Tag Archives: barstow

It’s a big, big boy

Railroads & Trains logo

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

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Out & About—I think I’m going with 1886 on this one….

Out & About The World

Barstow, California was founded in….

hmmm….

There does not seem to be agreement on exactly when Barstow was founded. One source says the late 1830s as part of the Mormon Corridor, but the same source says that the Mormon Corridor existed from the 1850s to the 1890s.

Another source says that Barstow was founded in 1880 during a silver-mining rush, first being called Fishpond and then Waterman Junction. It was renamed in 1886 to honor William Barstow Strong, then president of the Santa Fe Railway. Although mining declined, Barstow endured as a railroad town and tourist spot on Route 66. Further growth occurred when Fort Irwin Marine Corps Base was established in the 1940s.

The military and the railroads have been an important part of the history of Barstow, California, and that history was celebrated in 1986 when Rotary Centennial Park was built.

Rotary Centennial Park in Barstow, California

Rotary Centennial Park in Barstow, California

Rotary Centennial Park in Barstow, California

Rotary Centennial Park in Barstow, California

Rotary Centennial Park in Barstow, California

Rotary Centennial Park in Barstow, California

Rotary Centennial Park in Barstow, California

I’m wondering if Barstow built Rotary Centennial Park in 1886 because that was the centennial year. If so, I wonder why not a single source that I found gave 1886 as the year the city was founded. Nonetheless, I think I’m going to go with 1886 on this one….

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Did You Know?—Deep Space Network, Goldstone Antennas, and InSight

Did you know?

I was fascinated yesterday when the InSight successfully landed on Mars. Facebook memes immediately began cropping up. This is my favorite:

Mars landing meme

When I joined the Boy Scouts in 1966 after my wise old grandmother had adopted me, I became fascinated by the stars, the clouds, the sky. Space Boy Scouts Space Exploration merit badgeexploration. The Boy Scouts’ newest merit badge was the Space Exploration merit badge, created in 1965.

I was on it.

To help me along, Gene Roddenberry created “Star Trek, debuting on television on Thursday, September 8, 1966. On Thursday nights, my wise old grandmother forced me to study or practice my violin.

School nights.

Blah.

TV Guide "Star Trek" coverFriday afternoon, though, were daytime repeats of the previous week’s shows, and TV Guide indicated that “Star Trek” would be televised at 3:30.

I was on it.

School let out at 3:00.

I was home by 3:15,
grabbed a loaf of bread,
a butter knife,
a jar of peanut butter,
a jar of jam,
and sat myself in front of the television from 3:30 to 4:30
to watch “Star Trek.”

I was mesmerized.

The rest, as they say, is history.

I have been a “Star Trek” fan my whole life.

A Trekkie.

A Trekker.

Mesmerized by space exploration television shows and movies. Books. Museums. Exhibits. Just cannot get enough of them.

St. Gertrude Catholic Church in Kingsville TexasWhen Apollo 11 landed on the moon, a landing to be televised live, I was the saddest kid in the world because the landing would be at 12:17 p.m. on Sunday. I would be in church with my wise old grandmother. I’m not sure what I did to convince her that the moon landing was more important than church on that day, but we did not go to church. I watched the moon landing, and collected Corpus Christi, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston newspapers the next day with their bold headlines and pictures. Sadly, the newspapers got left behind in April 1993 when I escaped Texas and settled in San Diego.

Corpus Christi Caller moon landing paper

When I was in Barstow, California, on July 30 & 31, 2018, the historic Harvey House railroad depot, renovated and re-purposed, had a Goldstone Deep Space Network Visitor Center and a permanent exhibit about the Deep Space Network and the Goldstone Antennas.

I was on it.

Trains at the historic Barstow rail yard took a back seat for an hour.

Deep Space Network

Goldstone Antennas

NASA’s Deep Space Network is a worldwide network of spacecraft communication facilities specificially for United States spacecraft. Russia, China, India, Japan, and the European Space Agency have similar networks. NASA’s is located in Barstow, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia.

Deep Space Network Visitor Center in Barstow, California

Deep Space Network Visitor Center in Barstow, California

Deep Space Network Visitor Center in Barstow, California

Deep Space Network Visitor Center in Barstow, California

Each facility is located in bowl-shaped terrain surrounded by mountains to help shield against radio frequency interference. The facilities provide nearly 120-degree separation, which allows for constant observation of spacecraft as the Earth rotates, thereby making DSN the largest and most sensitive scientific telecommunications system in the world. The Deep Space Operations Center is at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Deep Space Network Visitor Center in Barstow, California

Deep Space is defined as more than two million kilometers from the Earth’s surface, so missions to the Moon do not qualify to use the network. Missions to Mars, however, do.

The antennas are located on government property northeast of Barstow, near Fort Irwin. According to staff at the Visitor Center, they are not visible from any roads since they are in a bowl surrounded by mountains.

Deep Space Network locations

And now, we return you to trains and the historic Barstow rail yard.

Barstow rail yard

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Halls of History—Small town America, abandoned

Halls of History

I spent two days in Barstow, California, in late July 2018. The population was 22,639 in the 2010 census, and the city covered 33 square miles. I’m pretty sure I drove all 33 square miles in the two days I was there.

Barstow is a major transportation hub. Five major highways converge in the city, including Interstate 15 and Interstate 40. Two major railroad systems, the Union Pacific and BNSF, have major classification yards in and around Barstow. The city is the midway point for car traffic between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Before the Interstate highway system was built, Barstow was a major city on Route 66, “America’s Road” stretching from Santa Monica, west of Los Angeles, to Chicago. The Interstate highway system, particularly Interstate 40, replaced Route 66, bypassing many cities and their downtowns that originally serviced Route 66 traffic. You could get your kicks on Route 66.

There are many once-vibrant towns and cities on Route 66 that are now ghost towns. They didn’t survive construction of the Interstate highways. Even some major cities, such as Barstow, were affected significantly by the Interstates. Throughout Barstow, on every street, I found abandoned buildings—hotels, restaurants, businesses, houses. Sure, those exist in every city, but not to the extent that I found them in Barstow. Unfortunately, I believe this type of abandonment is ramping up again because of the Internet sales through the likes of Amazon, killing many small businesses. Note that Interstate and Internet are very similar words, and I believe their effects are similar, as well.

Following is a slide show of just some of the abandonment I found in Barstow. I found similar conditions in many other cities on my journey that had been circumvented by Interstate highways.

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Harvey House in Barstow, California

Halls of History—Harvey Houses

Halls of History

When I went on my journey in late July 2018, I originally had no idea where I was going. I just wanted to get out of California. When I got to Arizona, I slowed down and decided to visit places that I had not been in 50 years, and in a couple of cases, where I had never been. I combined my love of history, nature, and railroads.

That put Barstow, California, high on my list, with its railroad and car history and its position in the Mojave Desert. When I got there, I got a hotel room just a couple of blocks from the Barstow railroad yard, unloaded things, and then walked down to the rail yard to watch some trains.

When I got there, I saw the most beautiful train station.

Harvey House in Barstow, California

Since I had arrived late in the day, the station was closed. I walked around the station until sunset and discovered a historical marker outside. This station was a Harvey House. Wow. I didn’t know any still existed.

Barstow Harvey House historical marker

The plaque reads:

Harvey Houses were legendary in the history of western rail travel. Operated by Fred Harvey in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railway. The network of restaurant-hotels set a new standard in quality meal service. Barstow’s Spanish-Moorish “Casa del Desierto,” opened in 1911 and closed in 1971. It was registered as one of the last and finest remaining examples of the West’s famous Harvey Houses.

The first paragraph in the Wikipedia entry tells more:

The Fred Harvey Company was the owner of the Harvey House chain of restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality industry businesses alongside railroads in the western United States. It was founded in 1876 by Fred Harvey to cater to the growing number of train passengers. When Harvey died in 1901, his family inherited 45 restaurants and 20 dining cars in 12 states. By 1968, when it was sold to Amfac, Inc., the Fred Harvey Company turned into the sixth largest food retailer in the United States. It left behind a lasting legacy of good food, dedication to customers, decent treatment of employees, and preservation of local traditions.

There was history hanging on the walls inside.

Harvey House history

Harvey House history

Harvey House history

Fred Harvey emigrated to the United States from England when he was 17 years old.

The first two Harvey Houses were simply eating houses in Wallace, Kansas, and Hugo, Colorado, serving customers of the Kansas Pacific Railway, opened while Fred Harvey was a freight agent for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Although the two eating houses were closed within a year, Harvey was convinced of the potential for providing high quality food and service at railroad eating houses.

Harvey approached the Burlington Railroad, which declined his offer to establish a system-wide eating house operation. The Santa Fe Railway, however, contracted with him for several eating houses on an experimental basis. The first eating house on the Santa Fe Railway was established in 1876 in Topeka, Kansas, under terms of an oral agreement. Both railroad officials and passengers were impressed with Harvey’s standards for high quality food and service. Santa Fe’s subsequent contracts with Harvey provided unlimited funds to set up eating houses along most of Santa Fe’s routes. Some of the eating houses at more prominent locations evolved into hotels. By the late 1880s, Harvey dining facilities were located at least every 100 miles along the railroad.

Harvey is credited with creating the first restaurant chain in the United States. (Now we know who to blame!) Harvey and his company became leaders in promoting tourism in the American Southwest in the late 19th century. The “wild wild west” was tamed, at least along the railroad tracks, by Harvey, his company, and its employees, the waitresses who came to be known as Harvey Girls.

Before dining cars, rail passengers patronized roadhouses located near water stops for steam locomotives. Food fare often consisted of rancid meat, cold beans, and week-old coffee, discouraging many from making the journey westward.

Meals were served in large portions, providing a good value for the traveling public. Pies were cut into fourths instead of the industry standard sixths. Eating houses could feed an entire train in just thirty minutes, and meals meals were served on fine China and Irish linens.

Harvey employed only white females on its serving staff, advertising in newspapers throughout the East Coast and Midwest for “white, young women, 18-30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent”. Girls were paid $18.50 a month plus room and board, generous at the time. Women, eventually becoming known as Harvey Girls, were subjected to a 10:00 p.m. curfew and wore starched black and white skirts hanging no more than eight inches off the floor, with “Elsie” collars, opaque black stockings, and black shoes completing the uniform. Hair was restrained in a net and tied with a regulation white ribbon. Makeup was prohibited, as was chewing gum while on duty.

Harvey Girls entered into a one-year employment contract, forgetting half their base pay should they fail to complete the year, which happened most often due to marriage.

The opportunity to leave their homes, enjoy travel, have new experiences, and work outside the home was liberating for thousands of young women.

One of the wall hangings was about the 1946 movie, “Harvey House,” starring Judy Garland, Angela Lansbury, and Ray Bolger. Movie buffs should recognize those names.

Harvey Girls

When Fred Harvey died in 1901, his company operated 47 restaurants, 15 hotels, and 30 dining cars. The Fred Harvey Company continued into the 1960s under direction of Harvey’s son and grandson. In 1968, the company was purchased by Amfac Parks & Resorts, renamed Xanterra Parks & Resorts in 2002. Xanterra still operates three Harvey Houses: El Tovar Hotel (built 1905) and Bright Angel Lodge (built 1908) on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and the Fray Marcos Hotel (built 1908) in Williams, Arizona, which serves as the train depot and hotel for the Grand Canyon Railway.

I was hoping to ride the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams to the Grand Canyon, a distance of about 60 miles, but the train leaves early in the morning, and since I still had time to drive to the Grand Canyon, that’s what I did. Sadly, I did not know anything about Williams so I did not get pictures of the depot and hotel.

I got a picture of El Tovar Hotel at the South Rim. It’s hard to miss the hotel, although I did not know what it was at the time, either.

El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Barstow originally served the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. Today, the historic yard serves BNSF, Union Pacific, and Amtrak.Only two tracks remain for passenger trains, both used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

Barstow Amtrak station at the historic Harvey House framed

While I was hanging around, an Amtrak train pulled. Totally unexpected. Hundreds of people got off the train, stretched, walked around, drank coffee, and smoked cigarettes. After about five minutes, everyone got back on the train and it took off. Strangest. stop. ever.

I talked to a couple of Amtrak employees on the train while people were getting back on board, and it turns out that the train, every seat occupied, was stuck in the high desert for twelve hours when a thunderstorm washed away some tracks. Passengers obviously were a little stressed and tired; since the train already was twelve hours late, letting everyone get off and relax for five minutes was a no-brainer. Here’s a video of the train arriving:

The Barstow Harvey House was closed as a train station in 1971, and closed permanently in 1973. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and named a California Historic Landmark in 1976. The City of Barstow bought it in 1990 after it had sat vacant and neglected for 17 years. It was heavily damaged in the 1992 7.3 magnitude Landers Earthquake. Restoration required more than $8 million in repairs. Currently, the building houses the Barstow Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, the Western America Railroad Museum, the Route 66 “Mother Road” Museum, and rotating and traveling exhibits.

There is a beautiful bridge over the rail yard which allows for the most beautiful of sunset pictures.

Barstow rail yard

Barstow rail yard bridge

Sunset at the Barstow rail yard

Sunset at the Barstow rail yard

Sunset at the Barstow rail yard

From my research, I found that there were 84 Harvey Houses. I could not find a definitive number for those which remain, but apparently it is less than ten. Casa del Desierto, the House of the Desert, is considered the finest remaining example of a Harvey House.

More pictures:

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

Barstow Harvey House

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Out & About – Date nails

Out & About The World

When I visited Barstow CA in late July, I visited the Mojave River Valley Museum. Barstow is a historic railroad town, as well as a stop on historic Route 66. The Museum had date nails for sale.

Date nails were first used in Europe in the late 1800s to document different kinds of wood and treatment used for railroad ties. The Santa Fe Railroad was the first to use them in the United States, in 1901. I spent 30 minutes looking through the Museum’s nails to find either one from my birth year of 1955 or the oldest one available. The last date nails were used in 1969, and those dated 52, 55, 57, and 59 are the rarest and most expensive. I wound up with a 1923 nail.

Date nails

Date nails

Date nails

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