OpsLog – La Mesa – 10/15/2023

OpsLog – La Mesa – 10/15/2023

e were sitting in our uber on Park Boulevard in Balboa Park, looking to our left.

“What the crispy crap…?”

There is an endless scarlet flood streaming past, agitated and churning. Lava? No, it’s a breast cancer awareness march. And our event is on the other side of it.

“We’ll get out here,” Steve tells the driver.

And if there is one moment I’ll always remember, it’s Steve Hooper, man’s man, pushing through a sea of pink tutus. What a crazy start to the day.

But we’re here to run trains, right?

Having learned a lesson yesterday, I stuck tight in the office (and practiced dewy-eyed depressed looks) to melt the withered heart of the crew call guy. Either he took pity on me or just wanted me out of his sight – regardless, I got a soup ticket promptly. Number 57, the Owl, an overnight passenger run. I was coming up in the world.

Except troubles were brewing on the grade out of Mojave. A cab forward lugging a long freight up the hill had died at Cameron and replacement engines were summoned. So all I could do was sit at the station and wait and wait while the relief engine chugged up to save the stalled freight. I suggested to the Mojave operator that maybe I could get orders to run opposite main to Tehachapi. They suggested I shut up. So I sat and waited while my passengers slumbered in their pullman bunks, unaware that we were running over an hour late at this point.

Finally the dead freight got to the summit and I was cleared out. But the Tehachapi train order board was red and now I had orders to wait for two eastbound sections of varnish to rush past. Yes, I could see this whole “needs of the many” thing, but I was really late now. So there we sat, the coyotes howling and the tumbleweeds rustling, counting the coaches as they went past. Eventually they were all by.

Holding at Tehachapi while a section of passenger goes by. Seems like this entire weekend was spent t this station.

Following this, it was an uneventful run down the hill. That’s the thing – usually first class west is a great run with all the lesser-class lackeys holding the sidings for you to pass. Possibly the traffic loading was less this time. I hardly got to sneer at anyone.

When I finally rolled up to Bakersfield Station, I was two hours and fifteen minutes in the hole. All I can say to Third and Townsend is that it wasn’t my fault. I moved with cunning and vigor. The railroad simply couldn’t match my seven league stride.

The interesting thing occurred at this point. I was told to take the head-end off and move them to the house track. Presumably lighter, faster valley power would be coupled to my coaches and the run up to San Fransisco continued. Leaving my overdue train while the Bakersfield crew argued and fumed at each other, I found the caller and was told there’d be nothing for a while – time for lunch.

There was an entire drama of me misplacing my throttle and timetable. I thought I’d left them in the bathroom and couldn’t find them. Eventually (whew) I located them and secured them. Then I went to the little topside deli and paid way too much for a simple sandwich. Back in the office, I sat in the corner and had my lunch, only to see my very-recognizable coaches, yes, good old 57, going past enroute to staging in Fresno. Finally. In the time it took me to frantically search for my stuff, to order and wait on lazy deli guys, and to eat a half a sandwich, that’s the time it took Bakersfield to tack on power. So now, nearly three hours late, 57 was on the roll again.

Boy, did those innocently sleeping passengers have a surprise when they got to San Fransisco. We were running as bad as United Airlines.

A quick aside for the photo below. This was one of those classic La Mesa moments at Caliente. There is a main track (to the left) and two sidings (to the right). The photo below captures a typical moment in this nowhere town. Two westbound freights have taken both sidings. Here they are met by an eastbound passenger train (the engines just coming around the water tank at the curve. Yet coming down the hill is another westbound passenger train. Not only was it a tricky problem to untangle but too many cooks really made it a moment. And me? I was finishing off lunch and snapping photos. Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

The rest of the day passed in calm fashion. I picked up a borax train out of Lancaster, a string of thirty-two hoppers to which I added ten more at the Monolith plant. Since it was getting late Sunday, crews were starting to fly out all ready, so traffic was light – I had no problems going down the hill. Then Steve simply gave me my last train, a beet train just coming east through Caliente. I think he was tired, or wanted a smoke, or was just done with trains. Whichever, I was there to run. But I appreciated getting one more run in to wrap up the session.

Of course, I had a final goof up my sleeve. Clearing Mojave, I took my beets up the ATSF line. I’m not sure what the Santa Fe is going to make of seventy carloads of bird seed (i.e. beets) coming into Barstow behind Southern Pacific power when they should have gone to Los Angeles. Happily, it’s all a staging thing, and both lines tie together in a neat bow once you clear the layout proper.

Anyway, it was another good session at La Mesa. Overall, the club is still rocking from some internal issues which I hated to see. Their power and rolling stock shortages, and Stephen Miller’s passing, have had some impacts to their sessions. On the good side, their support staff was top notch (other than the crew call issues of day one). I know what it’s like to keep a club going and I’m happy to see they can still get this massive session rolling. The layout’s scenery continues to expand and they are seating younger people in critical roles (the young guys who dispatched did a fantastic job – that position scares the pants off of me). So yes, it is still worth the flight and the tenderloin hotel. Maybe next year we can get a couple more guys to come out.

Thanks to David and his crew for letting us join them in this continuing endeavor.