Saturday, April 27, 2013

SF Muni!

Here's one closer to home. This is a scan of another slide that appeared out of nowhere. Again, I don't know who took the picture, or how it ended up in a box of my slide, but it is a great picture!

Streetcars in LA

Okay, it HAS been a while, eh?

You would think, now that I'm retired, that I would have plenty of time to sit down and write.


However, I have been scanning some slides and found a few fun pictures that I want to post, so here we go!

This one is very interesting. I have NO idea where the slide came from! It is a Kodachrome slide, dated March 12, 1963, with the rubber-stamped name Leo Caroia. Hand-written on the slide mount is: #3159 1st & Main, LAMTA.

I wonder if anyone has ever seen this before? It is a beautiful slice of life!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Beginning

I moved out of home in the summer of 1972, and moved in with a friend in Oakland. I moved in with a friend, Bill Ryan, in the Hollywood Hills for a few months, until he decided to move up the San Francisco with me. I went back up and stayed in Oakland again while Bill made his plans to move.

I wasn't working at this time, having only worked full-time for a matter of months at a building supply store. This was my only full-time job other than Amtrak. Living at home, though, I had saved up some money, enough to last for several months. It was clear, though, that I would need a job soon.

My true desire was to be a photographer. I had been involved in photography for many years, since Junior High. In High School I was the head photographer for the yearbook, and even taught a photography class under the auspices of one of the science teachers. In college I was head photographer for the newspaper. I took a photography class in college, too - on the first session, though, the instructor divided the class into two parts. One was for beginners, the other for advance. The instructor then had ME teach the advanced section!

The greatest of my dreams was to work as a photographer for Life magazine - more on that later!

So, until I could find suitable employment as a photographer, I decided to get a job to tide me over. In October of 1972, my friend John C. Plytnick told me that Amtrak was hiring a time keeper. I have to admit that I had NO IDEA what a timekeeper was, nor for that matter did I really know what Amtrak was, but I went ahead and applied.

I went to the strangest interview imagineable. These two older men, one shorter and very red-faced, the other tall and grey, walked around me while I sat on a chair. The shorter man was staggering, and the tall one seemed to be following him to catch him if he fell. Very weird.

The only thing I remember being said was when the shorter man said "You'll have to get a haircut you know!" I agreed that was fine - even though my hair was in a crewcut already! In fact, once I was hired I didn't cut my hair again, other than trimming, until 1980. But that, too, is another story!

Amtrak did not hire me as Timekeeper, though. So I put in an application at Santa Fe, where I had several friends working. I had sort of planned to hire on as a Special Agent at ATSF, had indeed been promised a position by the head of the ATSF western police division, but that fell through when the standards for Special Agents were upgraded to require previous police experience. Though I could easily have been hired as a police officer in Richmond, I was more concerned with the people who would be riding with me in the car than those on the street, so I stopped pursing that career (I had been taking Police Science classes in college).

I moved into my first apartment on November 1972. This was on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, with my partner at the time, Bill Ryan. It was a small place, but it had a true million dollar view. The rent was low enough, but I knew I had to get a job right away.

So I was scheduled to take a typing test on Monday, December 14, 1972, at the ATSF offices in Richmond CA. I could type at least 60 words per minute, so I knew I would ace the required 30 wpm. I had been assured that if I passed the test I would get a job as a clerk for the Santa Fe. Cool, I loved trains, and knew people there already.

On Sunday morning, December 13, I got a phone call in what was for me very early morning (probably around 9AM). A male voice asked if I was still looking for a job. I said yes, so he told me to be at the Sheraton Palace Hotel at 9AM the next morning. I said okay, then quickly asked "Wait, who is this?"

"Amtrak," said the voice curtly, and hung up.

Hmm, Santa Fe or Amtrak? Bill and I talked it over for a bit, and I decided it would be fun to work for Amtrak, because they had passenger trains. After all, it wouldn't be for very long, right?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Past Tense!

Wow. It still hasn't really sunk in, but my time with Amtrak is over. After 38 and a half years, I retired last week!

The people who work(ed) for me, along with Nick, put together a wonderful retirement party for me. There were some really special people at the party, including Sarah Reeves, Sally Spoon, and John C. Plytnick.

The person who I known longest was John. I remember first meeting him at what is now known as the Western Railway Museum back in 1971, though we also would have met back in about 1968 on a special train to the opening of the Oroville Dam. In fact, it was John Plytnick who mentioned, back in October of 1972, that Amtrak was hiring. Though I didn't get the job I originally applied for, John's recommendation put me high on the list for future hires, and I was hired for the San Francisco Reservation Bureau in December 1972.

Sometimes we got ticket clerks working their days off at the Res Bureau. I remember the one time that Sarah Reeves came over to work with us. She began with the Southern Pacific, and came over to Amtrak. After the Res Bureau closed I worked with Sarah at the Oakland 16th Street Station, first while she was a ticket clerk. Later Sarah became a Station Supervisor and we worked together often. Over the years Sarah went into and out of management, finally spending many years as Agent at Oakland Jack London. She ended her career, though, while working as an Operations Center Representative at Oakland Operations. So I worked for her, and she worked for me!

Sally Spoon started with Amtrak working at the Sales Office. This was down the hall from the Res Bureau in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. That was long before Chuck Spoon, back when she was Sally Adler. Sally and I worked together in many places over the years. Just before I left ticketing for the Operations Center I worked with Sally in Martinez.

It was great to have these people, along with so many others, show up to say goodbye. It was a day I won't soon forget!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More goodbyes

I know I have been TERRIBLE at putting anything into this blog, but now I've lost more of the important people in my life, and I must write something.

In the early 1970s, before I went to work for Amtrak, I got involved with an incredible group of people via the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association. This group of traction and railroad enthusiasts became a sort of core group for me, and helped to determine much of the course of my life. One of the key people in this group was Rick Borgwardt, the Royal Imperial Zaught. This title was bestowed upon Rick a bit before I first met him. It has no intrinsic meaning - and it certainly is not a title that could be inherited. There has only been, and there will only be, ONE Zaught.

Rick loved to hold court, and he did so for many, many years at the Railway Museum at Rio Vista Junction. How I loved to sit and listen to his stories when I stayed in the bunkhouse on weekends, after a day of toiling on the numerous projects being undertaken at the museum.

After I started work at Amtrak, Rick decided to give a whirl and also came to work in the San Francisco Reservation Bureau, as did Phil Reiner-Deutsch - who still works for Amtrak in Los Angeles. Rick didn't stay much beyond the closing of the Res Bureau, but it was fun to work with friends, even for a short time.

My heart goes out to Chris, Rick's partner through all these many, many years. Though I had lost touch with Chris and Rick for many years, I never forgot them. I will treasure my memories of Rick always.

Then there was Paul Ward Jr. I just learned today that Paul has died.

I don't remember exactly when I first met Paul, if it was before Amtrak or just after, but it was certainly very early in the 1970s. I know I met him through my partner at the time, Bill Ryan. Bil and Paul had been friends for many years. I do know that I was totally intimidated by Paul - both physically and intellectually. Paul was quite tall - 6'8" or more. And his knowledge of EVERYTHING traction, trolleybus, and radio was astounding. My memory has never been good enough to spit out facts and figures like Paul could.

One thing I definitely remember about the early days with Paul was the animated sleeping bag. Numerous times when were visiting Paul I noticed that there seemed to be someone asleep under a sleeping bag or comforter, and it was several visits before I finally met Jan. This was back in the days before Paul and Jan married. Jan always slept through Paul's visitors, since she wasn't a railfan or radio aficionado and couldn't follow the conversations. She and I would often laugh when we had dinner together, because we seldom ever got to speak. other to ask the other to pass the butter. In fact, when Paul and Jan married, I gave them a silver butter dish. Jan understood the joke. I know that Jan changed a lot when she became ill, and Paul had a great deal of anguish trying to cope with the changes. But I was lucky and remember her from her best days.

Paul had the most incredible sense of humor. I loved his great practical joke on the railfan community. This involved his submitting an article to one of the railfan publications about the Holton Interurban Railway. It was a complete fabrication, telling how, in the final days of operations, a tunnel collapsed and a trainset was still covered in the sand of the collapsed tunnel. Paul submitted the story under the pseudonym of Bert Souse, the name of W.C. Fields' character in The Bank Dick. It was hilarious to read the followup comments on Paul's article, which was taken as being completely true for far longer than one would have thought! Another instance of Paul's lightning humor occurred when several of us decided to make a completely spur-of-the-moment trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles one night. We piled into a couple of cars and raced across the Bay Bridge, stopping at Brennan's for a quick dinner. When asked for the number and name of our party, Paul immediately responded "Hitler, party of five." They almost threw us out! Paul wasn't making any kind of political statement, it was just the kind of complete non-sequitor that he loved.

Gosh, how I will miss these two people.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sad Farewells

Two fellow Amtrak employees have passed recently, and I sorely miss both of them. First was Dick Bush, Amtrak's Manager of Bus Operations for Northern California. He retired last year and passed only a few months later.

Dick had been battling cancer for the couple of years, but he always kept a smile on his face. He shared smiles with others, too. I have numerous forwarded jokes in my email folders from Dick, and memories of the many, many stories he told over the years.

Dick was a bus man. He had been a driver, dispatcher, etc. for several bus companies over the years, but somehow ended up at Amtrak, where he was a ticket clerk and station employee for quite a while. Then the State of California began setting up extended Thruway bus operations, and Dick worked with Rick Peterson to help set up a very successful system.

Beep, beep, Dick. Keep 'em rolling up in Heaven.

And just the other day we lost Tony Williams. This was a double blow, because Tony had married another longtime Amtrak friend, Lemette Goldston. Lemette was, for many, many years, the clerical crew dispatcher for the Bay District, and just retired a few weeks ago.

I will always see Tony as a smiling man with a cigar. When the San Francisco Reservation Bureau closed in 1974, I went to Oakland 16th Street as a ticket clerk. Tony was one of the Red Caps, formerly an SP employee.

The Red Caps and baggagemen were always a mystery to me. There were something like six baggagemen and four Red Caps per shift. They were always there for the few trains we had, but they seemed to vanish between trains. There were some who never left, of course - I will eventually find the time to blog about Bubba and Alton - but many just disappeared. Tony was one of them who only appeared around train times.

It wasn't until years later that I learned that Tony had a full time job at the nearby Oakland Army Base! Ah, the good old days!

I could always count on two things from Tony - whatever help I needed, and a genuine smile.

Thanks for the memories, guys.

Monday, May 5, 2008

So Long, Truckee

Skipping around again, but I woke up thinking about Truckee. Somewhere in mid to late '70's I was working on the Oakland station extra board. As such, I was able to work for a week at Truckee CA due to the agent there having had problems with his leg or knee. As I recall, it was late April, though my recall isn't always very good these days!

This was an interesting week to work there, as it was the last week the station was open. I was to work Monday through Thursday, then on Friday I would close out the books and that would be IT. Since I had never worked there before that, I jumped at the chance.

I always enjoyed working in Reno, and had a favorite hotel where I stayed. Truckee was close enough that I could work in Truckee and stay in Reno, so that's what I did. However, I didn't realize it might be more difficult than I had thought to find the station in Truckee!

Truckee, still basically a small town today, was even a bit smaller 30 years ago. There was one main road parallel to the railroad tracks. How hard could it be to drive through town and look for a railroad station?

What I found was that there were several buildings in the style of an old railroad station, none of which had obvious signs to let you know what was in them. And as always, I was right at the edge of being late - I would have been just a minute or two late if I had driven straight up to the right building and popped into the office right off. And one more thing - the first of the two daily trains was scheduled to arrive about 30 minutes after the station opened, if it was on time.

So here I was, driving through "downtown" Truckee, stopping at every railroad-station style building I could see. Finally I spotted a tiny Amtrak logo on a sign and pulled up to another station-type building. Thank goodness, this was it! I jumped out of the car and dashed in the door of the waiting room. There were a couple of people sitting in there, whom I greeted and said I'd be right with them. Looking around the waiting room I spotted the ticket window. What I didn't spot was a door to get to the area behind the ticket window. The only door was the one through which I'd entered.

I ran back outside and looked at the building. Nothing on the railroad side. I ran around the side and saw a door with an SP logo. The door was unlocked, so I ducked inside, where I found telephone equipment. There were several racks of wiring points nearly filling the room. I ran back outside and looked again. There was nothing of use on the street side, and now it's almost train time. I ran back into the telephone equipment room and found I could walk through it toward the tracks, where I found what was obviously a railroad telegrapher's office. And off that office was another door, which led to the ticket office! Whew!

Okay, open the blinds over the ticket window, say hi and tell the three or so people in the waiting room that you'll be right with them. What next? Ah yes, find out if the train is on time! This was before the days of small stations having computers, so I picked up the phone and started to dial the number for the Reno station. Oops, fast busy before I finish. Must need to dial 9 for an outside line. No, not 9. 8? No. Oh boy. It was an SP internal phone line, and I had no idea how to dial out. All right, assume it's on time and get moving!

I had the safe combination, so I dashed over and spun the dial - which fell off my hand. I stared at it, horrified. Then I reached out and tentatively tried the handle. It opened, revealing an empty interior - except for a small door with another combination lock on it. I tried the numbers I had, and it opened and there was the station working fund.

Back at the window, I quickly sold two tickets, then the third person wanted to pay with a credit card. No problem, it was under the amount where we were required to call for authorization (whew!). All I needed was the credit card imprinter. I looked around on the shelves under the desk - nothing. I looked on the shelves behind me, and finally found it. I thought it was odd that it was so tucked away, and pretty dusty looking. Oh well, must be a cash-based town. I put the card in the imprinter, put in the ticket, slid the slide. The slide grabbed the edge of the card, buckling it almost in half - but not imprinting the card onto the ticket. I flattened the card as best I could, and tried again. This time the card buckled badly enough to break it in the center. I took the card and ticket out, then tossed the imprinter over my shoulder. I landed on the shelf behind me and broke the window. I apologized like crazy and wrote out a new ticket, this time writing the card information in by hand. Fortunately the guy was amused rather than mad. Later on, I noticed that in the open part of the safe was another credit card imprinter, a new one, obviously a replacement for the other one!

By now the train would have come and gone had it been on time. A couple of the people had checked bags, so I had to get out the baggage tractor and just be ready for the train. So, back outside and figure out where they keep the tractor and trailer.

Unfortunately, once outside, I realized there was no garage, no outbuilding, nowhere to park a tractor. How strange. The only thing I could find was a big, very old-style highwheel redcap cart. It had a padlock, and the key marked "Baggage" opened the lock! This was a two-wheel cart, about five feet long, with high sides and long handles. Had a seat been installed on the bed, it would have looked like a rickshaw. This was the baggage wagon?

I put the bags on it just as I heard the train whistle. Looking up the tracks, I saw it was the westbound Zephyr (that would have been the San Francisco Zephyr back then - Amtrak wasn't permitted to call it the California Zephyr in those days, just as we couldn't call trains 3 & 4 the Super Chief). I wheeled the cart out to where I thought the baggage car might spot, feeling like a fool. I thought sure that this was meant to be an ornament, not the actual baggage cart. But I had to make do.

The train stopped on a curve. The curve was heavily engineered, banked very high. The floor of the baggage car was at the level of my forehead. Since the cart was only two-wheeled, there was no way to stand on it. So I had to heft the bags up over my head to the train baggageman. I told him I had to use this cart because I couldn't find anything else. He looked at me funny, and said that what I was using was what was always used! He handed down a couple of my bags and off went the train.

The rest of the day was unbelievably quiet. I had no one for the eastbound train, and no one off. No phone to answer, and no walk-ins. I ended up taking off my shirt and laying in the sun on the redcap cart. No wonder the regular agent loved this job so much!

This continued for the next couple of days, until finally on Thursday I sold the last ticket to be issued from the Truckee station. I knew the next day would be even quieter, just paperwork, so I partied a bit heavier than I should have and ended up arriving really, really late on Friday. I had planned to work as long as needed to finish everything off. I was surprised, though, to get to the station and find the regular agent there. He had come in and finished everything up. All I had to do was put the stuff on the westbound train and take off for home. The ticket stock went to Reno, where it was held for several years - more on that later!

So that was Truckee.