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Nostalgia & History > Uncle Hump paints the 3187, and other true tales


Date: 12/29/06 08:39
Uncle Hump paints the 3187, and other true tales
Author: topper

If nothing else, the railroad is a depository for unique individuals.

Humbert Deem - yes, that really was his name - was one of the roundhouse foremen at SP's West Oakland Diesel Shop when I transferred from the LA Division to the Western Division in April 1972. It was still a working locomotive shop with five tracks back then, plus all five ready tracks and two service tracks were still in use.

Humbert liked you to call him "Uncle Hump," and he'd often refer to himself in the third person when talking to you. For example, an often heard phrase was, "Take care of your Uncle Hump, buddy," when he was giving you an assignment.

I liked Humbert, and I was always amazed by some of the schemes and situations he'd get himself into.

Hump liked to run locomotives, even though he wasn't supposed to. That was the job of the Diesel Shop hostlers. But he'd often take it upon himself to "switch out the house," meaning that he could often be seen dragging stings of switchers and passenger Fs around. And *dragging* was often in the literal sense, as he'd frequently forget to release a handbrake or two. We knew when he was done playing engineer for the day when we would hear a faint crash down in the shop, after he'd run into a standing unit, or one of the shop doors.

On the day shift on Saturdays, Hump would take everyone who wanted to go - and believe me, most people didn't want to go - to a dive on Adeline Street called the Snug Harbor. On Saturdays, they offerred a free lunch buffet. Hump's favorite meal there consisted of one thing: a raw onion sandwich with mustard on white bread. I'm not making this up. And he could eat three or four of these tasty delights. No one else could finish more than one or two bites.

Humbert typically had a unique approach to solving issues. A classic example is how he "solved" the issue of non-working steam generators on the Reno Fun Train. Back in the mid and late Seventies the train, when it ran, only departed on Fridays. Consists of FP7s and boiler equipped F7Bs were the norm. The Diesel Shop machinists and boiler makers - yes, there was still a shop craft of boiler makers as long as we used steam heat - would work all week making sure the boilers worked, and leaving Oakland two or three would be "on line" with the others as spares, fired up enroute when needed. Humbert supervised these employees.

On Monday mornings the hubbub would be about how many boilers had failed on the east or westbound trip, or wouldn't fire when attempted. Hump would defend himself by saying that they all were in working order when they had left Oakland on Friday, and one Friday he set out to prove it. He had the boiler makers fire up the boilers in each of the six units, all set to 250 pounds. Of course, that was way too much steam for the train to consume, so all six roof valves had to be opened so the boilers would continue working.

The Fun Train that night headed east on the Cal P with six large plumes of steam coming out the tops of the Fs. Then there was an unusually lengthly delay at Sacramento. Normally, during the station stop, the mechanical people would top off the boiler water tanks in the two or three units that were "on line." But with six boilers running, they had to refill all six units, which also meant the train had to make two "spots."

Humbert's response when questioned about why he had all six boilers fired up was because he was tried of the complaints of bad order boilers, and he wanted to show everyone that they really did work.

My own personal crisis with Humbert was the night he had me run the EMD 4201 into the side of the SP 9034. Well, I guess he didn't *intend* to run me into it, he just wasn't paying attention. Fortunately, there wasn't a derailment, and the 4201 only had some scraped paint on the edge of its plow. But the 9034 received a rather large dent in the fuel tank and the fuel sight glass was sheared off. The unit had been fueled an hour or so before, and fuel was spewing out the holes where the sight glass had been like a Grecian fountain. We had to wait about 15 minutes for the fuel level to drop low enough to put the sight glass back on, during which time Humbert kept muttering, "We're in trouble, buddy. We're in BIG trouble," like a scene out of an Abbott and Costello movie. I kept thinking, "Well, I hope I can get my old job at Baskin Robbins back."

Once the fuel leak stopped and the sight glass back on, we had to do something about the enormous fuel lake that had formed. After about an hour of dumping buckets of sand on it, it had mostly coagulated, but it would've been very obvious to anyone who happened to step in it that something had happened.

In time, Humbert worked his way up from Roundhouse Foreman to Plant Manager, which was sort of akin to being a Master Mechanic, except that it was mostly an administrative position.

And it was during that time that Uncle Hump painted the 3187.

The 3187 was one of 11 boiler-equipped GP9s assigned to the "SF - Com" commute pool, working commuter trains between San Francisco and San Jose. It was built as Texas & New Orleans 280 in May 1954, the first GP9 on the SP system. In 1961 it was transferred to the Pacific Lines and renumbered SP 5894. In the 1965 general renumbering it became SP 3000. When SP decided to run the "Commute Geeps" through a capitol rebuild program at the Sacramento General Shops, it became the SP 3187, emerging in April 1975.

When the peninsular commute service was taken over by what we now know as Caltrain, a blue, silver and red paint scheme was initially designed and applied to one Geep and two gallery cars. The Geep chosen for painting was the 3187.

By all accounts, Humbert always put his heart and soul into any project he was given, and it fell upon him as Plant Manager to arrange for the repainting on the 3187, which would be done at West Oakland. Jumping in with both feet, Hump decided the locomotive should first be sand blasted. Now, you need to understand that West Oakland didn't have anything set up to do sand blasting, but that was just a minor technicality for Hump.

Ever since the diesel servicing facility had been built at West Oakland back in the summer of 1959, locomotive sand had been received by railcar from Davenport. A spur called the "Sand House" allowed one covered hopper to be spotted inside a shed across from the service tracks. Sand flowed out of the car by gravity into a pit, then up a bucket loader to a series of conveyor belts that filled four sand tanks atop the fuel towers. From there, sand was added to locomotives by gravity.

Humbert decided the best way to sand blast the 3187 would be to rent a sand blaster, and do the deed inside the sand house.

In late April 1982, the 3187 arrived in Oakland for its transformation. The hopper car was pulled, and the Geep parked inside. They sand blasted all external surfaces, then moved the Geep out for prep work and painting.

Here's a Tony Johnson photo of it after the paint was dry but before the lettering was applied. It's shown sitting at the east end of 16 Track, at the south end of the shop building. (This is one track over from the spot where Evan's recent photos of the UPY 1378 were taken.)

http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,919116,919122#msg-919122

The completed unit was sent back to San Francisco, where it and the repainted gallery cars participated in a dedication ceremony, then entered regular service.

Here's a later photo of it riding the turntable at the San Jose roundhouse.

http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,1116776,1116776#msg-1116776

It quickly became apparent that Uncle Hump had made two major errors in sand blasting the unit.

First, it had been sand blasted without any special effort being made to cover the internal electrical equipment. Stuck relays and problems with rotating equipment quickly surfaced, due to the accumulation of sand and dust. (Conversely, Sacramento prevented these problems by removing the hood before sand blasting it.)

And second, for years afterwards, switchers assigned to the Oakland area and serviced at the West Oakland Diesel Shop had ongoing problems with plugged sand traps. Opening the plugged traps and beating on the pipe would produce chips of scarlet and grey paint falling out. And it wasn't long before the sand tower itself began to have distribution failures caused by the paint chips. You see, when the 3187 was sand blasted, everything went down into the sand pit and then up into the sand tower.

Uncle Hump would never be called upon to paint another unit. He continued in SP's Mechanical Department in various capacities - for example, he was the "mechanical train rider" on Number 14 the morning it derailed in Anderson...and slept right through it! - until he retired. He's since gone to that Big Roundhouse - no, the Big Sand Blaster - in the Sky.

After its Caltrain days were over, SP painted the 3187 back to scarlet and grey...but I bet they didn't sand blast it!



Date: 12/29/06 09:00
Re: Uncle Hump paints the 3187, and other true tales
Author: mdo

Topper,

Great story about one of the real railroad characters on the old SP. Now how about a Boedecker story?

And then there was Harriot.

mdo



Date: 12/29/06 09:09
Re: Uncle Hump paints the 3187, and other true tales
Author: topper

mdo Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> Great story about one of the real railroad
> characters on the old SP. Now how about a
> Boedecker story?
>
> And then there was Harriot.
>
> mdo

Not to mention, Marty Mack.



Date: 12/29/06 10:55
Re: Uncle Hump paints the 3187, and other true tales
Author: JohnSweetser

topper wrote:

>Humbert liked you to call him "Uncle Hump," and he'd often refer to himself in the first person when talking to you. For example, an often heard phrase was, "Take care of your Uncle Hump, buddy," when he was giving you an assignment.

Actually, he was referring to himself in the third person.

>My own personal crisis with Humbert was the night he had me run the EMD 4201 into the side of the SP 9034. Well, I guess he didn't *intend* to run me into it, he just wasn't paying attention.

How did Humbert have you do this? Was he passing signals from ground? Talking to you from the other side of the cab?



Date: 12/29/06 11:03
Re: Uncle Hump paints the 3187, and other true tales
Author: J.Ferris

top,

I remember some folks calling him Humpty Dumpty. He was indeed a charater. I seem to remember somebody over at the commisary that was also a character but for the life of me can't remember a name.

J.



Date: 12/29/06 12:42
Re: Uncle Hump paints the 3187, and other true tales
Author: dharris

After eating three or four of those onion sandwiches, he could probably have taken the paint off by breathing on the engine...

dharris



Date: 12/29/06 13:47
Re: Uncle Hump paints the 3187, and other true tales
Author: SW1200

Great stories, a real character. I believe that Robert Deem, CMO at Cal Northern, is his son? Robert's a great guy in his own right and has helped us with locomotive problems and projects over the years.

SW1200



Date: 12/29/06 14:35
Re: Uncle Hump paints the 3187, and other true tales
Author: WP-M2051

A GREAT story of how things worked on the railroad by those that really did the work. When I was a fireman there was a laborer named Rudd Mimms that was hooking up fuel hoses on the service rack one day. Snyder nozzles were used then and had a "sensor hose" that was supposed to shut the fuel off when the tank was full. Most didn't work. Anyway, just as Rudd had the hoses going the garbage truck that played "Dixie" on its horn showed up and everyone took off for lunch. (The food was awful - they should have taken off in the other direction). Two of the nozzles shut off but the other overflowed for about 25 minutes; the overflow pipe dug a hole in the ground about 18" deep (the unit was just off the concrete) and left a nice lake of several thousand gallons of diesel. That would be a war crime today but this was 30 years ago and the fuel just seeped down into the huge plume already under the facility.

Two coonhound woofs for the Uncle Hump story!!

Fred



Date: 12/29/06 15:21
Re: Uncle Hump paints the 3187, and other true tales
Author: topper

JohnSweetser Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> Actually, he was referring to himself in the third
> person.

Er, yeah. This is what happenes when I've been up all night.

> How did Humbert have you do this?

This happened on a Saturday evening. We were waiting for an inbound consist of six units, and The Plan was that as soon as the inbound crew came in, I'd jump on the lead unit, pull ahead to clear the 8 Track switch, Humbert would line it and we'd back in to 8. We'd leave it for the next shift to fuel. Since this was gonna be sooo easy and it was getting close to quitting time, everybody except Humbert and me had gone home.

Back in those days, Oakland was a busy place and ran lots of trains. There were often 20 to 30 road units on the ready tracks - which was referred to as "Siberia" because of how cold it could get when the wind was blowing in off the bay - and when space got tight it was necessary to leave units hanging out the west end of some of the tracks, fouling the west end lead. Such was the case that night.

So we're backing into 8, and I'm watching Hump giving me "back-up" signs with his flashlight. I stopped in the appropriate place, as an I'm walking through the consist isolating the units, Humbert says, "Hey, buddy. Make sure we didn't hit that other unit." My response was somthing along the line of, "You better be f***ing kidding me!" As it turned out, he wasn't.

Never felt a thing. Six units "on the line" moving at about 1 MPH will do that.



Date: 02/04/08 02:14
Re: Uncle Hump paints the 3187, and other true tales
Author: espeeboy

this is a little in the game to post bug here is a link to Ron Lehmer's photo of the all primer SP 3187 at West Oakland on March 3, 1982 ready for that funky experimental Uncle Hump Caltrain paint.

http://rlehmer.50megs.com/cgi/photo_show.php?id=666



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