstow railyard turning around so it could back into the Amtrak station. That didn’t make any sense to me, or any of the other people crowded at the north end of the station because Big Boy would leave and continue going twelve miles north to Yermo, where it would spend the night.

Once the crowd realized that it was backing into the station, thousands of people started running from the north end of the station to the south. I mean, who wants pictures and videos of the rear of the train? It’s Big Boy leading the way that we all wanted. Fortunately, I had been train-watching in Barstow in July 2018. I wanted a picture of Big Boy under the long bridge over the rail yard, and I knew where I had to be in order to get that picture. Thus, I was already at the south end when people started rushing towards me! Unfortunately, the Big Boy consist of over 25 cars was too long for the station, so I didn’t quite get the picture I wanted, but the following three come close.

In the first picture, Big Boy has backed into the station and is at a stop, unloading about 500 passengers way back there who had paid $5,000 (coach) or $10,000 (dome) for a 3-hour ride from Bloomington to Barstow. A little out of my price range…. A BNSF freight train is passing on the track to the right.

Crowds watching Big Boy in Barstow on 10/12/19

In this next picture, Big Boy is moving out of the station. This might be my favorite picture from Barstow—train, people, bridge, people on the bridge, and good smoke!

Crowd watching Big Boy at Barstow on 10/12/19

This last picture most closely captures the type of picture that I was trying to get.

Big Boy at Barstow on 10/12/19

As one who was chasing Big Boy from here to there, I was caught completely off guard when, just a few minutes after leaving the Barstow Amtrak station, it comes back through the rail yard. Backwards! Not only that, but it traveled backwards for the twelve miles from Barstow to Yermo. I got to Yermo just before it did and got a video of it going backwards. This is my first video of a train going backwards.

Big Boy’s overnight stay in Yermo was at the Union Pacific railyard there. It is a private, secured facility, active with lots of trains, and dangerous. There were hundreds of us who could not comprehend the NO TRESPASSING and PRIVATE PROPERTY signs.

Big Boy in Yermo on 10/12/19

Neither the Union Pacific Police nor the County Sheriffs made any attempt to stop us, keep us out, direct us out, escort us out, or arrest us, so I guess all is well that ends well, as my wise old grandmother would say.

In the early days of railroads, competing companies would build rails that crossed each other, creating bottlenecks and, sometimes, accidents. One of the last bottlenecks for railroad traffic was in Colton, California, where BNSF, Metrolink, and Amtrak ‘Southwest Chief’ used the north/south tracks, and Union Pacific and Amtrak ‘Sunset Limited’ used the east/west tracks. There were up to 110 trains daily, all at a ground level on criss-crossing tracks. Union Pacific built the Colton Flyover to relieve congestion. Both directions are double-tracked, so it is possible to find up to four trains concurrently using the Colton Flyover crossing. It was opened in August 2013, so it’s still new and a pleasure to watch train action there.

Here’s my video of 6:35 of action at the Colton Flyover on 10/15/19. Union Pacific starts off the video with a westbound train on the upper tracks. It stops, waiting for Big Boy to come through eastbound. BNSF enters the scene with a northbound train at the 2:04 mark, a 5-engine, 118-car consist on the lower tracks. Big Boy #4014 enters at 5:28 on the upper tracks. Video ends with Big Boy giving a few blasts on its awesome horn.

I took videos with my hand-held Canon video camera. My Canon 760D was on a tripod and set to take time lapse photographs every 5 seconds. Here is one of the time lapse pictures of Big Boy on the Colton Flyover.

Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 on the Colton Flyover, 10/15/19

I knew crowds would be huge in the deserts in southeastern California, and the roads are one-lane with sandy shoulders, so parking would be a problem. However, I also knew where the most popular spots would be, and I knew some secret spots of my own. The following picture is from one of my secret spots south of Indio. Trains often idle here waiting for their green light, so I was 99.9% sure I could get a picture of old meeting new.

Old, meet new. New, old.

Big Boy meets an SD70ACe

There are three people in the picture at center left, and there was one guy behind me. We had the place to ourselves!

As I said earlier, Big Boy was built in November 1941. Diesel engine #8625 is an SD70AC3 locomotive built in June 2008. Big Boy has 4 cylinders producing 6,290 horsepower while #8625 has 16 cylinders producing 4,290 horsepower. I got asked on Facebook how 4 cylinders could produce more horsepower than 16 cylinders. It’s done with cylinder size and pressure. Think about our cars. We have 8 cylinders producing anywhere from 160 horsepower to 708 horsepower, all done with the size of the cylinders (is the engine 160 cubic inches or 500 cubic inches?) and the pressure under which the cylinders are pushed.

The crowd in Beaumont was huge! I suspect it had something to do with Big Boy stopping at the shopping mall there. I felt sorry for the businesses because I think all their customers were out gawking at Big Boy.

Crowd watching Big Boy in Beaumont CA on 10/15/19

Big Boy stopped in Niland, California, for a maintenance check before heading out into the Arizona deserts. Here are the worker ants serving their queen:

Big Boy maintenance check at Niland CA on 10/15/19

Out & About—Ogilby, California

Out & About

 

Long-time readers know that I’m a big baby when it comes to trains. I love them. Trains often are part of my explorations, so when I went exploring a couple of days ago looking for the Wood Plank Road, I spent a lot of time wandering around looking for trains, too.

Yuma, Arizona, happens to be one of those places where my favorite railroad, Union Pacific, runs a lot of trains, fifty or more each day. They are not short trains, either, some being up to two miles long. Sadly, the layout of Yuma with all its little mountains and valleys meant that there was not a place to get good pictures or videos of all the trains.

That left me wandering around out in the desert looking for trains and train history. I went down Ogilby Road where my source book told me there was an abandoned Southern Pacific settlement and an old mine. The settlement, Ogilby, is a ghost town, and although my source book said there were remnants of building foundations, I didn’t find any. My source book was published in 1994, so 25 years of drifting sands might have obscured the remaining foundations.

I did find the old Catholic cemetery. Looks like this:

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby was founded in 1877 as a railroad stop for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The American Girl Mine in Obregon was on the other side of Ogilby Road. The mine was closed in 1939, and Obregon was abandoned the same year. Ogilby, named after E.R. Ogilby, mine promoter. The post office closed in 1942, and by 1961, the town was abandoned.

Interestingly, there were three grave markers that indicated people were buried there well after 1961, and one indicated that the person was born in 1963, a couple of years after the town was abandoned.

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Although there are grave markers, I could not if there actually were graves there. If there were, they are well below ground as is done in modern times. My own belief is that a family would not bury a loved one out in the boondocks, in spite of the fact that they might have been born and raised there. I think the loved one is buried in a city cemetery somewhere and a memorial marker was placed in this cemetery.

The Ol’ Road Grader was 75, but the other two were 38 and 50, not only indicative of the lower life expectancy of the times but probably indicative of life in the area as well. There also were a lot of small graves typically of children and babies.

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

After having visited the area a couple of days ago in my nice, air conditioned 2019 Honda Insight, I really can’t imagine what life was like out there in the desert 150-200 years ago.

Out & About—Walk Against Hate

Out & About San Diego

I spent five days in Utah and Wyoming a couple of weeks ago for the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Although people came from all over the world, the diversity of those people was very disappointing to me.

Out of the thousands and thousands and thousands of people whom I saw, I counted five black people, four Asian people, and thousands and thousands and thousands of old white men.

I suspect that, considering the role that blacks and Asians played in building out the railroads in this country a hundred years ago, none of them or their descendents wanted to take time off and spend money to help the progeny of white slave drivers celebrate.

Yesterday, here in San Diego, the Anti-Defamation League sponsored a Walk Against Hate. I saw more diversity in three hours than I did in five days in Utah and Wyoming last week! There were over 3,000 people registered to walk, as well as over 160 teams. Many of the teams were from elementary, middle, and high schools.

Anti-Defamation League's Walk Against Hate in San Diego on 5/19/19

Anti-Defamation League's Walk Against Hate in San Diego on 5/19/19

I haven’t been thrilled about what’s going on in the world right now due to the extreme amount of hatred that the current president has encouraged, but to see moms, dads, and children out celebrating diversity by walking against hate did give me some encouragement, and in some cases, caused a few raindrops to fall from my eyes.

Anti-Defamation League's Walk Against Hate in San Diego on 5/19/19

Anti-Defamation League's Walk Against Hate in San Diego on 5/19/19

No Hate

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