• SP Passenger Trains - "A Bum Rap"

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by Gilbert B Norman
OK, let's try something here.

The following material appeared "pre March 12' at the fromer Southern Pacific Forum, and has been pasted here from the material currently available through archive.org. The webmaster has assured me that this site's owner holds the rights not only to material posted here prior to March 12, but also to material posted at the predecessor Railroad.net Forums (John Stewart, owner - closed March 2002).

I have chosen to resurrect this material and hopefully engender further discussion because I have recently noted postings at other boards stating to the effect of "the SP was deliberately screwing up passenger trains". The funny thing is that to the best of my knowledge one of these authors I don't think was even on the planet when the SP last ran a train for their own account.

Well, as one who has "been there done that", I heartilly disagree and hopefully this pasted material (mine and others) will refute that statement and start some discussion here.

Unwarranted "whipping boy"
Gilbert B Norman
Fortunately, I had enough occasions to ride pre-Amtrak SP trains, and, as I think back over 30+ years, I think they got a "bum rap".

While there is no question that management "threw in the towel" somewhere about 1955 when other Western carriers were still ordering new equipment, I believe there was pride and style to their operation right up to "the end" .

My first SP ride was the "Shasta Daylight" during June 1962. The scenery, then as now, great. The extra large window coaches were just what were needed through the scenic wonderland. The "Hamburger in a Basket" was excellent and great value - Chili's (whom I think are good) could take a lesson from SP. Train was some one hour off ar Dunsmuir, but "as good as" on time at 16th Street.

I never did get to ride an SP Ferry across the Bay.

Next ride was a few days later on the Coast Daylight. Here the equipment was obviously "older", being the original "prewar" articulated coaches. But it was immaculately clean and maintained (as was any SP equipment I rode - anywhere). The marvelous scenery, the route guide, the excellent hamburger, a crystal clear day for Coast viewing, an on time arrival - is this railroad really trying to kill trains??????

Next ride was during December 1963 aboard the "Golden State" Chi-El Paso. While the equipment was still clean, and the SP cars at least well maintained, the train simply lacked the amenities of the "City" or "Super". Dome car? what's that, and the RI trackage to Santa Rosa NM was definirtely "rock and roll". Adding insult to injury, they charged an "Extra Fare"

The following day, it was on to LA aboard the Sunset. At that time the departure from El Paso was "roundly" 11 PM with an arrival in LA about 6PM. By then the "Sunset" cars had been dispersed a bit, but there were enough in the consist for me to appreciate that if they represented SP's "last hurrrah" for passenger service, what a grand one it was..

Also on that trip was a SB ride on "The Lark" (flew LAX-SFO, sorry bout that). Here even in the latter years were sleepers "stretching out of sight" (I would guess 10) and the famous triple unit "Lark Club" diner-lounge.

The "late evening" menu billed a Steak Sandwich, but to me forget the sandwich part. My roomette was on the "engineer's" side; raised the shade on a crystal clear day at Point Conception (can't always count on the crystal clear part; I've driven on CA1 in the fog) followed with an excellent breakfast in the Lark Club where one prrtion of the car that is lounge in the evning became a diner for breakfast.

My next trip on the SP was July 1968 Fairfield-Oakland. Having spent the past year over in "The Nam", and reading how railroad operated trains were in their death throes (TRAINS was in the Base Library, as were two day old New York Times and Wall Street Journals) "What will be left when I get back?". I had a year-old SP time table with me; I was off the bird at Travis and free to leave at 6AM: According to a TT I had, this was an "on-day" for a SB "Cascade" leaving Suisun-Fairfield at about 7AM. Cab driver knew where the station was (nice guy at that; I'll bet he got back to Travis in time to get an SFO fare). Well 7am comes and here comes the Cascade. The consist was still "healthy" and the triple unit "Cascade Club" was there. However, I was still in my Air Force uniform, and a lady sitting across from me at Breakfast called me a "baby killer", etc, etc. I knew we had lost the war.

My next ride Sacramento-Ogden (Oalkand-SAC had been on the Zephyr); I honestly cannot tell you much about, as I was asleep by Auburn and stayed so until raising the shade over Great Salt Lake.

Also, on this same trip was a ride on the Daylight San Luis Obispo-LA. My mother was with me (train lover, not a fan; my father too "Type A" for a train ride much beyond his commuter train Riverside, CT-New York); here, sorry to report downgrading was evident. the only food service was the Automat, but there was a full length SP dome in consist.

My final SP overnight ride was December 1970 aboard the "Sunset" New Orleans-El Paso. This was after the SP had removed all sleeping and dining cars from the train, leaving only an Automat for food service. However, in exchange for tri-weekly service, the SP agreed to restore Sleeping and Dining service - including a through NY-LA car. In a word, the SP lived up to their side of the bargain. Train was immaculate and the Dining service same. And the timekeeping; one hour late out of Houston, but on time into El Paso. When you read of Amtrak Sunset delays that appear to be attributable to poor dispatchment, you wonder where are those guys whom expertly "holed" the EB freights and "ran around" the WB's so that as a passenger, you thought you were the only train on the road.

So that's it; except for my "very last" SP ride - an SF-Menlo Park during May 1983 in an imaculately clean "Harriman" coach.

Message posted 5/19/2002 1:09:00 PM
Member RE: SP Passenger Trains - "A Bum Rap"
In the early 1970's I had the opportunity, as an Amtrak manager involved in operations and maintenance of equipment, to handle much of the "first-generation" Amtrak fleet from the various (now) "fallen flag" railroads, including SP.

For a carrier with such a well-publicized and negative image with respect to its passenger business, I was quite surprised to find that SP's passenger equipment, as it was received by Amtrak, had been maintained in superb mechanical condition (albeit threadbare on upholstery, carpets, and such "cosmetic" items). These cars were widely dispersed by Amtrak.

The trucks on the SP cars were tight and free of rattles. Those cars equipped with "C-frame" disc brakes had all their resilient (vibration absorbing) components in good order.

We handled their newest (Sunset) cars, and others, including those large-windowed Shasta coaches, as well.

The SP, in maintaining its cars, certainly did as good a job as any other Class I railroad; in fact, they did a much better job than most.

Message posted 7/20/2002 7:54:00 AM
Member RE: SP Passenger Trains - "A Bum Rap"
SP cars showed up on the Amtrak "South Wind" and later the "Floridian." They wre in good shape. I recall several trips where I ate in an SP diner which was in full Sunset livery - interesting to ride the L&N in a car with a "desert" motif.

work safe

Message posted 8/16/2002 4:08:00 PM
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Sat Oct 02, 2004 9:03 am, edited 3 times in total.
  by bill haithcoat
Gilbert Norman, as you know I am another one who has "been there done that" and I concur. While obviously something did go very wrong at SP headquarters, my own personal experiences were good. I rode the City of SF and various trains up and down the west coast and always had good service.

I remember SP had its own version of a coffee container, the same kind at least in my mind, as that used on Amtrak today.

Favorite SP memory, frozen in time, was waking up, going the diner the last morning out on the City of SF from CHI to Sf. The day before I had eaten in the grand and glorious UP dome diner(part of City of LA). The SP diner the next morning was a more avarage car, but we were going through ghost towns, possibly my first time to see them, and also my first time to ntoice their little glass-like coffee containers. (I'm not using the right word, I know)
  by Gilbert B Norman
I hope Mr. Benton will see fit to allow my following thought to stand, but will understand if he chooses otherwise.

I sincerely wish to thank Andheuser Busch during Super Bowl XXXIX for giving recognition to "US" who served during less than "popular' wars. Please note my experience reported above upon completion of my Viet Nam service.

'Desert Storm' was of course a no-brainer; 'we whupped 'em' and had parades to prove it.

But as public support for 'Iraqi Freedom' wanes and the outcome is far from certain, let's remember that 95% of the 'guys and gals' going over there are simply doing so because they have been told to do just that and to be so directed is simply a 'condition of employment'.

Thank you again Andheuser Busch; I'm proud to share with the Forum the "disclaimer' that I hold a position in BUD within a brokerage account.

  by The S.P. Caboose
Like you, Mr. Norman, I also feel as if the Southern Pacific did get "A Bum Rap". I grew up near the old El Segundo Branch, now living near the Coastline (MP 449.2).

Sputhern Pacific's tracks went thru some very scenic places. It was very nice to ride the SP passenger trains around the system.

Several years ago (1980 something) SP crews still maned the Santa Barbara Depot. They were true to the old slogan, seen as my signature, always willing to talk and be helpful to the railfans and train crews.