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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Tower Tuesday Part 1


Date: 05/24/22 14:48
Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: Zephyr

Most of America's interlocking towers have faded into the sunset, but I'm sure the railroaders on this site have a story or two about their favorite tower wherever they worked and for whatever craft.  I worked on the Southern Pacific Railroad's Los Angeles Division as a train order operator in the summers of 1967-1971.  As train order operators, we were also qualified to work interlocking towers after learning the "plant" and taking and passing an exam with the assigned signal maintainer for the particular tower.  The SP Los Angeles Division had only 3 physical towers in this timeframe, Dayton Ave. Tower, located at the east end of Los Angeles Taylor Yard, Burbank Jct. Tower, located at the junction of the Valley and Coast lines in Burbank, and Thenard Tower, located near Long Beach on what is now the Alameda Corridor.  I was fortunate enough to work Dayton and Burbank but never got the opportunity to work Thenard.  

My favorite tower was Burbank Jct.  In addition to operating switches and signals at this busy junction, the operator copied train orders for all westbound trains operating on the Valley and Coast lines.  Each tower had its own unique personality.  In the case of Burbank Jct. a "Record Book" was kept by the operators and it became a "diary" of incidents, events, transgressions, accidents and in some cases, useless information.  Burbank Jct. went through a physical metamorphisis in 1968 when the wooden tower was demolished and an economic steel shack was erected under the Burbank Blvd. overpass to take its place.  The levers were gone, replaced by a small CTC machine that resided with the operator in the shack.  

In memory of all the forgotten interlocking towers and to provide an opportunity for others to share their stories about their favorite or not so favorite towers, I thought I'd start this thread with some reflections on SP's Burbank Jct. tower.  Each Tuesday for the next couple of weeks, I'll add some more "personality" around Burbank Jct.  In the meantime, what was your favorite tower?

Pete
Oxnard, California

Photo 1:  The "real" Burbank Jct. tower as it looked in 1967
Photo 2:  The westward "SA" signal governing movements for westbound trains approaching Burbank Jct.
Photo 3:  A westbound Valley freight conductor grabs orders for his train 








Date: 05/24/22 16:55
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: cewherry

Although being a LA Div engineer-seniority guy precluded me from venturing west of Burbank Jct, I do have 
vivid memories of Dayton; less so of Thenard simply because I didn't venture much beyond Dolores.

Looking forward to this, Pete.

Charlie



Date: 05/25/22 09:04
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: King_Coal

Nice start. I'll enjoy the journey.
Interesting SP chose to blank out the middle window, trackside on Burbank. Good vision to the sides however.



Date: 05/25/22 12:40
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: 567Chant

In Pic 2 there is a semaphore (compass) south of the Burbank Blvd bridge.
Is that a train order signal?
TIA!
...Lorenzo



Date: 05/25/22 13:17
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: PHall

567Chant Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> In Pic 2 there is a semaphore (compass) south of
> the Burbank Blvd bridge.
> Is that a train order signal?
> TIA!
> ...Lorenzo

Yes. 



Date: 05/25/22 18:42
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: trackplanner

Who owned and operated Mission tower?



Date: 05/25/22 18:55
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: ExSPCondr

The Santa Fe.



Date: 05/26/22 21:54
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: stevef

My favorite tower was College Park Tower in San Jose especially during the commute fleet in the afternoon and early evening. It was very busy with commute trains, commute power back to the house, the depot and other switchers, Amtrak, and through freights.  Ed Minshall was the regular second trick operator.  He was an ex-Pullman conductor and Pacific electric motorman before working for Southern Pacific. 

Ed always kept the commute fleet moving with clear signals and kept Amtrak and all local ant through freights moving also. He did this by calling Santa Clara Tower, San Jose Telegraph control operator, and the Depot herder. For example, he would call the depot herder to find out how the baggage work was going to know whether to give Amtrak Coast Starlight the signal and cross over at the depot right away, or wait to cross over at College Park. while threading through commute trains. He made it so Amtrak received the clear signal always just before it was ready to go with no delays to any train. It was like a symphony watching him thread the trains through the plant. 

Ed used to tell stories of earlier College Part tower operators in the 50's and 60's.  One more interesting story was that he said that certain operators on the first trick would always cross over the Lark to the Westbound track at the slow 10 mph crossovers at College Park as opposed to crossing it over at the depot and allowing it to build up speed going by College Park tower. Keeping it going slow by College  Park Tower allowed for potentially interesting sights with the window shades up in the sleeping cars as they passed by. The Lark did have somewhat of a reputation of some of the customers in those days. 

Soon after, Ed took the buy out. Caltrain came in and put in CTC, and an abandoned College Park Tower burned down with a fire set by homeless persons. 



Date: 05/27/22 00:32
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: aronco

Who operated main line tower in the middle of Taylor Yard?

Norm

Norman Orfall
Helendale, CA
TIOGA PASS, a private railcar



Date: 05/27/22 10:34
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: cewherry

aronco Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Who operated main line tower in the middle of
> Taylor Yard?

The employee in Main Line Tower was a Herder. The controlled signals and switches to and from main track 
at Main Line Tower were controlled by the operator at Dayton Ave Tower in response to requests of the Herder who 
signaled his authorization to trains and engines by a series of numbers displayed on the 'Tote Board", atop his tower.
I'm sure Pete can add to this. 

Charlie

 



Date: 05/27/22 13:34
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: johnsweetser

Zephyr Wrote:

> Burbank Jct. went through a physical metamorphisis in 1968 when the wooden tower was demolished and an economic steel shack was erected under the Burbank Blvd. overpass to take its place. 

Actually, Burbank Junction Tower was dismantled and moved by truck to the Orange Empire Railway Museum (now Southern Calif. Railway Museum) on July 27, 1968, with the intent by the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society to preserve and restore it.  The tower was never restored and is now gone I believe.

A photobob close-up of the tower and the train-order signal that 567Chant inquired about (after the overpass was put in, the signal was moved to the south of it):
https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?1,174174,174268

 



Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 05/27/22 13:49 by johnsweetser.



Date: 05/27/22 16:00
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: Zephyr

You explained it very well Charlie.  Yes, the Mainline Tower was "misnamed" because it did not control any switches or signals on the two mainlines.  Those were under the control of Dayton Ave. Tower, but separate from the pistol grip lever system controlling all switches and signals in the vicinity of the tower.  A separate small CTC type machine controlled the switches and signals for movements on the mainlines and for movements on A-Yard 1 and C-Yard 1 immediately adjacent to Mainline Tower.  A-Yard was the normal receiving yard at Taylor Yard, while C-Yard was the normal departure Yard.  Of course, there were always exceptions to that operation as necessary.



Date: 05/28/22 11:06
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: tehachcond

Here's a good Burbank Jct. story.  A guy named Olivier was working the "tower" after it had been converted to a shack, and a train off the Coast came into the plant too hot and got by a red one.  Fortunately, all the switches were lined, and Olivier came out and screamed "663-B!! 663-B!!
This was the rule at the time that authorized a train past a red signal in interlocking limits.  No harm, no foul, and I'll bet that incident never made the book Pete referred to.

Brian Black
Castle Rock, CO



Date: 05/28/22 17:53
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: Zephyr

I heard that story from Roger Olivier breaking in with him one day at Burbank Jct.  Roger was a great guy and tried dispatching for a short time but I think his accent (French Canadian) prevented him from progressing very far.  And, you're right, Brian!  That incident never made the book!

Pete
Oxnard, California



Date: 05/29/22 11:56
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: tehachcond

Zephyr Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I heard that story from Roger Olivier breaking in
> with him one day at Burbank Jct.  Roger was a
> great guy and tried dispatching for a short time
> but I think his accent (French Canadian) prevented
> him from progressing very far.  And, you're
> right, Brian!  That incident never made the
> book!
>
> Pete
> Oxnard, California
Wwe took care of each other in those days.  Nowadays, with all the modern electtronics and recording equipment, that would have never had the outcome it did.  Even back then, it would have been 90 days for the head end crew.

Brian Black
Castle Rock, CO



Date: 06/01/22 21:52
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: 90mac

I spent many nights in Burbank Tower with Roger Olivier but most of the time was with John Schwitzner until they closed the Tower.
I visited John at Dayton Avenue Tower and that was the last time I saw John.
I imagine they both have passed.
But I learned a lost art from these gentlemen.

Posted from Android



Date: 06/02/22 09:41
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: TAW

One night in the 80s, the extra board operator working White Rock BC (BN) sounded familiar. It turns out the last time I heard that voice was at Burbank Jct a decade earlier. I don't remember his name.

In about the same era, another familiar voice was at Delta Jct. It turned out to be the guy I met in the WP office in Sacramento who had gone to WP from SP Roseville and told me that Bakersfield was always hiring because nobody wanted to work there.

TAW



Date: 07/03/22 18:40
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: ProAmtrak

Why didn't anyone want to work Kern Jct. Tower?
 



Date: 07/04/22 20:29
Re: Tower Tuesday Part 1
Author: ExSPCondr

TAW Wrote
>
> In about the same era, another familiar voice was
> at Delta Jct. It turned out to be the guy I met in
> the WP office in Sacramento who had gone to WP
> from SP Roseville and told me that Bakersfield was
> always hiring because nobody wanted to work
> there.
>
> TAW

I think what Tom is referring to is the SP Bakersfield Dispatchers office, not Santa Fe Kern Junction Tower......
G



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