Sunday, January 20, 2013

Define railroad "switch" and "siding"

From: "Terry Ommen"

Thanks for being available for railroad questions. I am writing a book on a subject that touches on two railroad terms for which I need a good description and reference. The terms are "Switch" and "Siding". My book subject matter is set in the San Joaquin Valley of California in the 1870s - 1890s and there is frequent mention of the "Cross Creek Switch" and the Cross Creek Siding". I cannot find a specific description of the Cross Creek Switch or Siding, but I imagine "Switches" and "Sidings" are common terms so I am sure there is a general description of both available. If you could direct me to a source for a good description of these two terms, with source, I would appreciate it.

—Terry L. Ommen


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


In regards to the Southern Pacific's line through the San Joaquin Valley in the 1800's, "switch" was just a term newspapers used for locations that had side tracks or sidings in order to distinguish them from locations that had depots. For the latter type of location, newspapers often tacked on "station" after the railroad name. Thus, for example, references in 1800's southern San Joaquin Valley newspapers include "Fowler switch," "Kings River switch" ["Kings River" was the original railroad name for Kingsburg], "Cross Creek switch," Fresno station," "Goshen station," etc.

In marked contrast, there is no evidence that the SP ever used the terms "Switch" and "Station" in the official names for the early railroad locations in the valley. To the railroad, the names were just "Fowler," "Kings River," "Cross Creek," "Fresno," "Goshen," etc.

Looking at copies of SP documents called "Officers, Agencies and Stations" that I have up to 1916, for the entire main line from Fresno to Los Angeles, as well as valley branch lines, there was only one location that actually had the term "Switch" in its name and that was "Summit Switch" two miles east of the town of Tehachapi. This name first appeared shortly after 1900.

Regarding the term "Station," there was just a handful of SP locations in California that actually had the term in the railroad name, such as "River Station" in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, not all local historians understand how the Southern Pacific did things and many seem unaware of the early newspaper conventions. Thus, Fresno historians repeatedly have stated that the original railroad name for Fresno was "Fresno Station." Not so, the original railroad name was just "Fresno."

The term "Cross Creek switch" appears numerous times in late 1800's southern San Joaquin Valley newspapers, particularly so in Visalia newspapers. Cross Creek was primarily a grain-shipping point. For a short period of time, it had a depot until the agency was transferred to the nearby new town of Traver in 1884 [I have in my notes somewhere more precise dates for the Cross Creek agency. If I find them, I'll make a new posting].

A siding is usually considered, on a main line at least, a point where opposing trains can meet each other, with switches at both ends of the siding track. While Cross Creek did have a siding, I don't recall ever seeing the term "Cross Creek Siding" in any newspaper (I have read on microfilm almost every issue of every southern San Joaquin Valley newspaper for the late 1800's period).

The SP did use the term "Switch" in numerous location names in northern California. I suspect such places mostly had dead-ended spur tracks servicing local industries.

By the way, Cross Creek (the railroad location) was 28 miles south of Fresno. Tulare County historians have written in the publication "Los Tulares" that the creek itself got the name because the railroad "crossed" it. That is ridiculous. The name "Cross Creek" for the creek was in use well before the coming of the railroad. In 1905, the SP shortened the railroad name to just "Cross."

—John Sweetser

3/11/2013 1:49 AM  

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