Surviving at Hobart Tower

1991 to 1999

by: L.E. Crowner


General information

The Union Pacific San Pedro Branch crosses the ATSF in Vernon, CA at Hobart Tower. The East leg of the Wye comes out of the U.P. East Yards. The West leg of the Wye goes to the Alfalfa, House Lead, and to the U.P. Mainlines up the East side of the river to L.A. Union Passenger Depot.

U.P. furnished employees including the Signal Maintainer for Hobart Tower. Telegraphers held the jobs until they were merged into the Clerks union. After that clerks could bid on the jobs. Until he retired, Frank Martinez was the last of the Telegraphers to hold a job at the Tower. The ATSF maintained the North diamond, U.P. maintained the South diamond.

To qualify at the Tower I spent two weeks breaking in on each of the three shifts. Then pass the rules test. The next step was to satisfy the maintainer that I was familiar with the switches and signals and knew how to use the Interlocking Machine. The last day I ran the Tower for four hours in the morning with the U.P. Terminal Supt. observing. With his O.K. I had passed the last hurdle.

In earlier years there were whistle signals for Hobart Tower. In my time all business was done by radio, telephone, or the intercom that connected Hobart Yard, Hobart Tower, Redondo Tower and Mission Tower. To issue a track warrant over the radio, get the repeat, and give the OK took time. When I could get back to whoever was calling on the other radios during this time, I always apologized and said that I had been issuing a track warrant. If the telephone rang, we would put the receiver on the desk to stop the telephone from ringing. It was not unusual for everyone wanting to do everything at the same time. Now and then we were lucky. Whoever had called was able to get an answer to their question from overhearing our conversations as the phone receiver lay on the desk. At least they knew we were busy. Not long before I retired the ATSF put a computer monitor from the dispatcher into the Tower. Then we had a better idea of what was heading our way and where it was on the ATSF.

The U.P. dispatcher controlled the signal leaving the West leg of the Wye. Every movement going to the West leg of the Wye had to be coordinated with him. The Yardmaster had to be given advance notice of any train coming up the branch for the yard, and notice as it approached the Tower. Switch engines would usually notify the Yardmaster and Hobart Tower themselves. On the U.P., from Hobart Tower to M.P. 5 was within Yard Limits. Engines could do as they wished, while keeping a lookout for anyone else and keeping in touch with Hobart Tower.

Going beyond M.P. 5 required a track warrant. Using a computer, Hobart Tower issued track warrants. If we expected more than one train at the same time in the same direction we would divide the branch into four parts, with a separate track warrant for each part. When the first train gave up their first track warrant, we would give the second train a track warrant for that part so that they could get moving and follow the first train as they gave up their track warrants. If we were not sure what might happen, we divided the branch in half and gave a train two track warrants. That would give some options. If we were reasonably sure that a train would be out by itself, we would give them a track warrant for the whole branch to save any further talking on the radio. The radio was not always easy to understand. Or another crew might be using the radio while switching cars. The only places for two long trains to meet were Manuel or the siding at Paramount. Usually, either the Harbor or the Yard wanted one of the of the trains more than the other. If not, it was up to the Tower to disappoint the crew that had to go into the siding at Paramount. After the train got back out onto the main, it meant a long walk from the rear end up to the engine after lining the switch. The crossings signals nearby were connected to the signal department at Omaha. They would call to ask if there was a train keeping the gates down. If one of the trains was some distance away the crews would keep track of each other to stay clear of grade crossings until the other train got to Paramount  A switch job such as the South Gate Rocket would be given a 'Work between' track warrant. After receiving permission from the Rocket, a train could proceed through the Rocket's limits.

Later the U.P. Dispatcher took over the track warrants.

The practice was that Hobart Tower owned the ATSF North Track west of the Tower. Redondo Tower owned the ATSF South Track west of Hobart Tower. Hobart Tower had to get permission from Redondo Tower to use the South Track, and Redondo Tower vice versa on the North Track. The South Track west of  Hobart Tower was the only way to get to Malabar and Watson. If I remember correctly, there was a hand throw crossover between Hobart Tower and Redondo, but it was not in use. Before Metrolink took over, Redondo Tower worked with Mission Tower for anything coming down the River. Redondo Tower is a bit over one mile from Hobart Tower. Ordinary switching movements took place on the North Track without notifying Redondo Tower. A few times a long cut needed the signal at Redondo Tower. If that seemed likely, I would give Redondo Tower advance notice. Any train or engine going to or coming from Redondo Tower on either track had to be coordinated with Redondo ahead of time. Before the ATSF gave up the 2nd District, one freight train came that way on the night shift.

East of Hobart Tower the Mainlines belonged to the ATSF Dispatcher. Nothing could be sent to his Mainlines without his express permission, and to the track that he wanted it on. The Setout was a yard track north of the North track. Since the Dispatcher had access to the east end of the Setout and sometimes used it, we notified the Dispatcher before putting anything into the West end. Most trains went into the East end of Hobart Yard or the Buggy switch off the main lines. Some came up the main lines and shoved in at Hobart Tower.

If Amtrak trains were late, the Dispatcher might or might not notify us. It was always useful to keep close track of the ATSF radio. From that you could get an idea of what was going on. Listening to the U.P. radio was similarly important.

West of Hobart Tower there were 2 tracks, the North and the South. East of Hobart Tower were 3 tracks, the North, Middle, and South. The Middle came off the North.

The westbound signals for Hobart Tower were about a quarter mile east of the Tower. It always caused confusion for new Renzenberger crew van drivers. When a westbound train stopped at Hobart Tower and called the van, the van showed up below Hobart Tower while the train was back at the signal.

Establishing a route meant moving the levers on the Interlocking Machine in a prescribed sequence. This soon became second nature, and was the easy part.

For best results, working at the Tower involved juggling various interests and priorities. Coming to the Tower, I had no idea what was important to the ATSF when more than one engine or train called at the same time. As far as U.P. management was concerned, Amtrak came first, the the U.P., then ATSF and S.P. However there were times when letting the ATSF go first would improve the situation for all concerned, both then and later. U.P. management was not necessarily of the same mind. That required some fancy explaining. An outbound U.P. train delayed at the signal at Hobart Tower blocked the west end of the yard. If the Yardmaster had an inbound train with a crew ready to go home waiting for the outbound train to clear the track, that tied up most of the east end of the yards. When an outbound train called over the radio ready to depart, the usual practice was to hold them in their track until we could give them their signal.

The Dispatchers were always busy and harassed. It often took a long time waiting on the phone before they answered.

One time the new Trainmasters on the U.P. did not know what to do with me when it came time to renew the rules test. They sent me with the train crews. I knew enough of the rule book to pass their test. So I was certified for Air Brakes and Train Handling in addition to Hobart Tower.

The ATSF did some things differently from the U.P.  For record keeping purposes the ATSF used the Julian day. The calendars issued by the ATSF also had the days numbered consecutively. Feb. 1 was Julian day 32. The ATSF used a flashing red where the U.P. used a Lunar aspect. When we took train orders in the Yard Office the ATSF Dispatchers spelled and then pronounced everything in the body of the train order. The U.P. Dispatchers only pronounced and then spelled times and stations. On train orders the U.P. Dispatcher would pronounce and spell the time: six one 6:01 AM. The cipher was pronounced 'oh'. The ATSF spelled and pronounced: six naught one 6:01 AM. The cipher was pronounced 'naught'. At Hobart Ramp the older ATSF employees would give a track as: track one two, twelve.

At times, the carmen might want to work on a car or train on the mainline, or if anyone was working on the track itself, we would lockout and put the track out of service. We could also lockout the adjacent mainline. Hi-Rail trucks did not normally give a track indication on our board. The lockout also protected them. We had pieces of plastic pipe that we put over the levers. That would prevent pulling a lever while the phone was ringing and the radio and squawk box were demanding attention. It was also a safety measure when changing shifts.

Sometimes when Amtrak was getting close I would ask the U.P. crews to do their best to clear up for Amtrak. For some it did not make any difference. Others would make an effort, within the rules, to get out of the way. One engineer had only one speed, slow, so he had to wait.  As an indication of the thought processes involved, early one morning a long westbound U.P. Harbor train pulled into the yard. They had trouble getting in. The train list was messed up and they had more cars in the train than on the list. The next morning the outbound crew on the same train with a good engineer named George Antunez called. They were ready to leave, but it was just before Amtrak. Remembering the mess on the train from the night before, I held them until after Amtrak. As it turned out, they had no problem getting out, and I had been too cautious. Dean Lung, the regular engineer on the Mead Switcher never caused any trouble and always moved as soon as he got a signal. I would let him out ahead of Amtrak without saying anything. I called him when I retired to thank him and tell him I had appreciated working with him.

One night things went well on the ATSF. It was about time for Amtrak. A train on the Middle Track called and said that they were ready to go to Watson. The Engineer must have been listening to the radio and keeping track of Amtrak. I asked him how long he was. He said 6000 feet, but he quickly added that they would get right out of there. I told him to stand by. I called Redondo Tower and got permission to use the South for the Watson train. When the Watson train cleared Hobart Tower Amtrak would be crossed over to the North at Hobart Tower and sent to Redondo Tower on the North. I gave the signal to the Watson train, and they started moving immediately. Just before they cleared the Tower, I could see the Amtrak headlight in the distance. It worked out perfectly. Later when talking to the Ramp, I told them what had happened and to give the crew a gold star for their actions.


Most of the activity was with the ATSF. All switching at the West end of Hobart Yard had to use the ATSF mainlines at Hobart Tower. If the U.P. had the crossing blocked, the ATSF could use a lineup for the LAJ. That would give about 10 trailer lengths across the mainlines, 26th Street, up to the signal at the U.P. mainline.

The ATSF usually used the LAJ lineup only as a last resort for small cuts of cars. They had to cross 26th street with only the engineer on the engine. That crossing had only crossbucks, no gates. If it looked like they were going to get close to the signal for the U.P. mainline, and if possible, as a courtesy I would give the Engineer the signal to give him some elbowroom. One time the Engineer took off down the branch. It turned out that they had a long cut. He was way down the branch before they began to shove back.

By lining lite power out the Outbound and across the West Crossovers to the South track, the track between the signal for the South track and the signal back to the Inbound would clear up to 4 units. The crew could then shove back to the Inbound and go home while the U.P. was blocking the crossing.

With prior notice, or a little luck, from time to time we were able to switch on both main lines at the same time. The outbound would be lined across to the South, and the Inbound to the North.

ATSF trains arriving in the yard had to cut the crossings inside the yard. Trains were usually too long for the track, so that involved doubling over and cutting more crossings. Now and then they were long enough to put into three tracks. That could take 45 minutes, blocking the mainline most of the time.

The 5th Rivera switcher went to Malabar and 9th St. and also delivered and pulled the LAJ. On the midnite shift the Long Siding job came out of the yard and went into the industries on the South side of the mainlines west of the Tower.  Sometimes they worked off the North track. Depending on circumstances they would come out and go to what was known on the ATSF as the Field, or the River Track. The U.P. used the same track. It was known to the U.P. as Bandini, in the computer age Zone 10. If both railroads were going there, we had to let both engines know that they were not alone. The track through the industries was about 2 miles long. They might not see each other, but at least they knew to keep a close watch. The ATSF had to get a LAJ lineup to get to the Field/Bandini switch on the U.P. The Long Siding job also went to Malabar or 9th St. as circumstances dictated.

One time the ATSF badly wanted a train put away in the yard. Amtrak was due after a while, there was not enough time. I told the crew it would be after Amtrak. The Ramp called on the squawk box and the Trainmaster said that to help out he would drive the crew around in his car while they were cutting crossings and doubling over. So I agreed, and the train cleared the main line as Amtrak was showing up. Only remember that happening once.

One morning a crew had been sitting east of Hobart Yard with a baretable train. They and everyone else knew that they were the lowest priority. Tom at the Ramp asked them over the radio how much longer they had to work. They replied in a good humor to the effect that 'Did he want a story, or the truth'. Tom replied rather gracefully to the effect that 'For the way he wanted to operate, they might as well start with the truth'. They said that they had almost 6 more hours to sit if they had to. It was not too much longer that Tom was able to get them into the yard, and on their way home.


U.P. traffic was interchange cuts to and from the Los Angeles Junction, switch jobs for industries, trains on the San Pedro Branch, and power going around the Wye. Usual practice with Wye power was to go to the East leg first. Now and then Wye power would go around the Wye backwards - out the Alfalfa, and down the West leg.


The Southern Pacific would come out of 'J' Yard once a day to deliver and pull the Los Angeles Junction. Redondo Tower would let us know when they were on their way. When the S.P. was ready to leave the LAJ they would call from the LAJ Yard Office and let me know how many cars they had. My usual practice was to tell them to head my way and call me when they got to the U.P. main line. In the meantime, I would call the U.P. Dispatcher to get permission for the S.P. to go from the West leg of the Wye to Redondo Tower. That was usually automatic. There was seldom any opposing traffic in the way. I would also let Redondo Tower know that the S.P. was coming home. With permission from the U.P. Dispatcher to come off the West leg, and if there was nothing in the way on the U.P. or ATSF, I would give them permission to come out of the LAJ and then line them up for the West leg of the Wye. One of their Yardmasters would usually come in his car and line the switch ahead and behind them, speeding up the move.


By the rule book, once you gave anyone a signal it belonged to them. The only permissible reason to take a signal back without notifying the crew was to prevent an accident. Sometimes when conditions changed, we would call the crew and ask permission to take the signal back. They usually gave their permission if they were already stopped, or able to stop without any problem. Another reason not to take back a signal were the timers. When you took a signal back, it would go red, and stay red. Everything was locked, and nothing could be changed until the timer ran out. It took about 5 minutes for the Outbound and mainline signals to time out. Waiting for the signals to time out always seemed to be a very long time with everyone sitting and waiting.

One quirk with the signals at Hobart Tower was that the Inbound signal would drop out of time as soon as the engine hit the main line. The Outbound signal would not drop out of time until the engine had traveled several hundred feet to the Inbound switch. Often when the engine needed to get only a few car lengths past the Outbound signal, we asked them to run out far enough to take the signal out of time. Some of the crews would do it themselves as a courtesy. That saved the next train or engine sitting around waiting for the Outbound signal to time out.

We had 2 extra fuses in the Tower for the interlocking machine. After using both, we were to call the Maintainer. Now and then a fuse would blow for no known reason, and then everything would work perfectly for the rest of the shift. More often a new fuse would blow when we tried to use the switch again, or even blow when we attempted to put it in place. It was usually bad news when you saw that bright flash of light from a fuse blowing on the back of the interlocking machine.

If we had trouble with a switch or derail and had to move a train or engine we had a socket wrench and a crank in the Tower to 'roll' a switch by hand. We used the socket wrench to remove a plate. Turning off the power inside uncovered the spot to insert the crank. Twisting the crank turned the motor and eventually moved the points to their proper position. One time an uncoupling lever had fallen off a car, jammed the switch and blown the fuse. Usually the problem was more complicated and required a visit from the Maintainer.

Troubles with switches and signals were maddening and caused delays. Often they would work perfectly when the Maintainer was around. As soon as the Maintainer left, they would cause trouble. Sometimes when calling the Maintainer during the night, he would ask me to throw the switch. After having given me problems, it would work perfectly for him over the phone. Intermittent problems could cause trouble for weeks, until the problem got so bad that the cause became obvious, or sometimes went away.

One watchword around the railroad is that if everything is going smooth, something is wrong somewhere.

I usually considered it best to let a bad decision go on to its conclusion. It takes time and effort to start or stop a train or cut, and then wait for the signals to time out. Changing instructions could also cause confusion. It always seemed to take a long and sometimes agonizing time for a bad decision to play out.

Since it is difficult if not impossible to properly insulate the diamonds, they are completely isolated from the track circuits. Jumper cables carry the circuits around them. That is the reason for the rule that trains, engines, or cars are not to be left between the opposing interlocking signals. Anything standing in the isolated portion will not be protected by signal indication.

Broken crossing gates did not affect us directly, other than having to notify the train crews. The gates at Bandini Blvd. had a very short life with all the truck traffic.

The S.P. crossing in Bell caused trouble from time to time. The signal was automatic, and sometimes would not clear when the U.P. showed up. It was about 2 miles from the Tower. Instead of showing up in a few minutes, flagging the S.P. crossing added a 20 minute or more delay. If you were holding the ATSF for the U.P. train, the Tower was left holding the bag for the delay. You could let the ATSF switch for a short time, but not a 45 minute triple over.

On duty in the Tower

Things may look calm as you drive over the railroad yards on the freeway, but no matter how calm it looks, there are digestive problems, high blood pressure, ulcers, strokes, heart attacks, and who knows what else in the future.  

The waste paper basket was missing one night. It turned out that when everything was going wrong, Tillie kicked it and it had shattered. An earlier story was an employee that had qualified at the Tower, but then never worked the Tower. When finally called, she was overwhelmed. After some bitter exchanges with the crews, she told the Chief Clerk she was going home, and was out the door as soon as she saw the headlights of her relief in the distance.

One night as I was getting out of my car I could hear Pat's voice echoing off the cars on the North track. She had thrown the window open and was venting some anger. The ATSF had been out switching,  not moving for a while, and was on a radio channel that the Tower did not have. Pat also had a U.P. engine about to die on the law while attempting to go around the Wye. Even worse was Amtrak slowing to a stop at Redondo Tower since both mainlines were occupied. When I walked in Pat was still in a high decibel mode while talking to Redondo Tower and then the Dispatcher. Later Jeannie called from Redondo Tower, and asked if 'She' was gone. I started laughing and said that 'Yes, She was gone'. I went on to tell the story to Jeannie. She was mildly unhappy that Pat had been in the high decibel mode while talking to her, since she had nothing to do with creating the problem. She sounded as though she felt better after hearing me laughing at the whole affair. As it turned out, the ATSF switch engine cleared up, the U.P. engine got around the Wye with about 2 minutes to spare, and Amtrak got only a short delay. Other than a severe case of frazzled nerves for Pat, not much damage was done.

Sheila worked the night shift at Redondo Tower. One time the U.P. was experimenting with bringing trains north on the S.P. One of the first trains that went by Redondo Tower asked me about the pretty girl at Redondo when they got into the yard. I told them that she was happily married to a ATSF Conductor and had several daughters.

One morning an 8000 foot train had come up from Watson not long before I went off duty. Sheila held them at Redondo Tower. Things were building up to a problem. It was just the time when we needed both main lines for Amtrak. I told Sheila that I could take the train on the South. That would clear all but one crossing. Then we would run both Amtraks on the North. It would also shut down Hobart Yard until both Amtraks got by. She was reluctant to delay Amtrak since one would have to wait until the other cleared the North. The Vernon Police had been calling the Ramp. When she came on duty the next night, I asked how it had all turned out. She said that the phone rang, and a voice simply said through gritted teeth to give the train a signal. She asked 'Who are you?'. Through doubly gritted teeth he replied 'Trainmaster, give that train a signal!'. Then she replied that if Watson and the Ramp could ever get coordinated, she would not end up in the middle of their messes. With her feathers ruffled, she then landed on the Trainmaster with all four feet. He repeated that he wanted the train moved. She said that would cause a head on collision with Amtrak. They ended up in a standoff. The train moved when Amtrak cleared.

One of the last things I did before retiring was being interviewed at home by a U.P. Claims Agent about blocked grade crossings in Vernon 4 months earlier. A U.P. train had been stopped along Downey Road. A Vernon City Councilman had gotten excited about the train. I fielded several calls from various levels of the Vernon Police Department. At the late date of the interview, I could not remember the exact circumstances for the Claims Agent. It may or may not have begun shortly before I came on duty. The only thing I had written in the Amtrak delay book was that I had delayed Amtrak to get the U.P. into the yard. Never did hear anything more. If the Vernon Police had not been calling, I would have let Amtrak go by first. It would not have added much delay to the U.P. or the blocked grade crossings.

The ATSF had contractual commitments with United Parcel. United Parcel used 26th St. to get into the ATSF yard. There was nothing that the ATSF could say about the U.P. coming or going but a number of times they wanted me to get their permission before moving anything on the ATSF Mainlines that would block United Parcel entering the yard. Sometimes the ATSF would detour over the U.P. to the Harbor. That necessitated a LAJ lineup, coming off the ATSF main, crossing 26th St,. and then over some 5 mph track to the U.P. San Pedro Branch. With a 1½ mile long train, it took a long time. If a U.P. train was ready to go south when the ATSF coming north cleared, it would block 26th St. all over again. Then we would have United Parcel trucks backed up a long way, almost out of sight.

Shortly before I retired the BNSF Trainmaster called one night over his speaker phone. He was as friendly and polite as could be. Not at all in character for a Trainmaster, they do not get where they are by being shy. He was reminding me about how important the United Parcel commitment was. I could only acknowledge, while adding that we did have to run trains, minimizing delays to all concerned as much as possible. Another voice spoke up, asking about my seniority date and some other questions. It turned out to be Vic Miller. He had worked as a clerk with me many years earlier, before he went on to greater things as an executive with United Parcel. He was visiting the BNSF Trainmaster and recognized my voice. I invited him up to the Tower to smoke the peace pipe, but he never showed up.

I only had to testify at an investigation one time. A U.P. L.A. Harbor Manager called on the phone asking about a crew. I did not know where they were and had not heard from them for a long time. He wanted me to call them for their location. They answered and said that they were at Manuel 3. That was a problem. Manuel 3 is inside Track Warrant limits, and they did not have a track warrant for their movement. They had not been a danger to themselves or anyone else. They were only a few hundred feet inside the limits, but inside without permission nonetheless. So I had to bring the paperwork from the Tower and testify that they had never asked me for a track warrant. Never did hear what happened to the crew.

A U.P. Trainmaster showed up to learn something about the Tower in anticipation of a threatened strike. The interlocking machine jammed when he attempted to line up for Amtrak. So we had to go out and roll switches. After it was over he wrote up Amtrak and myself as having passed a test. Saved him going out somewhere to make a test.

Crews leaving the Harbor took varying amounts of time to get to Hobart Tower. Some of them made in about an hour, some much longer. They may have stopped for something to eat along the way. If trains had to meet at Paramount it took a lot of time for the train in the siding to get moving again. With the exception of a few crews, when a train left the Harbor there was no way to know when it would show up at the Tower. At times we would talk to a crew and ask them to take it easy, or give them a time at which we would like to see them at the Tower. Leaving South Gate the mainline made a sweeping curve. Coming around the bend, the headlight would show up in the distance when the train was about three miles away. Then it was either a matter of relief, it appeared that everything just might work out without any problem; or dismay at the likelihood that a mess was just beginning, and things were going to get a lot worse before they got better.

I always found it useful to write down the information as anyone called, scratching it off as the movements were completed. Sometimes there would be 5 or 6 trains or engines at or approaching the Tower and needing attention.

A continuing annoyance was the low volume on the telephone. When a train was banging across the diamonds it was more difficult  to hear than it should have been. The Communications Dept. said that we were too far from the yard, nothing could be done.

A bit of luck would help. One night after getting things lined up, the Long Siding job called. They wanted to come out of the Field. In this case, they were out of luck. The ATSF mainlines were either blocked or about to be used, so there was no way to get them back to the Long Siding. All I could tell them was that I had U.P. Harbor trains coming and going, the Empty Slab for Watson and the 5th Rivera coming back from Malabar on the ATSF. It would be a while before I could get them out of the Field. Depending how things worked out, they could add it up and figure waiting 40 minutes or so. Since the South track was the only to get to Malabar and Watson, Hobart Tower and Redondo Tower had to work that out, depending on the Dispatcher and availability of main lines east of Hobart Tower.

Loaded BNSF Slab Trains came out of the Harbor for Fontana. The steel was large pieces of steel a foot or more thick. It was simply set on top of the flatcar. Sometimes the slabs would shift from of the movement of the car. That caused a delay when the train had to stop and set out the car. One night the decking on a flatcar was burning and dropping sparks. Another delay while the carmen went out to put out the fire.

Late in the shift one morning not too long before the passenger trains would be starting the 5th Rivera wanted to come out of the LAJ with some 85 cars. I got permission from the ATSF Dispatcher and then gave them permission to come out of the LAJ. The Maintenance of Way was working but the 5th Rivera was unable to contact them for permission to go through their limits. They had to stop short of 26th St. It took some time, but they finally made contact. The Foreman had talked to the Dispatcher over his telephone and forgot to switch back to the radio. I figured all was lost, 85 cars strung out of the LAJ was too much to get started with the two diesel units they had. A good engineer with a delicate touch got them all moving, much to my surprise. The next night when they came by I complemented the engineer for getting out of the LAJ. If they had shoved back to make a run for it, it was probably too late in the face of all the morning passenger trains. It would have taken a long time to get permission from the LAJ to shove back, and then walk back to protect the shove. Traffic building up on Bandini Blvd. all the time.

One night just after I got back from vacation the S.P. going to the LAJ made a possible rules violation. I did not want any trouble so soon after vacation. So when the S.P. Foreman called for permission to come out of the LAJ, I asked him to stop at the Tower. I did want to say anything over the phone. The Foreman knew what had happened. As they were slowing to a stop, he was climbing down off the locomotive telling me how he had chewed out the engineer. He said he had told the engineer that he was not on the S.P. The Engineer may have had a point under a close reading of the rules, but he did not handle the situation as the U.P. Engineers would have. I told the Foreman to be careful, and that is as far as it went.

One night the ATSF was doubling over a train and had to come out on the mainline past the signal. The Conductor sent the Engineer ahead, and then walked back into the yard as he lined the switches. The Conductor could see from the yard when the last car got past the signal. It would have taken the Conductor a while to walk out to the signal. The U.P. was coming and I wanted the ATSF off the mainline and clear of the U.P. as soon as possible. The Conductor then asked me to tell the engineer what the signal was. That was a rules violation. Since I wanted them back into the yard as soon as possible, I gave the signal indication to the engineer over the radio. Then, in case the ATSF Trainmaster had been listening, I called the ATSF and told them what I had done. At least I had a clear view of everything, but only half an excuse and not a good reason. The Trainmaster that answered was a recent hire off the street. I had to explain the rule to him. Nothing ever came of it.

Another recent hire was a ATSF Dispatcher who had come from the Air Force. Being new to the railroad, he only saw trains as lights on his display. In an effort to help him one morning when he was not too busy, I took some time to explain various aspects of the railroad such as the slab train, as politely, kindly, and discretely as possible.

The afternoon job that worked the South Industry, Zone 12 in the computer age, liked to go home early or else stay out the full 12 hours. It was prudent to check to see if they had gone home on the afternoon shift. If not, then you had to watch for them as they made a run for the yard at 3:30 AM, dead on the law at 4AM, and hope that the ATSF was not going to be out blocking the U.P. for very long.

Other considerations

The U.P. mainline ran alongside Downey Road. All trains or engines stopped short of Bandini Blvd, but that still left several busy and important grade crossings blocked. It also blocked the LAJ railroad crossing. From time to time the LAJ wanted to get across while the U.P. was sitting and waiting. Since we never knew for sure just how long the ATSF would be out switching, or using the main line cutting crossings and doubling over a long inbound train, or just when the U.P. would show up with a long train from the Harbor, there was plenty to worry about if you wanted to worry. Sometimes when worse came to worse, we would have the ATSF pull west of Hobart Tower, let the U.P. come into the yard, then turn the ATSF loose again to continue their double or triple over. If you were ultra cautious and held a move for another move expected soon, then nothing was being accomplished. It only added up to more backlog later.

Sometimes trailer mtys came into East Yard from S.P. Taylor Yard. I could see them arriving at Spence St. They were long cuts and took a long time lining switches and pulling into the Trailer Dock. That would block any train coming from Hobart Tower. A time or two I had the Yardmaster hold them at Spence Street to let a Harbor train into the yard.

The company across the street stored their pallets outside. That attracted thieves. As a ATSF double stack train was going by all I could see was the top of a truck on 26th Street. It was going back and forth in what appeared to be a failed U-turn. Then the truck backed onto the property. They had used the truck as a battering ram to knock down the fence. The truck was loaded and then left shortly before the Police arrived. I gave the Police Dispatcher a description of the truck. It would be easy to identify with the fresh scars on the back end. I called the Vernon Police several other times. Once when some men had backed their car and a trailer along the tracks and were throwing pallets over the fence. Had to testify two different times in preliminary hearings at the Huntington Park Courthouse. One time the Judge stopped everything and went off the record. He then asked me if I was the one holding up all the automobile traffic with trains. I had to plead guilty to that. After a few more questions, he went back on the record and continued the hearing. Also called the Vernon Police when some fellows broke into a ATSF storage facility across 26th St. One time while waiting for the U.P. coming into the yard, a motorist had fallen asleep on 26th St. After a while I went out and not knowing quite what to do, tapped and then pounded on his hood. He did not wake up, so I called the Vernon Police. It took them a while to wake him up. Another fellow turned off the street and tried to drive on the U.P. track. He finally got off the track, but then got completely hung up on the curb. The Vernon Police had to call a tow truck. While it would have been easy to ignore the criminal activity, it was a safety issue. The ATSF employees used their storage facility at various hours of the day and night. I would not want any of them to have walked into the facility at 3 AM while a burglary was in progress.

A rail broke under an outbound U.P. train. That kept the crossing gates down until the Maintainer arrived. I went out periodically and lifted the gates to let traffic by. Automobiles could get around the gates, but not trucks.

For several weeks there was a pipeline company working in the area. For the one or two nights they were working near the track they brought me one of their radios. That way I could let them know when a train or engine was approaching and they could be sure to be out of the way.

Once I worked the daylite shift on my rest day. Under the hours of service law, it made me ineligible for my regular nite shift. So I got 8 hours overtime, and 8 hours for not working my regular shift. The ATSF brought a hot train up the main line, even though I told the Ramp that it would be delayed by Amtrak. The Ramp kept asking and finally the ATSF Dispatcher called and said that management wanted the train into the yard. When Amtrak called I told them that they would be delayed by a freight train that the ATSF management wanted into the yard. Some of the ATSF crews got on the radio and said 'management?' or 'mismanagement!' It caused about 10 minutes delay to one Amtrak, and 20 minutes to the other. If the ATSF management heard what was said on the radio, they did not say anything to me.

The only time I grumbled at the ATSF was when I came on duty with the ATSF out switching on the Main line. They were not getting much done, and sitting for long periods of time. It took at least 45 minutes. After a while a U.P. train pulled up to the signal, ready to go to the Harbor. As soon as the ATSF cleared I gave the signal to the U.P. train. The ATSF called and wanted to switch some more. I said that if the previous crew had not been out on the Main line so long, the U.P. would have been long gone and no one would have been delayed. About an hour later I got a call from the U.P. management asking about having delayed the ATSF. I gave them my side of the story, and they seemed to be satisfied. Then I called on the squawk box so everyone could hear, and mentioned the U.P. calling me about delaying the ATSF. The ramp said that there was not much they could do, they had to report a delay and the U.P. was the one leaving the yard and blocking the crossing. I mentioned again that if the earlier crew had not taken so long to switch out on the Main line there would not have been any delay to anyone. The conversation got no further.

An example of everything going wrong were the traffic lights at Downey Road and Bandini Blvd. flashing red. I had the ATSF on short time coming for the LAJ with 22 cars.  Told them to watch out for traffic congestion. The Vernon Police called when it was too late to stop the ATSF. The ATSF pulled up to the LAJ switch and then sat blocking traffic. It turned out that the crew did not have a U.P. switch key for the U.P. switch lock on the U.P. main line switch. The ATSF crew said that the Vernon Police wanted them out of the way, so with my permission they pulled down the U.P. main to clear Bandini Blvd. Job 73, the South Gate Rocket switch engine was coming up the main line and some lite power from the Harbor was following them. The crew from the Rocket walked up and unlocked the LAJ switch. The ATSF then had to get the signal from me to shove back to get over the switch and then go into the LAJ just before they died on the law. A simple move ended up taking about 45 minutes, with a lot of blocked traffic. The original problem was caused by a car knocking down a power pole west of Downey Road. I was careful to avoid the area on the way home.

It seemed that we would get an employee questionnaire about the railroad every year. One night one of the U.P. Managers really got under my skin. It all started before I came on duty. The afternoon shift had been relaying from a Conductor on his radio at the Harbor to a Manager on the phone. The Conductor had been unable to say just exactly where they were. After I came on duty the Manager called on the phone again, and we went through the same exercise, with the same result. By then it struck me as ridiculous that the Conductor was unable to give anyone his exact location. To get the trains at the Harbor moving took some time and involved issuing and then annulling and reissuing track warrants before the mess got straightened out. It was a prolonged conversation during which another crew was using the radio trying to switch their cars. There was a lot going on at the Tower, so I was careful how I spoke to the Manager. I was careful not to refuse anything while speaking with him. Several hours later the Manager called me, unhappy with the whole affair. I listened for a while, and then raising my voice a bit, very carefully told him that there was a lot going on at the Tower at the time including late Amtrak. A Conductor that did know where in the world he was happened to be only a part of my problems. We ended the conversation in a standoff. I was waiting for the next questionnaire. Two or more years later a questionnaire finally came shortly before I retired. Strangely, there were two in the envelope. Don't know what the outside company that compiled the answers did with two questionnaires in the same envelope, but I gave local management low marks on both questionnaires.

Some examples of events at the Tower

As an aid to memory and to document events for myself I sometimes wrote up events on the computer at the Tower. Following in no particular order are some examples.

Chewed out again       July 6, 1996

For some reason the yard was unable to take the Mead Switcher and their 51 cars. They stopped at Bandini at approximately 9:30PM Friday July 5, 1996. The yard seemed to be seriously messed up, so I did not talk to the Crest until 10:50PM, when it was time to begin thinking about Amtrak. Amtrak #87 is due about 11:10PM, but lately has been running late. The yard said that they would be ready for the Mead Switcher in about 15 minutes. It turned out to be an hour and then some. Between 10PM and Midnite the ATSF had various locomotive and switch moves. Amtrak #86 was late and went by also. The Vernon Police for some reason had not called. The ATSF Special Agent called later and said that he had heard the Vernon Police on his scanner talking about a train. He called me to see if it was ours. Later the Vernon Police called, and I referred them to the Crest. The ATSF wanted their autos off the Mead Switcher for one of their trains, so they asked now and then when they were going to get their autos. The yard was not ready for the Mead Switcher until just before Midnite. So the Mead Switcher had been sitting at Bandini 2½ hours. The Crest talked to the Mead Switcher, and told them where to put their cars, but said nothing to me. I called the Crest and asked if it was O.K. to let the Mead Switcher in. The Crest said that it was O.K. to let the Mead Switcher in. Unfortunately, the ATSF was out finishing up switching, and had the Mead Switcher blocked for about 10 minutes before I could let the Mead Switcher in. They got to the Tower about 12:13AM, moving as soon as I gave them the signal.

By then the S.P. had a cut of about 40 cars for the LAJ. The Mead Switcher blocked them, so I had held them on the West leg of the Wye. There was also some power for the Wye, but the Crest sent them to pick up some more power, which took them out of the picture for a while. There was a train of coal empties behind the Mead Switcher holding at Bell Foundry in South Gate. They stopped there since that is the last place a long train can stop without blocking any grade crossings. They died on the law at 11:30PM, and had a relief crew brought to to them. The relief crew started towards the yard without saying anything, so I had to tell them to wait. They had evidently got up to Bell Pass.

When the Mead Switcher cleared, the ATSF 5th Rivera was waiting to go lite to Malabar. I let them go since they could get out of the way quickly. Then I turned the S.P. cut loose for the LAJ. They cleared at 12:35AM.

I had to hold the coal mtys for a little bit since the Crest wanted the power around the Wye first. After the U.P. went around the Wye at 12:57AM I brought the coal mtys in at 1:11AM. The S.P. by then had wanted to come out of the LAJ lite, but I held them for the coal mtys coming up the branch. I gave them permission to come out of the LAJ and follow the coal mtys, giving them the signal for the West leg of the Wye at 1:24AM as soon as the coal mtys cleared. Meanwhile there was some short time power out on the U.P. main line that wanted to come in the West leg of the Wye. Since I had the S.P. already lined up with the Dispatcher, they were held out until the S.P. cleared. There was an outbound train with 8 cars, among them 3 'hot' cars for Douglas at Lakewood. I sent them south at 1:33AM as soon as the coal mtys cleared into the yard and the S.P. cleared out of the LAJ to the West leg of the Wye. By then the short time NPLAGE Wye power was on the West leg of the Wye and did not have to wait very long. I got them in the yard at 1:37AM. During this time I got the 5th Rivera back to Pico from Malabar with 15 cars, along with several ATSF switch moves.

Later Steve Watkins called and said that when the Mead Switcher was ready to come into the yard he was aware that I had the ATSF out in front of the Mead Switcher. He mentioned our previous conversations about priorities at Hobart Tower. He was unhappy with me, and wanted me to promise to run the Tower for the benefit of the U.P., with Amtrak first priority. He did not care about the ATSF, and mentioned what the ATSF was always doing to the U.P. around Barstow. I did not feel able to make such a promise, and said that I would do the best I could to minimize delays to all concerned, and to keep as much moving as possible. The conversation continued for a while, but with no meeting of the minds. Steve Watkins also made some veiled and not so veiled threats about going to see various officials and the Superintendent. I mentioned that on a worst case basis that when the ATSF comes out for a long triple over it takes at least 45 minutes to complete. Therefore at the Tower, you may or may not be able to do anything on the spur of the moment.

Part of the challenge of running the Tower is looking ahead to anticipated events while trying to be prepared for unanticipated events or any unseen problem which might pop up. You have to keep on your toes to avoid painting yourself into a corner.  

To sum it all up, the Mead Switcher sits at the signal at Bandini blocking grade crossings for 2½ hours along Downey Road and I get chewed out for 10 minutes delay at Hobart Tower.

March 1, 1999

Had BNSF 8297 LACBAR train doubling over in the LAJ and then wanting to come out and go east. When I called Mike, the BNSF Dispatcher, he said to put them on the Middle track. Nothing was happening on the U.P., so I gave them permission to come out and finish their double over. They came out a little after 1:00AM for their double over and then shoved back into the LAJ. I had neglected to ask them how many cars they had, so they came out of the LAJ again for what turned out to be another double over. By then they were blocking both Bandini and 26th St. They shoved back enough to clear 26th St. However Bandini was blocked for 45 minutes. It turned out that they had 124 cars.

After trading crews on the train the engineer on the yard job was nice enough to come up to the Tower before going to the yard to tie up. For himself and the crew he thanked me for working with them and knowing what is going on around the Tower.

March 20, 1997

Wednesday morning there was a U.P. Pilot Engineer called on duty at 12:50AM. He called me asking about the ATSF, and I said that I knew nothing, no one had told me anything. Later the ATSF called and wanted to know where the Pilot Engineer was, so that started to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

There was southbound U.P. coal train on duty at approximately the same time. Quite often the outbound coal trains have trouble with smelly toilets, B/O rear end devices or other various kinds of trouble real or imagined (read: pretext for delay). So when the Pilot Engineer called and said that the ATSF detour train was ready to head down the U.P. San Pedro Branch, I let them go.  

However I had guessed wrong. The U.P. coal train called a short time later and said that they were ready to go. I told them to stand by, and would call them as soon as the ATSF train started giving up their track warrants. The Yardmaster heard the exchange on the radio, called and registered his feelings. Marty Vasquez,  the Trainmaster then called with his objections, and said never to let the ATSF out ahead of the U.P., and that we had had this conversation before. I agreed that we had had similar conversations before. The Yardmaster was upset, and said not to let the South Gate Rocket come in to the yard. They would have to wait for the coal train to get by, and then they could come in. That would be quite a while later. When the ATSF train went by them, the Engineer on the Rocket called and said that they wanted to come in. I told him that my instructions were that they were to wait until the U.P. coal train had gone by. He then called the Yardmaster, said that nothing was moving and that they would not delay anything if they came in. It was a tense exchange, sort of reopening an old wound, and it was the last thing I wanted to hear. The Yardmaster told them to stay where they were.

Later Mike Bales, the Foreman on the job called on the phone when they finally got into the yard to apologize for what the Engineer had said over the radio. I told him about the whole mess, how the Engineer had raised the Yardmaster's blood pressure all over again, and that it was really not what I wanted to hear. However for me the whole mess had by then become laughable, and that no apology was needed or necessary. So that among everything else was what kept things lively for that morning. (Rocket is the nickname for the South Gate switch engine.  The name goes back in history, and is more likely because of slow movement than a rapid pace.)

Feb 14, 1995

Last Saturday night the Ramp called and said what he would like to do. I ended up making a mess of his finely laid plans. There was a train on the Middle track east of the Tower. The Ramp had some switch moves on the Outbound, and then wanted to let the train on the North track into the yard. I told him O.K., but that we had Amtrak in about 45 minutes. The South track was clear east of the Tower.

Meanwhile there was an eastbound Harbor train stopped west of the Tower on the South track with problems on their locomotives. That left only the North track west of the tower clear. There was a problem with the diamond on the North track for several weeks with a 10 mph speed restriction.

The yard made several switching moves on the Outbound. After the last move the signal was timing out when the eastbound Harbor train on the South track west of the Tower said that the man from Diesel Service would like the North track locked out so he could work on the locomotives. They said that it would be a few minutes, but it turned out to be almost 25 minutes. If Diesel Service had repaired the locomotives immediately, there was a chance we could have moved him east and cleared the South track. That would have cleared the South track for Amtrak west of the Tower. The ATSF could then have switched to their hearts content on the North track.

Later when the Ramp called and asked for the train on the North track, he was none too happy with my decision to lock out the North track west of the Tower. This kept the westbound train from getting into the yard. Not knowing just when he was going to ask for the train off the North track was enough to give me a bit of a reason with which to defend myself. The train on the North track was his responsibility, he did not care about the Harbor train on the South track, that was not his responsibility.

When the eastbound Harbor train called they said that I could unlock the North track. They were ready to depart. They also said that they would not know if the locomotives were repaired until they moved. That was not reassuring. With only 15 minutes until Amtrak, it was not worth taking a chance on the Harbor train, or getting the train on the North track into the yard.

In the meantime, I took power off the Inbound and sent them to the Wye at Redondo ahead of Amtrak, and some lite power off the Middle track to the Inbound. By then Amtrak was on the approach, and when Amtrak cleared I sent the Harbor train east on the South track, and let the train off the North track to the Outbound. The locomotives on the eastbound Harbor train had been successfully repaired, and they continued out of town. The westbound train on the North track had sat for about an hour, and the eastbound Harbor had sat on the South track for about 1½ hours.

The railroads had been busy. Earlier in the week a train with 11 cars had come up the main to shove back into the yard. They had to leave their 11 cars on 3 different tracks. The crew was very unhappy.

Another train left the East end of the yard. The Dispatcher asked them where they were going. The crew said they were told to leave town, but did not know where they were going. The Dispatcher called Pico, but they did not know. Finally the Dispatcher was able to pry the destination out of Hobart Ramp.

Tuesday morning Feb 14, the ATSF came out of the Outbound with a switch engine to double over some cars. They were out about 30 minutes. By the time they cleared I had 3 ATSF engines, 1 U.P. engine, and an S.P. cut for the LAJ all waiting for their turn.

Later when the S.P. Foreman was going off duty, he called and thanked me for getting them through. He said that they had some hot cars for the LAJ, and that the crew was on short time. He said that he told the S.P. Yardmaster that he knew that I would work with them to get to the LAJ and back before they died on the law. In about 4 years he was the second crew member to stop and call to say thank you. Often times a crew will say thanks over the radio.

Part of July 6, 1994

The railroad got a ruling that crews could go from Yermo the the Harbor. One of the first crews was quite unhappy about it. They crept through the yard and took a long time invoking every real or imagined reason for a delay. All of L.A. management were upset and on edge attempting to get the train through the yard and out of town. The Manager at the Harbor called me several times wanting to know if the train had left Los Angeles yet. The train finally left, and things quieted down.

About 30 minutes later, Sidney Williams, an off duty engineer called and wondered what train was going down the branch, and who the crew was. He said that they were blowing the whistle loud and long for every little crossing and waking up the whole city at 2 or 3 in the morning.

I told him about the situation, and that the crew was very unhappy, had a student engineer and also the Manager of Operating Practices aboard.

Feb 1994

One of the means of communication at Hobart Tower is the squawk box. It connects Mission Tower, Redondo Tower, Hobart Tower, and the ATSF Ramp. The Ramp is a busy place, and sometimes to make their conversation easier, they turn the squawk box down or off, as well as their radios. If they forget to turn the volume back up, which from personal experience is easy to do, we are unable to contact them over the squawk box.

It must have been early in 1993 that Tillie had been unable to contact the ATSF Ramp. She called the Ramp on the phone. For some unknown reason the Asst. Trainmaster at the Ramp got upset and ordered her not to call on the phone if she could not get the Ramp on the squawk box. She tried to tell him that it was not a good idea, and he got ever more upset and obnoxious. So she put a message on the desk, and we all followed the Asst. Trainmaster's instructions.

I don't know who delayed ATSF trains or engines the longest. The best I could do was 45 minutes, although I believe the daylite shift held an engine for 90 minutes.  

After about two weeks Redondo Tower happened to hear what was going on, and passed the word along to the Ramp. Cooler and more rational heads prevailed at the Ramp and they told us to throw the message away. So we went back to calling the Ramp over the phone when we could not get them over the squawk box.

July 13, 1998

The Mead Switcher was coming north with 75 cars, and their rear end device went B/O. This meant that they could not clear any track warrants until the last car in the train was physically checked to determine that the car was still in the train, and that the train was intact.

The BNSF had a Slab Train that was to detour north on the U.P.  The Slab Train called at 10PM and said that they were ready to go. I called the Mead Switcher, and they said that they were at Paramount. I told the Slab Train about the problem and why I could not give them a track warrant for 30 to 45 minutes more. They said that they were blocking crossings, and wanted a track warrant as soon as possible.  

The Mead Switcher arrived at 11:06PM, taking almost twice as long as it should have taken. Sure missed Tom Flowers, the regular engineer at the time. When the Mead Switcher got into the yard, they came to a Blue Flag that the carmen had forgotten. The train was stretched out past the Tower. It took 30 minutes to get the Blue Flag taken care of. When the last car of the Mead Switcher went by the Tower, I could give the rear car number to the crew, they could verify that it was the correct car, the train was intact, and then give up their track warrant.

Then I was able at 11:42PM to give the BNSF Slab Train a track warrant to come north.

Got numerous calls from the BNSF at Watson, and the PHL Badger Bridge, wondering when I was going to get the Slab Train moving. Besides grade crossings, there were several trains blocked. Also had several gentle reminders from the crew on the Slab Train, as they were the crew actually out there blocking crossings. By that time there also was a K-Line train in Long Beach and a circus train wanting to go to Long Beach being delayed.

When the Mead Switcher was ready to go south, they were on short time. They had to be relieved at Imperial Highway, and the K-Line was still waiting to come north to clear up so the circus train could get into Long Beach.

Jan 14, 1998

Monday night Jan 12 the rail detector car showed up. They were behind a freight train which had to wait on the North track while the Ramp was out on the main switching. While waiting for the North track to clear the detector checked out the Middle track. After we got the train off the North track into the yard, the detector car checked the North track. They found a bad weld on the North track around Soto St. So it took until 3:15AM before the North track was back in service between Hobart Tower and Redondo Tower.

Tuesday evening they showed up and checked the South track. They did not find any problems.

It is quite a production. The detector is a Sperry Rail Service Hi-Rail truck. They have a BNSF Track Supervisor handling the radio and getting permission from wherever they need to get permission. They are followed by a BNSF Hi-Rail truck. They also had 4 BNSF trucks and 2 BNSF pickup trucks of employees following on the highway. They are ready to deal with whatever problems the detector car may find.

April 5, 1994

Had a perfect mess, and here is more or less how it happened. It was the worst night in several months.

The ATSF had a switch engine come out of the Outbound to switch on the North track about 10:15PM  There was a U.P. mty coal train about to arrive. There were 3 ATSF trains coming from Watson.

When the ATSF switch job shoved back into the yard they hit some trailers down in the yard that had been parked too close to the track. In an understated way, they said that it looked like an accordion.  So there sat the switch job, blocking everything.  

The U.P. coal mtys arrived at 10:30PM, so there they sat blocking grade crossings.

The ATSF 2283 came lite out of the Autoveyor on the South track, so there they sat.

The first ATSF Slab Train arrived at Hobart Tower about the same time on the South main, so there they sat. They had trouble with their rear end device. They would have to stop to get a new rear end device from the carmen whenever we could get them east of Hobart Tower.

The ATSF 2287, an afternoon job was ready to come in from 9th St., so they had to wait at Redondo Tower.

The Mead Switcher was ready to go south with 1 car.

The second ATSF Slab Train arrived and was blocking crossings in Vernon.

There was also a westbound ATSF Harbor train on the Middle track that wanted to go to Watson. I told them that it would be a long time, and he asked how long.  I said that there were 3 trains between us and Watson, it would be at least an hour.

Much earlier the power on Amtrak #83 had died, and it was being towed in by Amtrak #85.  #83 was about 4 hours late, and #85 was about 2 hours late. They were due any time.

When the switch job on the Outbound finally cleared, I gave the signal to the first Slab Train at 10:50PM. He went from the South to the North track where they would stop to get a new rear end device.

With the first Slab Train by, I gave the signal to the U.P. coal mtys at 10:56PM. They had been blocking grade crossings for 25 minutes, so I wanted them moving and off the grade crossings.  I expected some delay on Amtrak. When the coal mtys got into the yard, a cut was out fouling the lead, so there they sat blocking everything.

After giving the signal to the coal mtys I got the lite engine off the South track to the Inbound. That gave Amtrak a track to Hobart Tower.

The combined Amtrak pulled up to the signal at 11:05PM, and sat until the cut blocking the coal mtys pulled in and cleared the lead. I gave Amtrak their signal at 11:19PM.

With Amtrak by, I gave the signal to the second Slab Train at 11:24PM. I wanted to get them by, since it was getting close to time for Amtrak #87. Although I did not know it at the time, #87 was about 1 hour late.

With the second Slab Train moving, the ramp had a quick move on the Outbound at 11:24PM.

The afternoon job from 9th St. was following the second Slab Train on the South track and got their signal for the Inbound at 11:39PM.

The Mead Switcher was next, going south at 11:40PM.

With that, the congestion cleared and things returned to more or less normal for the rest of the shift.

The third ATSF train out of the Harbor had to set out both at the Long Siding and into the yard. By the time they cleared it was 1:37AM when I gave the signal to the westbound Harbor train. They had been sitting about 3 hours waiting to go.

Just before quitting time, Redondo Tower called over the squawk box and said that the Amtrak desk at ATSF headquarters in Schaumberg, IL had called him about the 25 minutes delay the conductor showed for #83 and #85 at Redondo Tower. He was happy to say that it was not him, and to call Hobart Tower. While we were talking the phone rang. I said that I had Amtrak from 11:05PM to 11:19PM but that I did not know about the other 10 minutes. Later I got to thinking that Amtrak must have been waiting 10 minutes at the signal at Hobart while the lite engine was ahead of him at the signal for Hobart Tower.

Earthquake  Jan 1994

Hobart Tower shook all the time. Trucks hitting the grade crossing on 26th St., or engines switching in the adjacent U.P. East Yard would rattle the windows. A loaded coal train at the right speed was about 4 on the Richter scale while crossing the diamonds. A big earthquake like the Whittier or Northridge events is a different matter entirely. In that case it is a matter of holding on as the Tower dances around, and wondering what is going to happen next. The Tower has nearly a 360 degree view of the city. I could see big flashes all around from wires arcing or transformers blowing. The city power went out at Hobart Tower during the Northridge earthquake. The Tower runs on batteries, but they are old and not expected to last very long without their constant charge.

For any significant earthquake you are to shut down the Tower and Branch until track and signals have been inspected and O.K.'d by the inspectors and maintainers. The Northridge earthquake occurred just as a long K-Line train was approaching the Tower. I told them to stop short of the L.A. River bridge, which was about where they were. I called the U.P. Dispatcher and told her that we had a strong earthquake so they could start things going back there if they had not already heard about the earthquake from someone else. I called the Crest and told them that the K-Line was stopped and asked if they should cut the crossings. He said that he was talking to the Trainmaster, and would let us know later. After some time, the train called and said that the Vernon Fire Dept. was telling them to move. The Crest said that he would send the Trainmaster to help them cut the crossings. Then it was a matter of waiting for the inspectors and maintainers to show up. Ed Wolfe showed up to check out Hobart Tower and the signals in the vicinity. Dale Normington was driving around the Tower and checking out the U.P. track. Andy Treviso of the ATSF came from Redondo Tower on the North track in his Hi-Rail truck. With Ed Wolfe's permission he came through Hobart Tower. With permission from the ATSF Dispatcher he continued east on the North track. And that was about the point when my relief showed up and I went home to see what might have happened there.

How things bunch up,  Sept 20 & 21, 1993

Had a lot of business for the LAJ one night, and by the grace of God got out of it with no problems.  
The different railroads or crews usually notified the LAJ ahead of time that they are coming or thinking about coming. When there were no opposing movements, and reasonably soon another engine or cut would be ready to enter or leave the LAJ, we would give the first crew permission to leave the LAJ switch lined for their movement. That saved time since they did not have to stop to line and lock the switch for the mainline and wait for the crew member to walk up to engine. It also saved time for the second crew who could go right in or out, stopping only to line and lock the switch back for the main line after they cleared.

The ATSF HBALAT arrived at 11:15PM with 35 cars for the LAJ, and they were dead on the law at 11:45PM.

The Mead Switcher left for Long Beach with 30 cars at 11:33PM.

The S.P. went into the LAJ with 54 cars at 12:14AM.

The ATSF 5th Rivera went in the the LAJ lite at 12:58AM.

The ATSF dogcatch crew brought the HBALAT power back to the yard lite at 1:30AM.

The U.P. went to the LAJ with 41 cars at 1:50AM. The U.P. went over with road power, which is an additional complication. The LAJ yard has bad track. Rather than pulling in, the road power has to go down the LAJ mainline, and then shove the cut back into the LAJ 'A' Yard from the east end.

The ATSF 5th Rivera came out of the LAJ with 28 cars at 2:11AM.

The S.P. followed the ATSF out with 9 cars at 2:17AM.

U.P. Job 63, the South Job, came in with 6 cars at 2:22AM.

The U.P. road power came out of the LAJ lite at 2:25AM.

Anyhow, it all worked out better than I would have expected.

August 31, 1994

After several weeks of good luck, everything fell apart starting before I came on duty 10PM Aug 30.

Amtrak was late with 2 trains. #83 was about 3 hours late and had to trade crews with #86 at La Mirada. #85 was about 1 hour late and following #83. They were due on the South track about 10:10PM.

The next problem was a ATSF switch engine. After coming out on the North track, the engine would not move. They eventually struggled back into the yard without getting anything done, and went home. This delayed some U.P. Hostlers attempting to get around the Wye.

I got the Mead Switcher out after the 2 Amtraks. However I forgot to call the ATSF Dispatcher for the eastbound Slab Train until it hit the buzzer on my approach. I spent about 10 minutes waiting for the ATSF Dispatcher to answer the phone. After I gave the Slab Train the signal on the South track. When it was moving and about to go onto the Dispatchers track, the Dispatcher called and wanted to stop them. I gave him the sad news that it was too late. Someone had just told the Dispatcher that the power on the Slab Train would have to be traded at Hobart. No one else knew about the situation, and after some consultations back and forth with the Ramp, the ATSF Trainmaster told the Slab Train to continue on east. When the Dispatcher saw that the train was moving, he called and reminded the crew that they were on the Dispatchers track, and they were to trade out their power at Hobart.

Since the Middle track was plugged with mty trailers, this left the North track as the only clear track east of Hobart Tower. Amtrak #87 was due at 11:30PM and things were tightening up.

There was a 2nd Harbor train that got to Redondo Tower about 11PM and died on the law at Hobart Tower with their short train at 11:15PM. A 3rd Harbor train was not far behind them, and we flagged them in behind the 2nd Harbor train. They were dying at 1AM. This blocked the South track west of Hobart Tower.

At 11:05PM a ATSF switch engine wanted the Inbound for a long cut. Looking at the clock, and with some misgivings about using our only main track, I gave him the signal and eventually he came crawling out. I told the Ramp about the situation. He said that we had a fighting chance to get cleared up, and he talked to the crew. It did not do any good with the crew, but they finally cleared up as Amtrak was approaching. The saving part was that Amtrak got to the Tower at 11:40PM, about 10 minutes late. Most of this time an outbound U.P. coal train had been waiting at the signal, and I got them out after Amtrak cleared.

After midnite, the yard bussed a crew out and brought the 2nd Harbor train into the yard.

Things continued busy, but more or less normal until about 1AM. Then an engine was out switching on our only main track, contributing to congestion at Hobart Tower. The Long Siding Job coming out of the Field had to wait about 45 minutes until we could get him across to the North track and then west to Redondo Tower.

The ATSF MBALT power came out of the LAJ lite. I held them at Bandini and then at 26th St. for a total of an hour until I could get them across the mainlines and into the yard.

The Slab Train got their power traded and was finally ready to leave at 2:15:AM, about a 3½ hour delay.

The 3rd Harbor train west of Hobart Tower got a new crew and went East abut 3AM. There were two sets of power from the Wye at Redondo Tower following them. When they cleared into the yard, we took a westbound train for Watson.

With some more switching, it took until 4AM for things to simmer down, and not much more happened after that.

September 1993

Sometimes things work out, and sometimes not.

One morning an inbound train wanted to make a double over. I told them it would be about 10 minutes after Amtrak before I could give them the signal. They said they could do it ahead of Amtrak. As they were on their way home at that point, it seemed to be a safe bet.  I said O.K., and they did it ahead of Amtrak. They said Thank You, I said Thank You, and I could see the Amtrak headlight in the distance as they cleared the mainline.

Another day, the Ramp was desperate to get a train doubled over. The rear end of the train was blocking the east end of the yard. The Ramp said there were only about 5 cars to double over, so I said O.K. The train started out onto the main and kept pulling and pulling. There were 25 extra cars that no one knew anything about. When they were ready to shove back, there were blue flags and derails on the track they wanted to enter, so there they sat. By that time the inbound U.P. coal mtys were stopped and blocking crossings in Vernon. As soon as the ATSF finally cleared, I turned the U.P. train loose, and had to absorb about 5 minutes delay to Amtrak for the coal mtys pulling into the yard. The Ramp thanked me profusely for letting the train double over, and I refrained from grumbling about the 25 extra cars that no one knew about.

Sept 30, 1993

Had the U.P. at its best the morning of Sept 26. For some reason a train of coal had been loaded in Conrail cars. The mtys out of the Harbor had to go to the S.P. at Pasadena Jct. This had never been done before. The advent of Metrolink control of the former U.P. track beyond 9th St. added new complications.

I would give the the train to the Dispatcher off the West leg of the Wye at Hobart Tower. So I called him 90 minutes ahead of time and asked him if anyone had said anything to him. He said that no one had notified him, so I told him what we were trying to do. As a courtesy I called Mission Tower, and no one had talked to them either, so I explained it to Russ also.

The yard wanted to know when the train was about to arrive, since the train was on short time (Dead on the law at 2:30AM), and they might have to put a yard crew on the train.

When the train got to Paramount, about 30 minutes away, they called on the radio and said that they needed a Metrolink track warrant, timetable, and general order. I called the Crest. The fellow there is from Nebraska, and had not been around very long, and did not know anything. So I gave up on him right away and called the Trainmaster. He was not very interested but said that he would get what was needed and bring it to the Tower.

I got the U.P. General Order that covered the situation out of the computer. The way I read it the crew only needed a timetable and general order. When the Trainmaster arrived he had only the general order, but no Metrolink timetable. He also did not have his glasses, so he could not read the U.P. General Order that covered the situation. That was a bit of a problem when he talked to the crew over the radio.

When I could see the headlight of the arriving train about 2 miles away, I called the U.P. Dispatcher to let him know that the train was close, and he asked me if I had talked to Metrolink. I said no, and he seemed surprised. I had figured that it was not my business to advise Metrolink about where, when, or how the U.P. Dispatcher would give Metrolink a train.

Since the Trainmaster did not have any Metrolink timetables for the crew, the train could not continue onto Metrolink rails. I called the U.P. Dispatcher and got permission from him to let the train proceed past Hobart Tower. He said to make sure the crew did not pass the signal at Soto Street until they had the proper paperwork to go onto Metrolink. This would leave the Dispatcher room to maneuver if the train did not move for a long time.

The train started past Hobart Tower, and then stopped, still blocking all the grade crossings, plus Hobart Tower. They later said that they had been trying to get the Metrolink Dispatcher on the radio. That was why I was unable to talk to them to find out why they had stopped. When they started moving again they cleared Hobart Tower limits, stopped again, and after a while moved on out of sight. The Trainmaster had found a Metrolink timetable, and also had put a yard crew, Job 79 onto the train.

The train had arrived at 1:35AM, and had 26th St. blocked for 20 minutes. A trucker had fallen asleep, and while some of the United Parcel drivers that go back and forth blew their horns at him, he did not wake up. I called the Vernon Police, but shortly before they arrived a United Parcel truck stopped and blasted his horn, and the trucker finally woke up. He had been asleep about 45 minutes.

Several days later another coal train with Conrail cars went south, so I wrote up instructions and left them for the other people at the Hobart Tower, with a note saying that to cut down on possible problems, play Trainmaster. Here is what to do and who to notify when the train comes back mty.

The Yardmaster at the Crest from Nebraska not familiar with Los Angeles may not have been familiar with railroading at all. One morning he had more cars than would fit on the ATSF transfer track. He asked me if he could shove the track into the ATSF yard. I did not even call the ATSF to ask. You can't just willy-nilly shove a track out onto someone else's railroad. I just told him that he could not do that, and never even talked to the ATSF. The transfer track runs onto a busy track in the ATSF yard. The only way this could have been done is with some of prior agreement between the Yardmasters on both railroads for a move of high priority, and with a ATSF switch engine standing by.

March 16, 1994

At 5:24AM Marty Vasquez called and said not to move any ATSF across Hobart Tower. He said that he had talked to Roger Spjut. That shut down the west end of Hobart Yard.  

Evidently an eastbound U.P. train was waiting for the ATSF Dispatcher to fax a General Order that was not in the Book. Notified the Ramp about 5 minutes later when the Long Siding Job was coming back from Malabar. The Ramp started right in on the problem.

Marty called back at 5:43AM and said that it was O.K. to move the ATSF.

I got a similar instruction one other time when the U.P. was having trouble at Barstow.

March 10, 1998

About 12:45AM March 10, ATSF Roadmaster Glenn Foster called and asked if I had worked the previous morning. I said yes. He asked if I remembered where I had lined up the Foreman with his ballast regulator and tamper. I said that that the Foreman had called and said that he had permission to go East on the Middle track.  I checked with the Dispatcher, and he said that it was O.K. to send them East on the Middle track. I then lined everything including the signal for eastward movement on the North track and crossing over to the Middle track. The Foreman forgot to report clear of Hobart Tower limits and I had to get the Dispatcher to have him call me to back to clear the limits.

I told the Roadmaster that this had happened around 2:30AM. After thinking it over, it must have been closer to 2:00AM. He told me to save whatever notes I had that covered the events of the previous morning. He said that he was tracking down responsibility for a run through switch on the mainline. He said that the Foreman said that they went east on the North track. I told the Roadmaster that the tamper made a track lite, but that the ballast regulator did not. So the Dispatchers records should show the movement. Never did hear anything more.

June 25, 1994

Saturday morning, June 24, there was a light for the North track on my board, indicating something was lined my way from the Dispatcher. After a while, a headlight showed up. I was on the phone, so I did not hear the entire conversation as the train gave their arrival to Redondo Tower.

I called the Ramp and told them what I thought I had heard, and the Ramp said to let them into the Outbound. So I lined them up.

The train crew then called and said that they wanted to go to the LAJ.  I got permission from them to take the signal back. Unfortunately, the signal would not time out. The crew called and said that they had only 45 minutes left to work.

It was a complete Murphy's law fiasco. Usually the Dispatcher lines trains for the LAJ on the South track. Usually the Dispatcher calls when the train is about to leave Rivera. Usually the train crew calls and asks for a LAJ lineup. Usually I hear the train on the radio talking to Rivera before they arrive, and hear Rivera give them a track at the LAJ. They had a B/O radio, so I never heard anything, and had trouble talking to them when they were at Hobart Tower on the North track. Also I have never had any trouble with the signal on the North track timing out. The Ramp thought it was a different train that was to come into the yard.

So I had to go out and roll the middle crossovers and flag them across to the LAJ. They got into the LAJ and setout their cars in the yard just before they died on the law.

Saturday was a hot day in the middle of a heat wave. The hot weather during the day and afternoon causes trouble with some of the switches. Some of the switches will cause trouble or fail because of the heat affecting the rails.

When I came on duty at 10PM, the middle crossovers had failed. Pat had Amtrak #85 on the Middle track, a 198 train west of Hobart Tower on the North track blocking Amtrak and trying to finish a triple over, and U.P. Job 63 waiting at Bandini. Pat was out rolling switches to get Amtrak going. The mess delayed Amtrak 42 minutes. I then had to go out and roll the switches back, and flag the 198 train into the Outbound. Ed Wolfe, the regular maintainer was off to Las Vegas for the weekend. When Manuel Frias, the backup maintainer showed up, things seemed to have cleared up by themselves. He did roll the Inbound switch and derail, and put everything back to normal. It is strange how often things clear up by themselves by the time the maintainer gets to the Tower. I always feel a sense of relief when the maintainer walks in and the problem recurs when he attempts to line the switch or signal. A number of times, I have called him at home in the middle of the night. When he says to try the switch again, it works perfectly with him on the phone, and for the rest of the night.You could get superstitious.

March 27, 1994

Friday night March 25, the southbound Mead Switcher derailed at the Bell Team Track switch. Someone had put a bolt in the points. The engine and 3 or 4 cars derailed. Their back luck continued later when they hit a car at Imperial Highway before they got back to Mead Yard. No one hurt, but additional complication.

Ed Wolfe, the Maintainer was called out to work on the signals and crossing gates at the location of the derailment.

Around 4:30AM I had a ATSF switch engine to get into the Setout. Had trouble with the derails on the North main. It took about 5 tries before they would lock up properly. With the problem I left the derails lined for the ATSF. About 30 minutes later a U.P. switch engine wanted to go south to help rerail cars. I tried 5 or 6 times, but the derails would not lock up properly. I was getting ready to flag the U.P. engine through the plant when there was a pounding on the door. My first thought was that someone off the switch engine had come up to say Hello while they were waiting. It turned out to be Ed the Maintainer. I had not noticed, but he had been downstairs trying to sleep rather than going home for only a few hours. He asked in a rather irritated voice how many times I was going to throw the derails. I gave him my side of the story. He tried. They would not work for him either. So he went to work on the problem.

It turned out that he worked all day, with Manuel Frias helping, and did not go home until 8:20PM. The trouble did not clear up until he changed out a motor on one of the derails.

The next day his wife Tillie said that Ed had cramps in his legs from working on the derail, and that she had been rubbing him with Ben-Gay.

So, that more or less completes the circle. I have had everyone upset at one time or another. ATSF, U.P., S.P., LAJ, Amtrak, Vernon Police, U.P. Terminal Managers asking if I remember who signs my paycheck, and now the Maintainer. Sometimes when Job 63 was switching and blocking Slauson, I would get a call from MTA. One of their buses was being delayed. Hate to think of who might be next.  A more friendly call was a time or two when the Los Angeles Fire Dept. called to verify that the Hobart Tower phone number was still in service and if it should remain on their list of numbers to call in an emergency situation.

June 27, 1995

I had known the Trainmaster at Watson in various positions on the U.P. before he went to the ATSF. He had a very short fuse, and a wild temper. Close to spontaneous combustion. I knew his father for many years as a long time Conductor on the U.P.

The Trainmaster at the Ramp was a rather nervous type, and sometimes gave the impression that he was in over his head.

When I came on duty at 10PM the Trainmaster at the Ramp was having an extended conversation with Don Withem over the squawk box. The phone rang. I picked it up. It was the Trainmaster from Watson. He said that he wanted the Outbound Harbor Train as soon as possible. He said that they had been on duty since 3PM, 7 hours. I said that Amtrak was late and the Ramp had 'hot' power for the Wye at Redondo Tower. The Watson Trainmaster said that if the Ramp wanted us to run the Wye power ahead of the Watson train he would personally come up and shoot the Trainmaster at the Ramp. After thinking a bit he said that he was going to bust the call on the Harbor train. Which he did after a while.

From what Don said the Harbor train had been a fiasco all afternoon. The train was supposed to go right on down to Watson. The Ramp said the train was supposed to add some locomotives. With all the afternoon Amtraks that took a long time. Then the rear end device would not work. That added even more to the delay. The Ramp had to use the Outbound to throw out a bad order besides the hot Wye power and the train for Watson, so the Ramp was on edge also.

About 10:45PM I heard the Ramp tell the Watson train to go home. They had 7500 feet of train. It blocked the east end of the Buggy, and would put a crimp into operations until it left.  Then I heard the ATSF Dispatcher giving a track warrant to a train at Watson. No idea of how long they had been on duty.

Since none of this was my responsibility, I could enjoy the show.  Kept me amused all night.................

March 12, 1995

A large rainstorm dithered off the coast. It had been predicted since Wednesday evening, but finally came in Friday evening the 11th. Arriving on duty at 10PM it was raining hard, and continued raining hard until 1:30AM. The diamonds at Hobart Tower are lower than their surroundings so water builds up in and around them during heavy rains. When water gets to the ball of the rail, it is high enough to spill over and does not rise any higher. However the #28 derail is in the water, and as before, it got wet and would not work.

The situation degenerated. Ed Wolfe, the regular maintainer was out of town, and Manuel Frias the next maintainer is not familiar with the interlocking machine in the Tower. When Frias arrived, I had a laundry list of 5 items for his attention:
  1.   The #28 lever was jamming again, the same as the night before when Ed Wolfe had come out to fix it.
  2.   The #28 derail would not go back to normal even with the lever fixed again.
  3.   The South track had no track light, but the end of the machine showed the south track as if Redondo Tower had something coming our way with a signal. 
  4.   To see if the Maintainer could channel some water out of the diamonds.
  5.   The basement was flooded again.
The basement had flooded earlier and Ed Wolfe had put in a pump. It filled up again during the night. Frias pulled the kinks out of the hose, and it started pumping. The net gain was getting the pump started. The channel he dug did not move much water. Nothing could be done with #28 derail until the water went down and it dried out, and the South track was the ATSF's problem.

The trouble with the South track is that you are unable to give a signal and have to flag a movement through. With the #28 derail not working you are unable to use the West crossover unless you go out and roll them by hand. That takes time, and getting wet if it is raining. Under the circumstances you also have to roll the switch below the Tower for anything on the U.P.

To save flagging anyone West on the South track we can use the North track if possible. The trouble with that is that the North has had a 10 mph speed restriction for almost two months right at the diamond.

After 1:30AM there were scattered showers, some heavy. Luckily, not much was going on. With the rain, the ATSF may not have been able to fill all their jobs. The U.P. had problems in the East end of their yards with oil from the oil wells on top of all the water. So they were not doing much. The Fire Dept. Hazmat Squad and Fire Trucks were in the yard.

The Downey Road underpass under the ATSF, the Washington Blvd. underpass under the U.P., and the Santa Ana Freeway under the U.P. were all flooded at one time or another during the night.

The ATSF had a mudslide on Cajon Pass, so that stopped things out there early Saturday morning.

Saturday there were some showers during the day, and a bit of lightning and rain after supper. When I got to the Tower at 10PM, nothing had changed. When Ed Wolfe gets back I will tell him to bring his lunch, there are things to do around Hobart Tower.

Aug 2, 1994

Driving to work on Downey Road I saw the Mead Switcher just starting away from the signal at Bandini Blvd. for the West leg of the Wye. There was a ATSF engine sitting on the ATSF Wye waiting for a signal after the Mead Switcher got by. As I was getting out of my car, the Mead Switcher stopped. It turned out that they were leaving the 2 rear cars of autos on the main line for the ATSF engine. When the ATSF had pulled the autos and the Mead cleared the switch, Tillie started a switch engine around the Wye behind the Mead switcher. The Mead Switcher called and said that they could not get across to #2 Main, and would like to shove back on the West leg of the Wye, unfortunately where the switch engine now was. It took about 5 minutes for the Dispatcher to answer and get the switch engine out of the way. She said that the Mead Switcher could either shove back down the West leg of the Wye, or go west to Soto Street, cross over there and shove back to the yard. Dean Lung the Engineer called Mike Jones the brakeman over the radio and asked him what he wanted to do. He said that he wanted a caboose (to ride on). They decided to go to Soto Street and shove back. The Dispatcher only gave them one signal at a time. It took her 5 minutes to answer each time I called her for a signal. They sat about 15 minutes total while waiting for the Dispatcher to answer.

The cause of all the problem was an outbound coal train that had derailed at Spence Street during the day. They were still rerailing cars and repairing track until later in the morning.
Sometime with even more years of perspective, I might write a bit about 2 big mistakes that I made. The mistakes caused 2 run through mainline switches.

Hope all this gives some sort of insight about working on the railroad at Hobart Tower.


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