Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Model Railroad Sudoku

As I've mentioned before, I love model railroading as a hobby because there's so many different types of projects I can do.  If I'm feeling detail-oriented, I can tune the mechanism of a balky locomotive.  If I'm feeling creative, I can cover myself in plaster.  If I'm feeling analytic, I can play Sudoku.


Well, practically Sudoku.

One of the many questions I'd love to know about the real life San Jose-Los Gatos branch was how those trains operated.  What was a typical day for a brakeman? Was the work switching the canneries and packing plant a hard and undesirable job?   Were the same people on the job for months, or was the work being done by whatever inexperienced employees were handy?

Information like this is sometimes available in time books, the notebooks that railroaders kept to record their hours and wages.  These usually had significant detail on the jobs being done.  For example, in this time book for a fireman working out of Portland in 1939, you can see how Mr. Hendershott did most of his time in yard switching wherever he could get work - Portland, Albany, or Corvallis - with occasional higher-paying road trips on long distance trains.  He also spent significant amounts of time away from Portland getting hours. With some non-trivial analysis, it's possible to extract other details out of the books.

I've never found one of these books for my area and my era.  Chuck Catania, though, found one from 1949 that he thought was from San Jose.  Here are the images of the pages from that book.  Unlike the Portland book, there's not much here - a date, a three digit number, a couple letters, something that might be a time, something that might be a locomotive number, and a name.  These aren't the standard columns, so it's hard to tell what was being recorded.

Luckily, some careful research and inference can help.  Chuck had originally noticed that the phone number for the owner, Mr. Gray, was for a San Jose phone exchange - Axminster 6-5114.  A quick web search shows that the AX6 exchange was used by San Jose, while AX0-5 would have been for Santa Clara.  That's a potential match.  The crew call number on the first page has a CYpress exchange, also an old phone number, so Chuck's assumption that this is a San Jose book is seeming more realistic.  A quick dash to ancestry.com's city directories shows that a John A. Gray lived in Cupertino in 1949, and he was a yardman for the Southern Pacific.

Ah, a yardman - now the book is making more sense.  He wouldn't have been on long distance trains, so he wouldn't have needed all the various entries in the pre-printed book, explaining why he made up his own unmarked columns.

Next step: the second-to-last column might be locomotive numbers, times, or something else.  Times won't work; there's a couple where the last two digits are greater than 60.  Some of the numbers look like locomotive numbers (including some diesels and some steam), but the 19xx number doesn't match a known locomotive, and it seems odd that he used the same locomotive so frequently.

More importantly, the owner of the book summed that entire column on a few pages, wrote "total" on the bottom line, and put a dollar sign before one of the totals. Those numbers must represent the pay for each day, with Mr. Gray making $175.39 in the first half of September 1949, and $287.08 in the second half. Because yardmen were paid for 8 hours of work, the pay was mostly constant: either $12.26, $12.72, $13.57, $18.55, or $19.50. Those amounts might seem odd unless you look at the back page where Mr. Gray noted potential pay per month: "30 days at Foreman: $407.10, Helper: 381.60, Herder: 367.80". The day rates have the same ratio: yardman helper gets 3% more than a herder, and 6% less than a foreman. The higher rates match the time that "Gray" was listed in the right hand column, suggesting it's listing the foreman for the job. The $18.55 and $19.50 rates were with overtime, with the highest rates again in the cases where Gray was foreman.

Let's turn to that second column again. Each is a number and a pair of letters: "706 BRd". The letters are either "BRd", "PA", "CP", or "NS". Some thought and searching turns up possibilities: they're the names of either yards or yard assignment positions. "CP" is obviously College Park, the older San Jose yard, and the location for all the extra freight jobs that Mr. Gray held. "NS" probably is Newhall St. and refers to the Newhall Yard next to the Santa Clara station. Newhall Yard was the newer yard on the main line, and handled through freights, I suspect, because of its location. For "BRd" and "PA", I'd originally guessed "Palo Alto (California St)" and either "Butler Road" (in South San Francisco), "Berryessa Road" (for the east side of San Jose) or "Redwood Junction" (after one entry that looked like "BRJ"). A better guess would be "Brokaw Road" for the north end of Newhall St, which counted as a separate job into the 1970's, and "Park Ave" for the crews servicing the Cahill St. passenger station.

Decoding the numbers required shoving all those entries into a spreadsheet for better analysis. Sorting by the unknown number showed that the number always matched the letter code - 700-709 for "BR", 720-739 for "CP", 740-759 for "NS", and 760-763 for "PA". One guess is these are job numbers; most of the time, entries for the same job number also have the same third column, suggesting it's a start time. Job 704 was a Brokaw Road job starting at 7:59 am, 711 was a College Park job that started at 3:59 pm (because it was the second job of the day at least once.) The 760's make sense for Park Ave. because they were numbered consecutively job 764, the depot herder. (Herder jobs were yardmen on foot throwing switches, and paid less than jobs on the locomotive.)

All the high-pay days match the days where Mr. Gray worked two shifts in the same day, suggesting the extra pay for the second job was because of overtime.

So what did I learn from all of this?

  • I'll bet most of those "X Eng" jobs were cases where Mr. Gray worked extra freights switching in the San Jose area. Considering the sheer number (about a third of the jobs he did), I'd guess these were all the local freight jobs, suggesting that some of those runs might have been switching the Los Gatos branch. It would be interesting to learn whether in the 1930's which jobs were handled by yard crews, and which had to be handled by crews on extra freights. The locations of the extra freights suggests that the local switching jobs were handled out of College Park rather than Newhall Yard.
  • Gray might have been a junior crew member because he was switching jobs all over the place, but he had enough experience to be foreman in around 30 of the jobs, often on extras.
  • Gray was also working awfully frantically, with few if any days off between September and December 5. Once winter hit, he wasn't working again til March 1950, and only got two weeks of work done before the log book ends. I wonder - did he give up on the railroad, or just get a new log book? The long run without breaks, and the occasional double shifts, make railroading sound like an awfully hard career.
  • Now that I know about the different jobs, I know more about railroading in San Jose. Various friends have mentioned former yard crews in San Jose; now, if I ever talk to any, I'll know to ask which jobs they worked, where they started their days, and which jobs would have served the canneries and packing houses of San Jose.
My big questions:
  • What's the difference between Newhall St and Brokaw Road jobs - north and south ends of the yard, or was there a real difference in the work?
  • Who handled switching the various industries - would the yard crews do such work, or only the extra trains?
  • Which jobs were the desirable ones? Mr. Gray didn't get many chances to work the depot; were these considered easier work?
  • Which jobs were morning, and which were evening? I can infer this partially from the days when Mr. Gray had two jobs, but don't fully know how often yard jobs ran overnight.
And that's why I don't need to buy Sudoku books.

1 comment:

  1. A good description of the deductive reasoning process. A lot of work too.