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February 20, 2006

On February 20, 2006 a group of friends got a once in a life time chance to meet the legendary Chard Walker at his home in Hesperia. Chard served as an Agent for the Santa Fe at Cajon Summit from 1953 to its close in 1968 with the advent of CTC. Chard arrived on the scene during one of the greatest transition periods in railroad history when steam would disappear from main line railroads to the new Diesel era. During his many years as agent he witness rare Southern Pacific Daylight trains, Cab Forwards, propane fired turbine Union Pacific trains, early U25B demonstrators and much more. All the while he was able to find a wife in a remote town and have two daughters that group up in Cajon Summit. He also got to witness alignments of the tracks including the Summit alignment that forever changed how Summit changed.

The day started off early and picked up a Mark Cook and head out to do some early morning shots in Cajon and meet Chard for lunch. We had lucked out with some early morning shots but by the time we got to Hill 582 for three hours not a single east bound and only couple west bound trains. Here are my shots of that morning:

After meeting Ed, Gary and Tom we head up Power line road, the original road to summit of highway 15 before route 66 was paved. We meet Chard at a restaurant in Hesperia next to the BNSF main tracks. Chard now in his middle 80ís was a very sharp mind and not affected by time. He was able to recall trains and train numbers that he had seen back in the 50ís.

During the course of lunch we asked all sorts of questions and were surprised that by some of his answers. We asked him when he came up to Cajon and how he got to be an Agent. Chard had arrived earlier than 1953 rail fanning through the area and came to make friends with the station agent. When Chard came Summit he would sleep in the trolley car Descanso. The Agent took a liking to him and proceeded to teach him the basics of being an agent, so when it came to apply with the Santa Fe he would ace the test.

After being hired by the Santa Fe he found a wife and got married. But he knew that his wife would not live in the Descanso so he was able to persuade the Santa Fe to bring him a house. The house was brought in 3 pieces on a flat bed train. All three pieces were assembled without the use of a crane!

After lunch we would head to his home for a slide show presentation and more train talk. On the way to his home Ed got to give him a lift and was a thrill to talk to him, but I never asked what they talked about. On the ride to Chardís house Mark was contemplating what do you ask this man? He had seen so much, what mattered to him? What would he hang on his walls?

When we entered his home had train pictures as expected. Mark asked him the question what picture did he value the most and why? Interestingly it was a black and white of him in two sets of pictures only a few minutes apart. The Union Pacific train ďCity of Los AngelesĒ would come through a person would through out a mail bag and Chard would through his bag to him. Below is the picture of Chard with Ed.

Probably one of the most interesting events was when Chard asked to take a picture of the three of us so that he could remember all the people that visited him. This was the most touching moment, a true photographer and historian taking a picture of the three of us! I decided to take a picture of him taking a picture of us. A fantastic moment!

After the picture was taken we spent time in his garage looking at al the mementos accumulated in his life time. A large part of his collection was of trolleys and later he would show us a slide show of the Mt. Lowe trolley. Here Mark and Ed listen intently as he explains his collection.

A very interesting piece behind the trash can is the original Sullivanís curve sign that the US forestry service had up at one time. Up until this time I had no idea that Chard was the one who had named the curve Sullivanís curve! .

The weather was cold and brisk so we headed inside for a book signing, below is a picture of Chard signing one of the books.

The next is of Ed watching Chard sign his books.

Before the slide show I had a chance to show him my pictures. This was a thrill, as though a apprentice having the master view my work. He loved the pictures and could easily name the locations and more interestingly he new the type of engine and maker a true railroad person.

We spent the afternoon watching slides shows talking trains and history, the afternoon flew fast but one of the most memorable moments I have ever had the pleasure to have. As we left Chard asked us back for more slideshows and Iím sure we will be back up to visit him.