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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Train Order Book Tuesday Part 2

Date: 12/07/21 12:08
Train Order Book Tuesday Part 2
Author: Zephyr

Last week was kind of a summary of the intracacies associated with Train Order dispatching on the SPRR Los Angeles Division Coast Line in 1971, focusing on the train order book and the various processes utilized by the Train Dispatcher.  We started up in San Luis Obispo, the western most point of the Los Angeles Division Coast Dispatcher's territory.  Today we're going to take a look at the portion of the Coast Line around Oxnard and the Colton Cutoff, which was also part of the Los Angeles Division Coast Dispatcher's territory.

Photo 1 shows the Clearance Page for stations Santa Barbara (Ab), Oxnard (Rd), Santa Susana (Mn), (which was a daylight only agent position at this time, but we could call the agent and pay overtime if we needed to use them if we got in a jam), Gemco (Gm) and Burbank Jct. (Bu).  Only westbound trains received Train Orders at Burbank Jct., the junction of the Coast Line and what was then called the Valley or Saugus Line.  The Coast Train Dispatcher would attempt to fix a train up with as much operating authority as possible at Burbank Jct. for the run up to Santa Barbara where, in 1971, engine and train crews still changed out on freight trains.  We can see that regulary scheduled third class train No. 835 is fixed up with 7 orders at Burbank Jct., including some slow orders which are designated by triple digit 7 and 8 series numbers.  We also note that "Engines" (designated by the word "Eng" in the Clearance Page) are cleared at Burbank Jct.  Since it was Yard Limits from Burbank Jct. to Chatsworth, "Engines" could operate with or without cars clearing only First Class trains as required by the Rule Book.  The General Motors plant at Van Nuys (Gemco) was kept "alive" by regularly assigned and extra "Chats Haulers" operating from Los Angeles Taylor Yard to Gemco as "Engines".  On this particular night/early morning, we note 3 "Chats Haulers" cleared at Burbank Jct.  The first "Engine" was probably the regular "Night Chats" and the other two were extras.  The "Eng 9137" was most likely the continuation of the westbound Auto Parts train bringing "just in time" auto parts to the Gemco plant.  "Engines" operating in this manner had to know if First Class trains had arrived and left Burbank Jct. as they were required to clear against them according to the Rules.  Thus, "Engines" received what was called a "First Class Train Register Check" order at Burbank Jct. indicating First Class Trains had arrived and left and listing engine numbers for additional First Class Trains so the "Engines" could identify them.

Photo 2 shows a somewhat "atypical" page of train orders.  Last week we described how the Extra 6609 West at Callender did not have sufficient authority to operate to Grover or East San Luis Obispo from Callender so the Train Dispatcher had to issue an order directly to the train via radio.  Well, the same thing happened previously that night as No. 833 (Salinas Reefers) was stuck at Camarillo against Second Class Train No. 832.  No. 832 was the "Smokey", the eastbound perishable train that originated from San Luis Obispo and picked up all the perishable loads from the day at Oceano, Guadalupe and Oxnard.  The "Smokey" was a HOT train and sometimes departed Oxnard with 100 cars of persishable destined eastern markets.  Unfortuantely, the previous Train Dispatcher didn't give No. 833, a Third Class westward regular train, sufficent authority to move against No. 832 a Second Class regular train, so yours truly had to issue a unique Meet Order (Train Order No. 13) instructing No. 832 to meet No. 833 at Oxnard via the radio.  Another train order operator got another day's pay by having to do this.  Since No. 832 always had to enter the yard at Oxnard to make the perishable pick-up, the Meet Order stipulates the train received the order in the yard at Oxnard.  This practice kind of "bent the rules" a bit, as an "Order to" train order required the Conductor and Engineer to be stopped at the station understanding they were restricted at that station prior to moving again. We'll assume the Conductor and Engineer knew that on this particular early morning!

Since No. 832 was a Second Class train, it had to clear against First Class trains.  No. 374 was a regulary scheduled First Class Train and as we saw last week was operating in two sections on this particular day.  But, the "Smokey" was just as "hot" as the piggyback train No. 374, so the Train Dispatcher issues a "Run Ahead" order (No. 15) to No. 832 allowing that train to run ahead of No. 374 from Oxnard to Burbank Jct..

Finally, Photo 2 also shows another Train Order (No. 14) issued to No. 832 allowing another Third Class train, No. 835 (which was the westbound Coast Peddler, or WCP) to advance to additional stations by the time shown in the Wait Order.  No. 835 had to be in the clear at the named stations by the time specified in the Train Order.

So, how was "Dark Territory" dispatched?  Pretty much the same way.  Photo 3 shows a page from the Train Order Book where the Coast Dispatcher issues a running order to a train originating at Palmdale.  In this timeframe, the Colton Cutoff was dark territory, meaning no signal system was in place.  Trains operated according to the Rule Book, Timetable/Special Instructions and Train Orders.  To the Train Dispatcher there was really no difference between dark territory and signaled territory.  To the train crews operating in dark territory, there were tremendous differences, especially regarding flagging rules.  The Colton Cutoff had Third Class Schedules established in the westbound direction only at this time. I never understood the reasoning behind making the westbound trains superior because most of them were empties returning to the Pacific Northwest, but that wasn't my responsibility to understand why at the time.  Nos. 515-521 were listed in the Timetable and had right over Extra Trains.  In order for an eastbound train to get anywhere on the Colton Cutoff, the Train Dispatcher had to restrict Third Class trains somehow to allow the Extra Train to proceed against it.  In the example of Train Order No. 23, we see the Train Dispatcher has issued "Wait Orders" to Third Class Trains allowing the Extra 3963 East time to get somewhere against No. 521, First 515 and Second 515. 

Next week we'll look at some of the other "tools of the trade" found in the Train Order Book outside of Clearances and Train Orders.

Be Safe and Stay Well!

Oxnard, California

Date: 12/07/21 12:42
Re: Train Order Book Tuesday Part 2
Author: King_Coal

Enjoying this review of your work! Thanks for sharing it.

Date: 12/07/21 14:00
Re: Train Order Book Tuesday Part 2
Author: gaviota

 I worked as Train Order Operator on SP Guadalupe Subdivision that ran from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara in1955-56.  At that time the Telegraph call for Santa Barbara was BR.  When did they change it to AB?

Don Douglas

Date: 12/07/21 16:56
Re: Train Order Book Tuesday Part 2
Author: Zephyr

I don't know when Santa Barbara started being referred to as AB.  Might have been a dispatcher short hand, or it could be that BR was either the passenger station or freight station and AB was the other. Interesting question that others might be able to answer.

Date: 12/07/21 19:51
Re: Train Order Book Tuesday Part 2
Author: W_P_SignalTechnician


Many Thanks for another really interesting article on how train orders worked on the SP.  I have been studying train order operations since my first cab ride on the Santa Barbara Local from Oxnard to Santa Barbara and return.  That was in 1967 and I was age 12.... 

In 1967 the Santa Barbara freight office was still open so that may be the difference in the telegraph calls for Santa Barbara.

So.... I looked on the SP's Telegraphers Seniority List from July 1, 1971 and I think I found you.  Was your date June 15th, 1971 on the LA Division?  Did you hold seniority on another division?


Date: 12/08/21 11:02
Re: Train Order Book Tuesday Part 2
Author: Zephyr


Thanks for the nice words.  Yes, that is me in 1971 after I graduated from UCLA.  I decided to stay with the SPRR after graduating as teachers jobs were a "dime a dozen" at that time.  I actually started working for the SPRR in the summer of 1967 as a train order operator, filling in for summer vacations and other absences.  I had to quit each September to go back to school and 1971 was the start of full time work until the middle of 1985 when I quit SPRR and went to work for American President Lines to develop the double stack network.  


Date: 12/08/21 18:26
Re: Train Order Book Tuesday Part 2
Author: W_P_SignalTechnician

Hi Pete,

Thank You!  

I suspect that you made a very wise career change by going with APL.  My friend Fred French who was the relief telegrapher at Santa Barbara at the time was taking welding classes as he knew that the train order days were numbered.  My friend Dick Molina retired from SP at Oxnard and lived well into his 90's.  His house was up on the hillside in Ventura overlooking the Ocean.  That house today would command a very high price with that view.  

I got a 2 year Associates degree from Ventura Community College then went to work for the Western Pacific Railroad in Sacramento.  I was in the office part time and in the field.  When I was in the office I was the understudy for the coderman in the dispatcher's office.  When UP came along I was a field technician.  Our wonderful dispatchers office scattered to the wind after the UP merger.  Some dispatchers went to Omaha, some to San Bernardino in a joint office with the Santa Fe and some just quit and found new lines of work.  The office I worked in was just about all CTC so I didn't get to really learn all about train orders as our office just issued slow orders.  No running orders to speak of.  37 years and I retired from UP.  Retirement is WONDERFUL!!!



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