Monday, December 19, 2011

Correction: Yard Limits aren't Job Limits

A few days ago when looking at the instructions for tagging freight cars, I'd said:

Cars to Alameda got "61", Oakland "62", and Lawrence and Atherton "35". The tags hint at the likely ranges of the different switch jobs, and how work was partitioned; Campbell was treated differently from Auzerais St. because it would have been outside yard limits and thus served by road crews.

Er, no.

Jason Hill from the La Mesa Model Railroad Club at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum corrected me here. He says it well, so let me just quote him:

Do be aware that there's a difference between "Yard Limits" and "Switching Limits". They are sometimes the same physical locations, but not always and their root reasons for existing are TOTALLY different. "Yard Limits" are a operating rules issue (Rule 93). "Switching Limits" are a crew agreement & labor issue.
For example, Yard Limits at Bakersfield extend only to the crossovers at Magunden (3 miles of out of the 'main yard'), however the "Switching Limits" extended all the way out to the far end of Edison (about 8 miles). The result of this was that the packing sheds at Edison were worked by a yard crew, under yard labor agreements, not road crews.
As a modeler you might say 'who cares what labor agreement they were under'. The answer is that the road crews have to be provided with a "caboose" which complies with a Union-agreed on defined. A 'yard job' did not have to have a "caboose" as defined by the Unions. This is not to say that the yard crews didn't grab a caboose, or a 'crew riding car', but by the Union Agreements it didn't have to have things like a stove, ice box, bunks, etc.

So for the Vasona Branch, that means that while yard limits moved back and forth over the years, all that said was whether the crew needed permission from the dispatcher to be on those tracks (though it also hints at whether the traffic was dense enough to require more control over who was blocking the tracks.) As Jason points out, crews running to Campbell inside or outside of yard limits could have been road crews, or switcher crews from the San Jose yard. His comment about cabooses also highlights that my all-yard-limits job from San Jose Yard to Auzerais Street may or may not have needed a caboose; I'd probably have a plausible story for either choice in the absence of any photos suggesting how Things Got Done in San Jose in 1932.

However, that makes the list of car routing tags from track directory that much more meaningful, because if two cars were being tagged for the same destination, then it's pretty likely that they were being sorted together, and were going out on the same train for delivery. All cars for the Almaden Branch were tagged with one number; that's not surprising, as 1928-era timetables showed that the Almaden branch was served by a weekly scheduled train that went to Almaden via Campbell, and went back via Hillsdale and the main line. The car routing tags also group all the cars destined for Campbell to Santa Cruz together, suggesting that all those stations were served off the same train. (That was a Tuesday train in case you're planning a time-travelling road trip.) There's photos from later in the 1930's showing short, six car trains going towards Los Gatos, and the routing numbers suggest that train would also have been dropping off cars in Campbell.

None of this hints whether that train from Campbell to Santa Cruz handled only those towns; although the Lincoln Ave. canneries and fruit packing plants had their own routing tag, the answer's hazy about whether Lincoln Ave. was handled with a local switch crew from the yard, or whether the train from San Jose to Santa Cruz handled the work.

And I still don't know whether the routing tags were stapled pieces of paper like on the Santa Fe, or were just written in chalk. The photo of the Material Supply Warehouse at the station at West San Jose suggests chalk as one of the WP boxcars has a prominent "13" written in chalk across it - that's the routing tag for the WP Interchange, though it seems wrong that a car still at the industry would already be tagged. I don't see any signs of paper tags on any of the visible cars.

Anyway, that's the logic-puzzle fun of historical research when there's no crews around who can tell you how they worked. Maybe some conductor's books from the 1930's would help, or maybe there's some train orders hinting at how the freight trains on the branch operated. But til then, I'll need to do a combination of guessing at what the railroad really did, and also remember to break the historic rules when it might make operations on the layout less fun.

Note to Self: *Lots* More Orchards

Although I've been pretty focused on the cannery and fruit packing buildings in the Santa Clara Valley for the layout, I do remember that they're just a very narrow strip of what the Valley looked like in the 1930's. Most of the Santa Clara Valley at the time was orchards and farms, with only the thinnest strips along the railroad looking so industrial.

This panorama, for instance, is a nice reminder. This is a drying yard somewhere near Campbell, stuck in a depression on the edge of the property with railroad tracks cutting across the back of the photo. There's nothing but orchards visible. At a first guess, I'd suspect those are the SP tracks in the background, and two signs might hint at that. The post to the right has an "X" - a whistle post - indicating there's a road crossing somewhere off the right of the photo. The left shows two white boards nailed to a telegraph pole with "50" written on each, probably a railroad milepost. Milepost 50 on the Los Gatos Branch was about where the tracks crossed Hamilton Ave. near the current Highway 17 in Campbell, and was about 0.7 miles northeast of the station in Campbell.

There's also the chance that the Interurban line to Los Gatos used SP mile numbers, but I'm guessing this is the SP line. A better SP historian would know if that odd shaped whistle post was an SP prototype or not.

It's nice to know what the mileposts and whistle boards looked like so I can duplicate those. It's also good to see the orchards and the shapes of the trees. Best of all are the details from the drying yard - the prune dipper at the far left for dipping the fruit in lye before laying it out for drying, the piles of fruit boxes, and all the drying flats scattered around. But I'll have to scratchbuild it; I don't think I've ever seen a prune dipper kit in HO.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Teasing Out Operating Details from Dusty Old Paper

As I mentioned a while back, Ken Middlebrook was nice enough to share a 1931 track directory for the San Jose area with me. I've put a copy online along with some of the other SP paperwork I've scanned, so go check it out if you're interested in the businesses around San Jose in 1931. If you aren't familiar with the trackage and the street names, you might check out the Dome of Foam's 1947 clear standing room map as well as a 1970's era SP SPINS book to try to correlate track capacity, listing order, and physical location. Note that the back of the directory lists the street location for each numbered siding, and peeking there isn't considered cheating when trying to locate long-gone industries.

The document also has a list of SP phone numbers just in case you wanted to… er… go back in time and make crank calls to the Lamp Room. Assuming you knew what the Lamp Room was, of course. On second thought, the telephone list is probably better for just getting a sense of what offices and roles were needed by the railroad even in the then-small town of San Jose. They're all two digit with various letters and extra digits, so you'd probably have had to go through the switchboard operator anyway.

We've got Ken to thank for the 1931 track directory; he bought it and donated it to History San Jose. I've got more to say on what the track directory says about my 1932 era, but I'll leave those stories for another day. Check it out and add comments here about what interesting facts and details you find about the SP and San Jose in the directory.

I'll throw out one tidbit now, though. The fourth page includes a list of "tags" that clerks should apply to specify car routings - basically two digit numbers to indicate the destination. Cars going to the canneries near Auzerais St in Zone 8 got a tag of "8", while cars destined from Campbell to Santa Cruz got a tag of "72". Cars to Alameda got "61", Oakland "62", and Lawrence and Atherton "35". The tags hint at the likely ranges of the different switch jobs, and how work was partitioned; Campbell was treated differently from Auzerais St. because it would have been outside yard limits and thus served by road crews. (Wait a year, and Campbell would be in yard limits. Bet the zone would have extended, and the Campbell industries would have been switched by yard crews.) The separation between Alameda and Oakland probably hints at the volume of traffic as well as the potentially different routings.

Interestingly, I didn't know much about the tags till I read the 2012 edition of Great Model Railroads a couple weekends ago. Keith Jordan had an article on his Los Angeles switching layout, and he described the route cards idea Santa Fe used in later days for highlighting destinations for cars. On the Santa Fe, the tags were 3 inch square cardboard, intended to be stapled on the car side. I hadn't realized when reading that article that the SP would have used a similar scheme! Tony Thompson mentions route cards as well in one of his recent articles, but the two examples he had were from non-SP railroads. Time to keep an eye out for an SP-style numbered route card...

Again, check out the directory and share what odd or interesting facts you notice!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ryland Street in 1976

If you've got to say one thing for progress around here, it's pretty hard to find undeveloped dirt lots around San Jose these days. Case in point:
E. O. Gibson's 1976 photo of the Freedom Train in San Jose. It's billed as "sitting on display at the site of SP's former San Pedro St. [freight] station", though it might be better billed as "sitting on the site of several old packing houses on the north side of the old yard after they'd bulldozed everything interesting away." The street in the background is Ryland St., and Google Maps shows that the warehouses and little houses are still there. The dirt field is now condos, and Abinante and Nola's plant on Ryland St. was located about where that British bus is parked.

But those houses along the street have cleaned up nicely in the intervening years, at least as seen from Street View.

Just try finding that much undeveloped dirt around San Jose today. It's hard to believe that this pre-1930 photo would have been taken at the same location.

That 1976 photo, by the way, is from one of my favorite railroad sites, the Dome of Foam. Snarky humor, lots of San Jose content, and a serious dose of train order minutiae make it worth an afternoon of reading.