California Zephyr and Southern Pacific Ghosts

On a Saturday morning I drove over the Bay Bridge to the Emeryville Amtrak Station to sketch the California Zephyr Train # 6. This is the train I booked a roomette on back in April. I had to cancel the trip because of the pandemic. This route usually runs seven days a week but with the current Covid situation, it now runs just three times a week: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Unfortunately I would not be board the train, although it was very tempting!

I wanted to challenge myself to do a quick sketch because I didn’t know how long the California Zephyr would be at the platform before it departed. I guessed I would have at least 15 minutes because the engineer stepped out of the cab and walked down the platform to a get a packed lunch while the conductors assisted with boarding. I liked the ephemeral nature of this challenge because unlike a piece of sculpture or architecture, the Zephyr was not going be here for long. For this task, it helps to have a smaller journal so I went with my Stillman & Birn Delta Series 6 X 8″ sketchbook.

California Zephyr # 6, pulling into Emeryville Station. This is one of Amtrak’s longest routes. In three days time it will end it’s journey in Chicago. Note the cowboy hat in the window. This consist was a little odd because it contained three instead of two locomotives. It also did not include a baggage car, so the Zeph has no baggage.

I also wanted to work with perspective by sketching the train as it reversed toward my eyeline and vanishing point. If you don’t get the perspective right, the whole sketch can fall apart. That’s why it’s best to lay in your perspective lines in pencil.

Emeryville is the western terminus of it’s 2,438 mile journey and train number 6 pulled into the platform at 8:45 AM to take on it’s first passengers. I first established where my eye or horizon line was by holding my pencil straight out at arm’s length and closing one eye. I added the line to my sketch. I then blocked in the position of the front of the locomotive. Next, I added the vanishing point on the eyeline. This is where all the lines of the receding train converge. Now it was about adding shapes and details and then inking the sketch before the Zephyr departed at it’s schedule time of 9:10 AM.

Eastbound California Zephyr heading out towards the north and eventually climbing out of the Sacramento Valley up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains towards the legendary Donner Pass. On the platform, wearing a red coat, is a fellow train nerd. In three days and 2,438 miles later, the Zephyr will end it’s journey in Chicago.

After the California Zephyr departed, right on time, I headed south into West Oakland to take a look at the old station that Emeryville Station replaced. This is Oakland’s 16th Street Station.

The current building was designed by architect Jarvis Hunt in a Beaux-Arts style and completed in 1912. It was Southern Pacific’s main passenger station in Oakland. Passengers could take ferries from Oakland Pier to San Francisco, which was two miles away.

Once the Bay Bridge was built, in 1936, it put an end to ferry service and passengers then could take buses over the bridge to get into San Francisco. In 1971, Amtrak took over passenger service from Southern Pacific.

On October 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck, severely damaging 16th Street Station. The earthquake also damaged the Cypress Structure, which was parallel to the railroad tracks. 14 blocks of this double deck freeway structure, collapsed or was damaged starting at 16th Street and heading to the MacArthur Maze. In total, 42 people lost their lives here. The most in any single location.

In the 1990’s, the rails were removed to make way for the construction of the 880 Freeway which replaced the Cypress Structure and 16th Street Station was left marooned without rails. The station was closed on August 5, 1994.

The abandoned 16th Street Southern Pacific Station. This was once the terminus of the superliner, the City of San Francisco.

From 16th Street Station I headed two miles to the Oakland Pier. This was once the busy hub of Southern Pacific’s Western Division. Oakland Pier was one of the busiest rail terminals in the country handling 763 trains a day and 56,000 passengers in a 24 hour period.

To control all this rail traffic, the Oakland Pier Control Tower made an average of 1,900 switches in a day! The majority of railroad tracks are now gone and the Oakland Pier is busy with shipping and truck traffic. The only reminder of this busy railroad hub is the remaining control tower.

The massive Oakland Pier interlocking control tower. The two poles to the right were used for “hooping up” orders, which was a way to pass orders to a train in motion. Using these poles to transfer train orders meant that the train did not have to stop to pick up orders. The tall pole was either for the engineer or fireman and the shorter one was for the conductor in the caboose.

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