Tag Archives: colton crossing

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

Advertisements

Trains—A short history of the Colton Crossing

Halls of History

If you look back at the rich people in history, they pretty much were land barons, newspaper publishers, or railroad tycoons. In some cases, they were all three because many state and federal governments gave free land to people who were willing to build railroads on that land. The only people who could afford to build a railroad were newspaper publishers, so they became land barons and railroad tycoons.

Many of the railroad tycoons, like Leland Stanford (Stanford University) and Cornelius Vanderbilt (Vanderbilt University), are considered now to have been robber barons, a derogatory metaphor of social criticism originally applied to certain late 19th-century American businessmen who used unscrupulous methods to get rich. The robber baron list is long and includes many names familiar to us today from many industries, such as Andrew Carnegie of Carnegie Library fame, Marshall Field of Marshall Field’s, J.P. Morgan of J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil, Charles M. Schwab of Bethlehem Steel.

In San Diego history we have our own personality who made the robber baron list:
John D. Spreckels, making his claim via the water transport, sugar, and railroad businesses. He built the San Diego & Arizona Railway (SD&A) from San Diego to Yuma. It was during my early research into the SD&A for a railroad book that I’m writing that I discovered the Colton Crossing.Union Pacific on the flyover at Colton (CA) Crossing

The SD&A’s construction costs were said to be underwritten by Spreckels but in actuality were underwritten by the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP). After the transcontinental railroad was completed with the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory UT in 1869 by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, focus shifted to a southern transcontinental route, either from Los Angeles or San Diego to points east. SP was first to market and pretty much dominated Southern California railroad interests until 1883 when the Colton Crossing was built.

Colton Crossing is a railway crossing in Colton CA and the site of one of the most intense frog wars in railroad construction history. A frog is where two railroad lines cross each other, and a frog war often occurred when those two railroad lines belonged to different railroads. In the case of Colton Crossing, the two lines belonged to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF), trying to gain a foothold in Southern California, and the California Southern Railroad, a subsidiary of the SP.

California Southern’s construction crew was ready to install the frog tracks when an SP locomotive arrived pulling a single freight car, and stopped. The SP engineer drove the train back and forth slowly at the crossing point in order to prevent the California Southern crew from installing the crossing. SP had hired Virgil Earp to guard its tracks in Colton, and he rode in the cab of the SP locomotive.

Colton Crossing mapThe citizens of Colton supported SP, but SP had bypassed nearby San Bernardino, leaving its residents upset. Railroads at that time could make or break a community. San Bernardino hoped that the California Southern line would put their city back on the map.

Ultimately, California Southern obtained a court order on August 11, 1883, in its favor but it still took California Governor Robert Waterman’s involvement in ordering the county sheriff to enforce the court order.

On the morning of September 13, events reached a head in a confrontation known as the “Battle of the Crossing.” Citizens from Colton and San Bernardino gathered on either side of the tracks with the SP locomotive between them. Men on both sides carried picks and shovels, as well as revolvers and shotguns. Virgil Earp stood in the gangway between the locomotive cab and tender facing the San Bernardino citizens, revolver in hand. It was believed that the freight car, a gondola, held SP men with rifles and other weapons, crouching below the walls of the car so as not to be seen.

The Colton Crossing in today’s world is very busy with trains from Union Pacific (east-west), BNSF (north-south), Amtrak (Southwest Chief on BNSF tracks and Sunset Limited on UP tracks), and Metrolink (BNSF tracks). In the 2000’s, Colton Crossing got so busy that Union Pacific decided to build a flyover, a bridge over BNSF’s tracks, to alleviate delays for both railroads.

Colton Crossing and the West Colton railroad yard, within a mile of each other, are great places to watch railroad action, and that’s what I did on February 5. Here are some videos of the action I saw just in the three hours I was hanging out.

BNSF southbound on the lower tracks
There are two “helper” engines on the rear,
one of which is a Norfolk Southern engine.

Union Pacific westbound on the upper flyover tracks

Metrolink southbound on the lower tracks

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

This post approved by
This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat