Out of Bakersfield on the third helper engine, a 2-10-2 ATSF steamer sixty cars back from the front end. We’re running as the fifth section of train 804 (meaning there’s four trains in front of us, and another one somewhere behind). And we’re rattling along the flatlands above Bakersfield, 50 mph, highball…
…until we saw the ABS signals, yellow, then red. Pull back the throttle. Time to stop. And there is the caboose for the 804 section ahead of us.
See, he’s got to wait for passenger train 51. That’s timetable stuff. But we know, according our train orders issued at Kern Jct, 51 will have its own second section, and it’s trailing one hour back.
Since first-51 is through just before noon, that means we know that second-51 won’t be by until 1pm. We know that. But even though fourth-804 is sitting a short walk up the line, even though we could carry our orders to their crew and show them, even though this would technically safeguard their train to advance to Caliente and beat second-51 easy, we can’t. Even through they know the truth, they cannot operate on it. The order wasn’t issued to them, it was issued to us.
So we’re sitting there, six crew members on two trains, deciding what to do.
Since we know, maybe we could get around fourth-804 and advance against the hour-delayed second-51. We almost do, until someone remembers that if we do this, we become fourth-804, and fourth becomes fifth. And when that happens, the crews exchange orders. And now our instructions concerning the delay of that passenger train isn’t ours any more, and we can’t use it as a reason to advance.
So we’re stuck.
This is the sort of thing that made our one hour trip from Bakersfield of Mojave into a nine (real) hour marathon of siding-sitting and order-waiting.
But I loved every minute of it.
All 540 of them.