Sunday, November 25, 2012


Colors on the Silver Screen, the Engine Facility, Western Pacific Railroad, Portola, 2012

In the mid nineteen-seventies, I worked as a "hostler" at the Southern Pacific yard at Bakersfield. My duties as a hostler were to move locomotives within the engine facility where individual locomotives were serviced, repaired and stored. There were numerous storage areas including the roundhouse, which had somewhere around a dozen bays, about another dozen tracks for individual locomotives outside and adjacent to the roundhouse tracks, the turntable, two service tracks where the locomotives were refueled and serviced, and a ready track.

I think to be a hostler that one was required to be a "promoted" engineman (engineer), because we often took consists (more than one locomotive configured to operate as a single engine) from the ready track out into the yard and onto the train. We did so with head-end power and with helper engines of eastbound trains that had remotely operated helper engines. Switchmen directed us to an empty track. We were then to proceed down to the east end of the yard. At the east end, another switchman would take us to the designated track and couple us to the waiting train. Meanwhile, another hostler would be directed by a switch engine crew to take his consist of helper units to be "cut into" the rear portion of the same train (usually somewhere in the rear third of the train).

Once the train was set (the air hoses all coupled and the train line charged with compressed air), we would conduct the air brake test. We did these functions with the remotes in an effort by management to save time for the engine and train crews. Normally, it was the train's engineer who would take the power from the ready track to the train, but that entire process took too long especially after the twelve-hour rule went into effect.

As a hostler, I loved doing these tasks because my pay was based on the weight of the heaviest engine (an engine is a locomotive or multiple locomotives that are coupled together, and that operate as a single engine) that I operated during the shift. It was fun too, whenever we took a consist down the mainline to the east end because we could go fast at main line speeds whereas on yard tracks we were restricted to ten miles-per-hour.