Friday, July 14, 2017

The Many Stations of Elko

A Brief Railroad History of Elko, Nevada
Elko, Nevada is a community that was founded in 1868 when the transcontinental railroad was building across Nevada.  The Central Pacific established a station there and soon a town sprung up.  There was plentiful water in the nearby Humboldt River and the land was suitable for small farms and ranches to operate.  Not long after the golden spike was driven in Utah, the Southern Pacific took out a long term lease on the Central Pacific and began operating the railroad as their own.  It wasn't too much longer before the Western Pacific began it's push to the Pacific Ocean and they built their line roughly parallel to the SP from Humboldt Wells (later renamed to simply Wells) across the state to just west of Winnemucca.  During the first World War, the US government created the United States Railroad Administration and took control of the railroads for the duration of the war.  As a result, the parallel lines across Nevada were treated as one route and thus the paired trackage arrangement was born.  After the war, the SP and WP voluntarily entered into a formal agreement that kept this arrangement in place right up until the merger of the WP into the Union Pacific.  The UP after merging the WP continued to honor that agreement until they eventually merged with the SP.  To this day, that arrangement is still used where the northern track (ex-SP) is operated westbound and the southern track (ex-WP) is the eastbound track.  This arrangement meant that both passenger stations in Elko would remain standing and in use until a line change in the early 1980s relocated both tracks a few blocks to the south in order to remove them from the city streets.  Only the Western Pacific depot survives today and is serving a second life as an office building.

The Central Pacific Depot
When the Central Pacific reached the area that is now Elko on December 29, 1868, work halted briefly and a station was established.  It had rooms for 80, a dining room for 112, a billiard room, a bar, and a barbershop.  From what I can find in my research, the station was known by several names: Cosmopolitan, then Chamberlain and finally Depot Hotel.  It was located on the southwest corner of 4th Street and Railroad Street.  The depot was completely demolished by July 1, 1903 and Southern Pacific erected a new depot on the same spot by mid-1904.  The SP had acquired control of the CP effective April 1, 1885.

Original Central Pacific depot at Elko in April 1869.  It was a boarding house,
restaurant, and bar, plus it had a billiard room and barbershop.
The Southern Pacific Depot
When originally built, the Southern Pacific depot was a wood frame building built to one of SP's standard plans.  The following photo shows it in 1912, a mere 43 years after the rails of the transcontinental railroad were laid through the area and only 8 years after it opened its doors.
Eight year old Southern Pacific depot which replaced the Central Pacific depot.
Gone were all the amenities of the CP station since Elko had grown to a full
service city by the time this depot was built and trains were now equipped with
dining and sleeping cars.
Elko in the 1930s.  A lot has changed in 18 years, but the depot still looked
much the same as it did in 1912.
Sometime between the 1930s and 1950, the depot was remodeled with a more modern art deco style.  Here are two photos that show the remodeled depot.  The first photo was taken in 1950 and the second photo is from 1955.

Elko March 11, 1950.  The depot has been extensively remodeled, though
retaining the original footprint.  It's wood exterior has been covered with a
stucco and brick façade and the station signs that were a signature of SP depots
has given way to a modern art deco styled sign over the operator's bay.  The
change in the Elko cityscape is remarkable to say the least.

Elko 1955.  Very little has changed in 5 years with the depot, but there is a
marked change with the Commercial Club behind it.
Then sometime between 1957 and 1962, the Southern Pacific moved the depot from it's original location to a spot roughly 3 blocks east for reasons unknown to this author.  These two photos show the SP portion of the City of San Francisco and the WP portion of the California Zephyr on the night of April 11, 1969 at the new location (compare the background buildings to previous photos and you can see the difference).
City of San Francisco pauses at the SP depot in Elko.  Mel Patrick photo
courtesy of Bob McKeen.
California Zephyr pauses at the SP depot in Elko later that same night.  Mel
Patrick photo courtesy of Bob McKeen.

Visit this website to see several photos of the depot in the 1970s (post-Amtrak):

The Western Pacific Depot
Like the Southern Pacific, the Western Pacific constructed a wood frame depot consistent with company standard plans.  Since Elko was already a well established city by the time the WP arrived in later 1908, a large two story depot was constructed.

Western Pacific Elko Depot as built.  Probably 1930's to 1940's judging by the

In 1958, the Western Pacific looking to rehab the aging structure, removed the second story and installed a new roof and clad two of the four walls in brick, with the other two walls receiving stucco.  This is how the building has remained to this day (with some minor changes to windows and doors).
Front of the WP passenger depot on December 26, 1981.  Photo courtesy of
Ken Rattenne.  Used with permission.

Trackside view of the WP depot on December 16, 1981.  Photo courtesy ofKen Rattenne.  Used with permission.
After the depot was abandoned, a private developer bought the building and extensively remodeled the inside and converted to office space.  I ran into the building owners son during a trip to Elko and learned that during the remodeling, it was discovered that when the second story was removed, the original flooring was left intact and roughly one foot of the walls remain from the second floor.  As far as I know, the 'attic' has never been cleaned and all the original flooring is still in place.  Another interesting note is that during the extensive remodeling, the building was widened by approximately 15'-20'.  The building is largely original, in a sense, but so heavily rebuilt, you would never know it by just looking at it.
A view of the front and trackside wall of the WP depot after it was
converted to offices.  February 2006
The rear and north walls of the depot showing the stucco walls.  February 2006
The Amtrak Shelters
As mentioned before, in 1983, the two mainline tracks through downtown Elko were moved in order to alleviate traffic problems for both the railroad and the city.  At that time, two structures were erected along the relocated tracks to service Amtrak passengers getting on and off at Elko.  Since the station was to be unstaffed, simple shelters were erected to keep passengers out of the weather, reflecting the general decline of passenger service in America, and particularly in sparsely populated northeastern Nevada.

Ribbon cutting celebrating the opening of the newly constructed bypass around
Elko and the opening of the new Amtrak shelters.  October 1983.  Photo
courtesy of Northeastern Nevada Museum.  Used with permission.

Sometime between February and November 2007, the shelters were removed due to vandalism and the occasional homeless person using the buildings as a makeshift home.  In their place were installed bus stop style shelters and benches which is how it can still be seen.

The last time I photographed these structures before being demolished.
February 14, 2007
The replacements.  Not very glamorous for a city that has had 4 different stations
and hosted the world renowned California Zephyr in its life span.
- Matt Liverani

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Another Day of Sun: A Trip to California and Back

6/25/17 A southbound Amtrak train arrives at the historic Santa Fe station in Downtown San Diego, California.

California the Golden State. Few other states have the rich railroad history California has; as the state was the draw for many railroad companies who built across the west. As distant as California is, for us in the intermountain west the railroad history here is linked inseparably from that of the Golden State. The Central Pacific (later the Southern Pacific), the Los Angeles and Salt Lake (later Union Pacific), and the Western Pacific were all intermountain roads which linked from California back into the Great Basin region. As such the history and happenings of railroading in California must be understood to grasp the bigger picture of railroading in the western states.

Of course we here at DEP often joke about California's dominance in western railfan culture due to those factors (along with its absurdly large population in comparison to our home states of Utah and Nevada)! It doesn't take much effort to see that many western roads such as the Western Pacific and Southern Pacific were predominately railfanned and studied in California, leaving the rest of their routes in obscurity. Ironically though, this continues into rail preservation and it turns out many artifacts significantly related to Utah's rail history are in California railroad museums!

One of the other great opportunities of a trip like this is that I was able to see many historic rail lines on the drive alone. I passed the majority of the Los Angeles and Salt Lake route from point to point during the drive along I-15 and backroads. Driving through Cajon Pass is always a railfan spectacle, even if the camera is not used. Of course I have to make mention I even saw UP 1983 outside of Barstow on my final day of the trip! However much like a fisherman's story you'll have to believe me on that one, since it figuratively was "the one that got away" seeing as how I couldn't photograph it at the moment!

Sunny San Diego

The main reason for this trip to California was my sister's wedding. Rather than get married locally with all the wedding traditions that seem to come in Utah (luncheon, mid-day photos, family dinner, reception, etc.); she figured a trip to the San Diego Zoo and some Mexican food in Old Town the day before her wedding would be far more interesting for everybody involved (it was).

San Diego is a beautiful city. I have not been there since 2005. However fellow DEP editor Schon seems to make it down there annually, and he answered many of my questions about area railfanning opportunities. It was all quite an interesting sight and change of pace from the desert highlands I frequent at home. Commuter trains raced through tracks above beachside cliffs through places such as Torrey Pines and Del Mar. The sound of the sea crashing on the shore, the throngs of tourists, and the smell of seafood in the air all mingled with the high powered grunts of EMD and GE motors at work. BNSF was king in San Diego, with Blue Bonnets and Heritage III's working local trains alongside a few G&W "Borg Orange" switchers. In all the excitement of the area, the only thing that felt familiar was the electric light rail system buzzing along San Diego's streets.

Even in downtown there was evidence of this coastal rail scene. As we walked the entrance up into the U.S.S. Midway museum, I could see beneath me in the pier the embedded remains of a rail spur to the docks. In the distance the Southern Pacific Railroad's ferry boat Berkeley was docked at the neighboring Maritime Museum, although time constraints prevented our family from visiting it. In much the same way a mountain railroad fan could wax on about the links railroads provided to the mines and the smelters; a coastal railfan could speak the same of an era when every pier had a rail head, when every boxcar was loaded from ship loads in a bay connecting into the great Pacific.
6/23/17 The Balboa Park Railroad is a minature railroad outside of the famed San Diego Zoo which loops around a corner of the park. Its consist is painted to look like Southern Pacific's famous Daylight scheme. My dad sits in the middle of the train waiting for me to take a seat.

6/24/17 A northbound Amtrak Surfliner train roars past Torrey Pines beach near San Diego, with a cab car at point and a Genesis engine on the rear.

6/24/17 I have a confession to make, this is the first time I have photographed an F40 in active service... It seems strange to me that it took me this long to finally see the railfan popular unit in action, but I am glad to finally have gotten the chance with San Diego's Coaster unit 2104 leading northbound train through Torrey Pines.

6/25/17 The highlight of La Mesa Model Railroad Club's display in Balboa Park is the large bi-level layout based on the Tehachapi Pass route. I considered this to be the most photogenic layout on display.

6/25/17 Crossing the Coronado Bridge, I was able to look out the car window and snap this view of the railyards in downtown San Diego. The BNSF yard dominates the foreground, with its autorack off-loading area, a line of orange engines to the left, and a ATSF heritage Blue Bonnet in the far right! In the distance is the maintenance shop for San Diego's light rail system.

6/25/17 I have another confession, these F59PHI 's are the first I have photographed period... I need to get out more! Anyways, the preserved ATSF Historic Station in downtown San Diego serves as a busy transit hub a short walking distance from the harbor front.
Travel Town Museum

One of the quick visits we made  Monday morning in Los Angeles was to the Travel Town Museum in Griffith Park. The museum is free to enter, and open regularly. Touring the museum site I was struck by how oddly familiar it was, the train around the border, the black steam engines needing a touch of paint, the limited track available, etc... It reminded me of the many small town museums I had visited beforehand, just with a much larger collection of rolling stock and located not far from the busy studios of Hollywood.

An observation of the engines and the wear and tear which comes from outdoor display, reminded me of the constant needs these museums have. With my experiences starting to help on the Columbia Steel #300 project it dawned on me the amount of elbow grease needed to get work done on these heavy machines. The most valuable resource of a place like Travel Town and countless other museums besides money, is volunteers who give their time.

Los Angeles has a rich and vibrant railroad scene, and I feel my brief stop at Travel Town only scratched the surface (I missed the opportunity to see the Rail Giants Museum in Pomoma to the east completely this trip too). Its an area I would like to return to someday to railfan further.

6/26/17 I had the chance to see the California and Western a little bit in a vacation in Northern California several years ago, so I was pleasantly surprised to find another "Skunk Train"-alumni preserved in Los Angeles.

6/26/17 The diminutive and rare EMD Model 40 switcher is a sight to behold. This unit "Travel Town 1 Charley Atkins" is the only operating standard gauge unit at the museum.

6/26/17 Conrock #1 rests alongside Sharp and Fellows #7.

6/26/17 WP 326, a 2-8-0 was the highlight of the steam collection at Travel Town for me. I can't help but wonder if this engine ever worked the WP branchlines in Utah, exchanging whistles with my own hometown engine Tooele Valley #11 at the Warner Interchange? I would have loved to have seen that happen.

6/26/17 A broad view of the train shed at the park with WP #26 and Sharp and Fellows #7 at the entrance.

6/26/17 Santa Maria Valley #1000 caught my eye due to remembering the history of one of its stable mates Santa Maria Valley #100 which worked the Heber Creeper in Utah in the early 1980's. #100 is now kept in Oregon. From what I have been able to read up on the Santa Maria Valley was a produce hauling line in California.

6/26/17 The Travel Town minature train loops around the museum border.

Hollywood Faux-totypes

In the heartland of the movie industry, it is no surprise fake train related props exist which have been used in film or displayed in theme parks. This form of "large scale modeling" is rather interesting to me. Especially considering that for many in the public these theme park displays or silver screen stars are the closest to railroading they might get.

 6/26/17 This facade on the Warner Brothers Studio Tour caught me immediately as looking like an old train station. Perhaps it has been used as such in film and t.v. and a sharp eye could find it in their film collection... The grassy knoll to the right has been used as a filming set to represent Central Park in t.v. shows such as F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

 6/27/17Great Western Railway 5972 the "Olton Hall" was used in filming the Harry Potter series in Britain. What looks like a 1:1 scale (or really close to it) replica of the engine is displayed in Universal Studios Hollywood. The prototype Olton Hall is preserved at the Warner Brothers Studio in Britain after having been retired from use in excursion service.

6/27/17 The regular steam whistles and smoke effects did help create the illusion this static display was ready to roll at moment's notice.
On the Road Home

Wednesday my mother and I set out from Los Angeles early morning to travel back to our home in one day. While this travel arrangement meant I missed the chance to see UP 1983 when it rolled past us on I-15 out of Barstow, it did give us a few other moments to stop along the way. At the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada; while we basked in the strange history of the nuclear age I also spotted a few ways the railroads played a part into that. On the final leg of the journey we found a Union Pacific train passing through the Tintic Valley near Eureka, Utah; where I got my first look at the new Arrowedge 2.0 (and only my second look at any type of Arrowedge period!)

6/28/17 One of the stops on the ride home was the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada. While not a rail museum, it is not surprising to see that railroading was present during this strange, bizarre, eclectic and twisted era of American atomic history. The first sighting of railroading within the museum was in a replica of a housing/office unit in Mercury, Nevada with the vintage Union Pacific calendar placard to the wall.

6/28/17 Although the Union Pacific never was built to reach Mercury or the Nevada Proving Grounds  (later Nevada Test Site then the Nevada National Security Site); the atomic testing complex was home to one of the nation's most bizarre and unique private shortline operations, the Jackass and Western.

6/28/17 This N-scale (I think?) model layout was used to train employees of the Jackass and Western, featuring a rather condensed version of the route across Jackass Flats. There were no interchanges, no revenue freight cars.

6/28/17 The cargo though was a bit, nuclear dare I say? The Jackass and Western was used to haul experimental nuclear rockets from their assembly building to their tower test stands, then retrieve them after testing for disassembly and decontamination. Despite the radioactive nature of the cargo, the two Jackass and Western locomotives are now preserved in Boulder City, Nevada where one of them is used in excursion service! The pressurized cab which was meant to keep radioactive particles out of the cab during testing was a unique feature used on at least one of the engines.  Visiting the museum in Boulder City is something I will save for a future trip through the area.

6/28/17 On the drive back home later in the day through the Tintic Valley in Utah; I ran across an eastbound stacker with an Arrowedge 2.0. This Arrowedge was developed by a team at BYU, and will be entering service across the UP system as more are made to increase fuel economy.
My sojourn to California turned out to be very exciting, not just for the trains I wrote about here; but the memories and family experiences. I wish my sister and her new husband happiness in their new relationship; and am glad their wedding plans offered the rest of us an excuse for a vacation! I am glad to have gotten to see and explore a bit of Southern California's rail treasures, although I feel I just barely scratched the surface! Hopefully I get the chance to get out and see it again!
-Jacob Lyman
A Note on Museums and other attractions on the trip:
Although railroad museums are some of my favorite highlights on trips like this, I feel it is worth mentioning the full list of attractions and museums we saw on the trip. Getting out and exploring the area often requires more than an understanding of just the railroad history, and sometimes places devoted to other subjects such as the National Atomic Testing Museum do have a few railroad related nuggets in their collection. So without further delay, the full list:
  • Cove Fort Historic Site
  • San Diego Zoo
  • Balboa Park Railroad
  • Mormon Battalion Historic Site
  • Old Town San Diego/Café Coyote Restaurant
  • Torrey Pines Beach State Park/Poseidon Restaurant
  • Del Mar, California
  • Coronado Island
  • U.S.S. Midway Museum
  • Travel Town Railroad Museum
  • Warner Brothers Studio Tour
  • Universal Studios Hollywood
  • National Atomic Bomb Testing Museum