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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Who ran "The Sunset"?

Date: 10/21/19 22:02
Who ran "The Sunset"?
Author: cewherry

Retired UP (former-SP) engineer Tim Dickinson, aka 'alcoc636' here on TO's, in his tribute to Ray Sugg, see:


outlined the somewhat convoluted, (not his fault; it gets tricky) account of how Southern Pacific and later Amtrak
staffed the engineers and firemen on trains 1 and 2, the Sunset between Los Angeles and Yuma, Az.

My account starts in October, 1970 when SP began tri-weekly operation of the train between L.A. and New Orleans.
Prior to October, 1970 the train had operated daily and required a four engineer/fireman pool. The tri-weekly schedule
only required one engineer/fireman and we'll see how it functioned.

After the inauguration of tri-weekly service on October 2, 1970 eastward No. 2 operated from L.A. on Sunday-Tuesday-Friday while
westward No. 1 operated from Yuma on Wednesday-Friday-Sunday. Using an employee timetable from 1975 as a representative
example for the period, No. 2 was scheduled to depart Los Angeles' L.A.U.P.T. at 9:00PM and arrive Yuma at 2:05AM the following morning.
Westward No. 1 departed Yuma at 1:50AM and arrived Los Angeles at 7:30 AM, both trains a run of 254.2 miles. With only one 
engineer assigned to cover the operation you can probably see the problem with this arrangement: too many miles and not enough engineer.
The solution lay in utilizing a freight pool engineer for a portion of the weekly cycle.

Sunday evening's No. 2 assigned engine crew from L.A., upon arrival at Yuma on early Monday morning was used for No. 1 departing
Yuma early on Wednesday morning after a nearly 48 hour lay-over. To salvage some semblance of a home life, occasionally the crew
along with one or more of the train crew would drive back to their homes around L.A. during their off time and then return to Yuma in time
for No. 1 on Wednesday morning. Remember, there could be no Held Away from Home Terminal, HAHT, at Yuma account this was a regular
assignment and such a lay over was a condition of the assignment. Sorry!

No. 2, leaving L.A. on Tuesday would use a West Pool freight engineer and, if no fireman was lined up with that engineer in L.A.,
a fireman off the extra board. This crew would take the train to Indio, remember, W. Colton was not in operation until Spring, 1973.
At Indio the same process would take place; using an Indio-Yuma freight pool engine crew. The next Sunset to operate over the
division was No. 1 on Friday morning from Yuma. Since the 'regular' crew was in L.A. (after returning on No. 1 on Wednesday) and
awaiting their Friday evening departure on No. 2, the Yuma-Indio freight pool was again called upon to man No. 1 as far as Indio
where a West Pool engineer and fireman was called to take the train into L.A.. 

On Friday, the regular crew took No. 2 from L.A. to Yuma and brought back No. 1 from Yuma on Sunday morning. Now here was the real
'killer'; after getting all of 12 hours off and sleeping throughout the Sunday daylight, they went back east on No. 2 to Yuma on Sunday
evening and the whole cycle began again. 

So there you have it; the regulars made two round-trips a week; Sunday evening-Wednesday morning and Friday evening-Sunday morning
with all the time off you could stand, at Yuma. The pool guys had a nice, easy respite from the freight grind on Tuesday evenings and
Friday mornings. The 'regular' crews remained married to their fate. And despite the almost all night work and the lousy lay-overs condition at
both ends of the job, the high seniority still bid in the regular job. Tradition, I suppose.

When West Colton opened in 1973 the west freight pool guys went only as far as W. Colton on Tuesday nights and turned the train over to the
W. Colton-Yuma, east guys. Likewise on Friday mornings the east pool brought No. 1 to W. Colton and turned it over to a west end crew.
After I departed the scene in 1979 some or all of this might have changed and Tim and Ray's experience could have been different than
I have described. It most certainly changed after Amtrak employed their own crews and others will have to bring us up to date as to how
it's done today, especially with the current schedules in effect.



Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 10/22/19 11:50 by cewherry.

Date: 10/22/19 08:37
Re: Who ran "The Sunset"?
Author: Chico43

You just had to love those assigned jobs where you got bedsores at the AFHT and arrived back in town just in time to be rested to go again. Perfect for the guy who didn't like his ol' lady.

Date: 10/22/19 12:02
Re: Who ran "The Sunset"?
Author: alcoc636


After your departure from the SP, crews operating "The Sunset" pretty much followed the procedure exactly as you have described, at least until the advent of Amtrak having their own crews. Thanks so much for sharing your recollections. I certainly enjoyed my time firing on "The Sunset" working with some great engineers like Howard Phillips and once with Howard Krondak. But those long layovers in Yuma with no HAHT (Held Away from Home Terminal)! Even for a new railfan fireman, those layovers were sometimes pretty boring and kind of unbearable. But as you said, those were the conditions of the assignment. I always had high hopes, late in my career of course, of someday being like Deb Crowley and owning the job as the regular engineer on Amtrak No. 1 and No. 2. Alas, it was not meant to be . . . . .

Tim Dickinson

P.S. I used to "ride" with Deb Crowley when I was a kid. It was the adventure of a lifetime and one that I will never forget!

Date: 10/22/19 12:59
Re: Who ran "The Sunset"?
Author: Trainhand

Well stated Chico. We had those jobs too. Plus we had a 3 legged pool with most of the jobs between Wqycross and Jacksonville. That caused a lot of divorces.

Date: 10/22/19 15:36
Re: Who ran "The Sunset"?
Author: 3rdswitch

Very similar were new run through "assigned" trains on Santa Fe between LA and Barstow in 1985. Because engineer runs THROUGH San Bernardino were agreed to before train crews, engineer assigned jobs came first. Until this time all pool crews into and out of both LA and Barstow came out of San Bernardino turning at each end point. Because they were the hottest trains into and out of Los Angeles, I bid in the 891 198 assignment which ran east MON WED FRI returning TUES THURS SAT with SUN off stopping to change train crews in San Bernardino each way. Job was on duty LA 0300 hrs arriving Barstow around 0730 hrs but not on duty until 0800 the folowing day arriving LA around 1400 hrs giving you about 24 hours in Barstow and 12 or less in LA at home. Great trains, sucky hours. For whatever reason when they finally put on assigned crews, the conductor which went to Barstow with me came home later the same evening and the conductor I went home with came up on the Q train in LA on duty 12 hours after I was? Which were great hours for them. Never knew why the pools were so different? Needless to say I bid off after only a week or so. Eventually all pools were moved to LA and un assigned.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 10/23/19 05:44 by 3rdswitch.

Date: 11/25/19 17:52
Re: Who ran "The Sunset"?
Author: ProAmtrak

Nice on how crews operating 1 and 2, I bet it would be a lot easier if SP didn't cut it to 3 days a week, and it's sad Amtrak still runs it 3 days a week!

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