Friday, April 5, 2013


Meeting the SP Extra 5303 at Sandcut, CA, c.1975

When I was in my early teens I saved up my lawn mowing money and purchased a small telescope. I ordered it from Sears. It was a "Tower" brand, 30X power, and it had a very short tripod. It was a terrestrial type scope - like a spotting scope. I often took the scope up into the foothills near our house. I placed the scope on an old log that was laying on the ground, and I started looking.

From this vantage point, I could see much of the Southern Pacific's main line from about Fairfax up to Sandcut. If I saw any train traffic I would take to the scope and watch. It was easy to spot the east-bound traffic because I could hear their horns as they slowly left Bakersfield Yard. I followed them as they ascended the moderate grade toward Sandcut. It was there that I would permanently lose track of them as they made the left-hand turn where they dropped down about 86 feet to Bena.

It was nearly impossible to spot west-bound trains as they emerged into view at Sandcut while looking through the scope. I had no method of knowing when they would show. Sometimes I would be gazing at some of my other favorite things to look at, and would hear the sound of a horn to alert me to the presence of a train. Once-in-awhile, I would hit the jackpot and witness a meet of west and east-bound trains at or near Sandcut. That was as good as it got.

In the late 1950's and early 1960's I was still living in my imagination, and I often placed myself into the locomotives of the trains that I watched. I imagined operating the train up the grade and into the unseen and magical realm of railroad, and mountain passes beyond Sandcut. I tried to visualize what it was like to be on a train through Caliente, and onward to Tehachapi. I practically willed myself into those trains as my daydreams attempted to create a reality that would fulfill my fantasy.

The above image is a representation of the fulfillment of my daydreams. In this photograph I am the Fireman of a helper engine on a train. The train is at Sandcut where the head-end is already around the left-hand curve, and is dropping down to Bena (my camera captures the moment and provides the proof of my "jackpot" win - we met a west-bound freight at the perfect time).

What I did not realize when I was the kid with the telescope, nor when I was the young man in the cab of the locomotive, was that I was capable of setting goals and fulfilling goals. Only in hindsight, did I come to understand the power of intention.

The fifteen-year old Tommy, the thirty-year old T.A. Bethune, and the sixty-seven year old Thomas are all linked in a "Vonnegut" type time warp where past experiences and ages merge into a composite that my limited vocabulary cannot even begin to describe.

I know now, from this perspective, that all the moves and decisions that I made about railroading were the correct ones. I lived a dream. When it was about to become a nightmare, I, in essence, woke up from it, established a new set of goals, and embarked on a quest to fulfill them.