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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Vandenberg Rocket Launch


Date: 02/04/22 08:51
Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: Cabhop

 
I was watching a video posted a couple of days ago on a Rocket launch from Vandenberg which brought up a memory of a trip where I witnessed at launch. 

Back in the mid 1980s I was working as Conductor on the Coast and one night we were on an East drag and we were held at Devon for a launch.  So myself and the Rear Bun decided to walked up to the head end to watch.  We were a long way from the launch but when it went up it lit up the country like daylight.  

To hold us at Devon, I’m pretty sure the Coast was DTC by then, and the Dispatcher probably only gave us authority to Devon with:, “HOLD MAIN AT LAST NAMED POINT”.  I worked the Coast for years when it was Train Orders but never got held for a launch.  

However If it was still Train Orders, I can’t remember how we were held as you know this would have been ABS, and did not have a TO office.  It would be pretty simple to give us a TO holding us at Devon, but how would trains be released after a launch?  Anyone know how this was handled?  



Date: 02/04/22 09:49
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: Westbound

While I can’t answer your question, I do have questions for you. What is the distance from the SP mainline to the rocket launch point? Did you have any concerns about your nearness? 



Date: 02/04/22 13:45
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: WAF

Probably would issue an order "Wait at Devon until xxx" ( after the launch time with padding into the wait time in case it didn't go off as planned). If they wanted you to get moving earlier than the wait time you would come to the DS phone or Guadalupe or Surf would radio the annullment "Order xxx is annulled"



Date: 02/04/22 17:53
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: PHall

Westbound Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> While I can’t answer your question, I do have
> questions for you. What is the distance from the
> SP mainline to the rocket launch point? Did you
> have any concerns about your nearness? 

There's about 15 to 20 launch pads/silos scattered around at Vandenberg. Some like Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC 6) at the south end are right next to the tracks while the Minuteman and Titan silos at the North end were pretty far away. Being held at Jalama Beach or Casmalia should keep you out of the "danger zone".



Date: 02/04/22 20:51
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: ExSPCondr

 I was the SP"s Assistant Trainmaster at Surf between 1978 and 1982, which made me the coordnator of launches between Vandenberg and the SP.  The Air Force paid the full salary of the ATM at Surf, and the TM at SLO in order to have one of us available at all times during rocket launches.  The Air Force also paid the full salary of a Lead Signal Maintainer to run a motor car to check the tracks in case of a failed launch spreading debris on the tracks.

Vandenberg had their own mileposts, the depot at Surf (SP mp 302.7) was MP 0 on Vandenberg.   West of Surf was MP 14N, while East of Surf was 18S.    A Minuteman normally launched from 4N, while the big rockets launched off of the South side.

The base had a monthly schedule ready for us to pick up about the 25th of the previous month.  The TM had to be at the depot 3 hours ahead of the scheduled launch time, and be ready to answer what they called a "ringdown phone."  This was a phone with no dial on it, and when the receiver was picked up, the phone at the other end rang.  The other end was in the launch control room.  The signal maintainer had to be at a little shack at eirther Devon,, or between Sudden and Concepcion.  These shacks had a dispatchers phone, and what we called the "Farm line," 

There were probably 5 different types of missles launched, including Minutemen, Atlas, Thor, and Titans that I can think of,  The Minutemen usually had a 4 hour launch window between 4N-14N.  All that was on the schedule was a 4 digit OPS number, the mileposts at the ends, and the time.  So if one of them read   6544  4N-14N   1630-2030, 1/17, we knew we had a Minuteman, and the maintainer had to go to Devon.
 
If it read 2304  14N-18S, 1309-1314  2/24 or some such short window, we knew it would be a Titan or one of the other big rocket motors with a satellite off the South side, that had to reach a special orbit.  If the Air Police came to Surf and emptied out the parking lot, a half hour before the launch, we knew it was a classified military satellite.

Because the railroad was there first, we had priority, and if it was a four hour window, they would wait the fifteen minutes or so for a freight train or the Starlight to clear the area.  The short windowed satellites were a different story, and if there was a freight train in the area, they would ask nicely if there was "anything we could do about it?"  If the launch didn't go right within that 5 or 6 minutes, it had to be rescheduled to something like 23 hours and 51 minutes later, to reach the right orbit, so we always tried to accomodate them. They would not launch over a train.

When DTC went in and the depot at Surf was closed, the TM's office and the phone moved to Guadalupe.



Date: 02/04/22 21:28
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: bradleymckay

ExSPCondr Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
>  I was the SP"s Assistant Trainmaster at Surf
> between 1978 and 1982, which made me the
> coordnator of launches between Vandenberg and the
> SP.  The Air Force paid the full salary of the
> ATM at Surf, and the TM at SLO in order to have
> one of us available at all times during rocket
> launches.  The Air Force also paid the full
> salary of a Lead Signal Maintainer to run a motor
> car to check the tracks in case of a failed launch
> spreading debris on the tracks.
>
> Vandenberg had their own mileposts, the depot at
> Surf (SP mp 302.7) was MP 0 on Vandenberg. 
>  West of Surf was MP 14N, while East of Surf was
> 18S.    A Minuteman normally launched from 4N,
> while the big rockets launched off of the South
> side.
>
> The base had a monthly schedule ready for us to
> pick up about the 25th of the previous month. 
> The TM had to be at the depot 3 hours ahead of the
> scheduled launch time, and be ready to answer what
> they called a "ringdown phone."  This was a phone
> with no dial on it, and when the receiver was
> picked up, the phone at the other end rang.  The
> other end was in the launch control room.  The
> signal maintainer had to be at a little shack at
> eirther Devon,, or between Sudden and
> Concepcion.  These shacks had a dispatchers
> phone, and what we called the "Farm line," 
>
> There were probably 5 different types of missles
> launched, including Minutemen, Atlas, Thor, and
> Titans that I can think of,  The Minutemen
> usually had a 4 hour launch window between
> 4N-14N.  All that was on the schedule was a 4
> digit OPS number, the mileposts at the ends, and
> the time.  So if one of them read   6544 
> 4N-14N   1630-2030, 1/17, we knew we had a
> Minuteman, and the maintainer had to go to Devon.
>  
> If it read 2304  14N-18S, 1309-1314  2/24 or
> some such short window, we knew it would be a
> Titan or one of the other big rocket motors with a
> satellite off the South side, that had to reach a
> special orbit.  If the Air Police came to Surf
> and emptied out the parking lot, a half hour
> before the launch, we knew it was a classified
> military satellite.
>
> Because the railroad was there first, we had
> priority, and if it was a four hour window, they
> would wait the fifteen minutes or so for a freight
> train or the Starlight to clear the area.  The
> short windowed satellites were a different story,
> and if there was a freight train in the area, they
> would ask nicely if there was "anything we could
> do about it?"  If the launch didn't go right
> within that 5 or 6 minutes, it had to be
> rescheduled to something like 23 hours and 51
> minutes later, to reach the right orbit, so we
> always tried to accomodate them. They would not
> launch over a train.
>
> When DTC went in and the depot at Surf was closed,
> the TM's office and the phone moved to Guadalupe.
> G

Interesting info, TY.

Were you at home when the westbound with Bobby Swain, the eastbound with Clay McBride and the Lompoc Local had their Surf "mishap" in early 1981?

Allen

Posted from Android



Date: 02/05/22 13:09
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: SanJoaquinEngr

I was on an Officer s special with dead head equipment before DTC. We had a straight column wait at Sudden. As I remember waited there about 3 hours. The missile was launched right over the top of the train. From our view it was a Titan.
Another great launch view was the launch of a MX at Narlon.

Posted from Android



Date: 02/05/22 13:44
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: PHall

Almost all of the Titan II ICBM's were recycled into satellite launchers. A more peaceful payload then the 10 megaton city destroyers they used to carry.



Date: 02/05/22 15:36
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: ExSPCondr

Was I at home in Santa Ynez when a total of I think 53 cars an SD7 and a caboose got piled up?  Yes.  
Now for some trivia about that morning:  One of the derailed hopper cars on the Westbound crossed the middle track and the house track and just hit the wall of the depot.  One of the ladder rungs broke a couple of panes of the window and got just far enough in the room to push the outside phone on the desk just far enough off the hook so the other phones wouldn't work, without being noticeable.  The company lines were all torn down.  Although physically intact, the depot was a dusty mess.

Richard Ruiz the Operator got in his car and drove up to the gate at South Vandenberg and asked the Air Policeman if he could use the phone to report the derailment and get some help for Studley the rear brakeman on the Local, who was in the caboose when it got hit, and needed medical attention.  The first thing the AP wanted to know was "Who is going to pay for the call?  Richard about went wild, and was able to convince the AP to let him make a couple of calls.  He called me first, and as soon as I had  a good idea of what had happened, I got dressed and left, and used the PBX channel in my 4-BY to call everybody with a company number while I was enroute.  I had my wife call the Car Foreman, the late Bill Giles and the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept, although Richard said he thought there was no fire

Vandenberg got excited pretty quick, although I think it was just an excuse for all the APs to come look, and I had to do some talking just to get them to let me by the junction of hiway 246 and the South Vandenberg gate. 

We took the OK cars on the head end of the train  (40 or so) to Tangair and shoved them into one of the Base's storage tracks and left them.

By mid-morning the LA and Bay Area reporters had arrived, and all were trying to makie a bigger story out of it than it already was.  Sometime in there, a hobo walked up looking for his buddy that was in the car ahead of him.  We didn't know anything about him, but we had a good look at all of the derailed cars, and there weren't any bodies!  Some of the reporters heard this, and pretty soon,  according to the Railroad Police, there were reports of five people killed, and the railroad was looking for bodies crushed under the train.  The Chief Special Agent in LA was really upset with the Agent on site, for saying this, even though he denied having said any of it.  Fortunately I was there when the discussion with the bum occurred, and i was able to get the Cop out of hot water.  After that, we made the press stay up on the hiway off of railroad property.

The next day, two very hungry bums walked into the Depot and wanted to know when in the !@#$% their train was goilng to leave?  Turns out they were in the cars set out at Tangair!
G
 



Date: 02/05/22 22:43
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: bradleymckay

ExSPCondr Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Was I at home in Santa Ynez when a total of I
> think 53 cars an SD7 and a caboose got piled up? 
> Yes.  
> Now for some trivia about that morning:  One of
> the derailed hopper cars on the Westbound crossed
> the middle track and the house track and just hit
> the wall of the depot.  One of the ladder rungs
> broke a couple of panes of the window and got just
> far enough in the room to push the outside phone
> on the desk just far enough off the hook so the
> other phones wouldn't work, without being
> noticeable.  The company lines were all torn
> down.  Although physically intact, the depot was
> a dusty mess.
>
> Richard Ruiz the Operator got in his car and drove
> up to the gate at South Vandenberg and asked the
> Air Policeman if he could use the phone to report
> the derailment and get some help for Studley the
> rear brakeman on the Local, who was in the caboose
> when it got hit, and needed medical attention. 
> The first thing the AP wanted to know was "Who is
> going to pay for the call?  Richard about went
> wild, and was able to convince the AP to let him
> make a couple of calls.  He called me first, and
> as soon as I had  a good idea of what had
> happened, I got dressed and left, and used the PBX
> channel in my 4-BY to call everybody with a
> company number while I was enroute.  I had my
> wife call the Car Foreman, the late Bill Giles and
> the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept, although
> Richard said he thought there was no fire
>
> Vandenberg got excited pretty quick, although I
> think it was just an excuse for all the APs to
> come look, and I had to do some talking just to
> get them to let me by the junction of hiway 246
> and the South Vandenberg gate. 
>
> We took the OK cars on the head end of the train 
> (40 or so) to Tangair and shoved them into one of
> the Base's storage tracks and left them.
>
> By mid-morning the LA and Bay Area reporters had
> arrived, and all were trying to makie a bigger
> story out of it than it already was.  Sometime in
> there, a hobo walked up looking for his buddy that
> was in the car ahead of him.  We didn't know
> anything about him, but we had a good look at all
> of the derailed cars, and there weren't any
> bodies!  Some of the reporters heard this, and
> pretty soon,  according to the Railroad Police,
> there were reports of five people killed, and the
> railroad was looking for bodies crushed under the
> train.  The Chief Special Agent in LA was really
> upset with the Agent on site, for saying this,
> even though he denied having said any of it. 
> Fortunately I was there when the discussion with
> the bum occurred, and i was able to get the Cop
> out of hot water.  After that, we made the press
> stay up on the hiway off of railroad property.
>
> The next day, two very hungry bums walked into the
> Depot and wanted to know when in the !@#$% their
> train was goilng to leave?  Turns out they were
> in the cars set out at Tangair!
> G
>  

TY Mr. Todd.   Good info.  I remember seeing the mess and all the reporters.   

Only TO op I remember at Surf was Chris Christiansen.  He liked to keep cans of Squirt in the depot refrigerator and his hobby was making stereo speakers from scratch.


Allen



Date: 02/06/22 05:23
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: Cabhop

Thanks George for the real dope on how the SP and the Air Force handled the launches.  You must have gotten to watch a lot of launches.  Up close, that is as close as you could be, they are spectacular. 

 



Date: 02/06/22 12:17
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: Graybeard1942

Along with this thread, I imagine there are some good stories out there around rocket tests at Edwards AFB (near Mojave CA) just south of the Bakersfield-Barstow main line and the adjacent Highway 58. In the mid-1960s I was traveling eastbound on the highway late at night hoping to catch a sight of a freight.  I stopped alongside the highway to relieve myself of a few too many beers just past midnight and suddenly night became day.  For sixty seconds or more I was illuminated by what was most likely a rocket engine test. It was south of the highway and the main line and so bright I could have read a book. A very sobering experience which I'll never forget. I am sure more than a few train crews witnessed similar tests, which were rather common in the sixties and seventies at Edwards.



Date: 02/06/22 14:28
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: PHall

Graybeard1942 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Along with this thread, I imagine there are some
> good stories out there around rocket tests at
> Edwards AFB (near Mojave CA) just south of the
> Bakersfield-Barstow main line and the adjacent
> Highway 58. In the mid-1960s I was traveling
> eastbound on the highway late at night hoping to
> catch a sight of a freight.  I stopped alongside
> the highway to relieve myself of a few too many
> beers just past midnight and suddenly night became
> day.  For sixty seconds or more I was illuminated
> by what was most likely a rocket engine test. It
> was south of the highway and the main line and so
> bright I could have read a book. A very sobering
> experience which I'll never forget. I am sure more
> than a few train crews witnessed similar tests,
> which were rather common in the sixties and
> seventies at Edwards.

Yep, good old "Rocket Ridge". Still there and some of the test stands still get used.



Date: 02/07/22 17:23
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: mapboy

We were on a bicycle ride and stopped at the intersection of Foxen Canyon and Alisos Canyon Roads near the town of Los Alamos to watch a Vandenberg rocket launch-  https://goo.gl/maps/z9EMnBt7yfdVede88  Note the windmills.  Along comes a guy on horseback to let us know they will shortly be driving a herd of cattle down the road.  Right at the time of the latest rocket there was an old time cattle drive going on!

mapboy



Date: 02/07/22 20:16
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: ironmtn

mapboy Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> We were on a bicycle ride and stopped at the
> intersection of Foxen Canyon and Alisos Canyon
> Roads near the town of Los Alamos to watch a
> Vandenberg rocket launch-
> Along comes a guy on horseback to let
> us know they will shortly be driving a herd of
> cattle down the road.  Right at the time of the
> latest rocket there was an old time cattle drive
> going on!
>
> mapboy

I sure hope that launch didn't spook the cattle! If it did, I wouldn't want to be anywhere around there.

When I lived in Colorado, I had a number of encounters with cattle drives going on along roads I was traveling, and sheep crossing, too. The cowboys had enough trouble keeping the herd together and moving on just with occasional traffic going by, much less a rocket launch.

And someone I worked with regularly at one of the company sites I supported in Utah had a husband who was a full-time hand on a nearby large ranch. Great guy, who was a lot of fun to talk to and hear his stories. I can just imagine what he would have said if someone told him that there was going to be a launch over the top of a herd he was moving. Although, he might have said "no big deal", too. His ranch was regularly buzzed by fighter pilots from Hill AFB north of Salt Lake City who were headed out to the gunnery range in the desert. He told me that the "dumb cows" were pretty much used to it...most of the time.

MC



Date: 02/08/22 20:55
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: Zephyr

Good details of the work at Surf George!  I was at 6th and Main that dreadful morning of the Surf derailment.  That was the one and only time Mike Burke ordered a helicopter to take him and others to the site.  I think sometimes when it was still TO territory and you had a launch you called us and told us the train was going to be held and we would have to adjust our dispatching accordingly.  I always assumed you called them on the radio and told them to hold at Devon or Narlon coming east or Sudden coming west if there was a launch you were managing.

Pete



Date: 02/09/22 09:03
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: the_expediter

Fascinating discussion !-Stevie



Date: 02/11/22 15:39
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: mapboy

ironmtn Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I sure hope that launch didn't spook the cattle!
> If it did, I wouldn't want to be anywhere around
> there.
> When I lived in Colorado, I had a number of
> encounters with cattle drives going on along roads
> I was traveling, and sheep crossing, too. The
> cowboys had enough trouble keeping the herd
> together and moving on just with occasional
> traffic going by, much less a rocket launch...
> MC

We were around 10 miles from the rocket launch.  I can't remember if we could hear it, so it couldn't have been too loud or it would have made more of an impression.  It didn't bother them little doggies!

mapboy



Date: 02/12/22 10:38
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: niagara484

PHall Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Almost all of the Titan II ICBM's were recycled
> into satellite launchers. A more peaceful payload
> then the 10 megaton city destroyers they used to
> carry.

Some of them were.  The contract with Martin Marietta/Lockheed Martin to re-purpose the Titan IIs was for around 14 vehicles.  Of those, I want to say 12-13 were actually launched.  I did trajectory optimization/mission analysis for 5-6 of the missions in the late 1990s-early 00s (mostly DOD/NOAA weather satellites).

niagara484



Date: 02/16/22 08:44
Re: Vandenberg Rocket Launch
Author: mundo

Thanks for the story of launch / rail activity.



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