SLO Watertower

On my way back to the Bay Area from my Malibu adventure, I overnighted in San Luis Obispo. There was a water tower, across the line from the passenger depot that I wanted to add to my sketchbook. One of the few Southern Pacific water towers still standing in California.

I timed my visit with the arrival of Train # 14, the northbound Coast Starlight. This is an AMTRAK route that starts in Los Angles and terminates in Seattle, Washington.

I had about 20 minutes to sketch the water tower before the 14 pulled into San Luis Obispo. The train was already running 30 minutes late. I picked my position and started to sketch. A voice over my shoulder ask if was riding coach or had a roomette.

The voice belonged to an AMTRAK conductor who was about to board the train, SLO is a crew changeover point. I told him I wasn’t boarding the train, just sketching the tower. We had a conversation about other Southern Pacific existing water towers. He recommend a very large tower in the desert of Arizona that I should visit.

The Coast Starlight arriving at San Luis Obispo, 30 minutes late.

With the recent heavy precipitation over Donner Pass, I wondered aloud if the rotary plows at Roseville had been put to work to clear the pass. The conductor didn’t know. Before long the Coast Starlight pulled into the station and I looked down at my sketchbook and I hadn’t gotten very far but I had a nice conversation with a railroad working man. Two rail nerds chewing the fat!

SLO is was is called a stretch stop, also known in another time as a smoke stop, where the Starlight pauses for about 20 minutes so passengers can get out and stretch their legs, or poison their lungs with nicotine. This is also where crews, engineers and conductors, change over.

This photos says a lot. The conductor monitors the progress of boarding the train, baggage is being loading into the baggage car, and the engineers are changing over.

I couldn’t continue sketching because a double decker Superliner passenger car was now between myself and the historic water tower. So I watched the interactions on the platform instead. Passengers where doing laps, other where boarding, some hanging back from the train were vapping, and the train crew was in the process of changing over.

“All aboard!” And passengers filtered back into the cars. The locomotive sounded it’s horn. It was time for the Starlight to start its climb up the Horseshoe Curve on the Cuesta Grade and I watched the train slowly disappear around the curve.

I now turned back to the water tower and restarted my sketch.

The SLO 65,000 gallon water tower was built in 1940, at a cost of $2,130. The watertower was built across from the passenger station so steam locomotives could take on water without having to back into the yard further south down the track. At that time, ten passenger trains passed through SLO. The tank was in service until 1956, when steam was replaced with diesel on the coast line. The tower was preserved and restored by 1998.


Davis Station

My brother spent almost half of his life in the Central Valley college town, Davis, California. He attended the University of California at Davis (UCD), worked in it’s public and private schools, got married, and raised his three children in “The City of All Things Right and Relevant!”

For Mother’s Day we where meeting my mother and sister-in-law in Davis so I arrived a little early to I sketch the historic train station and do a little railfanning.

Most towns start with a train station and Davisville, as Davis was then known, got their passenger depot in 1868. The original station burned down and the current station was built by Southern Pacific Railroad in 1913. The station is built in a Mission revival style. The University Farm, which later became UCD, opened five years before the current building was finished. At the time, the University wanted a befitting station to the town and the university stop. And they certainly got one!

Three passenger trains stop at Davis: the Capital Corridor, AMTRAK’s Coast Starlight, and the California Zephyr.

A view of Davis Station from Track 1. The SP stands for Southern Pacific. The bike racks in the foreground tells you this is Bike City, Davis.

I sat on the north side of the station and sketched it’s Mission Revival stylings. The station is island by three sets of tracks which at the time was an important stop on the Cal-P line. While I was sketching the station, I was very familiar with it’s curved lines, arches, and tile roof because I had sketched all of California’s Spanish Mission and a few Southern Pacific Mission Revival stations (Burlingame Station comes to mind). Davis Station and the Davis Tower are the only examples of Mission Revival in the city of Davis.

The interlocking control tower still stands just northeast of the station. This will have to be for another sketching day.
A Union Pacific freight blazes through Davis Station with it’s curved track. Union Pacific owns the tracks and freight, not passengers service, pays the bills for the railroad.

There were a few clues that a train was coming down the line at Davis Station. The first was that the signal light was green, meeting that whatever train was heading down the line had the “high ball”, in other words, the train had the right of passage. The other clue was that people began to arrive at the station with their flowers in pots or plastic; it was Mother’s Day after all.

At 10:40 AM, a westbound Union Pacific freight train sped through the curve at Davis Station on track 1, the engineer giving me a thumbs up as the train rumbled through. At 10:50 AM, on track 2, the eastbound Capital Corridor train #724, pulled into Davis to take on passengers on her way to California’s capital: Sacramento.

The westbound Train # 731 was right on time and pulled into Davis at 11:10 AM. This Capital Corridor passenger train was heading to San Jose.

On point was locomotive 2004. I looked down at the front truck, containing the leading axels of the locomotive and stenciled, in yellow, where the two letters “GP”. In an odd bit of coincidence, I has replaced the initials “SP” on the Davis Station with my brother’s initials, “GP”, as an honor to his memory.

A westbound Capitol Corridor train pulls into Davis Station on it’s way to San Jose. On point is Locomotive 2004, an EMD F59PHI with “California” styling. I should say so.
In one of those “I-can-make-this-sh*t-up” moments, the initials “GP”, my bother’s intials, were stenciled into the trucks of locomotive 2004. Unreal.


Santa Clara Control Tower

I have been sketching a few of the remaining Southern Pacific water towers in California but I had yet to add a control tower to my sketchbook.

There are about nine Southern Pacific interlocking control towers still in existence in California and 16 are still in existence on the former SP system. These control towers where once ubiquitous on America’s railroads at busy junctions or rail crossings. Interlocking control towers centralized a group of signals (semaphore and lights) that were controlled by an operator to control the rail traffic by communicating different orders: proceed, caution, or stop. Think of it like a traffic signal for trains.

The Santa Clara Southern Pacific Interlocking Control Tower was built by SP in 1926 and put into service in 1927. The tower was in continuous use for 66 years at this very busy junction of the Coast Line and the Western Division. In the 66 years of operation, many trains, both passenger and freight, passed by. The famed Coast Daylight sped by the tower, stopping to take on passengers in San Jose.

The tower was in use until July 17, 1993 when the control of all switches and signals were moved to a centralized control center in San Jose.

A Southbound Caltrain pulls into Santa Clara Station on its way to the end of its run in San Jose. To the left is the restored control tower. On point is locomotive 915 “South San Francisco”.

Santa Clara is a busy junction where the Coast Line and the Western Division meet. It is busy today with both passenger and freight traffic. The passenger trains that stop or pass this way are Caltrain, Capital Corridor, the Altamonte Corridor Express (ACE), and the Coast Starlight. Four main line track pass Santa Clara, tracks to the northeast are used by Union Pacific for freight. The other three train a primarily used for passenger service with some routes turning off here to head north, on the east side of the Bay, towards Oakland (the Western Division).

A northbound Caltrain passes the control tower as it pulls out of Santa Clara Station heading toward San Francisco. This consist is being pushed by locomotive 905 “Sunnyvale”, an EMD F40PH-2CAT.

Sketcher’s Folly: Oops I did it again. I made a sketching mistake. In my sketch of the California Theatre in Dunsmuir I left out an “I” and now I made the egregious mistake of misspelling the county of my birth: Santa Clara. What next? Misspelling my own name?! Well at least I’m making new mistakes!


Santa Barbara Station

The Surfliner was an hour late and I would have even less time to spend with Santa Barbara’s beautiful station. I had to catch the number 14, Coast Starlight back to SLO at 12:40 PM. So I figured I had time for a quick 45 minute sketch and an even shorter lunch but I couldn’t wander too far from the station. Revisiting the “Queen of the Missions” was out of the question.

I walked around the station, “shaking hands”with the place. The Santa Barbara passenger station was completed in 1905 and designed in a Spanish Mission Revival style, very much reminiscent of Burlingame Station. This building has all the hallmarks of Mission Revival: arches, a star window (in imitation of Mission Carmel), and adobe tiled roof.

The woman’s waiting room at Santa Barbara Station. Above the fireplace is a base relief representation of Father Serra, founder of the Alta California Missions. He is spreading his arms wide, waiting to hug any neophytes that happen to be in the Station’s waiting room.

Santa Barbara Station was one of seven stations that the Coast Daylight served. The route parallels El Camino Real, the Royal Road, that connected 21 of the Spanish Missions along Alta California’s Coast.

GS-5 Number 4458, pulls into Santa Barbara Station at an unspecified date. The loco pulls train No. 99, a northbound Daylight to San Francisco. There were only two GS-5 locomotives built. Numbers 4458 and 4459. (Union Pacific Museum Collection: SP photo)
Golden State-4 number 4443 taking on water at Santa Barbara in January 1948. The train stopped in Santa Barbara for only four minutes before heading south towards Los Angeles. (Alan Miller Collection: Frank Peterson photo)

The train station served the ever growing resort town on the Pacific Ocean that catered towards the high-end.

A sign of the wealth and affluence of this area is the Pullman car that is on static display near the train station. Pullman passenger cars where a huge improvement in comfort and safety from the rickety, wooden cars that were uncomfortable and sometimes downright dangerous. They were the height of luxury at the time, for the well-off passengers who could afford to ride on one.

But the Pullman car at Santa Barbara is something very different. In the later part of the 20th century, Pullman produced passenger cars for the extremely wealthy, that could cost up to half a million dollars, which was twenty times the cost of a standard Pullman passenger coach. These cars were considered “mansions on wheels”. They where coupled to the end of a passenger train and at Santa Barbara there were siding tracks where these luxurious cars would over-winter as their owners stayed in nearby posh hotels.

After my sketch I walked down State Street toward the Pacific Ocean and I was passed by a twenty-something driving by in a brand new Rolls Royce, a modern Santa Barbarian mansion on wheels.

Some things like the station and mission remind us of a very different time while others show us that things remain very much the same.