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Railroaders' Nostalgia > A Thanksgiving Night to Forget!

Date: 11/26/21 14:10
A Thanksgiving Night to Forget!
Author: Zephyr

It must have been Thanksgiving Night of 1975 when I was working on the SPRR at City of Industry as the Assistant Trainmaster.  In those days, a place like City of Industry never shut down for the holidays as there were always cuts of inbound loads to hump for the next morning haulers to take to Los Nietos, Buena Park and Anaheim.  The 300PM Hump Job, under the direction of Conductor Krentz, was busy humping inbound setouts from various trains.  Somewhere in the middle of the shift at about 700PM, the 300PM coupled on to the longest and heaviest inbound train, the SECIY, which had arrived with approximately 85 loads of lumber, paper, and other goods from the Pacific Northwest.  As was the normal procedure, after coupling on to the cut with the two SD39s normally assigned to the hump jobs, the field man (brakeman) would drive down Charlie 8 and bleed off the entire cut except for the first 5 or 7 cars behind the locomotives in order to provide some braking power while shoving toward the hump.  When all the cars were bled off, the cut would be pulled up the Marne extension or lead to clear the hump lead and stop.  The switch to the hump lead would be thrown to line the cut toward the hump and the engineer would be told to back the cut toward the hump.  Normally, the cut would show up in front of the small office/hump tower, where the conductor, a clerk and the Assistant Trainmaster (ATM) all sat, moving about 4-5 MPH.  The conductor would then line automatic switches in the bowl for cars to go to their respective tracks as designated by a list the conductor and/or ATM marked while a brakeman lifted the cut lever according to the list on the ground immediately in front of the office.  Occasionally the process would have to stop because a cut lever wouldn't release or there would be some confusion over the list with a different car showing up.  On this fateful evening, we started humping this long cut which weighed out at about 8000 tons. After about 5 cars went over the hump, there was some confusion over the next cars on the list and Krentz told the engineer on the 300PM "that'll do"!  Cars kept coming down the lead at 4-5 MPH and Krentz yelled over the radio "STOP 300PM STOP"!  The engineer (and I can't remember his name) responded "I'm stopped".  Cars were coming down the hump lead even faster.  It was then we realized the cut had broken in two somewhere and was coming down the lead in an uncontrolled manner.  The brakeman outside jumped on to some cars and attempted to tie handbrakes, but the speed kept increasing.  We had to make a split second decision as to where to send this uncontrolled cut of cars in the bowl and chose a track on the south side, probably bowl 16 or 17.  Helplessly, we watched the cut of cars gain speed and head toward the bowl.  I was hoping they would derail on the curve heading toward the designated track, but, unfortunately, they didn't and collided with great force into the cars that were already sitting in the bowl track.  A cloud of dust and dirt filled the air above the bowl as cars went sideways and turned over with a terrible sound.  Well, I knew I would have to call my boss, the Trainmaster, Mike Irvine at the time, and inform him of this terrible accident that had just occurred.  I reluctantly dialed his home number.  His wife answered the phone and I told her I needed to talk to Mike.  She politely told Mike I was on the phone and he came on the line, wished me a Happy Thanksgiving, and asked what I needed.  I summarized the terrible event that had just occurred.  There was a pause with a sigh and then he responded, "Pete, call me back in about an hour or so, I'm in the middle of our Thanksgiving Dinner..."!  We found the knuckle that had broken during the hump process causing the runaway.  I think we made sure it was an "old break" by pouring some water on it before the clean up crews arrived so there was no question what had happened.  Every Thanksgiving evening since that time I remember those infamous words spoken by Mike, "call me back in an hour or so, I'm in the middle of our Thanksgiving Dinner..."!

Oxnard, California

Date: 11/26/21 17:37
Re: A Thanksgiving Night to Forget!
Author: cewherry

Great story of the old days at C of I!  Mike knew he had a competent guy, in you, on the scene--as long
as nothing is burning and no one got hurt---no reason to miss his dinner. 

Know I'm getting old--had to get my map of the yard out to remember where C8 was!!
Then I remembered those bleeder cars---ouch!

Hope your Turkey Days are better!


Date: 11/26/21 22:01
Re: A Thanksgiving Night to Forget!
Author: OliveHeights

Great story.

Date: 11/27/21 13:52
Re: A Thanksgiving Night to Forget!
Author: Westbound

Reminds me of the time I had to telephone my boss with a serious problem he would need to deal with just before 1:00 AM. I first apologized for the hour and made the mistake of asking if I had woken him up. I still remember his exact words: "Oh no, I was just sitting here, waiting for you to call"

Then, 32 years later I was the guy sound asleep in bed at the same hour, on call for emergencies on the SP. It had been a long, difficult day and I was in a very deep sleep cycle when the bedside phone rang. It was the on-call Trainmaster, Dick Brandi, who himself had not yet left home. After telling me the problem I immediately told him I was not going to respond. Before our conversation concluded I was more awake and advised I would head for Oakland without delay. After arriving there I quickly apologized for what I had said. He understood, saying his immediate response had been the same. We all just needed more sleep in those days.

Date: 11/27/21 17:03
Re: A Thanksgiving Night to Forget!
Author: ExSPCondr

Another nighttime call to Miie Irvine, only the damages weren't so bad, and I didn't have to make the call.

Pete from the above story was the day ATM at Tweedy, and I was working nights.  The auto parts that were set out at Industry were taken to Tweedy via the UP by the Firestone Hauler who needed a clear route around the wyes at the West end.

The 6pm C of I job was shoving a track of cars out of the bowl around the wye into the Charlie yard as the 830pm Basset job came out of the Charlie yard, and they met opposite the yard office.  Both the engr and condr on the 830 had a broken ankle, and there was about 500 feet of the outside rail on the outside leg of the wye turned over, so no way to get the hot loads to the GM plant.

Since there was nothing for me to do at Tweedy, I drove over to Industry to see if I could help out.

We had another ATM with the nickname of Lurch who was working at Anaheim who was having some mental issues, and was scared to do anything, and spent most of his evenings on the company phone to one of the other ATMs badmouthing the  off duty ATMs. or he would call C of I and badmouth me at Tweedy, then call me and run down whoever was working at C of I etc.

When I got to the Crest at C of I, the clerk's phone was off the hook on the desk, and GMC the ATM on duty who was on his phone pointed at the clerk's phone and wanted me to take it.  I picked the handset up to find Lurch talking to the desk.   Glen had put him down at least ten minutes before, and he didn't even know it!   He wanted to know "what are you doing there?"  because I was supposed to be at Tweedy.  Now for the fun part of this story!   Mike lived near Anaheim, and we knew he and his wife were out to dinner with a buddy from the management training program, and we couldn't get ahold of him.  Lurch had been called and told to leave a note on his door, and to try and find him.

Lurch calls back about ten minutes later to tell me he doesn't know where Mike is, but that his yard was in good shape, "and he could eat lunch wherever he wanted to."  I told him I had to go, and he had to get ahold of Mike.

Ten minutes later he calls back to tell me that Mike is out with his buddy and he doesn't know where he is, "but that he doesn't have the right to tell him where to eat, etc."   Again I told him he had to find Mike.

A few minutes later, the next call, and it gets better!  This time its  "He can't tell me where to eat, my yard's in good shape and I can eat anywhere I want!."

This is the third call in about half an hour, and each one is getting  more involved, and I am getting suspicious that he know more than he is letting on?  

So I ask him if he knows where Miike is, and he finally admits he does, he's in a restaurant.  OK, go tell him to call C of I, he hangs up.

A few minutes later, after he gets some courage up, he calls back with a better story:.    He knew Mike was in this Disco, and he "was just dancing with this girl to get around to the other side of the dance floor where Mike and his wife and buddy were."  This time I told hime to go back there and tell Mike that I told him to go in there and call me at the Crest.  Mike knowing I was working at Tweedy would immediately tell him something was really wrong.  I also told him that if he didn't, and the Superintendent found out that he hadn't come to a serious accident, and that Lurch was sent to tell him and hadn't, that I would tell Mike all about it!

Twenty minutes later the phone rings and its finally Mike, and "What in the #$%& is going on?  It was the next afternoon before Mike told me that the three of them were having dinner when Lurch came in, ordered a drink and started dancing with this girl.  Here's Mike with a buddy from San Francisco having dinner when one of his officers walks in, orders a drink and starts dancing, without noticing Mike.  Fatal mistake!  Mike rips him to shreds right there on the dance floor, and he limps back bleeding to the yard office only to find there has been a wreck,  we are looking for Mike, and he has to go right back and get him.


Date: 11/27/21 17:29
Re: A Thanksgiving Night to Forget!
Author: Zephyr

That's a really good story George!  I vaguely remember you telling me about it when I relieved you the following morning, and I know exactly who you are talking about with the name "Lurch".  He was working Tweedy one day when Bill Lacy showed up while on an LA Division inspection trip.  "Lurch" hid in the Tweedy men's room until Lacy departed, fearful of being asked a question he couldn't answer.  We sure had some "fun" times working on the SPRR LA Division!

Date: 12/06/21 17:36
Re: A Thanksgiving Night to Forget!
Author: tehachcond

   "Lurch," as you guys called him hired out as a brakeman on the LA Division about 1968.  I worked with him many times on the old Palmdale-Indio run.  There's not too many guys I have to look up at since I'm about 6'6" tall, and he was about 6'8" or more.  He was highly intelligent since he had a masters degree in nuclear engineering, or nuclear physics, or some such field.  Unfortunately, his intelligence didn't really carry over into the common sense world of railroading.
   I am aware of the root cause of his mental problems, but I don't feel comfortable dwelling on them here.  After a time, he was given charge of a program where all the operating folks had to attend about back body mechanics.
   I think, but I'm not sure, he was given another assignment as an ATM somewhere up north after the back program, but I have totally lost contact with him.  Not sure if he's even still living.

Brian Black
Castle Rock, CO

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