The 5th annual Pacific Coast Railroad Roundup was deemed a success, despite this years’ event being only for one day. Due to tumultuous economic times, we had to scale back the show some, but the people came out and everyone had a great time.
The week began early as the Sunday before was a charter run for a birthday party. Porter No. 3 held down the chores as “Grumps” Badger and “Hot Water” Hovanitz ran the locomotive with Dennis Thurman, Patti LaRose, Brad LaRose and Rob Himoto taking care of the guests on the train.
On Monday, Grumps went right to work with help from Jarret LaRose. First up was getting the No. 1, Caroline, back into shape. The last time she ran for the SLO film festival, a tube began to leak. Former CMO Phil Reader had made an attempt to roll it but to no avail. After a few hours of re-engineering the setup for the tube roll and breaking it, finally success! The tube was holding pressure. Other needed maintenance was performed including boiler washes and tubes punched.
Jim McEntire oiling the No. 3 (Jamie Foster)
Wednesday was a test day for the Caroline. Jarret and Grumps put a fire in her and she came up real nice. We went into the north yard to make up the freight train for the weekend and that is where it all came apart. Someone had greased the inside of the rails around Horseshoe Curve and on a locomotive with tall drivers and no sand, well lets just say it was an interesting time trying to move those heavy old cars out of the yard. Finally after 3 hours of slipping, and a greenhorn brakeman, we doubled the hill with the help of Plymouth #594 and got the train into Horsehead Siding.
Just like the big ones! (Jamie Foster)
Thursday was a day with more volunteers coming out to get ready for the event. Jim McEntire was there to knock the cars and make some sticks for the finicky windows on the Retlaw 1 coaches.
Friday we had our rulebook review and yearly test for all crews. After lunch, hands on training occurred in the yard with a Plymouth and two coaches with everyone taking a turn at coupling and uncoupling, using the safety chains, the proper way to tie down the brakes and setting a skate, use of the glad hands, and running the Plymouth with hand signals. We finished up at 5:00 pm and went to beans down at Players.
Smiles like this make it all worth it (Jamie Foster)
The day of the event dawned bright and early. Grumps and young LaRose were on a pre-dawn, o-dark-thirty fire up. There is nothing like the breaking of silence as two steam locomotives are simmering at first light. Crews began to arrive by 7:30 and at 8:30 we held a briefing in the Tractor Shop after making up our trains for the day. First guests arrived at 9:00 am and we were ready to take on the day. We had some guest crew members from the Hillcrest & Wahtoke in Reedley, CA in the form of Dave Kope, John Bishop, and Sean Bautista who fired and ran our locomotives while giving relief to our crews. The day went well. Our dispatcher again this year was Bryce Reynolds who kept things moving and from running into each other. And one cannot help but mention our fine station masters, Mary Harlow and Ginney O-C who greet the passengers in the waiting area at Vineyard Station and assist with special needs guests and the loading and unloading of passengers.
Conductor Dennis "Cookie" Thurman watching for signals (by Jamie Foster)
Our fine conductors and car attendants really are coming into their own this year as we learn more and more about running a railroad safely and with hospitality towards our guests. As you can see in the pictures, each one takes their responsibility seriously and they are having fun in the process.
Not only did we have two passenger trains on the line, but Karl Hovanitz debuted his new Fairmont Speeder and was chasing trains all day long with Aron Kahn and himself as operators. The speeder was such a hit and the lines were so long for a ride, that we are looking for more next year to come and participate.
Just like a NASCAR race, we have a pit crew for servicing our locomotives during this hectic event. Mike O-C is in charge of the pit crews and does a fantastic job of seeing to it that engines are watered and fueled, along with refreshments for the crews.
28 round trips later for each locomotive, and it was over! Well almost…
Every year as a reward for those who work hard to make this all happen, and for the die hard railfans who come, we switch out the coaches and couple on to the freight cars. This year with the hard work of Phil Reader, Karl Hovanitz and other volunteers, we placed Karl’s former D&RGW boxcar in the consist. Freshly painted, it looked nice and added some more tonnage to our train. With Caroline coupled to the train and the Porter on the point, we took our first trip around the line with a 5 car freight, another first for our little railroad. After spotting at the Granary, we broke for Pizza and some debriefing. Afterwards, all the crew that were left, came out for the annual group photo on the No. 1.
Then the Caroline separated from the Porter and backed down the grade on the main while No. 3 went into the siding at Horsehead. The freight pulled past and Engineer LaRose made the joint as the helper on the rear of the caboose. In a pre-determined job brief, Grumps asked that Caroline do the chores unless the No. 3 is called upon by using the proper whistle signals. Away we went. The #1 was just
The mercenary engine crews brought in from Reedley to fight the FrankenPorter! Left to Right: Sean Bautista, Dave Kope and John Bishop from Hillcrest Shops (Jeff Badger)
barking up around the Estrada Gardens curve and out the headquarters gate. A small set of air and then a little more throttle to get up and over Vineyard Hill. We drifted down all the way to runway station and through the crossing. Harry Harlow was firing the Caroline and doing such a fine job, that the safeties were always near liftoff, so Grumps just had to lay a weight on the whistle cord to keep the popping off!
As the train came across Pico Creek and around Horseshoe Curve, we began the ascent up to Little Tassajara Creek bridge and with the grade settling over the past few years, the climb is at a good 5% incline. Grumps eased out on the throttle and dropped down a notch on the J-bar. Caroline dug in for the climb and she was handling the train very well. Across the bridge we went, leveling off as we headed for the North Yard Switch. Grumps hooking up the the engine to conserve steam for the “S” curves and ruling grade that was ahead of him
The No. 1 was in a groove, just working at a good pace. Plenty of water and plenty of steam. We went over the switch and began the stiff climb up Horsehead Grade. Through one curve and then the other, the No. 1 was down on her heels. Realizing that we might stall, Grumps whistled out one long and two short, the call for some help from #3. Engineer LaRose answered back on his 5 chime and soon a slight bump was felt and Grumps new the grade would be conquered! A long grade crossing was whistled as we came into Vineyard Station. We stopped and more passengers got on either riding in the caboose or on the tender of one of the locomotives, and off we went again for a second trip.
The Iron Horse Chef's triumphant return; this time, with enchiladas! ¡Muy bien!
We put the trains to bed after that and looked at each other and the memories we just created. It was just awesome to hear and to see that kind of railroading recreated from a century ago.
Many thanks go out to our crew of volunteers and to the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum for putting on this event each year. And special thanks to Phil Reader, our former CMO, who has taken this equipment and made it safe and operable. Grumps has some big shoes to fill with his departure, but we know he and Karell are keeping tabs on us from Colorado. But we would not have any of this if it were not for the benevolence of Mr. Rob Rossi. I only wish he and his son Luke could have been there for the freight train to see what it was like back in the day.
‘Till next time…
-Jeff “Grumps” Badger
(Photos thanks to Jamie Foster and Mike Massee)