Thursday, November 14, 2019

Tehachapi Operations: Part 1 - Mountain Work Train

Over the last 20 odd years I've been involved in the operations at La Mesa Model Railroad Club I've worked on coming up with the MW work assignments for the Mountain Work Train using what equipment we've had available in service at the club.  Over the years I've built a number of SPMW cars, a few ATSF work cars, and am currently working to expand the equipment and activities options for the clubs' 1950's TT/TO Operating Sessions.

Previous Work Train Jobs

SP 3765 with a string of work cars in tow rolls into Walong on Jan 6, 1953.

During the preceding days company service cars have been spotted by the KI Local and various points along the Sub Division where the T&M (Track and Maintenance) folks had specified that they needed work done.  Likewise B&B (Bridge and Building) Department had also ordered replacement timbers for a wood trestle.

Earlier this year rip-rap had been sent in to the lower Caliente Creek area to shore up some of the fills from the early winter storms.  No wash-outs had occurred yet... a little bit of preventive maintenance work is worth days of fixing the problem after the railroad is shut down.

The T&M and management still vividly recalls only 3 short months before when the line was finally reopened on the restored alignment through Tunnel 5 after the 7.5 Earthquake shut the railroad down for about a month, requiring the daylighting or modifications to four tunnels and a quarter million cubic yards of material moved.

Jan 14-15, 1953 - A day on the Mountain Work Train

Bakersfield Chief Dispatcher & Clerks Work

So let's take a ride with the Mountain Work Train on January 15th, 1953.  The Chief Dispatcher assigns a suitable engine for the Mountain Work Train, which today will be assigned the SP 3666, an F-3 class 2-10-2, or "Deck" as they're known on the SP.  A crew is called on duty a bit later than usual at 8:50AM in Bakersfield.

A file photo of SP 3666 shot at Bakersfield as she is preparing to run west on a Valley freight in late 1952.

The Bakersfield Yard Office Clerk finished up a set of work instructions for the Mountain Work Train crew.  Lets see what the work looks like for today.

Here's the work instructions to the crew on Jan 15th, 1953. (click on the image to enlarge)

A consist switchlist form is used for today's message.  Nothing too fancy, SP also used telegraph pads or even old train order forms which were obsolete by rules changes.  Whatever was easy to hand to write on.  At the club we've even used a plain sheet of paper folded over to issue the work messages.

Let's break the message down:

Mountain Work Train, 8:01AM, Jan 15, 1953.

Engine is left blank, but the 3666 was assigned from the "Valley" pool of 'Decks' after this message was written.

"RUN TO CALIENTE" (Directs the Mountain Work Train to start working at Caliente)

"SPMW 5879" (Flat with Burro Crane SPO-257)
"SP 151272 G BRIDGE TIMBERS S/O TIMBERS FOR B&B" (Gondola with Bridge Timbers, S/O)

"RETURN TO CALIENTE" (Directs the Mountain Work Train to return to Caliente once the first task is completed.  SPMW 5879 and the emptied GS-gondola are dropped off at Caliente.)

"SPMW 5549" (Bunk Car - for the T&M ballast gang)
"SPMW 635" (Foreman's Car)
"SPMW 312" (Tool Car - used to haul any tools or supplies needed to do the work)
(There were 5 or 6 SP ballast hoppers and gondolas in Caliente for this work.)

"(Spread) BALLAST  BETWEEN MP 335.6 AND TUNNEL 2 FOR 30 MINUTES."  (This work is on single track east of Caliente up to Allard.)

"SETOUT BALLAST CARS AT BEALVILLE WHEN FINISHED" (Dropping off the emptied ballast cars frees up the 3666's pulling capacities on the 2.2% grade for other work later in the day.  No need to keep the extra weight and train length on a train which needs to stay small and flexible.)

"RUN TO WOODFORD AND P/U BALLAST CARS" (Pretty obvious, continue east to Woodford and get the 3 SP and one ATSF ballast cars from the Corral Spurs there.)

"SPREAD BALLAST BETWEEN MP 346.0 AND MP 345.25  FOR 30 MINUTES."  (West Switch of Woodford and 2nd Crossing of Caliente Creek, just east of Rowen.)



"RUN TO KI AND TIE DOWN (for the day)."

Looks like enough to keep the crew busy for a while.  While these three ballasting operations and one unloading operation with the crane wouldn't take very long, the fact that the Dispatcher has to make time in the flow of regular scheduled trains and a number of freights, makes it challenging.   I often liken this Mountain Work Train during TT/TO operations as the proverbial, 'Cat in a room full of rocking-chairs, trying to get its work done without getting its tail pinched by any of the rocking-chairs!'

Equipment Photos

Let's have a quick look at the cars we'll be working with today.

Engine: SP 3666

SP 3666, Eddie Sims collection.

Today's engine assigned is a Sunset Models F-3 class 2-10-2 with 160-C class tender.

Bena Bridge Timber S/O

SPMW 5879, a old F-50-11/13/14 series flatcar fitted with rails for Burro SPO-257 to run back and forth on.

This car was made from two Tichy 40ft flatcars kitbashed to make a reasonable stand-in for an SP 53ft straight side-sill flatcar.  A Tichy boom tender tool-box was added, along with some extra stirrup steps and grabs to match a photo in Richard Petty's Southern Pacific Maintenance of Way book.

SP 151272, a standard SP GS-type gondola, today loaded with  heavy bridge timbers.

This model is a Red Caboose steel GS-gondola model which is correct for SP's G-50-22 class cars.

T&M Outfit:

The outfit cars are a combination of kitbashes and repaints of standard models which are easily available.

SPMW 5549, an old 12-1 Pullman sleeper.

The SPMW 5549 is a conversion of a heavy weight Pullman sleeper which was acquired by the SP and made into a "BUNK" car for crews to live in.  I didn't add the air conditioning ducts from NERS, but did add some vents on the roof and a T-shaped smokejack off an Athearn caboose parts sprue.

SPMW 635, made from an old A-50-series auto-boxcar.

My kitbash of the SPMW 635 stopped short of replacing the large side doors with a more distinctive truss sheathed side with windows, which the prototype had.  This car started as an MDC/Roundhouse 50ft automobile boxcar.

Roof patches of tar-paper and vents have been added, along with some MDC/Roundhouse "Overton" passenger car tool boxes, which I had laying around.

SPMW 312, from a B-50-13/14 class boxcar.

The SPMW 312 started life as one of Accurail's pre-painted FCR (red-oxide) painted "TOOL CAR" data-only models, which I then cut windows in and added the reporting mark decals to.  Tichy Andrews trucks are used as well.

Ballast Cars

The club's current ballast fleet is made up of GS-gondolas, TM/Walthers Hart work gondolas, and heavily kitbashed ballast hoppers from the 1980's by club member Chris Hollinshead.

SP 12585, one of my kitbashed K-brake equipped W-50-3 class Hart-Convertable Ballast Gondola.

Unfortunately not many of the Hart Gonds were left in service by the 1950s, but Robert Bowdidge made a nice 3d printed model which is correct for SP's style car.  The TM/Walthers car has issues, including being 5-boards high, when it should only be 3, and much shorter.  I did kitbash the underbody to narrow the structural members of the car.

SP 165585, a stand-in ballast hopper 1980's kitbash.

A bit late for our 1950's steam era session, these very nice for 1980's kitbashed ballast hoppers by Chris Hollinshead and subject of an RMC modeling article from 30+ years ago are still in service.

Let's Get Going!

The conductor walks out of the yard office and over to the SP 1021, his regular caboose.  Meanwhile the engine crew of SP 3666 brings it over, coupling up, makes a quick air test, and departs Bakersfield as a 'Cab Hop' to Caliente under a standard "Run" order and made the trip in good time between 9:30 to 10:01AM, I'm guessing.


(Note: other applicable right-overs, etc were used against the westward extra freights and light engines working down the hill at the time would have been included, unfortunately I didn't grab a full set of the Mountain Work Train's orders!)

Off to Bena... Again!

SP 3666 with assembled bridge timber movement ready and waiting at Caliente, 1:44PM, Jan 15, 1953.

Once at Caliente, the engine 3666 sat for several hours as multiple sections of Santa Fe 23 passed and No.51 rolled by.  While this was going on, the Dispatcher began working on carving out a hole in the flood of trains for 20 minutes working time, plus running time, between Caliente and Bena.  That time came around 1:55PM.

Again, unfortunately I didn't grab a photo of the Work Extra order which was issued to the crew.  The order gave the 3666 time to work between Caliente and Bena, not protecting against Eastward trains before a given time, and protecting and clearing EXTRA ATSF 215 WEST and EXTRA ATSF 226 WEST, basically as soon as it reached Bena.  The Work Extra order was set to expire at a reasonable time, as I recall, about 3:01PM, which is when the afternoon eastward scheduled passenger trains need the railroad back from the Work Extra 3666.

The "WORK EXTRA" form of order allows the Work Extra to work back and forth as needed between the named points until the time given, at which point the Work Extra's authority to occupy the main track expires.  Note that a "WORK EXTRA" and a "WORK TRAIN" are not the same thing.  A "Work Extra" is a form of order allowing the train to move as needed within the limits until the time specified.  A "Extra" is formed by a "RUN EXTRA" phrasing, in which the authorization is only to move in one direction between the points named, and not to make repeated back and forth moves between points therein.

Work Extra SP 3666 with its three cars at Bena pulls into the clear just after arriving.

The 3666 made its way to Bena and protected itself from westward freights Extra ATSF 215 West and Extra ATSF 226 West with plans to clear into the center track at Bena when they arrived at their flagman's position.

If the crew of the 3666 had noticed, there was a westward ATSF freight coming into Caliente as they left!

The Extra ATSF 215 West picks up a copy of the "Work Extra" order of the 3666 at Caliente, and approaches the "Work Extra 3666" in Ilmon prepared to stop and get them to clear at Bena per the order.

Extra ATSF 215 West comes to a stop for the Work Extra 3666's flagman just west of Bridge 330.04.

  It turns out the Extra 215 West was right on the 3666's heels out of Caliente.  No sooner had the 3666 dropped the flagman and pulled up to the bridge to start setting off timbers, than the ATSF 215 arrived and made the 3666 pull into Bena's center siding.

Extra ATSF 215 West, with a large blog of auto boxcars, common on Santa Fe's 59-symbol freights waits for 3666 to clear at Bena.

The Extra ATSF 215, with (Symbol) 59-L (Autos & Autoparts block) arrived at the protecting flagman at 2:04PM, at which point the Work Extra 3666 moved to Bena to clear up for the Extra ATSF 215 West.

Work Extra SP 3666 tucked into the clear at Bena as Extra 215 West accelerates by on green signals towards Bakersfield.

By 2:06PM the 3666 was in the clear and Extra ATSF 215 West charges through Bena.

Unloading is finished!

With the first of the trains out of the way that the 3666 was ordered to clear for, she returns to unload the timbers.  With that complete she heads back to Caliente before her "Work Extra" order time expires.

East of Caliente?

The 3666 returns to Caliente and the crew drops off the SPMW 5879 and SP 151272 in the "short siding" and picked up the ballast cars and MW outfit cars for their next work east of Caliente at 4:02PM.

Extra 3666 East heads up the hill to start ballasting while the KI Local finishes working at Caliente. at 4:02PM.

The Extra 5303 West (KI Local) arrived at Caliente while the 3666 was working its cars and started switching the regular revenue cars and continuing the positioning of SPMW cars for future Mountain Work Train assignments.

4:26PM finds the SP 5297 and 5303 waiting at Caliente for orders to follow the 3666 up the hill.

The Extra 5297 East (the other KI Local engine, for the eastward trip) is seen making the last moves before it starts up the hill following the ballast dumping operation.  (I'm not quite sure why the Dispatcher decided to let the slow ballasting Mountain Work Train out ahead of the KI Local which had nearly finished its work, but that's what happened.)

Woodford and More Ballast

I was able to get a couple photos of the 3666 at Woodford, but I loose track of how they progressed after this point.

The SP ballast cars at Woodford.

6:01PM finds Extra 3666 East at Woodford.

Did They Make It?

I talked to the crew of the Mountain Work Train at the end of the day's operations.  They reported that they did make it to Tehachapi easily by 8:01PM and tied the train down in the No.3 Siding out of the way.

SP 5297 & 5303 work spotting ballast cars at KI for the next Mountain Work Train late on Jan 15th, 1953.

The empty ballast cars with the 3666 in Tehachapi will be set over for one of the 'Mojave Shorts' trains to pickup for another load of ballast.  The KI Local of the 16th will go round up the other ballast cars that were left at Bealville and Woodford, moving them to either Caliente, Tehachapi, or Mojave for forwarding on the 'Mojave Shorts' train.

Where to Now?

The SPMW 5879 has now been released from its assignment to unload the bridge timbers.  It will likely be reassigned to help with the track laying at Edison or perhaps some other job.  Our MW fleet is almost always being moved around actively to some job or assignment, then sitting a while to get all the pieces there.  To carry on a thought from my previous post in Freight Symbols Over Tehachapi: Logistics and Planning, the logistics we get to play with which continue from session to session, week to week, adding to the feeling that things are being done for a reason.  Each step leads to the next, and from there to the next, and so on.

SPMW 4049, a 25-ton crane, SPMW 1413, and SPMW 8079 will be used for the track work at Tehachapi in coming days.

More track construction work at Tehachapi will continue in the future week as No.3 Siding is going to be extended west, a new house track extension stub is going to be put in, and about 80ft of one of the packing shed tracks is going to be removed for more 'Company Village' bunk housing to be built.

Closing Thoughts

Extra 3666 East makes a break for KI and dumping more ballast at Cable.

And the maintenance of the railroad is never done... something always needs replacing, renewing, adjustment, or repairs.

I hope you've enjoyed this passing snap-shot of a day in the life of our Mountain Work Train's "cat in the room of rocking chairs" life.  I know I still enjoy marking up the messages for the crews at La Mesa Model Railroad Club, and the same TT/TO road switching crews keep coming back for more.  Perhaps this will spur you into putting a bit of realistic challenge into your sessions by running the occasional work train to fix things on your railroad sometime...  And who knows, maybe you'll find out that you like a rocking chair on your tail!

Jason Hill

Related Articles:

Freight Symbols Over Tehachapi - Index Page - Navigate to any of the multi-part post on SP and ATSF freight symbols used at LMRC and a bit of my history learning operations.

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