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Date: 04/14/20 01:18
A SP Beet train story
Author: cewherry

Dave Maffei, aka dmaffei, posted a thread on the Nostalgia & History forum yesterday regarding SP's
Sugar Beet trains and asked any person with stories about their operation to contribute their thoughts and remembrances.

Here's mine.


Beet trains had notoriously poor brakes and I won't get into the why's and wherefore's here but suffice it to say that,

as one old-head engineer once remarked: "The beets stop when they're ready. Not necessarily when or where you
want them to but when they're ready.

I was firing on SP's Los Angeles-Indio freight pool one morning around 1969 when I caught a loaded beet train from Indio,
destined up the 
coast beyond L.A.. My engineer was one of the best, having been promoted in 1946. I had worked with him
on several occasions in yard service as well as locals and thru freight and had complete confidence in his ability to safely
handle any situation. 
We had successfully made the descent down the Beaumont grade and were merrily approaching Ontario
which, even in my pre-engineer days, I knew to be of the shortest 
sidings of any on our route at 5621 feet. The time was about 7 AM.

As the signal at the east siding switch of Ontario lit "Approach" our speed was right on the maximum 
allowed 45MPH.
We were closely approaching the, still Yellow, signal and I began to wonder why he was waiting to 
apply the air brakes.
Today, as I search back those 50 years trying to explain his delay, a couple reasons come to mind.
Owing to the siding's short length, coupled with the fact that there were several public road crossings between it's switches, the
siding's use by the DS, even at that time, was rarely to 'meet' trains. Knowing this, perhaps the engineer held off, thinking the DS
would ultimately see our progress and, with no conflicting movements, line us up at West Ontario. But the signal remained RED
and was getting closer by the second.  A classic case of trying to out-think the DS. 
 Suddenly the engineer began applying the air.
Our speed seemed to just hang there, refusing to come down. More air was drawn from the brake pipe. 
Now we're going over Euclid Ave,
more than half way between switches and the speed is beginning to drop. 
We're down to about 30,  the switch points can be
seen ahead, lined main-to-main with no train in sight. At last, the engineer sees the dire 
situation for what it is and goes to 'Emergency'.
Now down to about 20 MPH but the speed just will not drop fast enough. 
When we finally come to a stop our lead unit  is
well beyond the RED signal but still not into the switch. 


The engineer says; "No one say a word on the radio". He quickly drops down to the ballast and makes his way to the phone booth at West Ontario.
I'm 
right behind him; I want to hear what he has to say. In the booth he calls on the DS phone: "Dispatcher, Ontario." No answer.
Again: "Dispatcher, Ontario". Silence. About a minute passes while the engineer remarks to me, "I thought the speed would come down".
All I can offer is the old saw that I opened this story with: "I guess it's true, the Beets stop when they're good and ready". 
After a few more minutes of silence the DS comes on the line. The engineer simply says "DS, beet train here at West Ontario with a RED one"
A pause, then the DS says: "Yeah, I see that", "Extra (whatever number we had) has authority to pass signal displaying STOP, West Ontario and 
proceed under the provisions of rule 776". (776 was SP's rule to authorize movements beyond Absolute signals displaying STOP).
The engineer repeats the authority back to the DS and locks the phone booth. We climb back on the engines and he releases the air, the caboose
calls that the brakes are releasing and we proceed. In conversation the engineer offers that he thinks the 3rd trick DS had lined us up to
the west switch and forgot about us as the DS went "into turnover" with the oncoming 1st trick man.

We weren't home safe, however. When we got to the next Absolute signal, East Montclair, which was also RED the head brakeman
went to the phone and received the same Rule 776 authority. Likewise for West Montclair, East Pomona, and the crossovers between
the East and West Pomona sidings. Not until the West switch at West Pomona did we see anything but RED.
You might correctly ask why didn't I 'take charge' of the situation and intervene by questioning the engineer as the events unfolded or
if all else failed, use the big red valve within my reach. All I can say in my defense is the classic, I thought he had it under control. 
Needless to say, 
we expected to find a "Welcoming" party when we got to the register room at Taylor Yard in Los Angeles.
No one met us. 
We tied up and went our separate ways.

My take on all this was, and still is, that the DS on duty that morning saw exactly what we had done and
chose to handle it in his own way, testing us to see if we were impaired by observing our actions at each absolute signal
until he was satisfied it was a 'one-time' lapse and wasn't repeated. I would not expect that courtesy today. 

Charlie

 



Edited 5 time(s). Last edit at 04/14/20 13:02 by cewherry.



Date: 04/14/20 08:38
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: Trainhand

Charlie, I doubt you would get that treatment anywhere today either. That reminds me of an experience I had one night coming from Columbia,SC one night on Amtrak. The engineer was a pretty good one, his brother was better though, we were coming to the siding at Stillwellon the an. The Columbia sub has a bunch of short sidings, about 35 cars long. It was built that way becaus the SAL never ran anything but locals and passenger on it. There was a road crossing right in the middle of Stillwell, 92 was entering the siding,we were going about 15 or so on the main, and the enginner knocks the brakes off. My first comment is I wouldn't have done that, then those famous last words "I've got it." He had it alright, next is emergency, and a skid past the signal. Thank God we stopped short of the train. He reset the air,seemed like it took forever, and backed up. We got to Savannah, I called the dispatcher up and told him to let us in the office in a few minutes. We went to his office, and asked him if everything looked of at the SE of Stillwell on the trainsheet.  He said it did. We said thank you and went home. This is the first time I have told anybody this and it was about 35 years ago. I argee with you about bigholing a train when the engineer is more than compentent, and was a promoted engineer when you were born.



Date: 04/14/20 09:54
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: trainjunkie

That's a pretty decent downgrade through Ontario going west. Doesn't seem like it, it's deceptive. But once you crest Montclair, you can coast all the way to L.A., at least next door on the UP side.



Date: 04/14/20 12:09
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: dmaffei

Thanks for the story Charlie and posting it here. Good idea. 
These heavy beet trains were a big part of the SP history and crews usually have interesting train handling sagas with these old 1949 vintage cars. Hard to imagine the friction bearing trucks lasted to there demise in 1996.
Here's my original post/Questions: https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,4999396
 As I mentioned in my other post,. SP Trainline did a great history on SP and the beets in issue 69 from 2001. I attached the smokey cover shot




Date: 04/14/20 17:36
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: Searat

Thanks for attaching that great cover art.  Brings back a lot of memories.  Some one asked if the marks on the journal boxes were from tempilsticks. (heat sticks). My guess is 'no' because you didn't need a tempilstick crayon to figure out if a friction bearing was running hot. You could tell by the smoke and flames emenating out of the journal box. (Hence the hand sign given to the caboose after detecting a hot axel on a roll by:  "Hold your nose" followed by the sign for the approximate number of cars ahead of the caboose. Aka 'the stinker.'
Mike



Date: 04/14/20 20:53
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: Westbound

Beet gondola USGX556, still equipped with friction bearings, along with a train of almost identical cars, rests next to the mainline by the old Oakland, CA SP depot. It was still in service in March 1991. Many years ago it did not have those extensions or sideboards, which increased car capacity.

A question for old timers here is whether the number of hot boxes in beet gons increased once the SP made these modifications, which surely put more weight in the cars?     




Date: 04/14/20 22:07
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: Ivar

Reminds me of quite a few dreams (nightmares) I’ve had. Be careful what you wish for in life……
Thanks for sharing this!



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/14/20 22:11 by Ivar.



Date: 04/15/20 06:58
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: Searat

I'm not certain if it is true, but when I asked the same question back in about 1975, I was told that those gons were originally used as ore cars and later repurposed to haul beets.  That is why the sideboards were added.

There was a scale house out by the Spreckels Sugar plant in Salinas CA where we were required to weigh a random sample of loads and empties to verify the waybills.  The loads tended to run a little overweight due to the practice of mounding them as high as possible and weighed in VERY overweight if they had been subjected to a soaking rain.  Those roots would just suck up a rain, so you had to add that to the other challenges of train handling.  (Maybe that accounts for the miscalculation in Charlie's tale related on this thread.) 

As to the question of them running hot more often, I doubt that one could find the necessary data.  The cars were ancient and had many years of hard service in them.  They were patched up "just 'nuff" for beet season then returned to storage.  The many years of idleness between beet runs probably did more damage to them than any other factor.
Mike



Date: 04/15/20 07:24
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: WAF

After SP got rid of the original beet gons, these replaced them with these and added sides in the late fifties. Perhaps they were ore gons, who knows
SP lost money on the beets, but made it up on the refined sugar. Sugar companies were enciourged to load as heavy as possible. The average weight with load and tare came out to about 90-105 tons. Piled that high, now you know how the beets hit the ground around slow orders. Later in the 90s, the boards were broken and brittle so SP said only load to below the top of the boards. After the sweetner industry switched over to corn syrup in the 80s, sugar beet factories closed, so the cars had more idle time than in the 70s and before. Sitting around, certainly dried out the journals



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/15/20 07:27 by WAF.



Date: 04/15/20 07:45
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: BAB

Searat Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Thanks for attaching that great cover art. 
> Brings back a lot of memories.  Some one asked if
> the marks on the journal boxes were from
> tempilsticks. (heat sticks). My guess is 'no'
> because you didn't need a tempilstick crayon to
> figure out if a friction bearing was running hot.
> You could tell by the smoke and flames emenating
> out of the journal box. (Hence the hand sign given
> to the caboose after detecting a hot axel on a
> roll by:  "Hold your nose" followed by the sign
> for the approximate number of cars ahead of the
> caboose. Aka 'the stinker.'
> Mike
Well was in high school working for a farmer was stopped at a road crossing out in the sticks.  Here comes the train and about half way back was a  hot box, this is 1962, so being ever so observant got out of my truck and waited for the caboose. Here I am waving my arms, pointing to the train, the pointing to my truck bearing holding my nose. Guy in the caboose looks at me like I am crazy and did nothing.  About 10 min later could see the brush fire from the hot box rising. I tried my 17yr old best and failed to get the message across.
 



Date: 04/15/20 11:23
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: chakk

Since holding one's nose seems to me to be a standard protocol for alerting crew of a hot box, perhaps the conductor was confused by your pointing to the bearing on YOUR truck, instead of just pointing to the train.



Date: 04/15/20 13:38
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: Zephyr

Thanks for sharing your story Charlie!  Very interesting and true about Ontario siding and how we, as dispatchers, would avoid using it unless it was a "slider by" type meet.  Also true about all the brass missing from the stored beet gons on the Declizville Spur that you relayed.  I have a beet train story as well.

One beautiful late spring Sunday morning in what I think was 1979 or 1980 while working as Assistant Terminal Superintendent Los Angeles at Gemco, I got a call from the Chief Dispatcher's Office informing me the beet train had stalled in Tunnel 26 between Chatsworth and Santa Susana.  I was told the entire crew (conductor, engineer, head brakeman and rear brakeman) had been taken to the hospital.  The Road Foreman of Engines (can't remember who it was at the time) had been called and was headed toward the head end of the train supposedly about 1/4 mile east of the west portal of the 7000 foot plus tunnel.  Apparently the power had crapped out on the head end causing the train to stall with all of it tucked inside the tunnel.  Great!  I called my Assistant Trainmaster, John Devere, and told him to meet me at Gemco right away.  When we got to Gemco we put together two SW1500s and highballed up to Chatsworth.  Since it was Yard Limits between Gemco and Chatsworth we didn't need running authority until we reached the west switch of Chatsworth.  From there it was just a couple of miles up to Tunnel 26.  There was no way the dispatcher could give us any running orders due to the stalled train in the tunnel, so after passing the west switch at Chatsworth we stopped and lined the switch for the siding to give ourselves "flag" protection.  When we reached Tunnel 26 we found the caboose of the beet train about 1/4 mile west of the east portal.  There was still a lot of smoke in the tunnel and I began to understand why the crew was taken to the hospital.  We reached the Road Foreman on the radio who was on the head end checking the units.  We decided we were going to attempt to move the train by coupling our power to the rear end and give the train a nice shove while the Road Foreman did his best with the head end power.  We notched out the two SW1500s to about run 3 or 4 and nothing moved.  The diesel fumes were thickening.  The Road Foreman told us to give it some more so we notched out to Run 5 or 6 and we finally began to very slowly move.  As you recall, the crest of the grade (which was the ruling grade between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo) was about halfway through the tunnel.  Slowly but surely we moved westward but the smoke and fumes were terrible.  We got most of the train over the crest and finally began to pick up some speed.  Once over the top we were along just for the ride down to Santa Susana where we tied the train down and waited for a relief crew from Los Angeles.  We concluded that the 4axle units in the locomotive consist were not really suitable for the beet train going forward!  All crew members fully recovered after some lengthy time off.  From that point forward, respirators and oxygen were positioned at various points in the tunnel, but I'm not aware of another stall that ever occurred while the beets operated on the LA Division.  I wonder if any of the sugar from that train tasted a little like diesel fumes...!



Date: 04/15/20 20:08
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: rob_l

WAF Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> After SP got rid of the original beet gons, these
> replaced them with these and added sides in the
> late fifties. Perhaps they were ore gons, who
> knows

As old as those cars were, the added sides wore out before the cars did. In the mid- or late- 1960s, my dad sold SP a large order of plywood to replace the side extensions on many or perhaps all of the remaining beet gons.

Best regards,

Rob L.



Date: 04/16/20 07:09
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: bradleymckay

Zephyr:

I could be wrong but your description sounds like what happened to the 7779 West (ECWJS-beets) on 5/24/81.

The train had all kinds of power problems. Jim Guerin should know about this since he was originally called as the hoghead. It had departed Taylor at 11:05pm but the crew never made it past Burbank Jct. as roundhouse personnel worked on the power. Jim might remember how many locomotives, besides the lead B30-7, were 4 axle.


The powers that be decided to relieve the first crew and sent out new crew. That was conductor Kracht and engineer Bruce McKalson, on duty 4:45am. BTW the train had 102 loads, 1 empty, 9824 tons, 5136 feet.

I don't think the head man ended up being OK, but I'll defer to Jim or someone else.

I do recall some of the crews REALLY complaining about having 4 axle units on the heavy beet trains back then.

One more thing:

The very next beet train up the Coast was 9054 West, 109 loads, 1 empty, 10,243 tons, 5058 feet, conductor McCallister, engineer Woronovich.

Allen

Posted from Android



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 04/16/20 07:15 by bradleymckay.



Date: 04/16/20 09:14
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: Zephyr

I think you have the correct date and details of the event!  Thanks for adding additional "color" to the story!



Date: 04/16/20 10:15
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: WAF

bradleymckay Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Zephyr:
>
> I could be wrong but your description sounds like
> what happened to the 7779 West (ECWJS-beets) on
> 5/24/81.
>
> The train had all kinds of power problems. Jim
> Guerin should know about this since he was
> originally called as the hoghead. It had departed
> Taylor at 11:05pm but the crew never made it past
> Burbank Jct. as roundhouse personnel worked on the
> power. Jim might remember how many locomotives,
> besides the lead B30-7, were 4 axle.
>
>
> The powers that be decided to relieve the first
> crew and sent out new crew. That was conductor
> Kracht and engineer Bruce McKalson, on duty
> 4:45am. BTW the train had 102 loads, 1 empty, 9824
> tons, 5136 feet.
>
> I don't think the head man ended up being OK, but
> I'll defer to Jim or someone else.
>
> I do recall some of the crews REALLY complaining
> about having 4 axle units on the heavy beet trains
> back then.
>
> One more thing:
>
> The very next beet train up the Coast was 9054
> West, 109 loads, 1 empty, 10,243 tons, 5058 feet,
> conductor McCallister, engineer Woronovich.
>
> Allen
>
> Posted from Android

Did all these beets go to Betteravia or more for Spreckles up north?
 



Date: 04/16/20 11:47
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: bradleymckay

WAF Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> bradleymckay Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > Zephyr:
> >
> > I could be wrong but your description sounds
> like
> > what happened to the 7779 West (ECWJS-beets) on
> > 5/24/81.
> >
> > The train had all kinds of power problems. Jim
> > Guerin should know about this since he was
> > originally called as the hoghead. It had
> departed
> > Taylor at 11:05pm but the crew never made it
> past
> > Burbank Jct. as roundhouse personnel worked on
> the
> > power. Jim might remember how many locomotives,
> > besides the lead B30-7, were 4 axle.
> >
> >
> > The powers that be decided to relieve the first
> > crew and sent out new crew. That was conductor
> > Kracht and engineer Bruce McKalson, on duty
> > 4:45am. BTW the train had 102 loads, 1 empty,
> 9824
> > tons, 5136 feet.
> >
> > I don't think the head man ended up being OK,
> but
> > I'll defer to Jim or someone else.
> >
> > I do recall some of the crews REALLY
> complaining
> > about having 4 axle units on the heavy beet
> trains
> > back then.
> >
> > One more thing:
> >
> > The very next beet train up the Coast was 9054
> > West, 109 loads, 1 empty, 10,243 tons, 5058
> feet,
> > conductor McCallister, engineer Woronovich.
> >
> > Allen
> >
> > Posted from Android
>
> Did all these beets go to Betteravia or more for
> Spreckles up north?

Wes, from what I recall those big trains had both Betteravia and Spreckles beets but I never personally saw a beet train arrive at Guadalupe with 90+ cars and depart with 40 or more. I was told it did happen.

They did run separate trains for a short time.

Allen



Date: 04/16/20 12:54
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: dmaffei

A few more Beet pics from the files. Location is the Southland, but where?
Interesting Stories...
Thanks






Date: 04/16/20 14:13
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: cewherry

dmaffei Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> A few more Beet pics from the files. Location is
> the Southland, but where?
> Interesting Stories...
> Thanks

Here's my thoughts (guess's) : I believe the first photo is at Thousand Palms. The cantilever signal bridge in the far distance
is where the crossover between the main track and the siding is located; original name: Dry Camp. 
The 9125 is in the siding.

The second one is looking eastward with train on main track at Garnet. The water tank is seen over the top of the train and
the signal bridge marks the west end of the 'short' or south siding.

How'd I do after being gone 41 years?

Charlie
 



Date: 04/16/20 14:15
Re: A SP Beet train story
Author: PHall

Looks like it could be in the West Palm Springs area.



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