Short Course in Railroading

Union Pacific, East Yard, Los Angeles, CA

Centered in the Yard Office

Beginning around 1955            by:   L.E. Crowner

General information

Several years ago Jim Hediger, an editor of the Model Railroader magazine wrote some articles about how the railroads provide service to the industries along their track. I wrote a letter complimenting him and mentioned a few of my experiences. I had a word processor at the time. Since the word processor makes it so easy to write and edit, I continued writing, mainly for myself. Eventually the word processor quit working, parts and service no longer available. Sort of hurt what little Scotch blood I have. I broke down and bought a computer. What was already written in the word processor was entered into the computer and I continued writing there. After seeing some of the comments, observations, and questions on various railfan websites, the thought came to me that making a website out of my experience would provide an insight into how the railroad functions. While almost everything went into the website, some was left out to protect the guilty. After what must be 30 years, my lips are still sealed concerning an incident when a supervisor told me that I did not see what I was seeing.

From time to time changes have been made to the website as additional memories, corrections, or better explanations come to mind.

Here we go:

Mr. McBride lived down the street from us. He was a Car Foreman and got me in the door at the U.P. I stayed 44 years. The only other job I ever had was a paper route when I was in school. I disappointed my parents by not going to college as they had wished. I could not think about anything worse than writing a paper about Shakespeare. If I had ever felt sorry for myself while working for the railroad, the best antidote would have been to remember when I had the paper route and was out knocking on doors attempting to persuade people to subscribe to the newspaper. The railroad could never be that bad, as far as I am concerned.

The following information is seen from the point of view of a Yard Clerk, and some of the the various jobs that Yard Clerks filled around the railroad.

Except for the Train Lists and Spot It Book, the following is from memory. While the U.P. around Los Angeles did not have a strong seasonal component, things around the railroad are always changing, never static.

There were a bunch of old train lists sitting in my locker. These lists show only what the train had when it arrived in Los Angeles. The Conductor would write the initial and car number, contents, and type of car. The last two columns would be left blank for the Yard Office.  Along with the list and waybills, the Conductor also gave us what we called a 'Wheeler'. It was a list of all the cars handled by the train showing where they were picked up and set out during the tour of duty. The Conductor also carried a train book which duplicated the wheeler information with additional information such as delays during the trip. Most Conductors used the train book as is. Some had personalized leather covers for their train books. The train book was left in the Conductors room at the Yard Office between trips

Some of the train lists are from the 'BDS'. As far as I know, the symbol stood for 'Blue Diamond Special'. The train originated in Las Vegas. It handled plaster and plasterboard from the Blue Diamond Co. at Blue Diamond, NV. It also handled lime rock, gypsum, and sand from the Las Vegas area, and chemicals from Henderson, NV. Don't remember anymore, but it must have run at least 5 days a week.

Some of the train lists are from the DLS/CLS, the stock train. Train symbols change over time.

We received consists of trains leaving Las Vegas. The teletype would print the list and also make a teletype tape. The tape was used to make punch cards. We would get a teletype list of cars if any were added to trains at Yermo. Before the days of microwave and computers, the teletype machine sometimes quietly chattered to itself when there were electrical storms in Nebraska.

As advance information prior to the trains arrival, the Car Desk would mark the teletype list, and send a copy of the list to the Yardmaster at 'A' Yard via a pneumatic tube. Tags were preprinted with the switching district or railroad in large print. The car initial, number, contents and consignee or destination were written in by hand. For contents, a few abbreviations were used such as merchandise marked as 'xx', and if I remember correctly high value contents like liquor, cigarettes, and tires were marked 'xxx'. It did not do much good for cars loaded with tires; the odor of fresh rubber gave them away. In 1955 the tags were applied to railroad cars with a tack and a pair of pliers. Once you had the tack in the pliers it could be done one handed. At that time two clerks went out on the train. One of the clerks would carry a large but portable radio strapped to his back. If you were not careful you would have holes in your shirt or jacket from the acid in the batteries. The radio was used to communicate with the Yard Office. Any extra, missing, or cars out of order would be reported to the Car Desk. One clerk applied the tags to the South side of the cars, the other walked on the North side and wrote a list of the train and the seal numbers on the boxcars. The clerk on the South side would shout out the seal number or talk while at the end of the car. The clerks carried seals to apply if needed. Not too long after I hired out the policy changed. Then only one clerk went out on a train, and he only tagged the train.

It was a labor intensive process, but trains could be switched rapidly. The Yardmaster would give the Car Desk the number of the car that he was going to come out with for the first cut of cars. The Car Desk would work that part of the train first. On 'hot' (high priority) trains, the process would be used for the entire train. The 'hot' train might be caused by having 'hot' cars in the train, or for getting the train switched and out of the way to make room for a following train or trains. The clerk would give the Car Desk any extra, missing, or out of order cars over the radio. The Car Desk would give this information and any other changes to the original teletype list to the 'A' Yard Yardmaster over the phone. As soon as the train stopped, the clerks, a carman to bleed off the train, and the field man from the switch engine would start down the train. Often the Yard Watchman or Special Agent would be there to twist nails or spikes in the door locking mechanism. That gave added protection to high value loads such as alcohol, tobacco, or tires, backing up the moral authority of the thin metal seals. 

The Chief Clerk on the daylight shift worked only as Chief Clerk. On the afternoon and midnight shifts the Assistant Chief Clerk worked the Car Desk. He was the nominal boss of the clerical forces on the shift. The Car Desk handled inbound trains. The Line Desk worked outbound trains. On outbound trains, in addition to the train list, waybills, and wheeler we also gave a PFE form for the weather during the trains trip. One time the PFE clerk tried to find out what happened to a PFE form that he mailed to Pocatello. In the days before easy telephoning, he took the trouble to call Pocatello and talked to the office there. They said that they checked to see that the form was properly filled out, and sent it to Omaha. He eventually found out where the form went in Omaha. When he called them, they said that they checked to see that the form was properly filled out, and filed it. We had a 7 day recording thermometer. Once a week we would take off the old form and send it wherever we sent it. Wind it up, add a bit of ink to the stylus, put on a new form and we were good for another week. For a few years after 1955 we had a microfilm machine. We made a picture of all the waybills for a train. We changed the film every night.   

Many years later the railroad went to a General Clerk concept. All clerks were to be considered qualified for any of the duties in the Yard Office. The Yard Office Supervisor would assign a task to anyone that was available at the time.

Before the wide use of radios, and at night, if you needed a Special Agent or Yard Watchman, you called the Crew Dispatcher. They had a switch that turned on a red light on top of one of the high water tanks. When the Special Agent saw the red light, he would find a phone and call the Crew Dispatcher to determine who wanted him.

Trains arrived in Los Angeles with loaded cars. Not much was shipped out of Los Angeles. Most cars went east empty.


Numbers for the following notes are marked on the copies of the switch, or train lists. Some other typical train lists are included. For reasons of speed on 'hot' trains, anyone free or able to be spared would write the switch list as the person working the Car Desk went through the waybills and called out the information. That accounts for the differences in handwriting in the columns where the Yard Office wrote. The original dimension of the lists is 5½ by 12¾ inches.  

Train Lists

  1. The symbol of the train. The number is the day the train originated, or was deemed to have originated. It was not necessarily the day that the train left its origin. After the passenger trains were no more, many times the railroad shoved one of the long tracks from 'C' Yard out onto the main line Friday night. It would not be called on duty until early Monday morning. Around the Yard Office we always used the initials of the train symbol. The only exception was the CLS or DLS. It may have been more commonly known as the 'Stock train'.
  2. The time and date the train arrived at East Yard, Los Angeles.
  3. 9-1650 was the station number for Yermo, CA.  9 was the designation for the mainline from Ogden, UT.  1650 was the mileage from Council Bluffs, IA.
  4. 9-1809 was the station number for East Yard in Los Angeles, CA.
  5. The train list of original and 3 carbon copies showing car number, type of car, and contents was furnished by the conductor. Train lists were always from caboose to head end. The original stayed in the Yard Office, the next two went to 'A' Yard, and the last went to the Freight House along with the waybills for any cars staying in Los Angeles.
  6. The Car Desk would check the waybills and write in the consignee or destination and the switching district or railroad. For ease and speed this would be done mainly from memory. It would cause difficulties if you had to continually stop to burrow through the desk for information while the Yardmaster and the whole of 'A' Yard were waiting to switch a train. If there was something you could not remember, and if you were lucky, the next best option would be to ask whoever was known to be able to remember the obscure or difficult to find information. When the Yard Office completed the list, two copies would be sent via an underground  pneumatic tube to 'A' Yard for the Yardmaster and the clerk. The tube had a switch near the East End of 'A' Yard #15 to provide service to either the Dispatcher's office or 'C' Yard Tower. From time to time the switch caused trouble. A separate tube system went from the 'C' Yard Tower to 'A' Yard. In later years during the rainy season the tube system resembled an artesian well. The underground system was eventually replaced by an overhead pneumatic tube.
  7. The Yardmaster would switch the train by the last two columns.  
  8. Empties to be held for prospective scrap loading.
  9. Train filled out with steel from the mills in Provo, UT.
  10. Lime rock for sugar beet refiners in season.
  11. Scott Sales is a foundry supply company. Sand was loaded in covered hoppers and boxcars, sometimes in gondolas. The boxcars had roof hatches and grain doors. Sand was loaded from several different locations around the Las Vegas area. Sand often leaked from cars. Therefore, the South Industry and South Gate tracks always had piles of spilled sand. If I remember correctly, some of the sand was a light reddish color. Similarly, grain leaked along the East Yard track and the ELA tracks. With the infrequent rains in Southern California spilled grain would form a luxuriant green patch on the ground, but not for long. Spilled grain would also grow on railroad cars, but for an even shorter period. The West Industry did not have any sand or grain consuming industries, so there was little spilled along that track. Some of the larger foundries received periodic boxcars of sacked corn flour for their mold making activities. From time to time we also got cars of sand from the Wedron and Ottawa, IL area.
  12. Balloon was the cleaning track for Pacific Fruit Express (PFE), and switched by the crew from the East End of 'C' Yard.
  13. Chemicals from the plants around Henderson, NV.
  14. More traffic from the steel mills in Provo, UT.
  15. Yermo pickups. Talc was mined in the desert and loaded near Yermo. Talc was loaded into either covered hoppers or boxcars. Talc and sand in boxcars was not normally sealed, and I doubt that any was ever stolen. There was no scale in Yermo, so the talc had to be weighed in Los Angeles. Some of the talc came in on a milling in transit rate, which would later give a favorable rate when processing was completed and it was sacked and shipped out in boxcars.
  16. Pickup from the cement plants at either Oro Grande or Victorville, CA.
  17. Colton pickup. The PFE at this time brought in ice from their plant in Colton. At other times it was purchased and brought in by truck.
  18. Heavy train had braking power added to bring tons per operative brake into compliance with timetable restrictions. We sent the empties right back to Las Vegas.
  19. The 'IMS' probably stood for 'Intermountain Special' and handled Utah, Idaho, Montana, and whatever Northwest traffic showed up. This train seems to be Las Vegas and Provo traffic with a Colton pickup.
  20. Another IMS with IMS and Las Vegas blocks intermingled.
  21. Manifest West probably called to clear Las Vegas of excess traffic.
  22. Another Manifest West with Las Vegas traffic that set out almost everything before arriving in Los Angeles.
  23. Do not now recall why we had to go out of the Yard Office to get a rollby. We must have had trouble at the time with consists of the trains. The usual course of action around the railroad is that after a problem occurs management puts out an order intended to clear up the situation. The problem then usually clears up or cures itself, and management has long since forgotten their order and leaves it still standing. It happened to me once. I can't remember what the original problem was but the Yard Office Manager put out an order to file a report every morning without fail. Several months later we were having trouble getting our work done. He came in during the night to see what was going on. Later in the shift when I shut everything down to make his report, he asked me what in the world I was doing. I said nothing, but handed him his message with his signature on it ordering us to file the report without fail. He wadded it up, cussed a bit, threw it into the wastebasket, and told me to forget about it. W.K. 'Brad' Bradford happened to be too nice a guy to rub any salt in the would, so I did not say anything.
  24. By this time the stock train was a shadow of its former self. The most I ever saw were 3 sections of the stock train.  The 1st section was solid stock. The 2nd section was filled out with dead freight. The 3rd section had the setouts for Barstow, San Bernardino, and Colton, and came into Los Angeles a caboose hop. It used to be quite a production when the stock train arrived. Wilson was on the S.P., and a switch engine would make a run for the track near the Shops and Mission Tower where the U.P. and S.P exchanged hot cars. Another engine would deliver the L.A. Junction and Union Stockyard cars to the LAJ. The ATSF cars would be delivered to a track at Hobart Tower where the U.P. and ATSF exchanged hot cars. A U.P. engine would take the U.P. cars. For feed, water, and rest the U.P. had a 36 hour waiver, so it was important to get the stock spotted and avoid being fined for exceeding 36 hours, not forgetting the 1 hour difference between Mountain and Pacific time. On the railroad it was Clougherty, but Farmer John was the trade name in the grocery store. They were the last livestock into Los Angeles on the railroad, lasting into the mid 1990's. There used to be a yearly livestock show in Los Angeles near the ELA Depot. The prize livestock would be in boxcars, the attendants living in the boxcar also. The Cashier put out a special message every year to make sure none of the prize livestock was held for charges. One time after the livestock business dried up and we were only handling hogs for Clougherty, there were 2 cars of cattle in the stock train for Barstow and the ATSF.  The conductor did not show them being setout and did not show stopping at Barstow. I called the Yardmaster and told him that 2 cars of cattle might be on the train. He called the switch engine over the radio, but they said that they did not have any cattle with them. Later when they got to Farmer John, 2 of their cars were mooing. Everyone had fun with the Foreman later, asking him what a cow said, and what a hog said. I hired out during a September heat wave in Los Angeles. There were many rich aromas around the railroad yards. Tobacco smoke, creosote, diesel oil, diesel smoke, loaded and empty stock cars, and not to be ignored, the nearby stockyards and rendering plants. Not quite suitable for a family magazine, but when the livestock business was still going strong an employee of one of the stockyards would stop at the 'A' Yard shanty every night to see what the U.P. was going to have for him. He was known to one and all as 'Shittyboots'. We got boxcars of sacked dried blood now and then out of the packing houses.  If I remember correctly, they went to Portland, OR.
  25. The Yard Office stamped a 'pro' number on any train list and waybills that would be handled by the Freight House. Many reports were numbered. The numbers made it easy to notice anything missing.
  26. We kept track of the perishable shipments. 'SV' meant standard vents which is vents open about 32 degrees and closed below 32 degrees. The PFE Clerk would designate the icing instructions. With the benign weather of Southern California, it did not matter much. In the 1950's we got bananas from the P.E. out of the Harbor. 10 to 15 cars now and then, a messenger would ride with them in the caboose. They went to the Utah and Idaho area. In 1955 we still got a few cars of carrots from Venice on the P.E. For a number of years after that we got celery out of Wintersburg, which was in the Huntington Beach area. Perishable waybills were pink. For perishable cars originating in Los Angeles the Bill Desk made a carbon copy on thin blank paper for the PFE clerk. It was called a 'skin' bill.
  27. Business had changed by 1964. In the forwarding business Acme Fast Freight used to be the big shipper on the S.P. Universal Carloading was the big shipper on the U.P. Western Carloading was the big shipper on the ATSF. Sears was a big shipper and had many locations on the U.P. Terminal Freight was allied with Sears and also a big shipper on the U.P.
  28. Anything needing attention from the PFE had to go to the Ice Deck which was at the East End of 'C' Yard #16.
  29. Don't remember what this note means, and cannot even figure out at this late date what the note meant other than the train was delayed getting into the yard. In the time when trains usually got right into the yard, one train was held out for quite a while. Since I was the first person the conductor saw when he brought in the waybills, he chewed me out for the delay. I was not responsible for the situation, there was nothing a clerk like me could have done about the situation. I heard him out, and ignored him.
  30. Perlite came from the Pioche Branch near Caliente, NV.
  31. Yermo pickups were not normally on the rear end.
  32. Train brought B/O locomotives into Los Angeles.
  33. Paramount was the center of the dairy industry before it became just another Los Angeles suburb.
  34. Loads, empties, and tons.
  35. The U.P. at this time still handled LCL (less than carload) shipments. Freight House operations had been moved from Alameda Street to the ELA switching district. This car was on a through train. If I remember correctly, an LCL car that went from station to station was called a 'trap' car.
  36. This block of potash came off the DRGW.
  37. Copies of the Teletype consist from Las Vegas would be sent to the Yardmaster in 'A' Yard so he would know what was on the way. Dots in this column indicate changes or additions to the Teletype consist from Las Vegas.
  38. Wingfoot was an early (in Los Angeles terms) industrial development. The largest plant there was the Goodyear tire plant, and presumably where the Wingfoot name came from. The blimp hangar stood for many years near the corner of Florence and Central. The Goodyear location is now a Post Office facility. Wingfoot was switched by both the P.E., which later became the S.P., and the ATSF. The complication was that the ATSF was a switch move and the P.E./.S.P. was a line haul. A switch move was a flat charge, while a line haul required giving up the waybill and considerable revenue. Therefore if possible, depending on waybill routing, anything for an industry at Wingfoot was given to the ATSF. As a general example, if a westbound car was routed UP SP to Los Angeles with, as many cars were, no intermediate junction specified, the UP could take the car as far as possible while still leaving a line haul for the SP. It would be given to the SP at Colton. If the car was routed UP SP delivery, the UP was entitled to bring the car into Los Angeles and give the car to the SP as a switch move. If a car was routed UP ATSF for Denver, the farthest the UP could take the car was Barstow and deliver it to the ATSF there. The UP could not give the car to the ATSF at Kansas City and make the ATSF backhaul the car to Denver. If it was for Denver, routed UP ATSF delivery, the UP would give the car to the ATSF at Denver as a switch move. Some switching districts were switched all or in part by more than one railroad, although without the complication of road haul vs. switch move. It was not unknown for one railroad to pull the car of another railroad. The clerks then would have to account for a car with no previous record suddenly showing up in the yard. An experienced clerk soon gained a sixth sense for where to start looking. Atlas Lumber and Mid City Iron near 15th and Santa Fe were switched by the U.P., ATSF, and S.P. Violet Alley ran east of and parallel to Santa Fe Ave. It was switched in alternating years by the U.P. and S.P. Don't know where the name 'Violet Alley' came from. Another related circumstance was Team Track delivery. You could not give another railroad a car for Team Track delivery in local switching limits on a switch bill. Team Track delivery had to be on a line haul, and surrendering the waybill. The switching limits for the U.P in Los Angeles were roughly Garfield Ave. on the east, the Pasadena Freeway on the north, and the Los Angeles River on the south. There must have been an agreement between yard and train crews since the Pasadena Local also spotted North Industry cars, such as Barbara Ann, Price Pfister, and Charcoal Unlimited. Many years later Kenosha Auto Transport handled American Motors cars. They began unloading their cars on the tail track which was along Washington Blvd. east of the coach yard. From there they moved to a facility in Montebello, which quickly became known as the 'KAT House'. There was a dip in the track entering the facility that permitted nothing larger than a switch engine to enter. An agreement was made between the yard and road crews permitting yard crews to go past yard limits to Montebello and switch the 'KAT House'.  Don't know what the quid pro quo was.

Following are some of the tracks in the yard:

The Old Yard was West of the 'A' Yard shanty.
I found a 1970 list of the track assignments in 'C' Yard.  I do not remember the tracks being assigned in this manner, the arrangement may not have lasted very long. And then again, the difference could be my memory. For the sake of clarity, there never was a 'C' Yard #1 in my days. The 'C' Yard Scale was alongside the west end of 'C' Yard #4. In 1955 there was also a scale at the east end of the yard at the east end of the Store Lead. It was used for cars that were to be weighed light and restenciled.
'C' Yard handled Eastbound trains, trains to and from the San Pedro and Anaheim branches, Store Dept., Rip Track, Ice Deck, the ELA switching district, wash tracks, and also some inbound cuts of empties. Any 'A' Yard cars in 'C' yard went into track #12. Track #12 was pulled from the East End of 'C' Yard and switched into the East End of 'A' Yard. Since this was switching uphill and dealing with handbrakes on the East End of 'A' Yard tracks, an extra switchman would be assigned to the job. 'A' Yard #2 through #7 were all long tracks. The East End of #7 was used as the lead for the East End of the short tracks of 'A' Yard. There were seldom used crossovers to get from #7 to the East End of the middle of #5 and #6. The East End of #5 and #6 were used as storage tracks. 'A' Yard #2 extended east into what was known as Extension #2. 'A' Yard #7. The clerks checked these and other tracks daily. Since the cars on Lower #5 and #6 seldom changed one of the clerks would put a small rock on the rail to see if the cars had been moved. If not, he would recopy the previous days list. Some of the switchmen that knew his method would kick the rock away.

There were several Team Tracks within the U.P. Los Angeles switching limits:
It may have happened other times, but I only remember one time when a company had an especially urgent need for their part of the contents of a boxcar. The car was placed on the Wash Track across from the Yard Office and they were permitted to enter the yard in the middle of the night to unload their part of the boxcar. 

Things to watch for on inbound trains.

When a train arrived ca. 1955 and for cars staying in Los Angeles there were a number of things to watch for and keep in mind when checking the waybills and writing up the train list. The Yardmaster would use the list to switch the train.

Another independent agency was the Pacific Car Demurrage Bureau. The consignee had 2 days to unload a car. After that they had to begin paying demurrage. Never having worked in the Freight house, don't know how all that was handled.

In general, the Clerks jobs out in the yard and in the Yard Office kept track of trains and cars around the clock. The Clerks in the Freight House applied the charges. Most of their jobs were on the daylight shift, a few on the afternoon shift, none on the midnight shift.

The Industry Clerks worked out of a room in the Yard Office. L.D. Larimore was the Chief Industry Clerk. He ran it as his own little kingdom. Some called it 'Larimore's railroad'. While not their boss, Larimore, given the chance, would question the Engine Foremen on the East L.A. jobs since they were going home about the time he came on duty. C.F. Manchester was unable to ever explain anything to Larimore's satisfaction. Harold Dix would flick a cigar ash in the general direction of Larimore and ignore him. There were stories that Larimore was afraid of one of the Foreman at 4th Street and did not go there unless he had a compelling reason. The Industry Clerks made a yard check of their switching districts every morning. They also signed and picked up Bills Of Lading and were the means of communication between the railroad and the day to day business of the industries. The people from the Traffic Department handled the high level communication with the front office.

Under the General Yardmaster's direction the Yard Office made and distributed what was called a 'Hot Sheet' each day. It was a list of high priority cars to be watching for.

Looking at 'A' Yard

To switch cars at 'A' Yard the Yardmaster used what were known as perforated tabs. They were stiff paper about 5 inches wide and 6 inches long. They were perforated to make strips about ¾ inch wide. The Yardmaster would only write the number of the track the cars would be going into as they were switched. For more than one car into a track the track number would be underlined. If there were a bunch, the number of cars would written on the underlines. The Engine Foreman would be given the tabs, and the car number to come out with. The tabs would be given to his crew and the switchmen (longfielders or longstickers) that rode the cars into the tracks. The tabs would be fastened to the back of a switchman's glove with a large paper clip. When a switchman rode a car far into a track, he would have no way of knowing where a car was going when he got back to the switch. A quick exchange of hand or lantern signs would bring him up to date.

If a track filled up, the Yardmaster would use the loudspeakers to say:  All #x's go to #y. It would have to be straightened out later.  #4 and #6 could be mixed since both S.P. and Middle District went to the 4th St. Yard. However it would cause extra switching at 4th St.

'A' Yard #7 was the track for East Yard cars. It held about 60 cars. A midnite crew would get their engine to the East end of the track. Before radios the crew would get on top of the cut with fusees. 'A' Yard would line up all the switches to the mainline and get the signal from the Dispatcher. When everything was ready, the Yardmaster would give them permission and they would shove out the West Lead, cross over to #1 Main Line, and then pull back into what was known as the 'Weeds'. It was quite a production by the time it was all over. There were 5 tracks to switch into, known as the 'Runarounds'.

There were 2 clerks at 'A' Yard. The inside clerk would keep a list of most tracks in the yard, adding car numbers as the cars were switched. When a track was pulled a copy of the list would be given to the Engine Foreman. If it was an interchange cut, waybills would be included. As the cut went by the shanty, the inside 'A' Yard Clerk would write the car numbers on the back of the copy he sent to the Yard Office. Whenever a car was lost, methodically going through these lists in the Yard Office was one of the ways of attempting to find the last known direction of the lost car. The other copy was kept at 'A' Yard. The outside clerk would check tracks, inbound cuts, or weigh cars as the need arose. At the end of the shift the Engine Foreman would turn in a Form 16 showing where he had spotted or left cars in his switching district. The Form 16's were a sturdy, small, slightly yellow, thick piece of paper. They felt like a dollar bill.  

Many years later when driving back and forth to Hobart Tower, for several weeks there were two cars in the 'cut' of cars on a track along side Downey Road known as the 'Federal'. They did not appear to belong there. I called the people in Omaha that handled Los Angeles. With that information they were able to account for two lost cars. If the Foreman on Job 63 had added the cars to the list that he sent to Omaha, he would not have had to switch with two extra cars for several weeks.

In 1955 the outside afternoon clerk at 'A' Yard was Paul Gardner. He was considered to know as much about 'A' Yard as anyone on the railroad. He operated by himself under his own supervision. He was always writing down numbers, and had an uncanny ability to show up where and when he was needed anywhere in 'A' Yard. When the ATSF happened to show up, of if the Yardmaster sent an engine to weigh cars, Paul would be there.

The midnite outside clerk would get a walking check of most of 'A' Yard during the shift. When it rained, we soaked the hard paper switch lists in kerosene or signal oil from the carmen, and used a soft black pencil.

There was a carman known as the 'Commodity Man'. The Chief Industry Clerk furnished him tags for empty cars needed for loading in Los Angeles. The Car Distributor furnished him tags for cars needed for loading east of Los Angeles. The Commodity Man applied the tags to any clean empty cars suitable for loading that were on cuts coming into the yard. Especially at 'A' Yard, cars could be switched directly to the outbound industry tracks. That saved time on getting mtys from the Wash Track. I do not remember the classifications for mty cars any more. The highest classification was for clean and smooth floors and walls suitable for loading sacks of flour. The classifications ranged down through lumber loading to hides and carbon black at the very bottom. Hides and carbon black were only to be loaded into assigned cars since they rendered a car unsuitable for loading any other commodity. A reefer was loaded with offal for Mexico out of a packinghouse in Vernon. The odor caused complaints all along the way. It caused even more problems when the car came back mty, completely unsuitable for any further loading. I believe it was the ICC that put out a Car Service Order or Directive #90 that specified where we were to send common empty cars. It seldom if ever changed. Assigned cars such as auto parts cars, meat reefers, or tank cars went back reverse of the way they arrived. When an assigned car arrived we wrote the home route into a big book similar to the 'Jumbo'.  The Car Distributor put out a daily list of any needed empty cars.


In 1955 the U.P. delivered to the ATSF and came home lite. The ATSF delivered to the U.P. in the Old Yard and went home lite. Hot (livestock, perishable, high priority, or high priority because they had been delayed) cars were exchanged on a track at Hobart Tower. The Tower Operator would type the interchange reports for the Tower.

If the ATSF outraged the U.P., or vice versa, one way of retaliation would be to fill the interchange track at Hobart Tower with common empties. Then the target railroad would have to go to the extra effort of clearing the track before any hot cars could be interchanged.

Since it was not practical to pull through Old Yard and double over from the east end, the usual practice was to stop short and pull the proper number of cars into the track. Then they would go back and use the same process for however many other tracks were required to put away their cut..

The U.P. and the S.P. interchanged cars at the U.P. 4th St.Yard. There was one interchange clerk job around the clock. There was also a 10PM to 6AM job to type the official interchange list. It was a good job for a rapid typist, you could finish and go home early. Sam Taylor worked the 10PM to 6AM job. At the time the forms and carbon paper came separately. You needed an original and 3 or 4 carbon copies. He used to keep a pile of ready made sets of forms in his locker. One or more of the fellows learned how to pick the lock on his locker and use his ready made forms. When Sam realized what was going on, he did not say anything. He just turned the carbons backwards in the forms on the top of the file. One of the fellows that worked as an interchange clerk had very poor handwriting. If anyone ever said anything, he always replied that he was paid to write, not to read. Hot cars such as livestock, perishable, or Acme Fast Freight cars were exchanged at a handy track near the Alhambra Shops. I don't remember what the track was called, it may have been called the 'Shops' or 'Alhambra' track.

We wrote a switch bill for a car going to another railroad within the Los Angeles switching limits. It contained only the information necessary to get it to the consignee. When copy machines came into the Yard Office they were used for making switch bills, passing reports, and the like.  The copy machines saved a lot of calluses that resulted from long sessions of handwriting.  For a car continuing outside the Los Angeles switching limits the original waybill went with the car. The railroad that got the first line haul was responsible for the paperwork at the origin, the railroad that got the last line haul was responsible for the paperwork at the destination. They each got a percentage of the total revenue. For example, an outbound car loaded on the ATSF within Los Angeles switching limits and going to Salt Lake City on the U.P., the ATSF would receive only the revenue from a flat charge for a switch move. The U.P. made the waybill and got almost all of the revenue.

Freight cars originating on a foreign (other than U.P.) railroad with a foreign waybill, going over the U.P. and then terminating on another railroad outside the Los Angeles switching district had to be accounted for. Before sending the original waybill to the next railroad, we wrote the waybill information onto the 'Form 922 Passing Report'. It was a large form folded in half. A second sheet and carbon paper had to be inserted. The Afternoon Chief Clerk was F.M. 'Pappy' Pearce. He was a nervous type and about to retire in 1955. Any time 'Pappy' saw someone sitting around he would tell them to make up some more 'passer' forms.

The U.P, S.P., and the ATSF all delivered to the LAJ at their 'A' Yard and pulled from the LAJ 'B' Yard, not necessarily with the same crew.  The ATSF sometimes delivered Chrysler cars direct to the LAJ "C" Yard.

The U.P. delivered and pulled the P.E. and S.P. Butte. Don't know the details, but the adjacent Hammond Main or Lead may have been used.

The P.E. exchanged interchange cars with the LAJ at Walker on their branch to Yorba Linda.

Over the years, interchange practices changed as the level of business or operating practices changed. In later years when the 4th Street interchange arrangement was closed down, the U.P. - S.P. interchange was between the S.P. Taylor Yard and the U.P. 'A' Yard. One crew would both deliver and pull, the job alternating yearly between the S.P. and the U.P. A similar arrangement was used with the ATSF between the U.P. 'A' Yard and Hobart Yard.

Many years later when working at Hobart Tower I got a call from U.P. management. The U.P. was having trouble getting through Barstow. I was ordered not to let the ATSF cross the U.P. That effectively shut down the west end of Hobart Yard. As soon as Hobart Yard found out, it did not take too long before I got a call from U.P. management to permit the ATSF to move again.

In passing, I might add that what should be going on around the railroad, and what is actually happening is another story. One time at Hobart Tower I was listening to the radio as the Harbor was trying to get a circus train through the area. Everyone was getting in the way of everyone else. It was not long before it became hard to tell where the railroad ended and the circus began, or the difference between the two.

A bit about fellow employees

One of the engine foremen had a Limburger personality. After working a day or two with him, some new switchmen would lay off on call and lose a day rather than spend another shift with him. The move to Times Mirror was one of the reasons. The new switchmen would drop off, line the switch, and wait for the engine and cars to come back. The engine would be making a run for the hill, and going too fast to get on. Mr. Limburger, having not told the new switchmen what was going to happen, would then chew them out for not knowing what was going on. That was his manner of doing business.  

One self assured and easygoing fellow said that he handled Limburger by causing trouble. He would let too many or too few cars go while switching. He said that Limburger liked to run the engine when going from 4th St. to the Yard. So he would get off the engine until the engineer got back into his rightful place. Then they could leave.

Some crew members reached some sort of understanding with Limburger. They would work the job for long periods of time. Limburger ran the job to suit himself, and not the railroad. Cutting corners and going home early were an advantage when working with him.

On the other side of the coin. One time I heard some new switchmen not happy about working with a foreman who I knew to be a nice guy. Later I asked his engineer what was going on. The engineer said that Pete was so worried about anyone getting hurt that he was like an old mother hen, and kept too close an eye on any new men on his job.

One engineer wanted to be difficult, said he was dead on beans, and refused to clear the lead. When the next crew came to switch they had to move the engine and engineer off the lead. With their long cut, they they made a rather rough joint. It was hard to feel very sorry for the engineer.

That same engineer chewed me out once. The distinctions between crafts were always observed. Sometimes they were crossed as a courtesy, or to speed things up when it would benefit the whole crew. Before my job at "A" Yard was abolished, I was usually by myself with no switchmen around. I lined the switches a few times when the Yardmaster at "C" Yard made a request in anticipation of a long cut coming my way. When "C" Yard had a long cut, the switches often needed to be lined up at "A" Yard while the switchmen on the job were back at "C" Yard. Usually the engineers would line the switch or switches themselves, a few would refuse to move until a switchman walked up and lined the switch. That took time, and was the reason the Yardmaster made the request. Realizing that the switches had not lined themselves, the engineer chewed me out. He was easy to ignore. If he had pressed the point, at least one switchman could have made a days pay because a Clerk had lined the switches.

I crossed the craft line one other time, but it could easily have been defended as a safety measure. It also benefited the crew in that they did not have to explain why the track had not been cleared when they left. When I had walked up to the west end of "A" Yard, there was a car sitting by itself at the west end of one of the long tracks. For unknown reasons it had not made a joint with the cut in the track. When the Hump Yard crew pulled the track, it was left sitting there. The handbrake was not applied.  I tied it down, and notified the Yardmaster at the Hump that there was a car at the west end of the track, it was now tied down, and not to put a train into the track without moving the car first. Fortunately the car had not rolled out by itself, which it very easily could have done.

Talent varied widely. 'Pappy' Trent put it rather neatly once when he observed that Paul Neidecker was as good a switchman as switchman X thought switchman X was. Not sure of the spelling of Paul's last name anymore, and switchman X and his opinion of himself is best left anonymous. Another switchman was once described as a flower child that never quite grew up. He put a lot of thought into switching cars, but it was not immediately obvious to his fellow railroaders what he was doing or why he was doing it the way he did.    

Switching districts

Branch line designations

        290 -  plus station number          Crestmore branch    
        292 -             "                             Anaheim branch  
        293 -             "                             Pasadena branch  
        294 -             "                             Glendale branch  
        295 -             "                             San Pedro branch  
        296 -             "                             Lakewood branch    

Spot It Book          Track diagrams and list of industries in Los Angeles area.

The U.P. original pages are 4¼ by 11 inches. The S.P. put out a 8½ by 11 book with track diagrams and with industry lists in both numerical and alphabetical order. The ATSF put out a book, but I never saw one with track diagrams.

More general information

The U.P. was ideally suited for transloading to 2 or more destinations. The Pacific Northwest, San Francisco Bay area, and Southern California were either on or easily accessible to the U.P. Transloading was done at North Platte. At the shippers convenience a car would be loaded with freight in the doorway for one destination, freight in the ends for different destinations. At North Platte one end would remain in the original car, the doorway would be loaded into another car, and the other end would be loaded into a 3rd car. One fully loaded car into North Platte could be 3 partially loaded cars out, able to cover the West Coast.

The ATSF did some transloading at Barstow, and I believe the S.P. did some at Reno or Sparks.

If a shipper had freight for more than one consignee in the same general area, it could be loaded into what we called a 'stop car'. After partial unloading by the first consignee, it would continue on to one or more other consignees for complete unloading. The consignees did not all have to be in Los Angeles, the car could partly unload in Los Angeles, then continue to San Diego for final unloading.

If a shipper or consignee had not completed loading or unloading a car, it was called a 'baby load'. It was noted as such on the paperwork that the Foreman got. The shipper often put some sort of placard on the car also. That offered some protection when other cars had to be spotted or pulled from the same track. A rough joint would scatter the merchandise all over the car. For that matter, even when well blocked and braced the load could break loose in the car before reaching the destination.

Freight forwarding companies consolidated less than carload lots into a single car for a single destination. The contents were waybilled as 'merchandise', the railroad never knew what was in the car, unless any part of the contents were dangerous/flammable/explosive and had to be placarded to cover those rules. Forwarder business was a high priority business on the U.P., cars that were were not on spot on time were placed on the morning report. In 1955 Universal Carloading did the bulk of the forwarder business in Los Angeles on the U.P. Other names that I remember are Custom Cartage, Transport Cartage, and Lifschultz; the names came and went. They were in the freight house complex at 8th and Alameda.  There was a "Rover" yardmaster there on the night shift. While Sears had a dozen or so spots on the railroad, Terminal Freight and Signal Truck also handled their business. Western Transportation was in the "Middle District". The person from Western Transportation that called the railroad spoke in a gruff voice, and was rather profane and obscene. It took a while before one employee new to the job realized he was talking to a woman.

I have no memory of  the freight forwarders shipping anything east on the U.P.

We never got many forwarder cars coming in on the U.P. for the other railroads. If we did, Western Carloading and Clipper Carloading were 'hot' cars for the ATSF, Acme Fast Freight 'hot' for the S.P. Coast Carloading and Superior Fast Freight were on the L.A. Junction but we seldom got cars for them. I do not remember any forwarder business on the P.E.

PFE (Pacific Fruit Express) was a separate company jointly owned by U.P. and S.P. As the railroad moved the cars, PFE was responsible for protecting the contents of  perishable cars. The PFE headquarters were in Taylor Yard on the S.P. There was one PFE Clerk assigned to the U.P. around the clock. They divided their time between the Yard Office and the Ice Deck. There were Icemen on the daylight shift, called out on overtime if needed on the other shifts. M.L. (Mirch) Fox, Clerk on the daylight shift smoked cigars that even cigar smokers did not much care for. When Fox was around 65 the doctor somehow convinced him to give up his cigars. After that he furiously chewed gum. He must have been about 70 when he retired and went to visit his parents who were very elderly and still living. The irrepressible C.F. Cagigas was the afternoon PFE Clerk. If he perceived any lack of respect for the dignity of the PFE, he would loudly show us the 40 or so square feet where his desk, chair, and filing cabinet were, and tell us to stay off his PFE property.

Working for the railroad often brought questions or comments. One college student mentioned that at the summer job he had, the crew would get off the engine and start their search for the shipping clerk in the company cafeteria. After finishing in the cafeteria, they would go to his office. A truck driver said that he once drove for a company that received railroad cars. Whenever the railroad lost a car, the company would send a truck driver to look at some of the tracks in the area. He was often able to find the lost car. When on jury duty, we had not been in the jury room very long when a woman asked my why the trains always went back and forth over the street. Gave her some basic information about spotting loads and pulling empties, and that some shippers wanted specific cars at specific doors or places. When at the cardiologist's office some of the more impatient people were grumbling about the long wait. When the conversation got to me, I said that I was retired from the railroad, and knew all about delays. One of the women said that she had to wait for trains, too. Fortunately, I got called about then and missed any other mention of railroads.

For that matter, I have had questions myself. We received cars of magazines for General Truck and Sunset News. They were usually 'hot' cars. We gave them to the S.P. at Butte St., as it was known then. The magazines were usually loaded in 'reefers' (refrigerator cars). One time on vacation I ran into a man in the magazine business. I asked him why magazines were usually loaded into refrigerator cars. His answer was that railroads gave better service to refrigerator cars.

From time to time many years ago we saw military equipment being guarded by military personnel as it came through the U.P. Yards in East Los Angeles. It was waybilled simply as military or government goods, we never knew what was actually in the cars. In those days the guards would ride in a U.P. caboose. I do not remember if there was ever more than one caboose of guards. Usually the guards were relaxed, watching the world go by.  I only remember one time seeing them standing on the steps of the caboose, heavily armed, and watching carefully as they went through the yard. It would have been interesting to have known what they were guarding.

A different experience in the doctor's office was many years ago when a fellow employee was in bad shape with cancer and needed a ride to the doctor. I took him to the U.P. medical office. At the time it was adjacent to the Good Samaritan hospital in downtown Los Angeles where U.P. employees were sent. The railroad was too big for anybody to know everybody. However, there were sufficient employees that knew each other to turn the waiting room into an all day bull session as they came and went. Everything from current events to 40 year old memories were in play. It was quite a contrast to the usual quiet doctor's waiting room of strangers saying little if anything to the person sitting next to them. 

Les Young, the Night Yardmaster at the East End of  'C' Yard always enjoyed telling the story of an engineer who was a known jokester, at least on the railroad. He was in the hospital, and was not improving. Nodding towards the window, he told the nurse that he might as well jump. She designated him as suicidal. His comment earned him a room in front of the nurse's station with no window, no door, no curtains, nothing. He later said that it was the dumbest thing he had ever said in his whole life.  

There was a messenger job on the nite shift for a number of years. At one time or another the usual stops were Hobart Tower, the L.A. Junction, S.P. Butte Street (later known as "J" Yard), P.E. Butte Street, 4th Street, Alameda Team, and Taylor Yard. If the tube system was causing trouble, that meant extra trips around the yard. For no good reason, the L.A. Junction was difficult for a new employee to find. To go the P. E. at Butte Street you drove off Santa Fe Ave. on the north side of the track into the dirt and followed the track around the bend to the P.E. shanty. The U.P. shanty at 4th Street was underneath the 4th Street bridge over the L.A. River. Frequenting unusual locations sometimes attracted the attention of the police. The police followed the messenger one time after he left "A" Yard. They stopped him after a while and asked what he was doing behind the lumber yard. Having just left "A" Yard, and without thinking, he said, "What lumberyard?" That made the police all the more interested. It then took a bit of explaining. To get to "A" Yard you drove off Washington Boulevard into the dirt, bumped across a railroad track in the dirt and drove along behind Stahl Lumber.

While I do not remember it, my father remembered the airport which was just west of the East Los Angeles Depot when we came to California in 1941. It was in what is now the triangle between the U.P. mainline, the Santa Ana Freeway, and the Long Beach Freeway. Some of the old heads in the Yard Office mentioned hotshot pilots from the airport who sometimes flew underneath the pedestrian bridge that crossed the Yards at that time.

Working conditions

Insubordination was a serious charge. You could be pulled out of service on the spot. The only permissible reasons for refusing an order was if the order was unsafe, or against the rules. If you ever had problems with a direct order, the only proper practice was to get it in writing if possible, have witnesses if possible, do what you were told, and argue later. I only remember one instance of insubordination. It was not unexpected, no one was surprised. Oil was poured onto troubled waters in a day or two, and the switchman was back to work. The Trainmaster had an abrasive personality, and did not have much sympathy from the employees. If you were careful and stayed within the Rulebook and the Union Contract it was quite possible to let your feelings be known. One supervisor in one of the offices was nervous, impatient, and demanding. One fellow from a different office who had to deal with him once told me what he did when he got tired of him. He chewed him out, purposely raising his voice so he could be heard outside the supervisor's office. His parting shot was that "If you have any problems with my work, complain to my boss!" In this particular case, if anything was said, at most it would have been no more than with a smile, and to relax. The grapevine on the nervous supervisor was that he was stuck where he was. He should have been promoted to a better job. After retirement he was reported to quite a nice guy.

After it was all over, my doctor mentioned that the cardiologist to which he had referred me tended to be grouchy. I said that I had noticed. I hastened to add that I came from a whole railroad full of grouchy people, at times may have been grouchy myself, and as long as the cardiologist knew what he was doing, it was no problem to me. Later in the day, the memory of one of the supervisors at the railroad popped into my mind. While I never did hear the actual reason,  he had some sort of stroke or nervous breakdown and then retired. There was more than a little truth in his observation when Conrad wryly mentioned that he knew something was wrong when Larry started being nice to him.

One of the assumptions or attitudes (supported by the rulebook) was that when there was an accident or when anything went far enough wrong so as to get official attention the best course was to let management know what had happened. After all, they had to explain to their boss up the line. It did not mean that you could not shade the account in your direction. Years later, I did hear a switchman say that he knew what had actually happened in one incident, he had been on the crew. There were several versions of the story floating around what about what had caused the incident. The idea was that the Superintendent should be able to have some sort of answer and not be blindsided by any questions that came down to him. One night I heard a crew working out in the industries call on the radio that the engine had derailed and that they needed the Crew Dispatcher to get them back to the yard. It was not a big deal. The next day the word on the grapevine was that the S.P. Superintendent had called the U.P. Superintendent during the day and asked about his man that had been hurt. Presumably the two engines had collided, and one of the S.P crew members had later decided that he was hurt. At that point something of little consequence turned into a real problem for the U.P. crew, and they had a lot of explaining to do. First for leaving the Superintendent in the dark, and after that for whatever had caused the derailment. An element of luck can work your way sometimes. One time there had been several accidents with company automobiles. One of the fellows had another incident. The grapevine on that was that another accident report would have gotten the managers into trouble for all the accidents, so they were successful in keeping things quiet. All the while pleading to be careful with company cars. One switchman tried hard but always had problems. He lived a charmed life. One night after some particularly rough joints, he came in for coffee. I told him that Caltech could keep track of his switching on their seismograph. One night he was adding a business car to an outbound train. The stories varied. He either knocked the occupant out of bed or almost knocked him out of bed. The occupant came to the door to chew the switchman out. With this switchman's charmed life nothing happened. If anything had come up, the local management would have had to admit that they did not have the required officer supervising the move.

There were a few U.P. inspectors that came around checking the Yard Office operations. The only one that the Chief Clerk Johnny Moore was concerned about was a fellow that came now and then from Cheyenne. I was still new and young at the time so I never did get to know anything about that inspector, who he came from, what he could do, etc. 

The attitudes about making mistakes ran the full range of human reactions. One employee always said that the reason she made so many mistakes was because she was doing all the work. One fellow would not admit making a mistake unless you caught him actually making a mistake. Then he always added that you were persecuting him. One other employee always loudly proclaimed mistakes as the reason for an eraser on every pencil. Most learned from their mistakes, a few never learned. Two of the fellows would not have made the same mistake again, but had the handy outlook of being able to forget a chewing out after about five minutes. No brooding over events for them.

In a more general vein, I did not happen to socialize with my fellow railroaders. So that part of further camaraderie and education was missed. Much could be learned at places such as bars, bowling alleys, and golf courses. It was also possible to learn the wrong things. Once when talking to the adult child of another railroader, the child mentioned that the father was in poor health. His health problems were exacerbated by his earlier drinking. The child went on to mention that the family had lived on whatever money the father brought home from Nino's (a bar much favored by railroaders of the time). The mention of Nino's proved beyond a doubt that the child was speaking out of real life experience and knew what they were talking about. By all accounts there was more railroading done at Nino's than was ever performed on railroad property.

Years later a fellow employee quipped that he liked one his fellow railroaders much better when that railroader was drunk. Federal law has changed the place of alcohol around the railroad nowadays.

To successfully run a railroad yard in 1955 required a lot of teamwork. It was a bit like a bucket brigade or conveyor belt. Any problem would show up immediately. You rapidly gained an insight into your fellow employees, and soon got to know who you could trust, who not to trust, who knew what they were doing, and who did not know what they were doing, and who could or could not perform under pressure. Many times attempting to run a railroad is in some ways barely controlled chaos, or in other ways lurching from crisis to crisis. The crises may be consecutive or spread out, but they are there. After a crisis is solved, settled, or passed on to the next guy, tempers and blood pressure return to normal and await the next problem. The old crisis is usually forgotten, and you would have a hard time thinking of the energy that the whole railroad had concentrated in that area such a short time ago.

I had to sign some papers when closing out my mother's estate. The real estate man and I made an appointment for the next day. Later he called back and asked if I would come in several hours earlier. They were going to have a Saturday goal setting meeting at the time of our original appointment. It amused me to think of setting goals when the real estate and credit markets were locked up. The other thought was about the advantage of working on a job that worked around the clock. As you walked out the door, you might feel sorry for the mess you left the employee relieving you, but out the door you went. You went home at the end of the shift without having to think of the railroad until the beginning of your next shift. Depending on your conscience, any mistake or mistakes that you made during your tour of duty might linger in your memory for a while. But anyhow, no meetings.

A related predicament was when a train arrived at the end of the shift. The utmost discretion had to be brought to bear balancing the need to get a list to the yardmaster so that he could switch the train, not doing anything and being thought lazy, or only getting partway through the process and leaving a mess of various piles of waybills all over the desk. Everyone had their own way of doing the job, and you would have to explain what pile was what.

Working together over the years, we got to know each other quite well. More than once a fellow employee said to me: "I knew you would remember that" or "I was waiting for you would say that". There was one fellow who repeated whatever he heard or overheard. If you did want something known, just make sure that he could hear, or even better, overhear what you said. One time an employee on the daylight shift came up with a new rumor. We eventually traced it back to an employee on our own midnight shift. That quickly ended the credibility of that rumor. Even if no one took the trouble to say so, you might gain an impression of being appreciated from hearing offhand remarks or noticing someone's attitude. The locker room camaraderie that you see on the sports pages could just as well be from the railroad. Good natured arguments among the employees were not unusual, and oftentimes enjoyed. There were two brothers that were always fun to argue with. They blurted out the first that came into their mind, such as "A man has a God given right to pornography." Of course, he did not realize what he said until he had said it. His brother had so much fun arguing about giving money to a church that he wanted to start the argument all over again the next day. A few arguments got heated. After an argument got too long, or too loud, Eddie Brien's comment always was: 'Put your money where your mouth is!' There was not much to say after that.

The first day I worked for the railroad was on the afternoon job at 'C' Yard. The phone rang, and it was for me. Here I was deep in the middle of the railroad yards, hardly knew where I was, and someone wanted me. It turned out to be Bill Brockwell, the daylite clerk. It was during a September heat wave, and he had forgotten to water the avocado tree at the base of the Tower. The first thing I got paid for was to water a tree.

There used to be a job called the Yardmasters Clerk. Bill Stovall on the afternoon shift was a rapid typist, not at all handicapped by choosing to use only two of his fingers. The clerk on the daylite shift had been exiled to the Depot downtown for Rule G. One of the duties of the job was to call and get a copy of the turnover from the turnover books that the various Yardmasters kept. Our copy was for the General Yardmaster in the Yard Office. It was a thankless job, you either called too early and they had not yet made their turnover, or you were too late and they were already talking to their relief and wanting to go home. One night when I was still new around the railroad, things had not been going very well. The good natured Walt Rahn got partway through the turnover and then said that the rest of the tracks were all 'O Sh.....'. He then spent some time making sure that I had not written that down. After that he gave me the real information on the mess in the rest of the tracks.

Under Union rules for clerks in 1955, when you hired out you were considered a furloughed clerk available for work. You were placed at the bottom of the seniority Extra Board, subject to call for all jobs. The employee with the most seniority was at the top of the board, and was the first one assigned to any work. Whoever was on the bottom of the board could go for days or weeks without working. The more jobs you learned, the more jobs you could work. There was no formal training program in the Yard Office. It was all learning on the job, sink or swim. With a little bit of luck, there might be someone around with a life preserver. For best results, learning fast was an advantage to all concerned. The workweek of the extra board began on Monday. Working the last five days of a week and the first five days of the following week gave you ten days in a row, without overtime. A seniority date was acquired by successfully bidding for and being assigned to a job. I hired out in early September and got a seniority date of Sept 30, 1955 ahead of a fellow who did not bid and had several more months on the railroad than I did. With sufficient seniority, and when there were many jobs for clerks, there was the advantage of working a job you were comfortable with and to select the shift and the rest days you desired. Some employees preferred working relief jobs that filled the rest days of other jobs. Then you were not doing the same thing all week long. Some relief jobs worked different shifts. For example, Sunday and Monday on the day shift, Tuesday and Wednesday on the afternoon shift, and Thursday on the midnight shift. Until you gained some seniority you were out of luck as far as choice went. Although fitness and ability were mentioned in the Union Agreement, seniority ruled and was seldom if ever overridden. One way around was to disqualify someone if it could be proved to the Union that the incumbent was unable to handle the job. Making life miserable was another. There were some 1E jobs. Under that rule the railroad could pick whoever they wanted, but it had to be someone from the Clerk's roster. The union tried to keep the use of that rule to the minimum. After 60 days you were required to join the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks. That put you under Union protection. The 60 day probationary period was known at the 'Derail'. In railroad parlance a clerk was known as a 'Mudhop'.

In 1955 the Clerks Union agreement had Class 1 and Class 2 seniority. I had only Class 1 seniority. Later Class 1 and Class 2 were merged together. In general, Class 1 covered the office jobs, Class 2 covered jobs with manual labor. Class 1 took precedence. There were a few jobs in the Crew Dispatchers Office where you received simultaneous Class 1 and Class 2 seniority. Class 2 seniority also functioned as an aid to segregation.

In the Clerks agreement, no job could begin or end between Midnight and 6 AM. So we went to work at 11:59PM.  

I went to the Union twice. Once I put in a time slip when my job was abolished and the Chief Clerk would not let me bump onto a job when I wanted to. I said that the rule was that I had 10 days to place my bump, and that I could place my bump anytime within those 10 days. It went through the usual appeals process. I was eventually paid most of what I claimed.

The other time was when there were a bunch of employees in the Yard Office laying off or not showing up. For several months I got moved off my regular job 49% of the time. The Union got a ruling that left me on my regular assigned job at 'A' Yard.

One college student working for the summer had studied the Union Agreement. At the end of the summer, he furloughed himself. The railroad could not call you back for less than 60 days work. It might have been 30 days. The next summer he was able to come back to the top of the seniority extra board.

One morning as we were changing shifts, J.E. 'Johnny' Moore, the Chief Clerk called everyone together that had worked with a newly hired clerk. This clerk had tried as hard as anyone on the railroad, but to no avail. We all agreed that this person would never make it. The Chief Clerk started shuffling through his papers, and eventually pulled out the right one. He mumbled and cussed a bit, saying that the clerk was over the 'Derail'. There was nothing that could be done. The clerk went on to a long and undistinguished career.

As a sidelight, once when the cars made a big clatter and assumed unusual angles, the Yardmaster ruefully observed that the one thing around the railroad that worked every time was a derail.

The first holiday I worked was the afternoon shift on Thanksgiving. Later in the shift there were no trains due, so the Afternoon Chief Clerk said that Alvie Leedham and I could flip a coin. The winner got to go home with an e.q. (early quit). I lost and had to stay. Later someone layed off. The Chief Clerk could not get anyone to work, so I stayed for the next shift. Under the rules, I got time plus time and a half for the first 8 hours, and at least overtime for the second 8 hours. That made close to a weeks pay for 16 straight hours on duty. Alvie was poor and had a bunch of kids. He did not have a phone, so he lost out by winning the toss.

I always worked jobs in the Yard Office or out in the yard that worked on holidays. Later when the railroad began shutting down for the big holidays, I got some holidays off. When I was at Hobart Tower the Backshop Foreman and Car Foreman and I were among the few U.P. employees on duty. Nothing was moving on the U.P., not much on the ATSF, Amtrak and Metrolink were on holiday schedules.

One afternoon when I was still new and working the keypunch job on the IBM machines, the Afternoon General Yardmaster brought a train list and set it down in front of Victor Beck. He was working the Head IBM job that evening. The AGYM wanted the list done immediately, if not sooner. No excuses. Victor Beck said nothing then or later, but set the list down in front of me. Others might have played it safe and done it themselves. So I had passed the test and gained the confidence of Victor Beck. I got the list out quickly and did not disappoint him. Late on the afternoon shift a big bunch of waybills would come from the Freight House. Some of the Head IBM clerks would help out. Victor Beck never did, so I got a lot of practice when working with him.

One time when new I messed up a bunch of IBM cards for a train. George Ladenes was an easygoing fellow and Head IBM Clerk that night. He cheerfully punched out new cards individually. It did not hurt that he was a rapid typist. I always appreciated his attitude.

Loaded cars and a few special empty cars such as tank cars had waybills that were made by the Freight House. The IBM Clerk would make two IBM cards from each waybill. The 'car record card' showed the initial, number, load or empty, contents, weight of contents, gross weight of the car, kind of car, destination and consignee if on the U.P., or the off going junction where it would leaving the U.P., and the destination. There was space left for the outbound train, time and date. The 'manifest card' showed the shipper, destination, routing, and consignee. It was sent only to Omaha and at any handy time. There were not very many, but the same process would be used for any waybilled car arriving from another railroad. For an outbound train the Line Desk would usually get a list from 'C' Yard via the pneumatic tube. Sometimes it would be phoned in. Usually a Clerk would make a list as he walked the track after the track had been 'set' and turned over to the carmen. If there were any loaded cars on the train, the Line Desk would have the waybills with IBM cards for outbound loaded cars in his pigeon holes. The IBM Clerk would make IBM cards for the empty cars from the train list. When the train left, the departure information would be punched into the cards. The IBM report would be sent both to Omaha and Las Vegas. IBM information for interchange was made from the interchange lists. Every night the IBM cards were sorted into numerical order and printed to make the Jumbo. Early Sunday morning the entire week would be combined into a weekly Jumbo. It took several hours to sort and print.

When I hired out in 1955 the Chief Dispatcher in Los Angeles put out a daily list of trains to be called eastbound. If the yard was plugged, crying and whining and moaning and groaning did the Yardmasters no good. Calling the train was the Chief Dispatcher's decision.

At the time the tonnage for trains was calculated from the IBM cards when they were run through the IBM machine to print a 'Wheeler'.  Standard weights were used. Two that I remember are 24 tons for an empty boxcar, 28 tons for an empty reefer. An IBM card for a loaded car had the weight of the waybilled contents added to the tare (empty) weight of the car.

The trains had tonnage and/or car limits.  Now and then the trains were found to be too heavy after they were 'set' and blue-flagged. If the Carmen found a Bad Order that had to be thrown out, the tonnage could be reduced at that time. If there were no Bad Order cars in the train, the Yardmaster would sometimes lean on the Clerks in the Yard Office to adjust the tonnage of the train.  While there was no way to get away with making a 75 ton car show as 10 tons, for 25 or 30 tons new IBM cards could be made shaving the tons for several cars to get the train under the Chief Dispatcher's limit, or close enough to where the Yardmaster might be able to talk the Chief Dispatcher into taking the train. That made for a happy Yardmaster. It also made for a suspicious Chief Dispatcher when the tonnage was just barely under his limit. Fortunately, it never caused a problem. If it had, we would most certainly have heard about it. It also made for a raised eyebrow from the Chief Dispatcher when a train happened to come in just under his limit without being adjusted.

Not without reason is the old story of the engineer patting the backhead and saying that they can fool me, but they can't fool you!

And then there was the time one of the Clerks did not notice that the weight of the car was in the wrong column on an IBM card.  A 75 ton car read as a 750 ton car. The error was not noticed until after the reduction had been made and it was too late to do anything about it.  The train left town about 700 tons too light.

Passenger cars or any other equipment with a non-standard number would go to the top of the list in the 'Jumbo' after the cards had been sorted into numerical order. Ed Brien worked the IBM jobs and was a dedicated horse player. One horse he talked about was named Bar Pest. Jack Hunter slipped an IBM card into the days business: Bar Pest in the third [race]. It showed up that night in the daily and then later in the weekly 'Jumbo'. Fortunately, no one who could or would have objected to the 'horseplay' happened to notice that 'Bar Pest' had been mentioned in the Jumbo.

One of the fellows had problems with priorities. One night shortly after I hired out he was working the Car Desk. The Asst. Supt. had called the 'A' Yard Yardmaster demanding to know why a train was not being switched. The Yardmaster replied that he could not get the switch list from the Yard Office. The Asst. Supt. then called the Car Desk and jumped him. The Night Chief Clerk said that he had to answer phone calls. The Asst. Supt then told him not to answer the phone until he got a switch list to the Yardmaster at 'A' Yard. Needless to say, it was within a week that the phone kept ringing while he was working a train. It turned out to be an unhappy Asst. Supt. attempting to call the Yard Office.

While still comparatively new and young, I put my bid in on the Midnite Asst. Chief Clerk job. The Night General Yardmaster called me into his office. He did not say much, but that he heard that I had bid on the job. I told him that was correct. He said that when I caught the job off the Extra Board, things seemed to go smoother. So I said thank you, and that was the extent of the conversation.

The Asst. Chief Clerk on duty was authorized to sign bills of lading. We would time stamp the bill of lading, then sign the Freight Agent's name, with our initials. I do not know any specifics, but the job itself was covered by a bond. If there was any trouble on the job, the Chief Clerk would mutter about about the bond. You could not work the job without being covered by the bond.

Ray Goltra, the Night Yardmaster at 'A' Yard could be sarcastic if he wanted to be. I was able to get him his switch lists in good time. So I never had any trouble with him.

While not on the bid sheet, the coffee pot came with the Midnite Asst. Chief Clerk job. We set out a jar for donations. It did not take too long to get ahead, so I would buy several dozen donuts and declare free coffee and donuts for the night.

One of the Conductors, H.W. Dodgen did not donate, but brought in a big can of coffee now and then. Being rather rotund, he did not eat any donuts. One night a Conductor brought in some donuts. When I told Dodgen who had brought in the donuts, he said: "I never got anything from that S.O.B., Gimme a donut!" And he ate it on the spot.

We had to give the Nite Chief Dispatcher a simple report of cars available for eastward movement. The numbers were incorporated into his morning report to Omaha. So I got to know A.C. (Alvie, sometimes Uncle Alvie) Flowers. He was an uncommon combination for a Dispatcher. In a high pressure occupation, he was always friendly, patient, and helpful. Since Dispatchers are busy and harassed, they tend to be grouchy at best. One night all the trains came in quite early. I asked him what was going on. He said that there was a railroad golf tournament that day. It was as good a story as any, and may well have been true.

The air conditioning worked best in the General Yardmaster's office. One night the Nite AGYM was exhausted. There was nothing going on. He turned off the lights and slept for an hour or two. The cold woke him, he was almost shivering and badly needed a hot cup of coffee.

It was not unusual that when a 'Hot' train was due the General Yardmaster on duty would show up in the Yard Office, just to make sure everything was OK and that nothing went wrong. As long as you could handle the job, the General Yardmaster looking over your shoulder was no problem, he could have a cup of coffee. When he was satisfied that there were no problems in the Yard Office, he would make his way to 'A' Yard to keep an eye on events as the train was switched there.

I got to know Garcia, the Nite Chief Clerk on the S.P. If he called while I was working a 'Hot' train, I would ask if I could call him back in 5 minutes. Always told him to call back if I forgot. He usually gave permission.

U.P. calendars were popular. At the end of the year, Garcia and also Tony the Nite Car Distributor from the S.P. would call for their calendars. Some people from the ATSF also called. A fellow member at church was elderly and long retired. She received a U.P. calendar when working for Sears. For old times sake I supplied her with a U.P. calendar for several years before she died.

Since no one in our family smoked, I quickly learned some tobacco etiquette. Some of the reports that printed out on the IBM machines produced large amounts of carbon paper. We had a big plywood wastepaper container. Once I carelessly stomped down the whole mess into the container. It produced a big puff of cigarette ashes in front of a fellow walking by. Although he was a smoker, he was not pleased. Lesson learned.

Being helpful was often a reflection of the personality of a fellow employee. Once when I was new, an old clerk and I were (against the rules) going to get onto a caboose that was going by. A switchman was on the caboose, and out of the corner of my eye I noticed the old clerk flash a sign to the switchman who then  immediately got out of our way. Later I asked the old clerk about what turned out to be the 'Get in the clear' signal. He refused to show me the signal. It was simply a part of his personal idiosyncrasies, of which he had several. One time the two of us were working our way down a track. He was out of matches and about to have a nicotine fit when we finally reached the end of the track where he could light his cigar from the kerosene signal light on top of a switch stand.

Edna on the Line Desk caught one of my mistakes. A car came into the yard with the door open and no tag. I glanced into the car and saw the permanent load restraining bulkheads at the end of the car. They appeared to be properly stowed and locked in place for movement home. It turned out that there was a row of drums concealed behind the bulkheads. With Edna's help the car went to the final consignee, and not east supposedly empty. One of the other employees looked into a gondola and thought it was empty. It turned out that the dirt, rock, and leftover dunnage often found in the bottom of gondolas had spread out over a sheet of steel. The sheet of steel appeared to be the floor of an empty gondola.

There was also an obscene signal for use with your lantern after dark. I saw it used once, and it got the desired response. The Foreman and Engineer on a crew did not get along with the Yardmaster. They had turned off all the lights on the engine, and were trying to sneak in early without notifying the Yardmaster. Unfortunately for them he happened to see them through the darkness as they were pulling in. He called a number of times over the radio, but they did not respond. Then, someone stepped out of the cab and the obscene lantern signal flickered across several hundred feet of darkness. The Yardmaster began shouting at the crew over the radio, but they still did not answer. The Yardmaster called the Crew Dispatcher and said that he wanted to talk to the crew. The crew ignored the Crew Dispatcher also. Settling accounts had to be left to another day.

Clerks also used lanterns.  By putting your arm through the handle and letting the lantern rest on your arm, both the car numbers and the clipboard you were writing on were illuminated when using the reflector-beam portion of the lantern.  Since clerks did not have to give signals with the lantern, some clerks fixed a piece of metal on two of the legs of the lantern to shield your eyes from the bulb.  I always had my name on my lantern.  It did not do any good when a knuclehead borrowed my lantern and left it on a lunch truck.  If it were not for him, I would still have my first lantern.

W.J. (Jack) Roche, the General Yardmaster, liked to holler, bellow, and shout. After he blew off some steam, you could talk to him.The idea was to not attract his attention.When he would come storming out of his office, one of the clerks would start to fall apart if he thought Roche was heading his way. I once asked this clerk why he did not go to the Freight House where he could work under much less pressure. He said that the daytime traffic bothered him. Never worried about him after that.

Around 1965 a train came in with a dead hobo on the top of a covered gondola. The rear end of the train was pulled down into Extension 2. By the time I went home detectives were in the Yard Office going through the papers from the dead man's wallet. Later Roche told me about the Coroner. The Coroner said that no one had told him the body was on top of a railroad car. It would have been fun to watch. Roche told the Coroner that he was not going to shut down his railroad yard waiting for another Coroner. Roche told the Coroner that the Coroner was going to get the body out of there even if Roche had to help him do it. It would have been interesting to watch, Roche with a very loud voice informing a bureaucrat what was going to happen. The body got moved.

There was a story floating around from before my time that a switchman had taken exception to Roche and one of his tirades. He punched Roche in the nose, and then went to the Crew Dispatcher and resigned before he could be fired. The story may have been true. A Yardmaster, Fred Mullican, remembered the name of the switchman.

Another story from before my time was about a switchman married to a clerk. He had beaten her, and lots of people on the railroad knew about it.  Some wondered what would happen, but the railroad did nothing. One of the fellows observed that while there was no rule in the rulebook about beating you wife, it was against the rules to beat your fellow employee.

One time a man and a woman hired out at the same time, and seemed to know each other. Several months later several Special Agents came in around 3AM and took the man into the back room. Later they took him out, and we never saw him again. The woman resigned. The Special Agents would not say anything. Years later a Special Agent said something about his name, but we never found anything more.

There had been a series of thefts from railroad cars in a certain part of the yard. A new Special Agent that showed up around that time was later rumored to have been an FBI Agent. In any case, the thefts were solved.

The personalities of the Special Agents varied as with anyone else. M.E. 'Pete' Davis and George Kemp were two that could be trusted. Pete Davis was a Yard Watchman. He was from Caliente, NV and carried a big six-shooter. A Clerk identified one of the Special Agents as a perfect man for the job. He was handsome, friendly, smiling, and would gladly turn in his own grandmother. One Special Agent got to be a great friend of one of the Clerks. The Chief Special Agent got the idea that his Special Agent Jim spent too much time in the Yard Office. Now and then the Chief Special Agent would walk into the Yard Office unannounced, usually on his way to work, anywhere from 3AM to 6AM. He never said much of anything, but walked through the Yard Office and the two back rooms before he left. He never found anything, but we could have done without the attention of the Chief Special Agent.  

During heavy rains, water stood at the bottom end (east) of both 'A' and 'C' Yard. If you did not have good waterproof boots, it was not a happy feeling to see only the tops of the rails above the water as you began your walk through the yard. The ground air pipes at the East end of  'A' Yard were old and leaky. As you walked along, there were bubbles coming up here and there.

I never was bothered in all my time out in the railroad yards at night. One time when I was new I met a switchman coming my way. He was alarmed. He said that someone had tried to jump him. I paused and listened and looked around, but I did not see anyone. It may have been someone that did not see or hear him and came over the couplers just as he was walking by. Years later when I worked at 'A' Yard I was generally by myself, and no one knew where I was as I went out to check the 'Runarounds'. After Christmas or New Year holidays when coming in at 10PM I was the first one back to 'A' Yard. No employee had been there for 2 days. Add a bit of fog, and you were really were by yourself. In any case, I never carried much money in my pocket while walking around the railroad yard at night.

After the Clerks and the Telegraphers unions merged the Yard Office handled train orders. Whoever was handy would be assigned train order duty for the shift. While seemingly simple, copying a train order was not that easy. Many employees did not like to take train orders. A train order had to be copied without erasure, alteration, interlineation, or punctuation. If typewritten, only capital letters could be used. There were typewriters with only capital letters around the railroad. The train order then had to be repeated back to the Dispatcher. If the order was correctly repeated the Dispatcher would give a complete time and initials. Midnight or even hours  could not be used in train orders. The time had to be either 3:59 or 4:01, 11:59 or 12:01. The train order was then in effect until fulfilled, annulled, or superseded. Any time you answered the Dispatcher's bell and the Dispatcher said to 'copy one', it was to annul a previous order and was easily and quickly done. When the Dispatcher said to 'copy a bunch', then you had to be ready. Since the trains involved were controlled by signal indication, the train orders we wrote were for information only. Excess dimension (high and/or wide) cars had to be protected by a train order. In California any car more than 10 feet 10 inches wide was considered excess dimension, and had to be protected by a train order. The higher and/or wider that a car was caused an increasing number of locations to be specified in the train order where it was not to meet, pass, or be passed by another train. Any car at or near clearance limits would be restricted to a specific track at specified locations where there was insufficient clearance on other tracks at those locations. Temporary speed restrictions and sometimes changes in signal locations were also handled by train order. One time a long and complicated train order for a change of signal locations on the ATSF ended up being handled by three people before it was copied correctly. Things like that are what make a bad day for the Dispatcher. The UP used ATSF trackage between Riverside and Daggett. Eastbound UP trains had to be furnished both UP and ATSF train orders in Los Angeles. Clearance cards had to be obtained from both Dispatchers. The clearance card and proper train orders was part of what gave a train authority to occupy the main line. To issue a train order the ATSF Dispatcher had to have the UP at Yermo and East Los Angeles and the ATSF at Barstow and San Bernardino on the line at the same time. The UP not giving timely notification to the ATSF about wide cars always was a problem with the Dispatcher. We had a foot pedal to talk to the UP Dispatcher.  The ATSF phone was live all the time.  One time one of the clerks forgot about the ATSF phone always being live, and said some things about the the ATSF Dispatcher that he should not have said. So he had to stay from working train orders for a month or two until tempers cooled. There was also a second earphone so you could listen and help a new employee learning to take train orders.

The ATSF recopied any standing train orders the first day of every month. The U.P. only recopied standing train orders on the first day of the year. Before the railroad began shutting down for the year end holidays, and while there was not much either of us could do about it, the Chief Yard Clerk would sweet talk us into working shorthanded on the holiday. He would tell us that there were not many trains due into L.A. Usually the Chief Yard Clerk was correct, sometimes wildly optimistic. One New Years Eve, Chris Johnson walked into the Yard Office at 10PM saying that it was the two of us against the world. I was happy to have him, he was good at taking train orders, and he would have no trouble when the Dispatchers recopied all the standing train orders after midnight.  

Loaded cars and a few special empty cars such as tank cars had waybills that were made by the Freight House. The IBM Clerk would make two IBM cards from each waybill. The 'car record card' showed the initial, number, load or empty, contents, weight of contents, gross weight of the car, kind of car, destination and consignee if on the U.P., or the off going junction where it would leaving the U.P., and the destination. There was space left for the outbound train, time and date. The 'manifest card' showed the shipper, destination, routing, and consignee. It was sent only to Omaha and at any handy time. There were not very many, but the same process would be used for any waybilled car arriving from another railroad. For an outbound train the Line Desk would usually get a list from 'C' Yard via the pneumatic tube. Sometimes it would be phoned in. Usually a Clerk would make a list as he walked the track after the track had been 'set' and turned over to the carmen. If there were any loaded cars on the train, the Line Desk would have the waybills with IBM cards for outbound loaded cars in his pigeon holes. The IBM Clerk would make IBM cards for the empty cars from the train list. When the train left, the departure information would be punched into the cards. The IBM report would be sent both to Omaha and Las Vegas. IBM information for interchange was made from the interchange lists. Every night the IBM cards were sorted into numerical order and printed to make the Jumbo. Early Sunday morning the entire week would be combined into a weekly Jumbo. It took several hours to sort and print.

I once asked a Yardmaster why the railroad did not add a switch to the mainline. It would have saved some time switching cars. He told me to relax, that nothing would happen unless the idea came from management. Years later, a switch was finally put in.

Now and then the railroad gets lucky. One night a car came by the Spence Street camera bouncing on the ties. Hobart Tower had not noticed anything out of the ordinary. We had not heard any reports of problems over the radio. We notified the Trainmaster, Dennis Borla. When he went to check he could see fresh scars on the ties, and also where the car had rerailed itself on the switches at Spence Street. No damage to anything, case closed.

Early one Sunday morning about sunrise, I was in the east end of  'A' Yard walking back to the Yard Office. There were no engines around, and I heard the cars around me begin to creak and groan. The reason became apparent when I stopped and stood still, it was an earthquake.

Many years later, the Sylmar earthquake made a believer out of me. I happened to be on duty in the Yard Office. Suzie and I remained in our places, but everyone else was out the door. When the shaking did not stop, I finally got up to stand in a doorway. After the shaking subsided, Suzie's husband somewhat sheepishly came back in to see how she was. The Yard Office was below the freeway, and the first ones out the door heard the freeway bridges cracking and popping. Later when I was in the bathroom, I could hear the locker doors rattling during an aftershock.

From time to time there were pigeons that did not make it home before dark. When walking between the tracks it was always a thrill when a pigeon exploded from under your feet or by your shoulder from a railroad car at 2 or 3 in the morning. The opposite of pigeons were the small owls sometimes seen sitting on switch stands around the yards after dark. You could not hear them when they flew away as you approached. A killdeer hastily left its new nest one morning. It required two more of my daily trips past the location and some careful observation before I was able to see the nest and eggs in the ballast along the track.

When I first hired out, you were simply an employee. Many years later with all the changes in the law, it seemed that I got almost monthly mailings of notifications about various civil rights issues.  

One time the Chief Clerk sent three of us, on company time, for some testing. We found out later that it had been some sort of civil rights inspired process to identify defensible non-discriminatory hiring standards (I.Q. and aptitude, etc.) that would (hopefully) provide competent employees.  The Chief Clerk was asked to send three successful employees. As far as I was concerned, Gary Galda and I could set a high standard, but the process went spectacularly wrong and misfired with the other fellow. He needed help with the test. Why the Chief Clerk sent him, I will never know.

Another notable failure was frequent mailings about mass transit, car pooling, and ride sharing. With U.P. employees coming on duty and going off duty at all hours of the day and night, and at locations spread out across Southern California, the mailings were a complete waste of money. One of the conductors lived in the mountains at Lake Arrowhead, about 80 miles away. Sometimes in the winter his pickup truck still had snow in it as he drove up to the yard office.

Christmas Mail Train

There was a holiday Mail Train run before Christmas for about 10 days. Have no memory of where the train was made up, or who gave us the information on the mail cars from the Post Office Terminal Annex facility at the Depot. It may have been made up out on the main line at the east end of the yard.  It was quite informal. We used empty car waybills to make waybills for the mail cars.

There was always a caboose and 2 box cars of freight. The 2 cars of freight made it a freight train for crew calling purposes. The mail cars went next. Most of the mail was storage mail loaded into box cars. There may have been storage mail in baggage cars also, along with a working mail car on the head end. For heat, the working mail car required freight locomotives with steam boilers. That was about the only reason for any out of the ordinary locomotives to come into Los Angeles. The train would start and end the season with about 10 cars, with a peak of about 20 cars. Have vague memories that the eastbound Mail Train picked up cars at Pomona that had been loaded with Christmas wreaths.

I believe that later the Mail Train ran without the working mail car. Can't remember if the Mail train lasted long enough to carry T.O.F.C. mail.

The only time I ever remember any serious mixup was when a reefer showed up on the Balloon Track where empty reefers were cleaned by the PFE Co. It was about a month after Christmas, and it was still full of mail.

Women on the railroad

Around 1955 women by state law could not work overtime. Also, women were not allowed to work jobs that went outside. Later women could work overtime, and go on outside jobs.

With more women around the railroad, tires became a problem. Until then if you had a flat tire on a company vehicle, you changed the tire. The women either did not, refused, or simply called on the radio to come out and get them. One fellow once had to go out and change a tire for one of the women.

There were two places in the yard to get air for tires. Then you could get back to the office, and let the next guy find a flat tire later. Or be the next guy.

Finally the railroad made arrangements with a tire company to come out and change or repair tires. It must have been expensive.

Another problem was getting boxes of paper out of the back room for the printers. When there got to be a chance of all women on a shift, the janitor had the job of bringing in boxes of paper. That ended when women began to work the janitor job. By then the Yard Office was being phased out. The Union also lost a ruling, and janitor jobs were contracted out.

Several women were hurt working the janitor job. One fell into the dumpster while attempting to dump the trash. Another hurt her shoulder putting a big bottle of water into the water cooler.

One night when we were changing shifts all the women ended up in a long conversation about someone that was going to be a topless dancer. Since they all seemed to be acquainted with whoever it was, curiosity got the better of me. I asked them who in the world they were talking about. One of the women gave me, and not for the first time, the 'You just don't understand, Crowner' look and said they were talking about a soap opera.

In later years there were TV cameras on all the tracks entering the yard. The cameras and recorders turned on automatically when anything went by. If I remember correctly, they used infra red bulbs. It was not obvious when the camera turned on at night. If anything went by but stopped before clearing the circuit the camera would still be recording. When running a tape one night one of the women called me over and asked if the guy in the background was doing what it looked like he was doing. I said yes, it really does look like he is doing what he looks like he is doing. Fortunately for him, he was too far away to identify. She would never have let him forget if we could have identified him. There were other stories floating around about indiscretions in front of the camera. This is the only one I know to be true.

One of the women once mentioned that a fellow in the Freight House blushed the reddest of anyone on the railroad. I instantly felt sorry for him. With some of the people on the railroad, he must been glowing quite a bit. The railroad is no place to be shy.

The Los Angeles Junction Railway

The U.P. supplied personnel for the L.A.J. Yard Office and Freight House. When new, I was sent to the L.A.J. to fill in for vacations. One of the men there, Bill Blank, whose name should be mentioned, went well out of his way to help me. It may have been simply from being friendly. It also may have been easier to help me than to clean up whatever mess a new and inexperienced clerk could cause. In either case, the help was much appreciated. A pet peeve of Bill's were people so short that they could barely see over the steering wheel. Fortunately, standing one inch over six feet, that particular criterion did not apply to me.

The Union Stockyards ran right up to the L.A.J. Yard Office. That made for a rich aroma in the vicinity. It could be even worse when the air came from the rendering plants across the L.A. River.

On my first day at the L.A.J., a fellow employee showing me around went out the door to check an outbound cut. To see around a locomotive, he stepped off the porch, but carelessly stopped in the middle of the track. In spite of being new around the railroad, I stayed off the track and kept the corner of my eye on the locomotive. I warned him when he took no action as the locomotive started moving. He thanked me as he stepped out of the way. Don't know what might have happened if I had not warned him.

At dusk a few days later as I was walking by myself through the yard and behind the warehouses a fellow came out on a loading dock and alternatively profane and obscene began shouting at me. Still new on the railroad and trying to figure out what to do, the fellow suddenly started apologizing. It turned out to be his friendly way of greeting the regular man on the job. I guess that when I did not respond in like manner, he knew something was wrong. The regular man on the job was about the same size as I was.

On the L.A.J. most inbound cuts came into 'A' Yard. Using a large industrial all weather crayon we would write the spotting information on the southeast side of the car. The P.E. delivered at Walker Street. Getting back to the L.A.J. was a U-Turn. That had to be taken into account when writing the spotting information on the side of the car. The ATSF delivered hot auto parts cars for Chrysler and Lincoln Mercury at 'C' Yard.

Most outbound traffic was handled at 'B' Yard. The ATSF did the most business with the L.A.J. They had two tracks, one for loads, the other for empties. The U.P. and the ATSF made a U-Turn when leaving, so they were tagged on the north side. The S.P. went straight out so they were tagged on the south side. 'B' Yard had a short stub track at the east end. It ran right up to the sidewalk so small cuts of cars could be switched without activating the crossing signals on Atlantic Blvd. With 'B' Yard being switched from both ends, you had to be careful to work safely. On the afternoon shift you had to watch out for the 'hot' cars from Superior Fast Freight and Coast Carloading. The ATSF and S.P. would pull them as soon as they were available.

I learned how to type in school. Somehow it seemed that walking in from outside and typing up interchange reports with cold fingers improved my speed later. I got to be a rapid typist later on the IBM machines in the U.P. Yard Office.

The L.A.J. then and for years later used a Jumbo. When opened it was a book about 2 feet by 3 feet. The covers were thick and sturdy. The pages were thick and sturdy paper. When closed it must have been about 7 or 8 inches thick. Car number, arriving or departing railroad, and time were written in, organized by the last digits of the car number. You could instantly tell whether a car was on the railroad or not. Any further information would have to come from the typewritten interchange reports.

The triangle formed by the L.A. River, Downey Road, and District Blvd was known as the Central Manufacturing District. It was entirely private property, streets and all. On one of the year end holidays it was roped off to maintain private property status.


The Crew Dispatcher used to hand out all paychecks except for the Yard Office employees and East End crews. These paychecks were handled by the Yard Office. We were paid on the 10th and 25th.  Different paydays for different parts of the railroad evened out the workload for the timekeeper. There were rules for when payday fell on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday. In earlier years the railroad was careful about the exact day. They did not like anyone to go out after midnite and cash the check early. Much later conditions changed and the checks would sometimes show up 2 or 3 days early.

After the Crew Dispatchers were abolished in Los Angeles, the Yard Office handled all the paychecks. We would get a box the size of a big shoe box full of paychecks.

Everyone knew what drawer they were in. In all my time on the railroad I never heard of trouble with the paychecks. Some employees would take 3 or 4 paychecks for fellow employees that lived near them, or a family member would pick up the check. With employees living all over Southern California, going on and off duty at all hours of the day or night, it all worked out. Then there were the Indians from the Maintenance of Way department that came and went from their Reservations.

One time there were some young management men from Omaha out surveying operations. They noticed the way we handled the paychecks. So we got some new instructions. If we were away from the desk or out of the office, the drawer had to be locked. So a key had to be found for the drawer. They were still in town and observing on the next payday. Everyone had to identify themselves and sign for their paychecks. There was a line of fellows waiting, and grumbling loudly in front of the surveyors that they had worked for the railroad 35 years, and this was the first time they had to identify themselves for their paycheck. Since I worked the night shift the Terminal Supt. gave me his home phone and orders to call him if there was any problem with the paychecks that night.

Sam Johnson, the Chief Crew dispatcher used to have a plaque on the wall: It is easier to answer a dumb question than to fix a dumb mistake.


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