Friday, July 20, 2018

Freight Symbols Over Tehachapi - (Part 1) My Story Learning Operations

This week, I thought I'd start the series of blog posts about operations and the use of Freight Symbols Over Tehachapi with an overview of the history of operations at the La Mesa Model Railroad Club.  The operational roots of the club dates back to the late 1960s and the formation of the club.  During those days, the real railroads still moved under Time Table authority and Train Orders were still being written on a daily basis!

Operations at Kern Jct. with a Santa Fe freight heading over to the Santa Fe Yard. While an SP 5000-class ready to leave the SP Bakersfield Yard taking a 'Valley Shorts" to packing sheds short of Fresno. June 7, 2015 Operator D.F. Willoughby

I think one of the most interesting philosophies of the La Mesa Model Railroad Club is the fact that it's been under nearly constant construction for about 38 years now, but has remained operational over that entire time to keep interest up and comply with the requirements for keeping the space open to the public.  During most of this time the prototype recreation sessions have continued with only minimal disruption!  This was made possible by a system of progressive 'phased' expansion with hidden reversing loops and even 'portable staging yards' to keep most or at least some portion of the mainline functional for the operations.

SP's West Coast descends into Caliente, while a westward freight waits to be passed in the siding. - Feb 2001

My involvement started in 1996 and joining the club quickly pushed the limits of my abilities to get research materials in the areas of prototypical operations, outside of a few out-dated books on 'general operation'.  What followed was 4-6 years of intense learning from senior club members about the railroad and historic operations in California.  A study which continues to this day with regular research trips to various museums, talking with various 'old heads' who worked on the railroad in the areas and related areas of interest (which is actually quite large).  As my involvement continued it has been very interesting to see and experience how the layout and operations has also grown to fit the progress of the railroad construction.

My Pre-LMRC Operation Resources

This is one of the things that sometimes is intimidating is prototypical operations.  I know in the early days of my experience reading about "Prototype Operations" in various books such as:

How to Operate Your Model Railroad
, by Bruce Chubb, 1977 Kalmback..

Or another classic:

Track Planning for Reakistic Operation
, by John H. Armstrong, 1979 Kalmback,

These books were certainly helpful in my early experience with 'prototype operation' and the various levels and aspects of it.  However as I joined the La Meas Model Railroad Club, I felt woefully unprepared for the 'complexities' of what was being recreated.  One of the things that became my favorite aspects in the club's recreations was the movement of freight over the Tehachapi Pass.

A pretty full SP Bakersfield Yard on January 31, 2013, where's all those cars going? - There's a process to learning.

Unfortunately, the books and most magazines being published in the mid-1990s that I owned didn't talk about southwestern US prototype railroading, but instead focused most often on east coast and coal railroading!  Over the years, I learned the flow of traffic in the South and Western US States.  Hopefully, I can likewise shed some light into some of these areas and encourage more of you to take the plunge... or at least to learn about what really happened so you can 'tweak' your railroad to make it 'fit in' to the rest of the larger unmodeled operational world!

LMRC - An Educational Experience

Growth of the SP Roundhouse facilities at Bakersfield - Oct 24, 2006

One of the interesting aspects of the club was also the 'self-motivating' aspect of "If you want to be involved, then you need to ask to be and take the time to learn."  For someone who was rather shy at the time, it did require a bit of work on the interpersonal side to show interest and become involved, but I'm so happy that I did put in that effort 20+ years ago.  I feel I should mention a couple of the people that have helped me over the years become more integrated into the club: Ted Haas, John Cathcart, Tony Andersen, G. Luiz, Dennis Kogan, D.F. Willoughby and many more, too numerous to mention.  Being involved with an organization such as LMRC has led to meeting so many interesting people and learning so much over the years.  I would encourage anyone reading to get more acquainted with prototype operations modeling and historic research.

Phased Growth & Expansion

The Operations Department, which is responsible for the steam era prototype operation sessions' setup, has expanded over the years becoming a tome of researched material for both SP and ATSF freight and passenger operations in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Southern California.  In 1996 when I joined the club, the scale of the operations were rather limited to about 450 freight cars and sessions lasted 6 hours.  This meant about nine 50 car trains was all we could field, which was comfortable for the railroad to handle.  Some of those trains would be worked with pre-written switchlists at the SP Bakersfield yard.  Often these trains were also built as the 'pick of the litter' before the sessions car by car to give 'play value' for the yard crews to feel like they're sending cars out to the locals for industry spotting.

The long-time "Sho-fly" at Edison connecting to Ilmon before Bena and Sandcut were built. - 8-27-2004

I think many people today forget how small the LMRC railroad was at the time.  There was no West Bakersfield, nothing between Edison and Ilmon, and the entire second level of the layout did not exist, even the floor wasn't there! There was no Mojave Yard, other than a six-track "portable staging yard" with a small number of secondary tracks for a few helper engines to layover after being cut out.

"Porta-Mojave Yard" aka Bena-field, aka Mojave-ford, lands after 20 years in its final location as an East Staging Yard "support yard" - 12-25-2004

Originally this "portable yard" was used at the west end of the railroad where Bena is today... and it was called Bena-field.  This was before my time.  When I joined Bena-field was moved to about the floor level of what is now Woodford, and called "Mojave".  The story for that yard continues as it was eventually placed in a 40ft storage container behind the museum for several years as the mezzanine was built, and then used again as a "Temporary Mojave Yard" while the final Mojave Yard was built in 2008-or so.  Eventually it stayed where it was, with the reversing 6-track loop being dismantled and scrapped and became a storage yard.

But back to the story, at that time in 1996-1998, no real effort was made to ensure that the cars switched were recycled into other trains after exiting to staging yards.  Some of the through trains would be recycled and run the opposite direction as another symbol, which had been researched to be similar in consist. - Basically the prototypical 'reciprocal' train that the prototype used to return the cars to the shippers.

SP 4464 leads No.59, the West Coast, through the Caliente Narrows during a session in Feb 2001.

In 1998, we expanded the operations scheme and started regularly 'turning' trains in staging.  This involved working out the scheme of what the returning symbols were.  This eventually became a system of 'core blocks' of cars that stand out when you know what they are.

Texaco's TCX 4593 is regularly assigned to the GCF-BTX cycle.  Find this car between Bakersfield and Mojave, and you've probably found the GCF or BTX depending which way it's going!

A few examples might be the Texaco and other Texas-based petroleum cars, which usually arrived in CA on the Santa Fe's GCF (Gulf Coast Forwarder) and returned on the BTX (Bakersfield-Texas Extra/Expediter) which handled a lot of petroleum traffic along with all the other California-Texas traffic.

Generally cars like the GN 41741, often operates north of Bakersfield on the GWS-SWG or NCX/SCX symbols.

Another would be the Santa Fe's GWS (Great Northern-Western Pacific-Santa Fe) and SWG (Santa Fe-Western Pacific-Great Northern) which you guessed it... ran over those three railroads in that order, these two symbols often had mixes of WP and GN cars in them, with some Santa Fe cars as well.

An AC-10 helps a Valley Extra East (VXE) as it climbs the grade and enters Caliente.

During 1998 the operation days extended to 8 hours for a 'regular session' and we started having 12+12 sessions over a weekend for large events like ProRail.  The 12+12s required guesstimating the time required at Bakersfield to switch symbols that needed work, or just the regular times to get helpers and engine changes done.  We found that this only worked reliably about 6 hours out.  Any farther out that 6-8 hours (which is how far a 'solid' lineup on the prototype was) would be conjecture as "Sometime after 6pm this symbol will be run."

Now think about where ALL of those cars to keep track of.... and remember, each one has a place it's going and a path to get there.

It was during the planning phases and setup for the 1998 ProRail that I seriously started getting into learning the freight train symbols and the 'feel' of the various symbols.  Each of the cars going one way actually had different stories to tell, even though on the modeled section of the railroad they might appear to be going the same place.  Even if they're going to the same place, there is a big difference between; a perishable-loaded PFE reefer, a boxcar load of newsprint, an empty cement service boxcar, and an empty automobile parts car, even though they're all heading from Bakersfield to Mojave, each will probably be routed to a different train symbol.  This is some of the stuff I learned early on, and one of the main topics of future posts in this series.

Expansions Abound!

Bakersfield "City Yard" under construction in 2004 in West Bakersfield.

In the early 2000's the layout began expanding in both the 'Valley Staging Yard' (2003) and up the hill through Cliff and a new east end staging yard (2002).  Around 2003-2004 Edison and Bena extension was put into service.

New construction of the Loop at Tunnel 9 about six months before being put into service.  Nov 3, 2004.

Then in 2005 the new mainline from Tunnel 8 (east of Cliff) to Tunnel 10 (Walong "Loop") entered service.  This addition also put into play the Train Order station at Woodford and four new sidings.

New Operating Schemes

Completed Walong "Loop" with Tunnel 9 and Tunnel 10 to the far left.

The changes to the railroad from doubling the number of single track sidings was evident.  Freights now often took 1-2 hours to negotiate the railroad from Bakersfield to the Mojave Yard.

A nearly plugged Mojave Yard doubling as East Staging Yard on Nov 29, 2009 between operating sessions.  The new East Yard under construction at Right about 18" lower.

By about 2006 we had the final Mojave Yard under final construction and back in operations.  Further east expansion happened in 2009 or so as a new East Staging Yard was built, and Mojave calmed down to the 450-car mid-division railroad yard that it historically was.

The Dispatchers desk during the days before an operating session with dozens of switchlists being prepared. - Nov-2004

In the photo below is a great example of how the La Mesa Club's gradually expanded the operation of the layout and kept it working while major construction continued.  This photo was taken about a year before we opened the new ATSF Bakersfield Yard, which is visible behind Matt Menker (wearing black) with drawings, etc on top of it.  During this short period of time the ATSF trains were operated through the SP Valley and were minimally worked at West Bakersfield (70's yard).   There's a westbound Santa Fe passenger train at the depot.  Also several sets of ATSF 'Red Nose' passenger diesels and ATSF way cars (cabooses) are also seen in the 70's yard, laying over between trips.

Jason Hill, Steve Miller, and Matt Menker busy at West Bakersfield in June 2012. Robert Bowdidge Photo

In addition, a westbound AW-symbol freight with double-headed F and SP-class heavy steam under the watchful eye of Steve Miller (Valley Div. Staging Guru) heading for Tracy, Altamont Pass and Oakland.  It looks like I'm consulting with Steve, probably as Chief Dispatcher with lineups and crew call sheets, about the next trains which will be moving to or from 'The Valley'.  Matt Menker, who often works as one of the Yardmasters (probably 'General YM' during this construction phase), looks on from the Santa Fe aisle with a switchlist next to the 'City Switch' engine.  In the photo we can also see the dark gray 'pavement' of Sacramento St. on each side of the yard and many of the spurs on the painted top of the layout.  No buildings and only vague names written on the top of the layout suggest what industries will eventually be there.

Two ATSF 2-10-2s prepare to leave while Car Clerk Matt Menker works car-card experiment on Dec 14, 2012.

Operations since the 1996 era, when Bakersfield SP Yard was built, had always required that the Santa Fe trains use the yard as well.  By 2012 this era was coming to a close with the construction of the new ATSF Bakersfield Yard across the aisle and west of Kern Jct.

The new Santa Fe Bakersfield Yard, seen on Nov 29, 2009, under construction.

Total freight car count during this period pushed towards 800-1200+ cars, and the numbers of trains expanded as well.  During 2012 we can see that we're about to open the new Bakersfield Santa Fe Yard, which reduced the severely overloaded SP Yard operations.  Which we figure as operating at about 130-150%, with switching crews working both ends of the classification tracks with different symbols. 

Combined roundhouse facilities during January 2012.

Towards 2012, we tried for a few sessions moving minimal Santa Fe classification operations to the SP's 70's Yard west of Baker St. - However even then the SP's roundhouse then became the limiting factor.

But Car Cards! -- NO!

Car Forwarding can be taught!  Matt Menker working with Bryn Ekroot at the Bakersfield car-card experimental "Tower"

In late 2012 the system of pre-handwritten switchlists was becoming too much.  So with many operations folks from around the country suggesting, we tried two or three sessions using multi-cycle carcards and two "Car Clerks", one at each end of the RR to make lists for switching and keep track of where 1400 cars were supposed to be going.... It FAILED epically resulting in a forced march of about 8-10 people after a Saturday 12+12 weekend to get 1400 carcards put back with their cars at the right end of the railroad in the right place so we could do the second half of the weekend... (sigh)

The verdict was in.  Back to hand written switchlists we go.  However we decided to keep the two Car Clerk positions.  The East Clerk is usually combined with the East Staging Yardmaster, who both reblocks the freight trains and works out the routings for all the cars on the Eastern end of the railroad and down the Hill as far as Caliente or Bena.  The West Clerk works a 'roving' job out of Bakersfield covering the Arvin and Taft Branches, Bakersfield SP and Santa Fe Yards and the Valley Staging yards.

The new system seems to work well, and we're working to expand the number of people that are trained as Car Clerks for the "Traffic Dept."  These two positions feed information about trains entering the railroad and help the Chief Dispatcher formulate the 'Line Up' for the next 6-8 hours in real-time.  In a way the Chief and the two Clerks end up being the people controlling all of the operations 'down stream' of them.  Their choices and judgments effect everyone else's experience 4-8 hours later in the session.  I'm sure I'll be talking much more about all of the real-time operations and planning that goes on during a session.

Driving the Golden Spike

ATSF 3892 and 21LABC charge through the east end of Summit for the Golden Spike Ceremony at Summit Switch - Aug 29, 2015..

In August 2015 the mainline was completed over its final alignment which created a 38% increase in mainline run over the Division.  Continuing construction on secondary trackage and scenery will still continue for many years to come.

Golden Spike meeting of ATSF 3892 and SP 6461 (iirc) at Summit - Aug 29, 2015.

The new wye at Summit finally allows prototypical operations for the helpers to turn and be sent back west to Bakersfield if ordered to do so by the Chief Dispatcher, and additional planning required for the 'Trick' Dispatcher to work in the light engines to come back down the Hill.  The addition of Tehachapi and Monolith added several more opportunities for freight symbol operation, and messages from the Traffic Dept, Yardmasters, and the Dispatcher to coordinate which trains will stop to make pickup and setouts.

Switchlist for the KI Local departing Mojave on the 22nd of Dec, 1952 with a full day's work ahead.

The physical addition of Monolith now allows much more work for the KI (Tehachapi) Local and Mojave Shorts trains to work the cement plant.  Also the apple sheds at Tehachapi can be served.  During the last few sessions the KI Local crew often spends 10-14 real hours on duty.  No fast clocks are used!

In Closing

Reefers stored at Magunden and a pair loading at the Golden H packing shed.

At the end of the day, the scale of the La Mesa Club is daunting, however each car movement is very simple and straight forward.  We'll be looking next time at the SP's Westward Freight Symbols, what makes each special and what purpose each serves in the grand scheme of the historical operations.  We'll eventually work our way through to SP's Eastward Freight Symbols, the SP's Locals and Switch Jobs and routings.  Then in following posts I'll be turning the Santa Fe's Freight Symbols West and Eastward, and their Local and Switch Job Routings.

For now, I'm hopeful that this post gives some insights into Prototype Operations and will provide a good foundation for my future posts on the Freight Symbols used over Tehachapi Pass.  

Jason Hill

Related Articles:

Freight Symbols Over Tehachapi - Index Page

Busy Times at Bakersfield (Part 1)  - SP Roundhouse Operations

Busy Times at Bakersfield (Part 2) - SP Yard Overview

A Trip Over Tehachapi on the SCX-BI - A rather 'normal' trip over the Tehachapi Pass during a 1950's TT/TO session.

Triple Trouble on Tehachapi - A Weird Day on the Hill - Exceptions to and bending the rules

1 comment:

  1. Just found your site and read the first article on freight symbols over Tehachapi. Fascinating to read about what you've learned and implemented on the LMRC. Seeing the comment about the KI local taking 10-14 real hours to!


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