Monday, June 4, 2018

Triple Trouble Tehachapi - A Weird Day on the Hill

Operations on the Railroad always lead to interesting and unexpected situations and dynamic solutions.  Over the years, railroads learn and put out standing instructions relating to bad ideas which have been found to make those situations worse, so as to prevent employees from trying them.

SP 4255 works a freight into Caliente, with helpers coupled farther back in the train.

In a recent discussion, there was a question about double heading AC-class engines on SP freights.  The conversation turned to the SP's general standing orders were to NOT double-head AC-4-12 class engines on freight trains.  This was because of the high likelihood of breaking the couplers near the front of the train.

The topics then moved to showing a few examples where things didn't go as planned, and obviously the SP men "bent" the rules, and of course someone was there to record it... This is one such story.

A "Normal End" to an "Everyday" Day?

Normal SP freight operations in the early 1950's with four F7s on the front and ACs helping.

Heavy freights and passenger trains were being handled in the normal way over the pass in early January 1953.

On January 4th, 1953, freshly serviced SP 3765 was assigned to the Mountain Work Train, and departed Bakersfield.

A few track related issues required operation of a work train starting around January 4th.  Ballasting operations continued on the 5th as the SP 3765 was turned at Summit at the end of the day for a planned trip back to Caliente with a full day's work.  The 3765 works for several days away from the engine house until it needs fuel and servicing.  Watering of the engine is not an issue with the regular water columns available at Caliente, Woodford, and Tehachapi.

Hand written instructions for the Mt. Work Train for ballasting and staging materials.

The KI Local working from Mojave is used to stage carloads of material near-by for the Mt Work Train to actually do the work with the Maintenance-of-Way crews.

Consist for Extra 3765 departing Tehacahai and instructions for unloading ties.

The Mt Work Train works during daylight hours, which means shorter work periods during the winter months.

Extra SP 3765 drifts out of Tunnel 10 at Walong on January 6th, 1953.

As the sun set on the Tehacahapi mountains, Extra 3765 arrived at Caliente and spent another couple of hours arranging the empty ballast hoppers and other cars at Caliente for the local and the Mojave Shorts West to pick up on the 7th.  By 8:01PM the Mt. Work Train had tied up for the night.

Trouble Afoot

It's late in the evening of January 6th, 1953 as the First 808, a third class train pounds through Caliente and resumes the climb up Tehachapi Pass.  A powerful AC-7 class cab-forward, SP 4171 leads First 808 tonight with the VME-6 symbol hauling express reefers and returning "Overnight" boxcars to Los Angeles.

First 808 with SP 4171 pulling the express VME "Overnight" train at Allard

The first sign of trouble comes with a call to the Dispatcher by the head brakeman of First 808 at Bealville.  The 4171 is having trouble and can't pull the 16 car train out of Caliente.  This is strange, as the 4171 is rated for 17 cars out of Caliente to Tehachapi Summit.  They inform the Dispatcher that they're flagging backwards down into Allard siding and will wait for rescue.

The Dispatcher contacts the Chief Dispatcher to arrange a helper for First 808.  The Chief knows the Work Train's engine, 3765, is still at Caliente and suggests that the Dispatcher hold No.56, the Mail, and have SP 3765 coupled to the front to get to Allard where First 808 will be waiting.

The action really kicks off at Caliente as No.56 arrives.

The Dispatcher gets back to his desk just as speaker announces "Caliente, coming East."  That's No.56 approaching.  The Dispatcher orders No.56 to be held and to get the crew back from beans and on the 3765.

The crew on 3765 backs out and onto the main track.

Train No.56 already has an AC-class and GS-6 helper 4462 on the point.  The 3765 will make it a "Triple Header"!  You know there's got to be some rules being bent at this point.

Coupling up nose-to-nose - A triple header!

There's no wye at Caliente to turn the 3765 for the eastward movement.  It will have to back up the hill, coupled on the front of No.56.  The F-5 class "Decks" have a speed restriction of 30MPH while running in reverse.  Thankfully, the whole run from Caliente to Summit will be made at less than 30MPH.

Clear Board! Ready to go, like a heard of elephants!

The crew of 3765 works a light throttle leading the Mail train up the hill.  I was able to get a video clip as the triple-header rounded the curve at Caliente.

Meanwhile up at Allard, the 4171 is back in the siding.  After a few minutes the triple-headed No.56 pulls up beside the 4171.

SP 3765 cuts away...

... and moves east of the cross-over.

No.56 waits a few minutes next to 4171

A close quarters 3-way meet at Allard.

On The Move Again

First 808's head brakeman 'lines the crossover back to the main track and No.56 blasts out of Allard.

Coupled and ready to go again.

Once the 3765 and 4171 are coupled up and ready to go, they resume the trip to Summit.  Second 808 is just reaching Caliente as the First section gets underway again, still several miles ahead.

High ball!

No problems here. --- Just another day on the railroad.  --- The weird stuff started later... but that's not a operations related story.

Jason Hill


This is an example of how operating sessions have their own problems that aren't planned, and the various people in the positions normally ignored in operating scheme planning are actually some of the more challenging jobs.  Why be a layout owner, when you could be the Chief Dispatcher?  The 'behind the scenes' people are the ones that solve the problems and keep the action on the railroad realistic.  

The SP 4171 is rated to handle the train, the Chief had a sneaking suspicion that he should have 'helped it' with another engine.  It turns out that the cause of the stalling was that one of the cars is a track cleaning car, which should rate at about three standard car tonnages, not one, which put the train over tonnage.  This drama wasn't planned, but it makes a great story to tell.  And sometimes those are the best kinds!

Related Articles

Busy Times at Bakersfield (Part 1)

Busy Times at Bakersfield (Part 2)

A Trip Over Tehachapi on the SCX-BI



  2. Jason, this is a great example of why Greg says we don't need "situation cards" to create realistic complications in our operating sessions. We already have real situations that crop up at unforseen moments. BTW, I don't think there were any operating rules (or Special Instructions) violated when the 3765 tied onto the point of No. 56.

    1. I don't have my ETT in front of me now, but generally the phrasing along the lines of, "Not more than two AC-type engines on the front of trains..." covers not having three engines, one being a 2-10-2, another being the AC, and another large engine, is equivalent to more than two AC's worth of TE. Up to three ACs are allowed in light engine moves. So while, yes, in general the train doesn't be so heavy that we needed two AC's. The 3765 is there as a 'extra engine' to get to the VME which is needing the rescuing. So it's a weird hybrid of passenger train and a 'light engine' move. So the other 'out' is that this was obviously a non-normal event, and is more or less covered in the 'emergency' and the Chief Dispatcher and the trick Dispatcher are basically ordering the combination movement and accepting the responsibility if there's a problem. - Jason Hill
      PS please sign your posts now that Google/blogspot don't record the ID's of posters.


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