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Railroaders' Nostalgia > mad dog chronicles #323. Working in the 2 zone

Date: 09/21/21 11:06
mad dog chronicles #323. Working in the 2 zone
Author: mdo

I can not find my old San Francisco terminal spins maps, so I might need some help from somebody that has one. I recall that the two zone was basically all of the SP freight trackage to the north of Third Street.  The  lead passed next to the passenger depot on the east side and was also the route to the San Francisco Belt Railroad. This zone was almost impossible to switch until late in the afternoon shift. Most of the activity was actually on the midnight shift. I do remember a weekend daylight run to the SF Belt interchange once or twice.

There used to be tracks all over and around Rincon Hill. Most of the warehouses are now gone and all of the street trackage is either retired or gone. Switching in this zone had many challenges even at night. For starters the tracks had sharp curves and meandered around in the street making what amounted to ninety degree turns around corners of what by the mid -nineteen sixties had become a one way street grid.. When switching box cars, traveling the “ wrong way” moving against the current of auto traffic, conventional wisdom was to always ride on a car with high ladders. That way if an automobile looks like it might collide with your switch cut, you can go high.

Frequently the track ran through one building to get to the one next to it. There were frequently cars or trucks parked on your track. It was not uncommon to have the special agents have a vehicle removed to clear your route as your job went down some lead and when you came back have to have another vehicle parked on your track removed.   Easy to see why a single car move could take over two hours.

The longest run in the two zone was to the Beale St team track. All of the marble facing for the new Bank of America headquarters was delivered here on Great Northern sixty five foot bulkhead flat cars. These cars had hydracushion under frames and more than one car coupled to another similar car would derail on the tight radius curves.  To spot the normal three cars per night took more than half a shift.

This was not the only zone in the downtown area with these challenges. We will talk about the six zone next.  Bluxome Alley.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/21/21 11:08 by mdo.

Date: 09/21/21 23:36
Re: mad dog chronicles #323. Working in the 2 zone
Author: IC_2024

Always fascinating to hear about street trackage, and how it was worked— esp in SF. Thanks for sharing as always, and welcome back, Mike!

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/21/21 23:38 by IC_2024.

Date: 09/22/21 14:11
Re: mad dog chronicles #323. Working in the 2 zone
Author: Westbound

Glad to see you posting here again, MDO. In the 1970s my SP duties required a fair amount of work in San Francisco, ranging from the General Office, the Brannan Street building (timekeeping) and wherever the SP had tracks. Even then, the trackwork was interesting, but when you saw where pieces of track still existed and where once SP had operated, it was fascinating. Now, to read how you switched those very tracks and operated through the old tight curves, I can imagine how difficult it must have been. 

It was obvious why the switching had to be done at night, since parking then, and probably now, was at a premium. Autos were parked everywhere there’s was room - in alleys, streets and sometimes even on sidewalks. By around 4PM and certainly a couple of hours later, the autos were gone. Probably, every city has areas where parking is difficult, but The City was a place where there were square miles of near impossible parking. I have seen switch crews shoving a 40 foot car just inching forward to see if it cleared a parked auto on the inside of a cuve. And as I once posted, one daytime switch crew specialized in shoving illegally parked vehicles out of the way when no one responded to their whistle blasts.   

Thanks for taking your time to tell us how it was back in those prime SP years.

Date: 09/23/21 22:45
Re: mad dog chronicles #323. Working in the 2 zone
Author: 4451Puff

Found this with a simple internet search.....https://wx4.org/to/foam/sp/spins/spins_san_francisco_opt.pdf
Interesting read in the Switching Instructions at the front regarding what could be operated/spotted, where & at what times.
Desmond Praetzel, "4451 Puff"

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/23/21 22:54 by 4451Puff.

Date: 09/24/21 23:13
Re: mad dog chronicles #323. Working in the 2 zone
Author: jbwest

Mike, very interesting reading, especially your quantification of the shrinkage of traffic and jobs in SF.  I worked as a fireman from 1959 to 1962 (while an undergrad at Berkeley), and worked a lot of midnight switch engines, but never in the areas with a lot of street running.  Being a fan, I actually would have liked to work those districts, but my recollection is that at least in engine service the jobs were held by regulars with reasonably high seniority who rarely laid off.  I get the impression from what you say that for the switchman it was low seniority, which is perhaps understandable given the difficulty of working on the ground in those areas.  The changes in SF are a rather dramatic microcosm of what was going on in the industry in those days, and how much railroading has changed since you and I hired out. 


Date: 09/26/21 17:11
Re: mad dog chronicles #323. Working in the 2 zone
Author: tbdbitl

Very interesting reading.   Thanks for posting and sharing your experiences.

One question - did this zone extend to the North and around to the fisherman's wharf area too?


Date: 09/26/21 18:45
Re: mad dog chronicles #323. Working in the 2 zone
Author: WAF

State Belt trackage

Date: 09/28/21 00:49
Re: mad dog chronicles #323. Working in the 2 zone
Author: phthithu

Here's a movie made using the trackmaps:San Francisco Railroads collection. Shows Zone 2 as drawn in the 1966 SPINS. 

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