Dunsmuir

Dunsmuir is a train town.

At one time it was a company town for the Southern Pacific Railroad when 3,000 of it’s citizen’s where employed by Southern Pacific Railroad.

Dunsmuir was previously known as Pusher because this is where helper locomotives where either added or taken off trains. They were put on to make it up the Cantara Loop and the climb out of Dunsmuir as the line headed north. Helpers where also used on downslope freight trains to help with dynamic braking.

The town contains a railyard, shops, and a still functioning turntable to turn locomotives around. In it’s heyday, Dunsmuir had a population of 5,000, many of those working for the railroad, serving the labor intensive steam locomotives. When the stream locomotives were replaced by more efficient disel-electric locomotives, the town’s population was almost halved.

Today, the mainline sees two passenger trains and about 15 freight train daily. Most freight trains are now powered by three to four, 4,000 to 6,000 horsepower, diesel-electic engines, so the need to add engines has become obsolete.

Dunsmuir still feels very much like a train town even though Southern Pacific was aquired by Union Pacific in 1996.

The main street, Dunsmuir Avenue, is beautiful in it’s small town charm. And of course the main street parallels the main line.

The crown jewel of downtown Dunsmuir is the California Theatre. This 800 seat movie palace was opened in 1926. The theater featured a stage and a Wurlitzer pipe organ. The theater is only one block from the passenger station and, in it’s heyday, many of Hollywood’s finest and other dignataries visited the theater including Babe Ruth, the Marx Brothers, and Clark Gable.

In recent times the theater has faced some troubling times, after many stops and starts the theater closed in 2016. There was also a Masonic Lodge that met in the building for close to 70 years.

I parked on Dunsmuir Avenue and did a car sketch (great for social distancing) of the the epic sign and marque. I added a bit of artistic license when I added perhaps the best movie ever made featuring a locomotive, Buster Keaton’s masterpiece, The General (1926).

Across from the station is a mural on an oil tank. The mural was created by rail historian, artist, author, and former employee of the Southern Pacific and McCloud Railroad, John Signor. This is a sketch I did from my photograph. It features a Southern Pacific EMD SD45 T-2R diesel-electric locomotive and the famous Daylight GS-4, 4449. This mural represented the future and the past of the Southern Pacific Railroad. It is also a reminder of the name of the railroad that built Dunsmuir.
Only two passages trains stop at Dunsmuir Station. The north and southbound Coast Starlight, an Amtrak service from Seattle, Washington to Los Angeles, California. To catch the Coast Starlight at Dunsmuir, you have to get up very early in the morning (or simply just stay up). The southbound Train 11 arrives in Dunsmuir at 12:35 AM and northbound Train 14 arrives at 4:56 AM!
Dunsmuir is an important division point in the Shasta Division where train crews change over. In this case, a BNSF freight train with a consist of hopper cars, change it’s engineer and conductor. BNSF is granted trackage rights to use this route by the tracks owner: Union Pacific.

Note: Part of sketching, and life I might add, is making mistakes and with this sketch I made one. I am a native Californian and I made unforgivable mistake of misspelling my own state! That sometimes happens when you are so focused on form and not spelling. I added the missing “I” on the street below.

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