Saturday, September 08, 2007

Tower at the crossing, Dixon, CA

From: "Jane Barry"

My father worked for the Southern Pacific, I believe, in 1937-8, in Dixon, CA. He worked in a tower at the crossing. Can anyone tell me what kinds of things he might have done?

—Jane Barry


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"

Not a lot ... except a lot of going up and downstairs to flag the road crossing for the passage of frequent (two per hour or so by day) Bay Area-Sacramento local passenger trains – like The Senator, The Assemblyman, The Governor, The El Dorado and others – the long distance transcontintal trains like the Overland, the new diesel-powered streamliner City of San Francisco (debuted in 1938), and a few other lesser transcons. There would also be perhaps a half dozen intercity/local and transcontintal freight trains during the day, maybe that same number by night (depending on what shift he worked).

By day he would have carried a red cloth flag about 12x18 inches on an oak staff about 30 inches long, or more likely a round yellow-painted metal disk with the boldly painted black word "STOP" on both sides, also mounted on a staff. By night he would have carried a red kerosene hand lantern.

A grade crossing flagman's job was nothing more than that – to guard vehicular traffic and pedestrians from passing trains. This was all before automatic electric crossing signals for the most part. I don't know for certain whether the road he protected had manually cranked-down crossing gate arms in the late '30s, but if there were such, he'd have to lower and raise them one gate on each side of the railroad (double tracks through Dixon then as now).

Local passenger trains like the Senators would have halted at the small depot in Dixon; the streamliner City of San Francisco would have roared through town at barely diminished speed – perhaps 50 to 70 mph. I'm not sure about the steam-powered Overland – a check of 1938 passenger or employee timetables would reveal if there was a stop for this train at Dixon; I rather doubt it stopped however, being barely second in importance to the streamliner. Most freights would have plodded through town, seldom faster than 40mph, and more likely moving at about 20-30mph.

If you can lay your hands on a copy of Lucius Beebe's out-of-print book, The Central Pacific & The Southern Pacific Railroads (Howell-North Books, 1963) on page 248 there's a fine photo looking up at a crossing towerman (in Glendale, CA in 1947) taken by Richard Steinheimer. The setting at Dixon would have been much the same as Los Feliz Blvd in Glendale: a tiny elevated wooden shack painted SPRR yellow and brown about ten to fifteen feet off the ground on one side of the railroad tracks. Another out-of-print book, likely a little harder to find, Southern Pacific Bay Area Steam by Harre Demoro (Chatham Publishing, 1979) has an excellent picture of a crossing flagman on the ground around 1930 at 7th & Berry Streets in San Francisco as a local passenger train takes over the road crossing.

—Kevin Bunker, Portland OR

9/08/2007 9:08 PM  

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