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Railroaders' Nostalgia > SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)

Date: 01/15/23 23:10
SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)
Author: SPMW5771

In 2019 my father passed away and I was going through his files and he had a file on a reunion of SP Division Engineers he held several years ago in Las Vegas. In that file was an article I believe was written by Bill about his experiences aboard SP 150 Sunset. Personally my earliest memory of Bill was out pheasant hunting in the central valley along with my dad and grandfather. Here is a copy of the article:

                                                                                                             SP 150
The extremely stressful part of the Division Engineers job always involved trips on Business Cars, not only, the Car Sacramento, but also the Cars, Del Monte, Oakland, 99, Airslie, San Jose, Sierra Nevada, Stanford, and the SUNSET.
The itinerary for an inspection trip involving the Car Sunset would usually be furnished a month in advance. This would give plenty of time to prepare the property and coach the personnel on proper behavior, or so you hoped. It never failed. Every trip I made in the Car Sunset, and it was over 70 of them in the span of 24 years, something out of the norm and usually embarrassing happened.
I witnessed many things from my assigned place on the bench seat in the rear of the room.
  1. Willie Green, the Car Attendant, pouring hot soup down the back of Chairman Russell.
  2. Vice President Lamprecht getting his salad dumped in his lap.
  3. Watching the serving trayful of coffee complete with cups go tumbling to the floor while trying to serve 10 people in a space designed for 6.
There were no student trips in the Car Sunset. When you boarded for the first time you had better be prepared to answer any and all questions asked.
Chairman D.J. Russell always asked the most critical questions sometime during a late summer trip. This was his annual inspection trip to determine the next year’s expenditures. They always included, “If you were given the resources what project would you consider the most important?” Your future in your present position could very well hinge on your answer, as this was not a test for Division Engineers only but for VPs, Chief Engineers and Superintendents, as well and everyone had better be in agreement with your answer as this was an indication to Mr. Russell how everyone was communicating.
Communications with Roadmasters and Signal Supervisors by the Division Engineers were generally very good until the special train with the Car Sunset crossed their respective territories then their brains died and their memories failed.
The inspection train was generally called on duty for a 6:30am departure. This placed the Division Engineer in a precarious position, as he had to instruct his supervisors and roadmasters the night before. Hoping their memories and brains wouldn’t fail overnight. Murphy’s law states, “If it can be done wrong it will be” and it always prevailed. Somewhere during the trip it would go into effect at least once and on many occasions more.
When the daily trip would cover 5 Roadmasters Districts and 3 Ass’t Signal Supervisors Districts over a time period of 10 hours the potential for disaster was unlimited.
Here are a few of my many encounters.
  1. Red stop flags were placed in front of the approaching train instead of behind it.
  2. Train crews not on time at intermediate crew change points.
  3. Track gangs not clear of the track before train arrived.
  4. B&B Gangs, Track Gangs, and Signal Maintainers not in the stated place on list given to the Chairman.
  5. Locomotive Engineers misreading slow orders.
  6. Road Foreman of Engines not checking speedometer on locomotive, thus giving an overspend ride and the wanting to argue with the Supt. on the radio about it.
  7. Trick dispatcher overlooking special train and leaving train standing at red signal until Supt. called him on the radio.
  8. Rear flagman giving proceed signal to engineer with a red flag.
  9. Maintenance of Way Flags placed too close to track and struck by rear view mirror of Car Sunset.
  10. Slow orders removed in front of train instead of track being repaired causing ice water in the glass in front of the Chairman to land in his lap.
  11. Signal Maintainer deciding to work on hot journal scanner in front of special train causing false scanner reading delaying the train.
  12. Surfacing Gang leaving job at end of shift and neglecting to take down the red flag.
  13. Interlocking operator out to inspect train as it goes by without first lining the train through the plant.
  14. Employees not standing clear of the main tracks when special train went by.
  15. When more than one employee at a location all – staying on the same side of the track to roll the train by.
  16. Brakemen asleep in cupola of caboose with feet sticking out when special train passed.
The list could go on and on. All fermented by brain dead people.
Every one of these incidents caused considerable discussion not only by The Chairman but by everyone on board. No one was above scorn by Chairman Russell. He had different ways on getting his point across to the Department head who was responsible for the faux pas.
For a minor infraction the conversation would generally be directed to the General officer on board. If it was a Transportation employee he would address his comments to the VPO with a statement like: “Bill, it looks like the rule compliance on the division is starting to slip again”.
Comments regarding the M. of W. Dept. would be directed to the Chief Engineer with the statement, “Harry! Didn’t we just go through this on the last trip? Which would be answered with a mumble just barely audible to the one sitting next to him.
For a more serious infraction the conversation would be as follows: “Bill, I don’t think your people are taking you seriously”. This was followed by the rebuttal from the VPO. “Apparently not Mr. Russell! But this will change”.
The very serious situations such as flagrant rule violations, or extreme waste resources such as miles of track material unloaded in the wrong place, identified trains being held away from home terminals for crews, extremely rough track, or green resume speed flag striking the rear view mirror on his side, would get the Chairman to his feet turnaround and address the Division Officer responsible with him shaking his finger at you. These were some of life’s more stressful dark moments.
After about the 3rd trip in this hostile environment many survival techniques were developed. One was to go into the Secretaries office, which was the next room aft of the observation room, and have the Secretary turn down the volume on the radio so the Chairman could not hear it. This eliminated many questions as there was always a constant chatter on the radio and some of it was better left UN heard. Mr. Russell had some hearing loss and he never did mention anything about turning up the radio volume. This procedure did not work for Chairman Biaggini as he had no hearing loss and it didn’t seem to make any difference where the volume was set he heard everything anyway. Which was generally not good.
Another was to answer the questions asked by the chairman with one word answers. Never elaborate on any subject unless you were a Rhodes scholar expert because D. J. Russell’s interrogation would go on until you finally had to give him an I don’t know answer. I watched many pseudo experts not get any further than the third question, with the Chairman replying, “you don’t seem to know what you are talking about”. Every trip the Traffic Department representative would get caught in this trap and woe be to anyone that tried to bail them out.

Date: 01/15/23 23:48
Re: SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)
Author: Westbound

Thanks for this very interesting post about JLY. I always appreciated his posts here on TO, where he will be missed.

Date: 01/16/23 09:31
Re: SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)
Author: wp1801

Thank you.

Date: 01/16/23 10:26
Re: SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)
Author: train1275

Excellent post !

Date: 01/16/23 10:29
Re: SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)
Author: Korigaoka1811

Thanks for the great stories.  I guess riding a business car wasn't all fun!

John H.

Date: 01/16/23 11:13
Re: SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)
Author: WAF

Ask MDO, Super of the Western Division betwen 1980-83. The carpet of the Sunset was coated in his blood

Date: 01/16/23 14:04
Re: SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)
Author: RailThunder

Through the course of my years and observations business car trips were anythng but a pleasantry under draconian leadership styles.  Still, the humorous side was ever present.  One paradox was when business cars were operated at the end of Amtrak trains.  On one trip in 1993 I was working the Slumbercoach as a Train Attendant on the northbound Silver Meteor between Miami and New York, which was the last car in the train.  As we're pulling into Jacksonville, Florida there was the Amtrak Beech Grove with the customary CSXT switcher waiting to tack them on the rear.  After pleasantries on the platform with several VPs and other personnel while the train was being serviced and loaded we were off headed north.  

It was a customary expectation that the train would be walked by the VPs and VIPs, and I wasn't worried in that aspect as running a tight organized ship on my car was the norm.  After checking up with the Conductor (Confirming room occupancies and destinations etc.) in the Lounge Car between Callahan and St. Marys River (Georgai State line) I returned back to my car.  As I opened up the door of the car from the vestibule the terrible stench of dope hit my nostrils (I have always hated it and never partaken in any of that reacrational activity).  My previous law enforcment instincts took over and I immediately traced it to a roomette where a mother-daughter combinatin had just boaded in Jacksonville.  I immediately went back to the Lounge and told the Conductor and he hi-tailed it back to the car with me.  He banged really hard on their door and they opened it, obviously a little high.  He said if he so much as smelled it again they would be put off at the next statin and met by the police.  The mother/daugher complied immediately and that was that.  

Thankfully the stench had disapated to a degree when the entourage came out of the Beech Grove a while later to have dinner in the Diner ahead.  I'll never forget one of them quipping that they were "hungry" when they walked by me and trying in earnest to keep a straight face!   After everyone was bedded down for the night later on I was invited back to the car by the attendant for that car.  Over a bowl of ice cream in the small kitchenette part of the car we had some good laughs over the antics over the broad spectrum of passengers that traveled by rail! 

It was a smooth and on-time trip outside of the craziness of the first few mintues.  After the Beech Grove came off at Washington, D.C. I got my coveted view of the reat end back for the rest of the way to New York's Penn Station.  


Date: 01/16/23 15:16
Re: SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)
Author: cewherry

After reading the first posting in this thread, by SPMW5771, of Mr Lynch's experiences riding the SP 150 SUNSET
I am reminded of my one and only personal encounter with the SP150.

It was on a 'special' with Mr Russell aboard; I was the fireman between Yuma and Palmdale. As the train which consisted
of a 3200 class SDP-45, a rider coach for the train crew and the "SUNSET" approached Indio, the Road Foreman of Engines
was running the engine. Since the Yuma-Indio engineer was going to be exchanged for an Indio-Palmdale freight pool man
the RFE sailed right by the freight-crew change point and brought the train to a stop in front of the location where the passenger 
station had formerly stood--a good quarter mile beyond. No one had bothered to tell the new engineer that he was called for
a passenger special. The Road Foreman is becoming frantic. At length, someone at the yard office realized the situation, jumped 
into a clerks Suburban and roars up to the freight change-out shack yelling to the engineer to "Get a move-on, your train
is waiting at the station!." The 'messenger' makes a u-turn in the sand and beats a hasty retreat back to the yard office, never
bothering to offer a ride to the dumbfounded engineer. The Road Foreman, is squirming in his seat, looking for the engineer.
He grabs the radio and barks, to no one in particular: "If that engineer isn't here in one minute, we're leaving without him!!. 
Meanwhile the new engineer gathers up his newspaper, ventilated seat cushion (standard gear in the desert) and begins a
hurried waddle to the west. As he passes the SUNSET, Mr Russell is standing on the rear platform. The engineer offers an apology
and Mr Russell, realizing the situation, says: "That's all right, its not your fault---lets get going".
I thought that was a pretty reasoned response from the Chairman.


Date: 01/16/23 16:35
Re: SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)
Author: sphogger

See JLY on the back porch of The Stanford at Chico.  RIP Mr Lynch




Date: 01/16/23 18:23
Re: SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)
Author: mdo

I , too have some of Mr Lynche's unpublished stories which I will share.

Date: 01/17/23 08:13
Re: SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)
Author: WP-M2051

Bill coined the term "lumber wagon ride quality" for some of SP business cars not equipped with outside swing hanger trucks, such as AIRSLIE.

Date: 02/04/23 18:06
Re: SP 150 SUNSET - A tribute to Bill Lynch (JLY)
Author: aronco

I was the brakeman on a passenger special from Yuma to Fresno via the Palmdale cutoff about 1967.  Yes, the trainmen worked all the way from Yuma to Fresno.  At Yuma, Mr. Russell steped from the Sunset to the platform, where the trainmaster from Phoenix, Mr. Payne, handed him a sealed envelope which apprently contained some important messages.  I was standing about 30 feet from the rear of the train as required by SP operating rules at the time  ("when a passenger train is stopped at a station, the flagman must take a position not less that 30 feet behind the rear car and protect the train")....but I overheard Payned hand the envelope to Russell, who tore it open, only to find it was empty.  "Damn it Payne" Russell exclaimed "The envelope is empty!".  I was embarrassed and shocked for Mr. Payne because someone in the yard office had handed it to him only moments before!


Norman Orfall
Helendale, CA
TIOGA PASS, a private railcar

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