THE YUMA DISTRICT: AN INTRODUCTION
Welcome to the Yuma District
The Southern Pacific Lines, comprised of the rails of
the Southern Pacific Transportation and the
The Yuma District is one of five in the West Colton
Division; it extends from
In the past, the Yuma District has been called the Yuma Subdivision; the SP seems to change the appellation back and forth over time.
The Reason for a Guidebook
What is the purpose of this guidebook? It's to assist the SP rail enthusiast, the railroad modeler, perhaps even the occasional SP employee to have a better sense of feel for the Yuma District and the country through which the railroad passes. It's for the armchair railfan, for the folks who would rather not fight the traffic, the desert, the heat. It's for the railroaders who for whatever reason can't get to the Yuma District, whether because of distance, money, health, or bad tires.
This guidebook attempts to provide an general overview of the railroad as it existed in 1990. I tried to pay attention to detail so that, as I said before, if you're not able to get out and about the Yuma District, that by reading this you'll still get a good feel for the railroad and its physical plant.
The guidelines that are set forth in the following paragraphs are exactly that; these are the rules of observation and reporting that I attempt to follow while researching the
railroad. They will also help to explain features of the book and the methods for measurement and recording.
What To Include in a Guidebook
A difficult problem was what to make note of and what to ignore. I hope that I have recalled all the pertinent details and left out most of the chaff. In areas where there is a dense population of railroad features (signals, switches, bridges, grade crossings) this isn't a problem. There is always something to write about and there are plenty of landmarks and points of interest for the reader. But in the stretches of spare country, like between GLAMIS (MP698.1) and CACTUS (MP712.3), there are few landmarks to go by and so I will pay a bit more attention to minor drainages, power lines and dirt roads.
Data Collection Techniques
Like many of you, I have spent weekends cruising the Tehachapi Loop, checking out the Lone Pine Branch (Trona Line), waiting atop the Pepper Street Bridge at the east end of the Departure Yard at West Colton, watching the action or the lack thereof. I noticed that many others seemed to do the same thing, and that everyone had their own secrets to successful railfanning.
I found no source of information that really described the railroad at the detail that I desired, especially out in the forbidding reaches of the Yuma Line. So I began to write down everything that I saw or heard, whether from railfans or railroaders. I used a microcassette recorder to capture on tape many bits of information that were too fleeting to stop the car and write down.
In all, compilation of this Guide has cost at least several hundred hours of time in the field, a few dollars in repairs to my car, and probably a failed relationship or two in my personal life.
Explanation Of Descriptions
Being of moderately well-ordered mind, it seems apparent that a sensible method of constructing a Guide is to write one that uses the nearly ubiquitous Milepost as the index. So this Guide starts at the lowest Milepost on a route, and proceeds upward. By definition, this is always eastbound, although it's sometimes less than apparent that the rails are going anywhere near eastbound.
Location names are printed in CAPITAL letters for three reasons. The first reason is that it may be a station or siding and so is called out in the Southern Pacific Western Region Timetable dated October 1987. Second, it may also signify a name of a specific place referred to by either train crews or by the dispatcher. An example of the first instance is "the west switch of North GARNET Siding"; Garnet siding is described in the Timetable. Of course, the third reason is that the reader can see it that much more easily during a quick scan of the manual.
A fine example of the second occurrence is the BLYTHE
CROSSING (MP612.9); this is actually where
Almost all switches not directly coupled into the main track will have a number stenciled on their target. This number refers to the spur that the switch controls and not to the switch itself. Examples of this are the interchange tracks at Niland: The same numbers are on the switch targets at either end of the track (tracks 0592, 0593 or 0594). So technically the switch labeled 0594 at around MP666.9 would be described as "the switch (or turnout) at the west end of 594". But in some cases the spur is single-ended, and therefore there is only one switch target with that number, as exists at the equipment spur 1145 near the west end of Glamis siding. The point is that although the number is specific only to the spur track I will use that number to refer to either the switch or the spur; the text description will (hopefully) clarify the reference.
The Yuma District consists of the Yuma Line and six
branch lines that act as feeders.
The Yuma Line is the primary portion of track in the District,
and certainly the most important freight route and through route for
the traffic coming from the west coast and headed to the southeast and
east; depending on season, the southern route can be safer, faster and
more reliable than the central route through
The guidebook stresses operations on the Yuma Line, with auxiliary chapters on the various branch lines within the District.
The guidebook is organized by milepost: the guide begins with the lowest milepost number and, in the case of the SP, travels eastbound. I have made numerous trips along the right-of-ways in both directions, and I debated at some length as to how I could construct a book that could be read either east to west or west to east. I looked at other types of guides that I have seen in the past; I could see no simple way to present a bi-directional trip log. If you intend to travel the route east to west, then you'll have to read backwards, just like me.
Mileposts along the SP are almost always marked with a milepost sign. Sometimes a trackside signal line pole doubles as the post, but often there is a special pole devoted to milepost duty, sitting all alone, perhaps even on the opposite side of the tracks from the signal line poles. In a few instances, the milepost sign (the number board) is missing, but on these occasions you can usually recognize the post since the lower half of the post itself is painted white. If the whole post is missing, you'll have to rely upon your odometer or upon the "count the poles" method.
The signal line poles along the right-of-way support power, control and signal wires that carry the commands that the dispatcher issues to operate the railroad. There are, on average, about thirty-three poles per mile. Depending on the soil type, weather conditions and such there may be more or less; the minimum number I have counted between mileposts is twenty-five and the maximum nearly forty.
While wandering around along the right-of-way, I will often use these poles to estimate my position with respect to the mileposts. For instance, if the number of poles per mile has been averaging 30, the distance covered by three poles is about 0.1 mile. This comes in handy when you find that your odometer is inaccurate or there are few culverts or bridges with stenciled markings indicating their locations.
I could have used pole count for the distances as described in this book: for instance, the bridge at MP673.7 I could have described as MP673+27, where 27 is the number of poles east of the 673 milepost marker. Although it might have been of some added ease for a few people, I realized that the majority would prefer the locations given in actual miles, so that most could consult maps without necessarily having to have been there. However, some of the distances I measured in making up this guide are based upon pole count.
The accuracy of my measurements is about 0.1 mile; therefore I do not display more precision than that. I always round down to the previous 0.1 mile. The bridge that crosses the American Girl Wash has the location 715.78 stenciled upon the abutment; I will include this bridge in the list of items for the milepost 715.7.
Often there are multiple items of interest in a given tenth mile; generally the guide book will always list the features in order of location. However, the most predominate railroad features in that tenth mile will always get top billing over any other observations, with the following text clarifying the order of appearance. An example is the following listing from Milepost 576.5:
West Switch Fingal Siding
Fingal Siding Length 11373'
The most important structure is the Mons Crossover itself, followed closely by the fact that this location is the east end of the Mons Siding and the west end of the Fingal Siding; there are signal bridges at either end of the crossover. Lastly, the Colorado River Aqueduct that supplies the majority of water to Southern California passes under the tracks just a few dozen feet west of the west end of the Crossover.
Also note that there are a few irregularities concerning the mileposts: the tracks cross Mammoth Wash on a 200' bridge with the marked location of 679.98; however, the 680 milepost is immediately west of the bridge. Therefore sometimes the mile markers aren't exactly where they should be. Often it will seem that the distance between mileposts is not exactly 1.00 miles. It rarely is.
OK. So you read that MP552.7 is the site of the EL CASCO Station. Then immediately after that entry, the mysterious "RIV9BB6" appears. What's that, you ask?
I had to standardize on some set of maps for the reader to begin with. The United States Geological Survey topographical maps (topos) are a wonderful trove of invaluable mapping information, but aren't generally much good as day-to-day highway maps. Since the Automobile Club of Southern California is not in the habit of distributing their fine maps to the general public, the next best are the publications of the Thomas Bros. Map Company and the DeLorme Company.
Both companies provide a set of mapbooks that cover
Errors, Corrections and Plain Untruths
Most all of the field observations taken for this Guidebook were made between March 1989 and May 1991. I have strived to report accurately all the information in this Guide and have attempted to keep the errors to a minimum since there is little advantage to me to fabricate untruths. I have no affiliation with the Southern Pacific, except as an interested observer and have no secret hot line to the people in the know. In fact, as was mentioned in the book The Southern Pacific, 1901 - 1985 and from personal communications with SP employees, much of the history of the company is lost to the company. What remains rests outside the company and in the minds of the employees and retirees of the railroad.
Since the Southern Pacific is a living, dynamic entity, there will be regular changes and modifications to its equipment and physical plant, and what is in evidence one day may be nothing more than a bit of subroadbed or a few scattered ties a month later. I therefore cannot guarantee anything more than that I have made an honest attempt at reporting.
I welcome any information from readers that helps to
clear misunderstandings that I might have inadvertently caused. I also hope that those with additional
information about the railroad's history in this region will come forth
so that it may be included in any future editions (Hope Springs Eternal)
of this Guide. In fact,
I hope that there will be subsequent editions that cover other portions
of the Southern Pacific Lines, the
Reference Materials Used for this Guide
There is obviously no one book that has provided me
with the information that this book contains. (If there was, I would have bought it instead
of writing this). Of course
much of what is detailed here is through field work: personal reconnaissance,
talking with railroad employees, camping out along the route and watching
the traffic. Books about
The following is a partial list indicating the major references used. The list is not exhaustive, and I'm sure that there are many references that I never saw that might provide me with a clearer picture.
"Western Region Timetable 2", Southern Pacific Transportation Company, October 25, 1987
"Western Region Timetable 3", Southern Pacific Transportation Company, October 29, 1989
"All About Signals", John Armstrong, Kalmbach Publishing Co., 1957
"Trackwork Handbook", Paul Mallery, Boynton and Assoc., 1977
"The History of The Southern Pacific", Bill Yeane, Bison Books, 1985
"The Southern Pacific, 1901 - 1985",
"Southern Pacific Country", Donald Sims, Trans-Anglo Books, 1987
"City-Makers", Remi Nadeau, Trans-Anglo Books, 1955
Trains Magazine, CTC Board, Pacific Rail News, Various Issues
"Flimsies! The Newsmagazine of Western Railroading", many issues
"The History of
"The Compendium of Signals", R. F.
Karl, The Builder's Compendium,
Unpublished List of Railroad Frequencies, Greg Ramsey / Brian Hunell, 1990
Mapbooks and Maps
"San Bernardino & Riverside Counties Street Guide & Directory", Thomas Bros. Maps, 1987
"Salton Sea", Kym's Guide, Triumph
United States Geological Survey, 7-1/2 and 15 minute maps
A POCKETBOOK HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY OF THE
The Southern Pacific Transportation Company (SP) spans
15 states with 17,000 route-miles of track - a western transportation
colossus. Since its earliest
beginnings in 1850 as the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railroad
The Southern Pacific In
The history of the SP in
By 1874, the SP, which had known for some time the economic
importance of building a second, southern route across the country,
began to actually undertake the task.
This route would take the railroad south through
Politics in Southern California put a detour in this
most direct route; soon by congressional order the SP would be required
to abandon its route over the
The year 1875 saw the Southern Pacific building down
Now that SP had grudgingly completed its involuntary
By fall of 1876 the railroad had made it up through
San Timoteo Canyon, south of
The remaining miles across the southeastern tip of
One story of the conquering of
By the time the soldiers had sobered up sufficiently,
the SP was established in
(However colorful this tale is, I suspect that reality
was a bit more monochrome, especially since there were only a few soldiers
By 1881 the railhead was at
GEOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY: The Setting for The
One hundred and ninety-five miles of some of the most
exceptional land on the planet separate
The Pacific plate is inching its way north relative
to the North American Plate, and this movement over millions of years
has created the high mountains of the
The Southern Pacific Railroad leaves West Colton, high
on the western bank of the
The railroad passes through the town of Beaumont, at the top of the pass, and drops into Banning, then Cabazon and finally West Palm Springs before reaching the Coachella Valley floor at Garnet, about seven miles north of Palm Springs. The eastern descent from the pass follows closely the drainage of the San Gorgonio and Whitewater rivers.
The Coachella and
The Salton Sink has suffered repeated bouts of natural
flooding from the
The Salton Sea is a modern analog of
This proved to be a tremendous boon to the region; the
soil was extremely rich and the climate allowed year-round growing cycles.
The plentiful water from the
The railroad had originally gone south-southeast from
The task of the repair of the break and the plugging
of the flow would fall to the Southern Pacific. They would spend two years and over twenty
million dollars, and would have to move their right-of-way through the
sink several times in a constant retreat from the rising water level
in the Sea. In 1907 the flood was finally halted; the
There is apparently no evidence remaining of the original route. The current route follows the 200 foot contour line around the south side of the Bat Cave Buttes, heading northeast before turning once again to the southeast at Frink Siding.
The Salton Sea rests at the north end of the Imperial
Valley, filling most of the valley floor remaining between the
Over the past few millenia, the Salton Sink has suffered repeated flooding, making a vast inland sea that would slowly evaporate, only to be repeated again. But quite regularly this land would be well below the surface of this saline lake.
The Bat Cave Buttes and the Salt Creek Wash between Ferrum and Bertram sidings are eerie, incredible examples of what the floor of the sea is like. Hiking around there, the ground is smooth, eroded and clay-coated, with every handful of dirt producing a dozen tiny shells of the various sea creatures that lived in this lake.
From Wister, the railroad begins the climb out of the bottom of the sink and passes through Niland, about 150 feet below sea level. The tracks continue the gentle climb up the bottom of this ancient lake toward the ancient shoreline, just west of MP676. Obvious signs of the approaching shoreline and beach happen at about MP675.3 where the rails cut through a ridge; atop this ridge is where waves broke on an ancient beach.
The land beyond the shoreline is the
South of Glamis the railroad continues onto the Pilot Knob Mesa; in the far distance the spire of Pilot Knob itself is visible and the tracks will aim at this mountain for the next twenty miles. All the drainages from the mountains along the east carry stormwater into the natural sink of the Sand Hills in the west; these flows can be heavy as is evidenced by the number and size of the culverts passing under the roadbed.
Just past Dunes at MP723 the path bends east and begins
the descent toward the Colorado River; the rails pass across the south
shoulder of the broad alluvial fan emanating from the
The tracks continue east on a high embankment across the fertile, irrigated farmlands of Winterhaven; the Winterhaven crossover rests upon this fill which can reach a height of some thirty feet.
The railroad originally crossed the Colorado River about
a half-mile west of the current steel bridge; the alignment took the
rails across the river and down the center of
Sightseeing the Yuma District: Driving Out There
The railroad for most of its entire distance is bounded either on the north or south by an access road. In general the placement of important equipment like signal boxes and signals will be on the same side of the tracks as the road. This way signalmen and other maintenance-of-way folks needn't cross the tracks to get to most of the equipment. This road is usually the main route and sometimes the only way for rubber-tired vehicles to have access to the rails. It can be rather rough, and very tough on a vehicle.
There is no single proper vehicle for getting to 99% of the locations addressed in this book. The family sedan will work as well as a high-clearance four-wheel-drive truck with big tires and little Chromium Cuties on the mudflaps. The patience, skill and plain daring of the driver count for a lot.
Ground surfaces vary from paved road to gravel to loamy soil to sand to rock flour to sheer, unadulterated glop. All but the last are approachable in the family car (unless you or the family car has a death wish). The most important thing is to know how to drive for the conditions and to be prepared for the consequences when you make a mistake. And this is not a primer on desert driving.
I tend to do most of my sightseeing alone; I have gotten myself buried in the dust at old Tortuga Siding, had the battery die at Iris, almost mired in the thick powder at Colorado, stuck in sand drifts near Salvia; trapped in the mud near Brawley, and lost automotive trim everywhere. If you see bits of a 1981 tan diesel Rabbit, they're probably mine. But the point remains, I've never yet not been able to dig myself out. It's just a matter of preparation, perspiration, persistence and maybe a little luck.
One of my mottoes is (or should be): "When in doubt, walk it out". In other words, if the road ahead looks chancy, get out and check it on foot. If confidence returns upon inspection, you might want to go onward. But remember, getting stuck without the proper supplies is crazy. And both my lawyers and I want you to remember that I didn't tell you to do ANYTHING. In fact, that's why I wrote this book. So all you'd have to do is sit in a cozy armchair at home and read.
This railroad runs through one of the hottest, driest and most desolate pieces of desert in the Outback. Bring water. I repeat: Bring WATER. During the warmer months bring LOTS of water, which means at least a few gallons per person per day.
Carry a two-way Citizens' Band radio. Or if you're so inclined, get yourself a Amateur Radio License. Or carry a cellular telephone but remember, there's not much coverage in the backcountry. Carry a jacket for the chilly nights and a supply of food. Buy (and read) a book on desert survival. But don't go out unprepared. It's not fun when the only alternative is a ten-mile stroll in 120 degree heat.
Be prepared for extremes. Mainly high temperatures, to be sure, though
winter evenings through the San Gorgonio Pass can drop into the teens;
the air temperature on summer days east of Niland can be greater than
120 degrees Fahrenheit; the ground temperatures are much higher. I know; I've measured it. Check with the National Weather Service
or other local weather information sources before heading out; heat,
cold or thunderstorms can be problematic at best or deadly at worst
High winds and blowing sand can especially plague the
Watch out for the extremely infrequent but very dangerous
flash floods in desert canyons and washes.
One of my friends has a personal story that details the innocuous
peals of far-off thunder followed minutes later by a large rush of water
roaring down the canyon, scouring the wash and nearly flooding his car. In August 1989 a fair bit of tracks from
the east end of south Garnet down to about
RAILROAD PHYSICAL PLANT AND OPERATIONS
The SP is more than a bunch of MBAs, accountants and 130 years of history; there are dozens of trains active over the district at any time, somewhere on those 1500 route-miles of track. The physical plant is its complex, expensive and dynamic skeleton, consisting of all the hardware that makes the trains run, including the trains themselves.
Trackage: The Mainline
Within the Yuma District, the Yuma Line is the "main"
line that carries through traffic in the district. Beginning at West Colton at the junction
of the Basin District's
Much of the traffic that uses the line is either originating
or completing its journey at
There are six active branchlines within the District.
Until October 1989, the
Although there are several places along the railroad that qualify as railroad yards, West Colton Classification Yard is the only facility of truly massive size; from one end to the other, West Colton stretches over five miles in length, with fueling facilities, a hump yard, service facilities and a major administration building.
Other, much smaller and less-busy yards include
Trackage: Trackside Detectors
Trains are mechanical beasties, and pretty tremendous mechanical beasties at that. There's lots of stress and strain on the rolling stock, and that impacts the trackwork, generally in an adverse manner. And sometimes the trackwork affects the trains. Behold the trackside detectors.
This is a generic class of devices that replace the folks who, back in the days when salaries were lower, were paid to sit and watch trains all day. By doing so they could check for jammed brake shoes causing overheated wheels, shifted loads that could endanger employees, bystanders or trackside equipment, etc. Of course, most all those folks are long gone now; but the need for early problem detection remains.
There are five types of detectors used within the Yuma Sub; these are the Dragging Equipment Detector, the Hotbox Detector, the High Water Detector, the Barricade Detector and the High/Wide Detector.
The Dragging Equipment Detector consists of a set of vertical steel vanes on a rotatable shaft; this shaft lies across the tracks, underneath the rails, and is connected to a mechanical rotary switch in a box adjacent to the rails. The vanes reach up just to the height of the railhead, waiting for trains to pass over. If there are loose couplings, hoses, understructure parts or even a derailed car, this dragging material will strike the vertical vanes and rotate the attached shaft, causing the rotary switch to close and setting of the dragging equipment alarm.
The Hotbox Detector is a device that is sensitive to the infra-red energy emitted by hot objects; as a railcar passes over the detector, the hotbox detector "looks" at each wheel and bearing set, checking the temperature of each and setting off an alarm if the critical threshold is exceeded. It consists of a pair of low, angular, cast boxes that are fastened to the tie surfaces on the outside of the rails.
The High Water Detector is a vertical pipe with an internal float; placed in a streambed or anywhere potentially destructive amounts of water can accumulate, the detector is triggered when the water level rises enough to cause the float to rise in the pipe, closing a switch and activating an alarm.
The Barricade Detector is a general name for any detector that trips when some large item goes somewhere that it shouldn't; either a railroad car rolling off the end of a spur track and grounding itself, perhaps tipping and fouling the main track, or maybe an automobile or truck running off the highway and fouling the track. In the first case it is a heavy metal bar that is broken when a railroad car or engine rolls past; the latter case is generally a cable strung along a row of posts, with one end of the cable attached to a switch that closes when the cable is pulled or broken.
The last type is the High/Wide Detector; there is exactly
one in the Yuma District, an open, metal frame that bridges the mainline
Trackside Equipment: Signals
Signals have help control train movement on the railroads since the 1830s. They serve the same purpose that the signals which control your nearby highway intersection do: to orchestrate traffic movement for added safety and efficiency.
There are many types of signal, but nowadays most all
employ electric lamps that display various colors, with each color having
a specific meaning. Gone
(at least in the
The standard signals used along the SP are called searchlight signals, with a single lamp located in the center of a single, black target at the top of a high staff. Color changes on these signals are effected by the internal movement of different color filters in front of the lamp.
Sometimes, added traffic control is required, with extra searchlight signals added to the staff at lower points. Secondary signals are often on low staffs, with reduced-size targets. Some secondary signals are mounted directly on the ground; these are called "dwarf" signals and are generally used where there is limited mechanical clearance.
Signals can be mounted on towers or bridges; throughout
the Yuma Line, and especially between West Colton and
Bridges and Culverts
There are only three ways (in our three-dimensional world) to allow something to get from one side of the tracks to the other; the first is a crossing at grade, where the cross traffic blocks the main route. The second and third are variations of one another: the overpass and the underpass.
When it comes to water, grade crossings aren't generally a good idea (unless it's the locomotive washing facility). At least along the Yuma Line, all water flow passes below grade, either by flowing through a culvert or by the tracks being carried over the water on a bridge.
Culverts mentioned in this book are generally cast-concrete pipes, either circular or rectangular in cross-section, and usually (but not always) a maximum of a few feet across. There is an abundance of corrugated-steel culvert pipes used also; these will either have a circular, oval or arch cross-section. In almost all cases, culverts are used where a fill was cheaper than a bridge or other large structure; the culvert provides the passageway for runoff to flow from one side of the fill to the other.
Bridges in the
As far as "real" bridges in the Yuma District,
there are two of note: the Pennsylvania Truss bridge over the Colorado
The Southern Pacific, like all other modern railroads, makes extensive use of the two-way radio for communications between dispatcher and train.
All communications along the railroad are for the most part carried on a private system of microwave-frequency radios located at critical points. Each of these sites usually employs one or more VHF radios to allow communications with either train crews, Maintenance of Way employees or supervisory personnel out driving about. The microwave system is also tied to the standard telephone network.
In the Summer of 1989 SP moved all their dispatchers
The frequencies used by the railroad in its daily operations include the road channel, 161.550 MegaHertz (MHz), the PBX (Radiotelephone) channel 2, 160.890MHz and the PBX channel 3, 160.950MHz. The SP police frequency is commonly 161.220MHz. All these frequencies are in the region between the FM broadcast stations (88-108MHz) and television channel 7 (approximately 175MHz).
Coverage of the west end of the Yuma District (West Colton, San Bernardino, Riverside, the west side of Beaumont Hill to about Banning) is provided by the Southern Pacific radio site at Running Springs, about midway between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake high in the San Bernardino Mountains. Both the road channel radio and the channel 2 PBX radio are located at this site.
East from about Banning all the way to approximately Thermal radio coverage is supplied by the Southern Pacific radio site at Whitewater Hill, a few miles north of the railroad at milepost 583. This radio site allows road channel coverage and PBX channel 3 use.
From around Thermal or
Radio communication along the Pilot Knob Mesa between Acolita and Dunes is supported by a radio site near Glamis; this site employs an alternate road channel frequency, 160.845MHz, and may also support PBX channel 3, the 160.950MHz frequency.
Further east, all the way to
Up until January 1990, all of the PBX radios at each
site had voice identifiers that stated the site name and radio callsign
at the end of any transmission.
On PBX channel 2 (160.890MHz) at the Supersition Mountain Site,
a pleasant-voiced woman concluded all transmissions with "Southern
Pacific Superstition, KDB647, Out."
Likewise with all the other radio sites mentioned.
Then for a while the lady went away; currently her voice can
be heard on most of the radio sites outside of the
The list of sites, frequencies and callsigns that are bound to be heard at one time or another in the Yuma District are as follows:
10 Miles south of
"Running Springs" 160.890MHz KDB647
18 miles northeast of
"Whitewater" 160.950MHz KDB647
10 miles northwest of
"Superstition" 160.890MHz KDB647
15 Miles west of
15 Miles east of
15 Miles west of Mojave, CA
8 Miles northwest of
"Oatman" 160.890MHz KQL724
25 Miles northwest of
(Note: The last three radio sites are separated by many miles from the Yuma District. However, depending on the time of day and your location, their signals can be heard quite well sometimes and so are listed for your information.)
All along the route, occasional radio traffic will be heard on the police frequency, 161.220MHz. Sometimes this is by far the most interesting, with reports of containers being burgled, trains being tampered with and vagrants (or railfans) lurking in rail yards.
All in all, it pays to program your scanner to listen to at least three of these frequencies: usually the most immediate traffic will take place on the road channel, with extended conversations being held on the local PBX channel, especially when a crew can't reach the dispatcher on the road channel. If you have a priority channel feature in your scanner, I suggest that you set it so that radio traffic on the road channel has precedence over all other traffic, so that you don't miss the immediate events going on in your local vicinity. Listening to the police is also quite interesting and sometimes even illuminating, especially if they're talking about you!
Radio Monitoring and the Law
It is my opinion that you have an absolute right to listen to, monitor, attempt to decode, decipher or whatever, any radio signal that passes through your property or more personally, your body. And all radio signals do that. The Federal Communications Act of 1934 provides for this also; the major stipulation is that you do not use any information so gleaned to commit crimes, nor are you allowed to divulge to any other person the specific contents of any such communication.
However, please be aware that even if you follow all these rules, some folks are naturally a little suspicious when they come across you carrying scanners and loitering on private (railroad) property. They might ask questions; you may get hassled... But remember, "Have Fun, 'cause it's only a Hobby".
All of the trains that the SP runs are identifiable either by their lead engine number or by a five or more character designator, called a "symbol". In general, most trains will use their engine numbers for identification. Occasionally, if the lead engine is defective or there are other problems, another engine in the consist will become the train number.
Sometimes a train is important enough to the overall profitability of the railroad that it will be referred to by its "symbol", rather than by just its lead engine number. Not only does the symbol indicate the origin and destination of the train, but it also provides some idea of its cargo and/or its priority.
An example of a "Symbol" train is as follows: The EPOAA train is a train that begins at El Paso, Texas (trans-shipped from the Union Pacific / Missouri Pacific there), consists almost totally of tri-level automobile carriers filled with autos and trucks, and is destined for Oakland, California. In fact, this train will usually have a string of Union Pacific locomotives on the head-end, with a single lead SP engine as pilot.
The following is a list of the abbreviations used for symbol trains. This list is by no means complete; I have only included names that you might tend to hear along the Yuma Line.
AX - APL @ ITCF (
BA - Bay Area (
CR - Conrail
LX - ICTF (
NX - NYK @ ITCF (
RX - Evergreen @ ITCF (
SX - SeaLand @ ITCF (
Symbol train names consist of five main characters; the first four indicate the origin and destination of the cargo. The fifth character indicates the type of train, but this isn't often apparent from the look of the train. These characters are:
A - Automobiles
F - Forwarder
K - Poisonous or Hazardous Chemicals
M - Manifest
T - Trailers and Containers
L - Local
X - Extra
There may be many others, but these are the most obvious ones and the ones most commonly heard.
So when you hear the symbol NXMFT discussed on the radio,
that it is just leaving
THE HELPER DISTRICT
SP is very fond of helper units on Beaumont Hill, between Loma Linda Crossovers (MP541.3) and Indio (MP610.9). There are often many, many millions of dollars of locomotives sitting at the PMT and Engine Spurs at Loma Linda, waiting for the next eastbound to help push over the Hill.
Depending on the shortage of power for the District,
helpers can be switched in and out most everywhere along the Hill. Trains have been ordered to leave West
Colton and run as far east as they can before they stall; helpers rush
When a helper engineer gets the order from the dispatcher to "run light", that means to finish whatever he's doing and get his engine set going as soon as allowable to assist somewhere else on the Hill.
Hanging out at most any siding on either end of the
Beaumont Hill will usually net some helper action during the course
of an active day; the best places to watch are Loma Linda, Thousand
Palms Crossover and
I've considered trying to write a primer on the language of railroading; this hasn't been simple since railroaders are humans, just like you and I, and they tend to use different words occasionally to describe the same thing or even make up new words and slang, conveying the intended meaning through innuendo or familiarity. But here is a "minimal" listing for those of you who don't listen to the scanner twenty-four hours a day, or at least work for the railroad. A few of the more interesting phrases sometimes heard are:
Stretch 'em out - Take out the slack in a train usually by moving the locomotive forward a bit.
Bunch 'em up - Exactly the opposite. Remember that a 100-car train may have a foot or two a slack between each car due to coupler and draft box play; when the engineer applies the brakes the rear end of the train doesn't get the message in a hurry due to all this slack. When there were cabooses there was sometimes a cracked head or two in the caboose when the slack caught up with the end of the train.
Bring it to a hook - Couple cars together.
Highball - OK to go. Throttle up. Pedal to the metal...
Come up against - 1) Tells the helper engineer in a consist to push against the portion of the train between him and the road engines at the front. 2) Part of an order given by a dispatcher allowing a engineer to make a movement against a stop signal and couple to a standing train, either to lend helper service or to serve as road power.
That'll do - OK. That's enough. Whoa, horsey.
Scanner - Any one of the various equipment malfunction detectors emplaced along the railroad.
There are so many esoteric and mysterious phrases used by train crews that to attempt to list them all here would consume most of the room reserved for real information. The best way to learn the jargon is to tune in the radio for many hours at a time and pay attention to the flow of traffic; then when these mysterious phrases are voiced you might be able to piece together the meaning. Or, you could ask someone who works for the railroad... and maybe get a completely different answer.
PRIVATE PROPERTY, RAILFANS AND TRESPASSING
The Southern Pacific Railroad is in the business of providing a transportation service in order to make money; never forget this. It does that by moving material from Point A to Point C or perhaps Point Z. The railroad doesn't need you at Point B or Point N fooling with the switchpoints or hanging off the signal bridge, trying to get that one great picture of those eastbounds powering up the grade (although it might be a tremendous picture; but I didn't recommend it...).
Think of the railroad as a factory, a factory spanning half the country. It has a receiving dock that accepts the raw material and production lines that process this material by moving it along great steel conveyor belts. The finished goods appear finally at the shipping dock.
Now imagine you at your place of work having unauthorized visitors sticking their hands and heads into your bending brake or file cabinet or typing a few words on your computer. Although to you the railroad may present unlimited photo opportunities or be the prototype for your model layout, it is their company and their living.
I cannot condone trespassing; the legal difficulties that could ensue would make me very unhappy. But as most everyone realizes, the railroads are not generally fenced and there are few vicious guard dogs to protect the rails from the curious. The railroad employees (other than RR police) that I have met while poking around have never yet asked me to leave the property; in fact, they seem genuinely interested or at least amused that I as a railfan exist. After all, it's just a job to a lot of them. They'd often rather be somewhere else.
Railroad yards like
A Few Trespassing Anecdotes
In one weekend while researching this Guide, I had two incidents befall me regarding trespass. (I can now look back upon them with some dark humor). The first was while driving along the paved county road at MP579.4, stopping there a few minutes to jot some notes, then turning off the pavement to follow the dirt path that parallels the tracks to the east. Within two hundred yards a CHP Mustang from out of nowhere had pulled me over and, with hand resting on the butt of his pistol, the officer wanted to know why I was out there and if I knew that I was trespassing on Railroad Property. Of course, I was probably also trespassing on Morongo Indian land, State and Federal land, etc., but I explained that I was a railfan. Soon he had my name and address and warned me that if he heard about any trouble along the tracks I'd be the first suspect. And that was that. I sure hoped that there wasn't gonna be any trouble around there for a day or two or three.
The second was the next day, under the Auto Center Drive
Overpass (MP611.4) at the Indio Yard. It was a hot (105 degree) day, twelve o'clock
high, and I parked under the bridge to stay cool, drink some water and
make some notes. This time
an Indio PD cruiser pulled up behind and I spent several tense minutes
explaining that I had nothing to do with the alleged in-progress vandalism
taking place on the train in front of me.
Finally the officer relaxed his grip on the holstered .357 when
he decided that I was too crazy to be lying.
He also discovered that he had grown up only three blocks from
where I live, so I suppose there was a certain kinship there.
Then he apologized and left me; his parting words were "Enjoy
the rest of your stay in
You do not need souvenirs from Glamis siding. You don't need a Cabazon tieplate paperweight
or that bucket of spikes from Frink that weighs three hundred pounds
and makes your Ford Escort drag its rear bumper along the pavement. There is real scrap along the right-of-way,
but most of this you wouldn't want anyway: examples are the millions
(well, it seems like millions) of shoes on and in the ground at Garnet
Station or the Easter Baskets at
Be wise. I have listened on the radio to the railroad police arresting folks for stealing piles of tieplates and spikes. These items are worth good money, and the railroad can recycle most all of the materials.
Federal, State and Local Government Property
There's a lot of this out there. Most of the desert still belongs to you and me, with the Federal Government as caretaker (more or less; mainly less). Some people look on this as a bad thing; but for the most part, it's better than running into barbed-wire fences every few miles and dealing with folks carrying shotguns.
The railroad, once out of the San Gorgonio Pass, leaves the confines of suburbia and sails through mainly uninhabited terrain. Here the land surrounding the tracks is owned by a variety of governmental agencies; for the most part, no one will bother you and no one particularly cares. But so long as you are next to or near the tracks, you are most likely on railroad land and that is private property.
Indian Reservations are private property; these folks own that land and are free to make their own rules regarding trespass. They generally have their own police force, and sometimes even their own jail. But generally, as long as you aren't tearing up their land, or stray too far from the beaten path, it's unlikely that you'll ever see them. But again, it is private property, and you are trespassing.
Trespassing On Anything Else
Although a great deal of the land along the right-of-way belongs to the Federal, State or local Government, there is also a lot of private land. The first rule is: If you are on the wrong side of a "NO TRESPASSING" sign you can get into trouble. The second rule is: Even if there aren't any "NO TRESPASSING" signs visible, if someone comes along and tells you that you're trespassing, you might do well to pay heed. They might be wrong, but unless you're in a position to prove that to their satisfaction, you may want to move on.
Fruit orchards and farms line the tracks in places. Farmers can get very upset if they find you filching their oranges or whatever. Section 484 of the California Penal Code makes it a FELONY to swipe fruit... and there are signs all over that repeat that! When I stop at a store and buy fruit, I even carry the receipts around with me until the fruit is gone and I've buried the refuse. But I'm paranoid. Being thrown in jail for six months for having an illicit, 20-cent orange in the back seat isn't worth it. (It's a silly law, I agree; in fact, I'd say that it was cruel and unusual punishment.)
Hanging out under that bridge or on that hill you may be RAILFANNING, but other folks (the residents of wherever) might call it LOITERING. The police can then bring you TROUBLE.
Support Your Local Railroad
An important thing to remember is that you, as a rail
watcher, can provide an extra set of eyes and ears to the railroad. If you're out along SR111 by Ferrum Siding,
along the east shore of the
The Southern Pacific Transportation Company would like railroading to remain a paying, profit-making business, with as few liabilities as possible. If you abide by the rules, you help out the SP, they can go about their business of running more trains and in return you can enjoy the hobby that much more.
Once again: Don't take railroad property, don't fool with railroad equipment, don't get in the railroad's way, but always have FUN. It's a hobby, after all.