An Interview with Chard Walker
By Dave Crammer
The following article was printed April 2008 issue of Railfan and Railroad and reprinted with the consent of Railfan and Railroad.
I started with the railroad in June of 1947 as a night clerk and janitor cleanup man in Victorville. There were several trains that stopped at Victorville to let off passengers but the Streamliners just went through. There was an agent there and a cashier who took care of all of the books and another guy who handled the railway express agency and had a little office by himself. He also checked the yard and there was a ticket clerk who sold tickets in the evening. Of course there was also the janitor’s job that I started out with. Some of the trains that stopped at night had a lot of mail and express and they would take these wagons out and spot them to take mail on one and express on the other. Newspapers also came up from LA and we’d put them on one of the baggage trucks and every morning a guy would come in a pickup truck and get all of them. Some of the people who came out on the train were headed to these guest ranches in Apple Valley which were popular when I started there in the late forties. People at the ranches would pick them up in cars and take them and their luggage out to the ranch. There was a little bench to the left of the train order window and on weekends I would see two different couples out there. I never learned their names but we would speak and one couple lived out there and just liked to come out and sit on the bench. The other couple came from the city and they’d stay over night at one of the hotels. There was a lot of activity there because the helpers would be arriving and turning on the wye and steamers might stop and take water and the Westbound freights would stop to get helpers. The Grand Canyon Limited would stop in the afternoon and Santa Fe had a California Limited with both trains going all of the way to Chicago. A guy named Larry had a cab that would be waiting at the depot for passengers and one of the cement companies would be by the pick up cement workers that were waiting. It was a busy depot and at the time it was the center of town with a bank, a grocery, a post office and a theater all within walking distance. Now the only train that stops there is The Southwest Chief at night. In September of that year I transferred over and became a train order operator. At time the clerks and the operators each had their own union which also meant that they had their own seniorities and rosters and you couldn’t belong to both of them at the same time. I wanted to be an operator and I sort of came in the back door because they suddenly needed this night time operator because they lost the one they’d had before. The clerk part didn’t require knowing Morse Code but when I became an operator I had been preparing by learning the code. That goes back a year to 1946 when I rode the train up to Summit to spend a few days in the Pacific Railroad Society’s ex-funeral streetcar Descanso which means rest or repose in Spanish, from the Los Angeles Railway with a track gauge of 3'6". It was built in 1909 and business was so good they built a second one two years later in 1911. They made the second one a little bit longer and used it through WWI. After WWI they paved the streets that used to be unpaved and made improvements in automobiles, hearses and trucks so business just dropped off. They had kept it in their car barn for years and when I joined the Railroad Boosters in 1936 I learned about it. In 1939 we took a chartered train over to the shops and they pulled the Descanso out so we could take pictures of it and walk through it. On the walk through it smelled musty since it had been in storage in the car barn since the twenties. They moved it up to Summit in 1940 and I had been up there once or twice before so I knew it was up there and it was the reason I went up to Summit. I had a cot to sleep on and some grub with me and that first afternoon I went down to the depot to visit and a rail fan was working there named Bob Wagner. The regular operator, Bob Beck, was off on an extended sick leave so Bob Wagner was working off of the extra board as an assignment until the other fellow came back. He was a railfan and we hit it off so I went down there every evening and visited with him. He’d show me some of the things that the job required and I made a comment to him that I sure liked it up at Summit. I lived in Los Angeles with all of the smog and I felt a lot better up there with all of the clean air and I felt like a different person. I told him I wished I could be up there all of the time. He told me that the Santa Fe was hiring train order operators, which at that time were called telegraphers, so he suggested that I learn how to telegraph and study the book of rules. When Bob Beck came back to work they sent Bob Wagner elsewhere and I went home where the first thing I did was call the Frank Wiggins Trade School which was part of the LA Department of Education and asked if they had a course in Railroad Telegraphy. They told me yes and to see Mr. so and so in room such and such so I enrolled down there and began learning telegraphy, which was done by ear. What we used it for was mostly Western Union telegrams and we had a lot of them in Victorville and at Summit hardly any. We used the phone for talking to the dispatcher but we were still supposed to know how to telegraph. I was the weakest Morse person there because I felt that everyone else there could do circles around me. In hindsight if I had stayed a few more weeks I would have gotten better at telegraphing but the following March Bob Wagner was back at work and I just wanted to get back up there and sort of be his apprentice. That was in 1947 and when the opening for an employee at the station in Victorville came up and I was hired. A few years later they did away with the telegraph and came in and took all of the instruments away. When they got rid of the telegraph they called us “telephonefers “ and of course the company wanted to merge the two unions and have everyone on the same roster. It was many years later that they finally did merge the telegraphers in with the clerks when it was realized there wasn’t any future for operators since they were closing so many depots.
I contacted the chief dispatcher in San Bernardino and at that time he was responsible for hiring all of the operators. I had met him once before and I told him I wanted to become an operator and he said well, why don’t you work the job you’re on now for 60 days and after 60 days send a letter to the superintendent saying you’d like to transfer. When they hired new operators they would hire them as apprentices and they would cover for two years and move them from one place to another to learn the job at one place and just continually move them so the would be well educated for the various locations. I established my seniority on September 25th 1947 as an operator. It just so happened that they needed someone on at Summit and at Victorville at what was called a relief swing job. It came up for bid and I bid on it and I got it because no one else wanted it. If you had seniority you bid on jobs for places like Union Station or Pasadena so it was fortunate for me that I had no seniority and since nobody else wanted Summit I got it. I didn’t have a car at the time so I rode with the helpers, cabooses and road engines back and forth between the two of them. I rode in steam helpers and diesels but while the gentle rocking motion of the diesels and the warmth of the heater could put you to sleep the Steamers were much more violent in their movements and not conducive to nodding off. I lived up at Summit in the Descanso but there were always plenty of helpers headed down the Hill from Summit to Victorville and freight trains going West the other way. I saved up my money and about a year later in 1948 I got the car that I had been waiting for. I had always wanted a jeep after World War II so I was able to buy one for less than a thousand dollars at that time. It was a civilian jeep that the dealer painted yellow and I painted black spots on it and put a pair of markers on the rear corners to make it technically a train. Originally markers were kerosene lamps and later they were electrified and they were hung on the rear corner of the last car of the train, which if it was a freight train would be on the caboose, or the last car of a passenger train. They had a red light shining to the rear and you could turn them in their mounting brackets. On the Santa Fe the other three lenses were yellow and some railroads had green. At night when a train took a siding to let a passenger train by and they were in the clear and the switch had been lined back someone on the caboose would turn the marker so that the red pointed to the side of the car and the yellow to the rear. When a following train came along and saw a pair of yellow markers he would know they were in the clear. When the train had cleared and they were going to pull out the guy in the caboose would turn the marker back to red so that a following freight would know they were about to pull out so that is what made trains and my jeep.
All the crews knew me because I worked both at Summit and Victorville and it was a great job to have. For a while when I was working in Victorville I got stuck on a four to midnight job called the second trick. That was the trick I always liked the best and I worked it from around May of 1949 until the end of 1950. Most of the Eastbounds ran at night. I think the first one in the afternoon was The Chief and after that would be the UP LA Limited and several other trains would go East and in the middle of the night was when the fast mail train came through. Most of the Westbounds came by early for a morning arrival in Los Angeles. These were trains like The Scout, the UP Pony Express and The California Limited. When I first got up there The Chief ran daily but the Super Chief and El Capitan only ran daily. They went East on Tuesday and Friday. The UP City of LA, which was their top draw train, came every third day. It would leave LA on the third of the moth and then go multiples of 3’s at 6, 9, 12 etc. and two days later would come West. While I was working at Victorville in the afternoons and evenings some of the helper crews, Union Pacific completely dieselized in 1948 but Santa Fe was still running steam, so for helpers they were using these little 2,000 HP Fairbanks-Morse units that did not have MU capability. Each one had to have both an engineer and a fireman. Some of the UP people would arrive in Victorville and wouldn’t be needed for a while. Either the UP or Santa Fe dispatcher would say, “Give em a three hour space until called.” That would stop the clock on their sixteen hour days if they were off for three hours or more but if we had to call them sooner than three hours the clock kept going. In the afternoon they would come in and I would give them the key to my jeep to go over to Apple Valley or whatever. I’d say sure if they would let me run their motors because we called the Fairbanks-Morse units motors. In June of 1950 the UP brought steam helpers back on the hill because the Fairbanks-Morse helpers couldn’t handle the tonnage they were rated for. UP was still using Steam East of Ogden and so they sent some steam engine helpers down and sent the Fairbanks-Morse units elsewhere. Maybe they found places where the grades weren’t so severe. Well, I knew they owed me some engine time so I’d get off at midnight and the helpers would be down there after the UP Pony Express #38 passenger train, which would stop and act as a local, and they would help it up from San Bernardino to Summit and then it would go on East and the helpers would follow it down to Victorville. When I got relieved at midnight of my duties at the depot I’d go out there and by then they would have crossed the engine over from the Eastbound main to the Westbound main and they would tell me to take it around the wye and I would climb up into the cab. I would put on my work gloves and sit down in the engineer’s seat and one of the crew would be down on the ground and pass me signals such as “come ahead” and I would put the reverse lever or the Johnson Bar and “Whoosh” and put it forward and start the bell ringing and start up slowly the way I had seen them do it and go around the wye and come back the other leg facing West and pull up on the UP helper track and tie up there. I did that with two different engines. 5090 was a 4-10-2 and a former three-cylinder engine and the other was the 5515 which was a Santa Fe 2-10-2 type. There was another time at Summit they were turning on of the Fairbanks-Morse diesels and they let me take it around the wye. I did get a picture at Summit of the two steam helpers sitting side by side. In October of 1951 UP got delivery of these 2400 EMD cow and calf units and when they arrived they sent the steam back. But Santa Fe still used steam because every June there would be a big spud rush in the San Juaquine Valley and they would take all of the diesels up there, which were the old FT’s, to take the spuds East and use steam for their road power and for helpers on the hill. June of 1952 was the last year they did that but while that was the policy for a month we would have steam on the hill. After that you would occasionally see a 4-8-4 on an overflow section of the Grand Canyon Limited but it ended all too soon. I was assigned to Victorville on the extra board and I had been bumped off the job I wanted but I was able to stay there in Victorville and finally able to bid in on the job at Summit full time right at the end of 1950. Starting in 1951 I was permanently at Summit.
My primary duty at Summit consisted of being in contact with the dispatcher. We had to let him know when a train was coming. We had a double bay window and there were two little weak light bulbs on either side. Normally they were lit. The one on the right side was for Eastbound trains headed for Barstow and the one on the left for Westbound trains headed for San Bernardino. Whenever one of those lights would go out I'd get the dispatcher on the phone and say, "Summit block east." or "Summit block West." If he had some messages or orders he'd say, "Copy a message." or order. We had a "Form 52" which was used there on the hill a lot giving instructions about clearing passenger trains. If we had something for them we would type it up on an all cap typewriter and we had these yellow clearence cards and we'd leave the train order signal red on the semaphore right out front. Up until 1953 we had an upper quadrant where the arms would be out straight for stop and when we wanted to give the clear signal you would pull the handle back in the depot and the hand would go straight up. If it were clear both ways both arms would be straight up. In 1953 they replaced those with lower quadrant signals which were counterbalanced and they were a lot easier to operate. With the upper quadrant ones when you pulled the handle in the depot you were actually lifting not only the arm out there but also the pipe out on the bell crank on the mast all the way up and it was hard to pull. I had to use both hands and some of the girl operators worked up some good muscles pulling those levers back. Sue Warren was one of the women operators who was there the longest. She grew up right in that area because her mother, Lena Elliot, was the postmaster at Summit. She had three Warrens and then she married a man named Elliot and she had five children by him. They lived over by the first bridge south of Summit Valley called Little Horse Thief Canyon. I went over there a couple of times after they got regular electricity and showed them some of my early slides and Mr. Elliot really enjoyed seeing the slides. The first night after they got electricity by force of habit when the sun went down he got up and lit a kerosene lamp. The post office was maybe 100 yards south of the track. During WWII one of the agents up there knew Sue and suggested that she hire on but she never did learn Morse so there were certain stations where she couldn't work. She bid in on the graveyard shift at Summit and worked there for many years. She was also qualified to work the post office when her mother couldn't do it anymore. Micky Anderson was another girl who worked up there for several years and then she bid off to another job down below. At the time I hired out when we got the lower quadrant I liked them a lot better. Of course at some stations they later on just got rid of the semaphores and went to light signals and block signals.
That was our main job and then we had to report the arrival and the passage of each train. We had a form in front of us that was the train register. The right side of the page was for Eastbound and the left for the Westbound. Starting at midnight every day we started a new page because it was a new date. You could have sixteen train movements to fill up one side so when that was filled up we'd remove that page and get a clean sheet and start on page two. On a train sheet for April 1st 1947 the passenger trains were eleven each way for a total of twenty-two. Total freight was thirty-six with seventeen Westbound and nineteen Eastbound and then light helpers counted for twenty-two. All told there were fifty Westward moves and forty-three Eastward for a total of ninety-three moves. It was a busy place. Of course I was there after World War II but I heard that some operators had it so bad during the war that a lot of extra-operators dreaded being sent up there because they couldn't handle it. One of the old time operators told me that one time the wife of one of them brought him up a warm dinner on a plate and set it down and when he got off at midnight it was still sitting there and by then it was cold because he hadn't had time to touch it.
When a train was announced on the block if it was a UP train we would say it was UP so and so and he had a helper we would call the UP dispatcher at the East Yard and I'd tell him we had a helper on such and such a train and we'd ask if we were suppose to send him on or send him back to San Bernardino. After talking to the UP dispatcher we'd call the Santa Fe dispatcher and let him know what we were doing with the helper. That was known as "Trains Originating". They then became an extra train when they left since they had arrived as part of one train and then left as another train. We had a set of regular orders and some were slow orders and some were work gang orders and speed limits and whatever they needed to know. We'd have these yellow clearance cards and we'd hand the orders to them and a lot of times we'd have them all ready before the train got there. If a helper got past before it cut off we'd just hand it up to them so they would know which way they were going to go. Of course they would be instructed about clearing for passenger trains.
In some cases passenger trains might be a double header all the way from Los Angeles to Barstow and that case it would just be a through train but freight trains had helpers that would be cut off and then originated. Clearing up the helpers was one of the most important jobs and giving them their orders. Sometimes helpers would couple up together while waiting for a passenger train to clear and would go down together but technically each helper locomotive was an extra West going back to San Bernardino. If they did all leave together I would still put them on the same line on the sheet by just writing the numbers down. At that time we had to make a carbon copy and send in the original with the copy going on a clip board in the back room. Later on they said it was no longer necessary to send in the original so we stopped using the carbon. I don't know what they did with them when they got to San Bernardino but they probably just filed them away.
One time there was a big wreck between Summit and Cajon and we had to single track. We had a continuously open office at both places and they had a special set of orders when something was going to go against the current of traffic. Of course wrecks weren't the only reason to run single track. They might have a special train unloading welded rail or working on some other project. When they were doing welded rail they would first come in with a work train and unload it beside one of the tracks. That rail might stay there for months and months.
When I first arrived at Summit there was no commercial electricity or even telephones. It was pretty remote and in the depot they used some of their signal lines, which were 120 volt AC, but was 25 HERTZ used for the signals. The light hanging over the desk in the depot kind of flickered and it wasn't until a year after I started that they first had the Edison Company bring up electricity for the houses. The Descanso had kerosene lamps and that was about all the houses had too until they brought in the 60 HERTZ current. I was quite acquainted with the assistant signals supervisor Bill Eddins and I used to ride with him on his track motor car to Victorville sometimes. He'd always have me facing the rear and he'd be facing the front since he was running it. He was looking for trains and told me to look for trains coming behind us. I told him that since we had the 60 HERTZ current why didn't he set up a double switch so that if the lights went off because of an Edison failure we could switch over to the signals line. They did that because the Edison power went off a lot because we were at the end of their line which came up over the Crestline up through Summit Valley and ended right by the depot. Whenever a circuit breaker tripped they had to send someone out to check the whole line before they could close the switch and put juice in the line because there might be a pole knocked down or tree branches. In light of that when Margaret and I were married and set up housekeeping we got a gas Scervel refrigerator and I contacted a propane company and I leased a 500 gallon tank and it sat out in our backyard. It ran our water heater and our furnace which heated the house. With the gas refrigerator we didn't have to worry about losing any frozen food. One time the power was off for sixty-eight hours and we felt sorry the people who had electric ice boxes.
At first we had outhouses up on the hill. We'd go from the depot up and wanted to wash your hands there was a hose about eighteen inches off of the ground outside the window. It was real primitive. Of course nowadays OSHA would have a heart attack but that just goes to show how conditions have changed. They had other offices that were open and when I was there. Ono was just out of San Bernardino and then the next one was Cajon. There was Victorville and Oro Grande and Lenwood and then Barstow. Now these are just names in the timetable but then they were actual stations. When the railroad was first built every station had an agent and operators because before they had block signals these operated as manual block signals to keep the trains apart. Today they call it track warrant control and the dispatcher gives them clearance over the radio.
In 1953 we had a sleet storm which was very unusual. It was raining and freezing and all of this ice built up on the telegraph wires and poles and tree limbs. You could hear the crackling and crashing of the telegraph arms that couldn't support the weight. "CRACK!" and there would go a cross arm. At that time there was an old prefab house and this was before we had any electricity in the Descanso but we did have it in the depot and in the prefab house. I had an electric shaver and I would just walk down to the prefab house and shave there. On that morning with all of the sleet I looked out of the Descanso at the house and instead of the roof corners going up they were going down because the telegraph pole and line behind the depot had broken in half and all of the cross arms were down on the roof. If I had gone down a little earlier the roof collapse could have killed me. After that I shaved in the depot. I had to work the third trick that day and when that pole came down all of the Union Pacific and Santa Fe communications between Barstow and San Bernardino went dead. Every line went down that pole and into the depot and into the patch board so when that pole broke we lost all communications. The fire chief in San Bernardino called Cajon and told them to open such and such a line and placing patches could talk as far up as Cajon and Barstow could reach Victorville but not beyond. That was the worst day I can imagine. There was snow on the ground and the rain warmed up enough for sleet. I don't remember if the signals were out but it was out at the depot so we didn't have any light for the train order signal so we had to give a clearance card to each train. When I went to work at midnight there was a great big pot of coffee on stove and they still had people working on communications. They sent some workers on a work train from San Bernardino and they gave them a lot of big reels of insulated wire. The work train consisted of a Fairbanks-Morse engine, a foreign boxcar and a caboose. The engine crew had instructions to, "Take these people wherever they need to be." They found where the wires were still good and tapped into the one end and then tried to find its mate for the other. They finally got the phones working in the depot and found the signal circuit for illumination. The crews worked from Midnight until 8AM and they were beat. When the sun finally came up the semaphores were frozen. If they were stuck in the stop position they were simply stuck. They got a phone from our office to the dispatcher’s office in San Bernardino but they had to take extra dispatchers over to Barstow so they could dispatch the first district from Barstow to West of Summit. I had to work between both of those dispatchers and you talk about confusion. When I got done in the morning I walked up to the Descanso, climbed into the bunk and went to bed.
In 1954 Margaret's aunt Doris was Jack Whitmeyer's sister. Jack Whitmeyer was a close friend of mine who worked in the Santa Fe's engineering department. Her older brother had a daughter and she came out to visit her aunt Doris in San Bernardino so they brought her up to Summit and that was where I first met her. After she went back home to Ohio we started writing letters to each other and the romance blossomed through all of the letters we exchanged. I went back to see her in 1954 by train. I somehow got down to Colton and rode with the SP train called The Imperial to El Paso and then up over the Rock Island to Chicago. I could have used my Santa Fe pass to ride for free but because of scheduling I rode with SP and Rock Island for half fare. That was the only time I’ve been on the Sunset route and then up on the Rock Island. Later after I was married and had a family we would take the UP trains 5 and 6 to go back to Ohio so Margaret could visit family and friends. In the Amtrak era we would ride the Southwest Chief Chicago and then the Broadway Limited to Altoona to visit my daughter who now lives in Pennsylvania. I got off up there and got a Pennsy train to Canton to see my future wife. On the way home I went to Chicago and stayed over a couple of days with a friend who lived there. One day he and I rode the North Shore & Milwaukee electric line from Chicago to Milwaukee and that time Kalmbach Publishing was located in Milwaukee. We went over and visited there at the offices and David P. Morgan was the editor. While we were visiting with him he asked me if I thought a book about Cajon Pass would sell. That was the first time I had heard of an idea like that. I don't remember how I answered him but that was where that seed was first planted. As the years went by I kept thinking about it more and more and as the years went by I met more and more photographers. In 1950 when I was working between there and Victorville and staying at Summit I met Bob Hale. I'd seen his name and some of his pictures in Trains Magazine taken down at Union Station at night from the city hall tower. I got to know him and he lugged a lot of camera stuff such as a 4X5 Speed Graphic and a big gadget bag. He did a photo story about me for Trains Magazine about working at Summit. I think it appeared in the October 1952 issue and after that appeared more railfans started coming up and that was how I met Don Sims and Dick Steinheimer and more than I can remember as more and more people kept coming up as the years went by.
When I had my jeep up there on days off I might go down to San Bernardino and get some of my groceries and also go upstairs in the depot and visit the dispatchers. I knew that some of the other operators I worked with had ore ambition than I did and started breaking in as dispatchers and they were making more money but I was just happy being there at Summit. At that time I was back living in the street car, taking pictures of everything that was happening and then in 1955 I married Margaret Sheely. In preparation for the wedding I got Santa Fe to move in a house because at that time the railroad furnished housing for employees and especially out in the desert. They brought in a house from a station called Danby out in the Needles district between Needles and Barstow. It had been a pumper's house. Years ago they had pumpers because in the steam age they had to water the locomotives along the line and the pumpers and when water needed to be treated to keep it from foaming. When they brought in diesels they closed a lot of the stations and this house was not being used. It was thirty-six feet from front to rear and so they took these big saws and cut it into three twelve foot sections and put it on flatcars and brought it to Summit where the B&B (Bridges and Building) Department put it back together. It might sit there for a few months but when they finally would get around to putting it in place they would of course have to take the track out of service for the rail train. Back then they put it in places one rail at a time. Of course now they just pull it off of a rail train with a tractor and put them down side by side. They went from jointed rail to welded rail and of course now on the main line they have a lot of concrete ties. At turnouts of course they had to keep the wooden because there are no standard ties on turnouts. The concrete ties last forever but if there is a derailment it will break those ties rather than chew them up like the wooden ties.
In 1964 we had a terrible fire that burned for about four or five days. It started at Cajon and we drove down to see it be put out because it didn't seem to big but while we were driving back to Summit the wind came up and took that fire almost as fast as we drove. We could see the smoke over the hill and were gratified that the railroad had created firebreaks and those were what saved the buildings at Summit. The fire trucks from all over the place were staging right in front of the post office to protect the houses. They let it burn up in the hills, which were uninhabited because the theory was that if it didn't burn in this fire it would burn in the next. Margaret had to drive down to San Bernardino and when she got to where Highway 138 and old route 66 intersected there was a highway patrolman stopping traffic. She asked him if she went out would he let her back in? He asked if she lived there and she told him yes and told him where she lived. When she came back she checked in with the patrolman and he let her pass. She looked in the rear view mirror and there was another car behind her but he wasn't allowed to proceed. One thing it did burn were two transformers for the signal system that sat where there was a big curve. I walked down after the fire was out and Bill Eddins was down there with another signalman standing there looking at it and Bill looked at all the damage and said to the other man, "Well, where do we start?"
We lived at Summit and had two daughters and then in 1967 the sky and everything else fell in on us because they closed Summit. Looking back at that era it was great to live up there and a lot of guys envied me and said they wished they could have been up there at that time. Of course I was the only rail fan employee up there and when we had to move my wife Margaret and daughters Judy and Joy were all crying buckets of tears. My daughters are long grown up and their kids grown up but they look back at their life at Summit and admit how much fun it was. Of course it felt to us as if it was the end of the world. We moved on down to my current house in Hesperia and I went to work at the West tower in Barstow for over eight years. I had a Volkswagen Beetle and at that time gas was quite reasonable like 30.9 cents per gallon and it was a little over forty miles to Barstow. Traffic wasn't bad so I didn't mind the commute and I wanted to live in Hesperia not Barstow. I liked running the tower on the evening shift and on my days off I'd often drive up to Summit where they were building the Southern Pacific route from Palmdale to West Colton right along side the Santa Fe and at Summit the new route went between the depot and where the Descanso used to sit. When they closed the Summit Depot they had to move the Descanso because there would be no one there to watch it. It was moved down to the Orange Empire Trolley Museum (called the Railway Museum now) in Perris. For a while it sat outside just as it had at Summit but then they built a car house where it is housed now. In the early 90's the ambitious and industrious car members decided to return the car to its configuration as a funeral car. They did a wonderful job and I couldn't believe my eyes when I went down there. It's interesting to visit whenever they have an open house down there when they pull it out of the car barn with a fork lift and there are a couple of docents there to answer questions and explain how the car was used. As far as I have been able to determine it's the only funeral trolley car still in existence. They had some others that were later converted to regular street. One time when I was working the West Tower they sent me off to Ash Hill where they were single tracking. It was the first time I'd worked on the Needles Sub. When there was a job where they were going to be single tracking more or less continuously for five days a week they'd put the job up for bid and the operators could bid them. Some times they would want to lay off for a day and if it was my day off they would call me and send me out there. They paid mileage but of course even though I lived in Hesperia Barstow was my home station so I couldn't claim mileage until I got to the other side of Barstow. The farthest they sent me to was Java which is about seven miles West of Needles.
The West Tower was a small plant and at the East end of the old yard there was another tower. It was a three story concrete tower and up on the third floor there was an interlocking machine with a pistol grip operation and mechanical and electrical interlocking. While I was still at Summit they decided to get rid of it and they had two sets of operators and they thought they would save some money by having the tower men, in addition to running the tower with the switches and signals, they would also give the departing trains their clearances. They got rid of the pistol grip interlocker on the third floor and they came down to the second floor which used to be a supply room and they made that the office. They cut windows so they could look out and see the trains going by and put in a small CTC. We had three or four crossovers headed towards Mojave and also on the far side of the bridge on the Mojave River we controlled the East siding switch at Hutt and the wye was off of that. We also had an inbound long lead and an outbound long lead. It was fairly small as CTC's go and it wasn't on relays like most CTC's and at other places when we would hit a button or throw a switch you would hear the relays but Barstow was such a small plant each button went right to where the action took place and it was almost instantaneous. For the Mojave trains we would work with the Fresno dispatcher up in the valley and on the first district we worked with the Santa Fe dispatcher in San Bernardino. When we had an inbound train we would call the dispatcher and he would tell us what train it was. You would push a button and the West yardmaster, who was up in his own tower by the first street bridge, would come on and I would tell him so and so was coming from the South and he'd tell me what track he wanted him on. So we worked with two different districts. One afternoon I came on duty and the day man told me that the agent’s office called to say they were going to send me a student for me to break in and it is a girl. I thought he was kidding. He left and after I took over this girl showed up. I was just about ready to hang some orders for a departing train and I asked her if she had ever worked for a railroad before and she said no. I told her to come with me and I showed her how to hang orders. Once in awhile we’d have to roll a switch by and I showed her how to roll them by hand. Up in the office I explained to her what I was doing and I taught her at her pace. After awhile I realized she was pretty competent. I had her rolling by trains and talking to dispatchers and one day she had the phone on her head and the other phone for the PBX rang. I answered and somebody down below in San Bernardino from the LA Division was on the line.
“There’s a rumor going around that they’ve got a girl working there in the tower”
“Is she good looking?”
“Is she married?”
‘Well, thank you.”
Anyway I taught her everything I could think of and thing were going along pretty good and I told her I thought she could handle it. I tried to keep her there and the agent would call up and ask if she was ready yet and I would tell him “No, not yet.” One day there was water flowing under the Mojave River bridge and I told her I was going to walk across it because it was unusual for water to flow above ground there. When I got back she was doing OK. After awhile they figured she was ready and they took her away and put her on a different trick. Well, there was one thing I hadn’t taught her and that was because at the time there wasn’t any need for them. That was how to cut the strings for train orders at Summit we used to wind around two nails behind the door and then cut to the proper length. The day man at Barstow had built a gadget that was a board with the proper length with gears on each end and a hole drilled through the center of it like a Rube Goldberg device. It was fastened to the wall and it had a little crank and you’d start it at on end and there was a notch and you’d tie a little knot on the end and stick it in the notch and turn the crank and it would go round and round. After that when I had a student I made sure that I taught them how to cut the string to the proper length. I enjoyed the tower job and there was a set of windows on the west side where you could watch the setting sun and I remember the notch in the hills where it would set on the summer solstice and once I saw a rocket go off from Vandenberg. I just happened to be looking at the right time near twilight and it was amazing how fast it was going. After it got up there there were all of these amazing colors in the sky and clouds.
While I was working at the tower they were building the new hump yard at Barstow and they started taking away more of the switches that the Barstow Tower controlled. By 1975 the operators and clerks had been merged and a billing clerk's job came up from 3PM to 11PM in Victorville. It was a lot closer since instead of forty miles it was only ten miles. I bid that in and by that time they had a Teletype in the office and I had to learn how to run it. After I ran it for a while they came in with computers so we had to learn how to run computers. In the daytime they had a couple of people on duty because they had three sets of computers but I was working the night job by myself. I did have a guy there to tutor me but it was under the worst conditions because the phone would ring or someone would call on the radio or I'd have to talk to the dispatcher. After I'd finish handling business I'd forget what the guy had been trying to teach me and I'd have to start all over again. There was one night when everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It was like the Titanic. There was one guy at Victorville who wasn't too bright. They sent a local train out to Cushionberry and they had a list of all of the cars they brought and this one guy had logged them all on the computer, as UP cars when in fact they were Santa Fe. Things just kept getting worse and I didn't finish until about 3AM. I was fit to be tied and if I had been old enough to retire I would have called in the next day and told them I wasn't coming back. I was so distraught Margaret had to give me a sleeping pill. I can laugh about it now but I wasn't then. The next night it wasn’t anyway near as bad and it was OK for two or three more days but for awhile I was counting the days until I could retire but before I could they abolished the job I was working at Victorville. I bumped a cashier there so then I had to learn how to do that. Finally they abolished even that job and while they still had an agent's job you couldn't bump an agent and I didn't want to be an agent anyway. On my day off I drove out to Victorville and then to Barstow and by that time they had the new hump yard up and working. I knew that because one night I was listening to the radio and heard the yardmaster tell a train that it was the first one to go in the new yard. I still had five months to go because I was determined I was going to stay until I was sixty-one and I already had thirty years service. I went back to Barstow and by now all of the jobs were pretty much computer driven. I was looking for a job I would like and most of them were in the new office building and it didn't have any windows so you didn't know if it was day or night, raining or sunny. I didn't want to be in there so they told me there was a clerk's job at the bowl master's tower. I asked them how to get to the bowl master's tower and I went down there and there was a girl clerk at the computer. What that job consisted of was putting into the computer what was happening outside. At the bowl they pulled cars that had been classified utilizing trim engines which put the blocks of cars on departure tracks at the departure yard. The bowl master would give me a printout of the tracks involved and the trim engine crew would have the same thing. He'd mark in pencil what the cars were and what tracks they would use. Once they did that I would watch the cars come by and check the numbers off and make sure they were the way he had marked them. If only one trim engine was working and it was daylight it was pretty easy but at night they had floodlights on and they had more than one trim engine working it could be a little rough. When they had the blocks of cars all set up they would put a caboose on the end and power on the other end I would call down to the terminal office building and tell them that the train on D45 was set and they would send out a guy in a pickup truck and they would double check the track that I had just set up. It was a jump that alternated between being busy and waiting. I worked that job with Charlie Marshall who was a real nice guy and helped me a lot.
One day after my sixty first birthday I pulled the pin and have enjoyed every year since. I do a little bit of modeling in “O” gauge. My uncle by marriage Jack Whitmeyer had an “O” Gauge trolley layout and while I was living in the Descanso I made a scratch “O” gauge model of the Descanso and I told everybody that as far as I knew that was the only model that was ever built inside it’s prototype. I had a surveyor’s tape and I measured everything and drew up plans and figured out how I was going to do it. I’d work on it for a while and then get burned out and it would just sit for a long time and then I’d go back to it again. It’s operable and I took it up to Santa Barbara where Bill Everette has a terrific “O’ Gauge trolley layout and he’s modeled every streetcar that ever existed in California. Mainly I modeled trolleys because I could see the big ones going right by my front door. Before the Santa Fe closed the depot at Summit not only were rail fans coming up but everybody else. On weekends the place was just overrun by people. Margaret got kind of tired of so many rail fans but I'm still in contact with lots and lots of rail fans more than ever and the big thing now is to go to Winterail in March and it's sort of like going to a reunion. It's as much a social gathering as it is to see the slides. I take the Amtrak bus out of Victorville at 8:30 in the morning to Bakersfield and then up to Stockton on the train on my pass. One year I did a program called The Summit Years. I spent a lot of time rearranging the slides until I was satisfied. I’ve given it for other groups as well though I don’t know if they had the same appreciation for it as the railfans did. I suppose that what I like best about my job was living at Summit and working with trains at the tower in Barstow. One thing I remember when I was first up there at Summit and was just breaking in with Bob Wagner when each operator got relieved at the end of his or her shift they’d pick up their typewriter and carry it to the storeroom in the back where there was a big shelf with two other typewriters. The guy coming on duty would go and get his typewriter, bring it out and set it down on the desk. In those days each operator had their own all cap typewriter. One time the agent went on vacation and an extra person was sent up to take his place. He put in a request for a typewriter and one day when I was on duty a letter came in from the superintendent’s office regarding the request since he understood there were three typewriters there already. I wrote him back right away and explained how each typewriter belonged to an individual and the next time I worked the graveyard shift #8 the Fast Mail train stopped and unloaded a great big box which had a brand new typewriter in it. Later on I read the agreement between the company and the telegraphers where it stated that where typewriters are required the company would furnish them. I was glad that guy sent in the requisition and I was able to handle it.