Retuen to the Lounge Car

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All Photos 1999 by David Crammer and may not be reproduced without permission

It's 6 AM in the BNSF yard in Bakersfield, California. Already, with the sun still hidden behind the mountains to the east, there are indications that this will be another scorcher of a day. Crews are arriving via the white Renzenberger vans to man the trains that will be heading west/north up the valley and east/south across the Tehachapi's getting onto the SP/UP tracks at Kern Junction. They arrive in various western gear with jeans and Stetsons mixing with overalls and large silver belt buckles depicting everything from steam locomotives to bucking broncos. A westbound with a red and silver warbonnet GE on the point is just east of the "F" Street crossing next to the Amtrak office and begins to creep forward as the gates go down. It passes the office with #625 (red 9-44CW), #5843 (yellow SD45-2U), #209 (red SD75M), and #200 (red SD75M) and crosses over onto the yard tracks with a mile of box cars, gondolas, tank cars, and lumber.

Select In the office, looking out of the tinted window at the passing cars, the computer screen on the upper right gives the lineup headed our way with EAST/NORTH on the top and WEST/SOUTH below. Currently there are 6 coming from the east and 9 from the west. Each computerized notation gives the train symbol, lead unit number, number of cars, tonnage, length, mph (top speed allowed for the train based on the consist), location, time (the location and time are taken automatically from the AEI Automatic Equipment Identification tag on the units that are scanned at various locations along the route and automatically fed to the system wide computer system), and the track they are on (north or south). On the screen the 199 (Chicago to Richmond) train is showing that #682 (RED 9-44CW) is the lead unit. It has 60 cars, is listed as 3,981 tons, 5,737 length, restricted to 70 mph, was by Hinkley at 0643 and is on the main track.

Select Paul Shaver is the Assistant Trainmaster this morning with 24 years experience in railroading having started out as a janitor then relief train agent and relief trainmaster. There are between 24 to 28 trains per day through Bakersfield and Paul will be on duty for his shift of 12 hours with a slight overlap to facilitate a turnover report. Select On the other computer is Chris Young who is the ATM going off duty and is busy logging on items. As those cars from the eastbound are passing he has to look out over the various hats of the crew members seated on the bench with "SANTA FE" spelled out in fading paint across the top backing board. With the train going into the yard cleared another train with bell ringing pulls up on the track next to the bench with yellow #5149 (SD40-2U which sports an "MKM" under the number). Having received the instructions over the radio "Everything through but you" the crew emerges from the cab an with various coolers and grips in hand climbs down the steps while their relief prepares the take over and in less than 5 minutes the QALRI-10 is rolling west with a line of double stacks reading JB Hunt, Santa Fe, and then the pigs. Of course not every train going through leaves with all of the power it came in with. Bakersfield is a major power utilization point since those going east require a 4.0 power ratio and the westbounds that made it down the hill a 3.5 ratio to continue up the flat valley with the reduction being done at Bakersfield.

As this exchange is taking place on the bulletin board in the office are various notices such as the number for the BNSF Employment Information number for Arizona and Southern and Northern California of 909-386-4152 which is updated as positions become available. There is also the information that from Mojave to Bakersfield the distance is 67.1 miles with a time estimate of 3 hours and 10 minutes and from Tehachapi (47 miles) the time estimate is 2 hours 10 minutes. This of course depends on the SP/UP dispatcher not holding them at KERN JUNCTION or at various sidings on the hill.

That hill to the east is of course a major consideration for every aspect of the job. The fact that BNSF trains are limited to 7,000 feet means that blocking done in Fresno is being updated with new construction that will allow a 7,000 foot train to sit as one piece rather than to have as is currently done backing up against a portion, pulling it out and then backing against the rest of the train. Making the trip over Tehachapi means that the trains must comply with both BNSF and UP rules.

Listed as additional instructions for eastward trains in the rules book are:

     3001-3199 TONS*     FIRST 10 CARS OF TRAIN
     3200-3399 TONS*     FIRST 11 CARS OF TRAIN
     3400-3599 TONS*     FIRST 12 CARS OF TRAIN
     3600-3799 TONS*     FIRST 13 CARS OF TRAIN
     3800-3999 TONS*     FIRST 14 CARS OF TRAIN


     TWO AXLE CARS                      35 TONS
     ALL OTHER CARS                     50 TONS


For helper placement the rules state:



4500-5499              1800 TONS             12
5500-6299              2700 TONS             18
6300-8000              GREATER OF 3600 TONS  24
                       OR 1/2 OF TRAILING

These of course are just some of the rules designed to make the passage east as safe as possible and govern how the trains leaving Bakersfield will be made up. The man in charge in Bakersfield who is responsible for these items is Terminal Manager Mike Long. Mike has been the terminal manager for two years. Above him is Division Superintendent Gary Allen who came off of the BN's Yellowstone Division. Passing the window to the left of Mike's desk are the pigs from yet another westbound with JB Hunt, Schneider, Roadway, and UPS. He is going over the computer printouts with various colored "Hi-Liners" using green for cars destined for San Bernardino while talking on the phone that seems to be a permanent attachment to his shoulder and accessing the computer to his right. With his third hand he takes a gulp of coffee from his cup that reads on one side "CHARGE" and on the other "COME ON YOU SONS OF BITCHES - DO YOU WANT TO LIVE FOREVER?" Which were the words of gunnery Sgt Daniel Daily USMC at Belleau Wood.

With the cars now passed, outside of the window flocks of birds wheel and veer over the tracks searching for dropped grain or other edible items. The yard they are looking down on is busy fulfilling those printout sheets on Mike's desk busy building what are called "Bypass trains" to take the pressure off of Barstow. While the Barstow hump can easily handle 1,600 cars a day the increase in business has raised the load to 2,000 a day and Bakersfield helps relieve the pressure by setting up blocks that can the be sent on east to Argentine Yard in Kansas.

Setting up the trains that will be routed all over the country means coordination and communication. This is the purpose of the first conference call of the morning at 0730.

"Please enter your pass code now."

"Who's here?"
"Safety's here."
"Crew management."

First on the agenda is the list from crew management as to how many crew members are available to cover the trains since the locomotives are not yet capable of driving themselves. Crew members consist of conductors, engineers, switchmen/brakemen and they need to know how many are marked up and rested as well as how many were held over, how many were deadheaded and how many are on vacation.

All of the little items that need to be handled as well as the major ones that need to be anticipated are handled on the conference call. This may include the need for a tanker truck at Richmond to provide water for the locomotives since work there requires that the water main be temporarily be cut. The customer's needs are also brought up as to blocks of cars, valley traffic, and the disposition of cars. These may consist of a "MINE RUN" which picks up cars from every dog town with no rhyme, reason or order to what is considered the most important train in the valley, the MOSR (pronounced "Moser" when being discussed). The MOSR is the Modesto to Streator with can goods, perishables, oranges, potatoes, and wine from Gallo. On a typical 7,000 ton train 4,000 tons of it may be wine. Getting that wine to New York makes the MOSR the highest priority manifest on the Santa Fe as it is shotgunned down and then blocked at Bakersfield. The block for Conrail, which will take it on to New York is the hottest, and it will reach New York in about 5 days. Setting up trains also means knowing the location and direction of cars headed Mike's way. Richmond may give a report that they have 10 cars bound for Birmingham (31 added), and 11 for St Louis. They also report that they have on hand 300 empty flats and need to run some out along with 20 empty double stacks. Fresno reports that they have:

34 Chicago Repo's
14 cars for Q-Rail
and are "Fine for flats."

Finally it is Bakersfield's turn with a discussion of on relaying power to Barstow on shooters and the news that the 991 will reduce power and may add fueled power. Bakersfield has 400 cars on hand to switch and is busy making up two trains.

"What time would you like for a departure time?" While the conference call is going on the computer screen shows the location of trains under discussion. "Well, until we can get rid of the coal train we can't take anything."

"We'll have to find some place to park it." So it goes on the conference calls that allow management to anticipate the type of day they will have to face. Meanwhile another Renzenberger is pulling up to take the crew from the latest train to a motel. Across from the depot is a sign with red letters on white to remind "LOOK LISTEN AND LIVE" a wise admonition when working on the railroad. The temperature is continuing to climb and an orange wind sock across the track dangling from a pole at first motionless starts to rise then swings to the west.

Walking past the depot now are Amtrak passengers who will be boarding the California cars with their blue, yellow, black, and Select silver paint scheme. Some of them have arrived from LA by bus while others are local headed north. Ice is being loaded on the dining car "COACHELLA VALLEY" which has on its side the universal fork and knife sign. Next in line is "DRAKES BAY" #8204, followed by #8013 "KLAMATH RIVER", and #8312 "MOUNT INYO". As the lead unit #2001 faces a double red signal the passengers for train #713 are in the ticket office where the schedule gives the information:


     DEPART            ARRIVE
     #711 5:00 AM      #712 1:45 AM
     #713 9:30 AM      #714 4:32 PM
     #715 12:25 PM     #716 8:22 PM
     #717 3:55 PM      #718 11:45 PM

By 10:30 the thermometer is reading 95 in the shade and the wind sock is almost motionless. "Burlington Northern Western Fruit Express" cars, with their refrigeration motors running, are being set out for the MOSR with #5857 and #848 kicking back the cars into the yard. Inside the office though the air conditioning system is keeping all of the computer equipment as well as the crews cool. The headlight of a blue and white northbound San Joaquin Valley sits below F Street and then pulls forward into the yard with more "Western Fruit Express" cars and a one of the car department crew follows it on a red ATV to make his inspection.

Select Conductor Billy Baldwin arrives for the 199 train only to learn that it has been delayed because of a derailment on the hill. Billy has been working for BNSF for a year and before that was in the navy as a jet engine mechanic. After 20 years of jet engines he came to the realization that it just wasn't fun anymore. He decided to work for the railroad because he always liked trains and enjoys having the responsibility for all of the tonnage and different aspects involved. Today he will be responsible for a 6.013 foot train (including power), weighing 4,397 tons with 64 cars all of which are loads. He is also responsible for his 15 year old daughter, Tiffany, who is on a college bound girls basketball team where academics is considered as important as making baskets.

This will be a two man crew an D. R. (Rob) Brechmann Jr will be the engineer. Pulling out his rules book Rob checks to see if the lead unit is computerized. Because he will be driving the train north this afternoon it means that his 12 year old son, who is into midget racing, will have to forego this particular pleasure. His 13 year old daughter, who helps work on the cars and is also a color guard at school will also have to wait.

Plans call to pull off two of the four units it is arriving with to be used for a return up the hill and to continue on with the remaining two. They walk down to F Street with the train halted Select just to the east so as not to interrupt traffic and make the crew change entering the cab of lead unit #803 (8-40CW).

"803 ready to depart in about 5 minutes." Rob calls this to the dispatcher even while we are working to get rid of the trailing units so that there is as little delay as possible. The signal for our track displays a yellow over red and then a flashing yellow over red.

Gear stowed Billy goes back to cut off the two rear units from the train so that we can pull forward and let them be taken by the hostler over to one of the yard tracks. We watch as #511 (8-40BW) and #7414 (yellow B40-8) pass to our left and then we back against the first car.

"OK, back down gradual." From Billy and we back past the lowered crossing gate. Once we are re-connected Rob pumps up the air for our 6,000 feet of train. Since we are stopped the gate sensor brings it back to the raised position but we do have permission from the dispatcher (DS-26 Bakersfield Dispatcher) to proceed when we are ready since the signal to the west of the depot now shows green over red meaning that we will proceed straight down the north track rather than crossing over and there is a gap in the rails at the switch giving us a further confirmation of our route.

Air test complete we creep forward with our two units showing a slight hesitation in overcoming the tendency of those 4000-plus tons to remain at rest. The horn is blowing and the bell ringing as the train pulls past the Amtrak station and then the BNSF depot.

"Out at 1412."

We pass an eastbound with JB Hunt containers parked and waiting for either permission or a crew and there is a slight rocking sensation approaching the Oak Street Bridge at 20 mph. As we crossed F Street Rob hit the digital counter to let him know when the rear was clear and as he passes under the bridge it reads 5092'.

"High Ball the rollby 199." This from Paul who has stepped out of the depot to watch us leave and calls over his hand held radio. Normally in the yard he would be using the Bakersfield channel of 161.370 but since we are now under the command of the dispatcher he is using the road channel of 160.935. Rob brings the throttle up through the notches all the way to 8 and our two units overcome inertia enough to bring us to 30 mph and then to 40 as we cross the Kern River Bridge and an Amtrak San Joaquin parked off to our right.

"Clear block."

"Clear block." Our signal ahead is green and both the conductor and engineer call it off as we pass the oil refinery west of town.

"Clear over...straight ahead." By now we are at 50 mph on the flat straightaway and then with another green merge to single track at WEST JASTRO. A few more miles and we are at 54 mph according to the speedometer. With the straight level track the locomotive does its thing making sure it has an awake engineer and at periodic intervals the alerter flashes a light on the upper right of the console over the amp meter and then sounds a buzzer which Rob must react to by pushing the yellow button to his left on the console to avoid having the unit shut itself down. To our right are fields of brown grass and on the left irrigation has kept everything an emerald green. This is because without water supplied from the northern half of the state the valley would revert to its natural desert state rather than acting as a breadbasket for the country.

Ahead we spot a military train headed east eventually to Yermo but at the moment parked on a siding with a crew member down on the ground to give us a rollby. W e pass its flatcars loaded with tank, jeeps, and other vehicles and by Milepost #899 have orchards on both sides of the track.

Billy and Rob take advantage of the so far uneventful trip to go over the slow orders and restrictions they will be facing up ahead.

"Clear block."

"Should be able to 'High-Ball' now. Let's head home." By now notch 8 has everything moving at 60 mph.

"Clear block." Gates go down on either side of the track as we exit the orchards and now there is bare earth on both sides and water in the ditches next to the road bed. At SHAFTER (MP 905.4) we pass between sidings with green "Pacific Fruit Express" cars. Because of the volume of produce in the valley there are two sidings at SHAFTER, one on either side of the main with the West siding at 5,963 feet and the East one 4,833 feet.

"Clear block." and with a "W" sign on a post ahead of a crossing Rob punches the horn but in the comfort cab the sounds from outside are completely blocked. At CP ROSE (MP 914.8) the track curves to the right as we pass a rainbow of different colored roses lined out in the field beside us.

"Clear block." With a green over red we keep to the main passing empty coal cars. Ahead the single signal is green and a ribbon rail train is on the siding to our right after which it is back to single track that is banked above rows of more flowers on the right and orchards to the left. We are rocking and rolling through farm country with tractors working in the fields and a "Green over red." ahead.

Rob takes a swig from the new BNSF "Niagara" clear water bottles, that replaced the old "Adam's Ale" which always tasted of plastic, and after emptying it places the bottle in the trash bag behind him. At MP 921 we curve to the left at 65 mph and the red "alerter" flashes and then sounds its alarm and Rob hits the button to silence it. We get a "No defects" from the detector and a "Clear block" from the signal. The road goes ever on and on and at MP 927 a flock of birds that had been sitting on the right-of-way scatters at our approach. We are now approaching more numerous crossings and Rob works the buttons on the console that sit to the left of the throttle. From the bottom to the top they are:

     Blue-Front Axle Sand

Select Intellectually we know that it is hot out there even though the air-conditioned cab us very comfortable and over to are right is a band of cumulus clouds where the mountains sit on the eastern edge of the valley. Black-eyed Susans are growing in the ditch beside us providing a touch of color and then to our left a series of ponds complete with palm trees as in a miniature oasis. By now we are on a slight upgrade with our speed dropping to 6mph. Bakersfield is at 400 feet and Fresno 200 feet. Between them is a bowl so that there is a slight down grade, then level track and then another slight upgrade.

"Clear." We pass the grain elevator at ANGIOLA (MP 942.1) and keep getting those emerald "Come on ahead" signals. We pass Corcoran State prison home of both Charlie Manson and Sirhan Sirhan and keep on going.

"Flashing yellow."

"Hope it goes green before we get there."


"Headlight ahead." The headlight is an Amtrak waiting in the siding for us to pass. Since it is running ahead of schedule it waits for us before proceeding on down to CORCORAN which has it due to arrive at 3:21.

"Clear block."

"Good rollby." From the Amtrak over the radio.

"Clear block." Crossing a small mossy stream a flock of birds skims along the water as we pass over the bridge. Irrigation ditches on both sides reflect the blue sky and then come to an end at a cattle ranch. The track curves to the right at notch 8 still has us at 60. As long as we have clear signals ahead Rob's main job is react to the alerter and look for signal changes along with Billy.

"Detector Milepost 962 no defects."

"30 coming up." Billy announces a speed restriction ahead.

"30 coming up." Rob puts the throttle forward into dynamics

and begins to bring the speed down. The colored lights on the speedometer start to wink out in a counter clockwise motion and he hits the horn which echoes as we pass under a highway bridge and then the depot at HANFORD (MP 967.9). As we pass the depot he hits the counter and begins to bring the speed back up again. We still have a 25 mph restriction for the siding at SHIRLEY (MP 973.2) and 40 on the main at CONEJO (MP 982.2).

"Yellow board for the siding."

"Yellow board for the siding." We pass the golf course to our right which takes advantage of the irrigation water and then emerge from the green woods to more open fields. To the right a tractor is leaving a cloud of dust in its wake indicating that the wind direction is now out of the west. Since we are now on the upgrade for Fresno notch 8 has us at 50 mph by MP 978.

"Clear." Grape vines are now on both sides and as we pass over a road crossing the gates are down and red lights blinking and almost immediately which has Rob reacting appropriately with bells and whistles.

"We have a 40 on the main coming up." This is the street crossing at Conejo.

"Yellow board 40 and clear on the main." The yellow board means we have two miles to bring the speed down to 40 mph. As we pass over the crossing Rob hits the counter again. "Last known restriction." From Billy and we have more grape vines beside us and a farmer driving his tractor along the service road to our right. As the counter shows that the rear of the train has cleared the crossing Rob eases on the throttle again taking us back up to 55.

"Flashing yellow."

"Flashing yellow."

Billy gets on the radio to the dispatcher to check on it.

"What are you going?" From the dispatcher.

"55....we're going in anyway." This last part to Rob who reduces the throttle while Billy is talking over the radio to the yard ahead. The dynamics have us at 45 mph and we pass herds of cattle and green fields.

Select "Clear ahead." At THORPE (MP 993) we are at 50 and Billy and Rob get prepared to turn over their train at CALWA (the yard gets its name from the California Wine Association and is usually pronounced Cal Way on the railroad) Yard in Fresno and we enter at 1615 having made the 107 mile trip in just over 2 hours. A new crew will continue on with it to Richmond as they make the usual switch of grips and coolers.

Select Select As the 199 train continues on north with units #803 and #222 (SD75M) Engineer Peter Page and Conductor John Apperson prepare to take a southbound down to Bakersfield. Getting a lift from Renzenberger driver Jim Huber they are dropped off at their two units red and silver Dash 8-40 BW #502 and green and white BN #7878 (SD40-2). This will be the power for the PRIBH (Richmond to Birmingham) with 32 loads, no empties, 1,894 tons and a length of 2,962 feet. Select Select Pete watches for John's hand signals as he backs against the first part of his train checking the side mirror and then for more hand signals as John cuts in the air. He pulls forward stopping at the east end of the yard allowing John to dismount and set the switch while we face a yellow signal and Peter backs again. Peter has worked for the railroad for 26 years back to a time when the water that now comes in those clear plastic bottles was in jugs that developed green mold and had to be cleaned out and iced down. The two of them will make the run down, get some sleep at the motel and come back tomorrow.

"502 about 5 pigs..over" (1 pig=90 feet).

"5 pigs."

"3 pigs 502."

"Easy 502."

"That'll do 502."

"Back em up 502 about 15 pigs over."

"About 15."

"About 9 more pigs 502 over." We again pass MP 994 as we back into the yard.

"502 about 4 pigs over."

"2 pigs 502."

"Easy 502 1 pig."

"Easy 502."

"That'll do 502."

"Cutting in the air 502."

"Cutting in the air." There is the hiss of the air being pumped up to release the brakes.

"OK stretch em Pete."

"OK back em up 502."

"Back em up." Pete confirms.

"Clear of the 13 switch 502." As we back over CALWA CROSSING (MP 994.3) the signal is red and the gates down. Pete keeps an eye on the side mirror as he backs over the switches against the last of his cars. As we back the gates go down in front of us and a train with a mix of UP and SP power crosses in front of us. As it blocks us we are doing the mandatory yard brake test. It finishes its traverse and as the gates rise again Pete reads the leakage test at less than 1/2 pound per minute and he waits for John to finish his inspection. Ahead the gates flash again and lower and another SP train passes but even as it finishes the signal ahead remains red.

Select To the east the cumulus clouds have now gotten higher and thicker with the heat and humidity indication a possibility of thunder storms in the Fresno area this evening.

"Santa Fe railroad milepost 987.0 no defects." We hear a detector go off in front of us and Pete points out that this is probably a northbound Amtrak. Sure enough it passes in front of us on the main as John is still out inspecting the train. Tonight should be an easy trip down because of the clear weather. Terrain wise the run between Fresno and Bakersfield makes it an easy passage but the fog that can come up the valley does create a problem. If he does have to make the run in fog Pete prefers the night since in daylight the signals tend to wash out which makes it with train speed at 70 mph even more important to know their location along the line. He used to work the northern part between Richmond and Fresno and reminisces about times coming across the water with the fog up to the nose hiding the track. "When the blanket of fog is nose high you can't see the rail or the water but you can see the islands and structures like floating on gossamer."

"502 See if you can call the yard to give us a rollby?" "Santa Fe 502 east...wer'e ready to leave...trying to call the yardmaster for a rollby." Actually this is preparatory since the dispatcher has informed us that we will be waiting for another Amtrak and two Westbound "Q" trains. For radio purposes #502 is a Santa Fe unit others may be BN or BNSF depending on the lettering on their sides and nose.

"Santa Fe railroad milepost 987.0 no defects." This will be the QWSST1-15 with #613 (9-44CW) as the lead unit. John gets down to give it a rollby standing in the shade of our units to avoid some of the heat. As he gives the rollby he is listening as well as looking. His ears are trying to detect any strange sounds from the wheels which may indicate sticking brakes and his eyes watch for leaning vans which may be caused by loads shifting inside. The rule is if you can see any air between the 5th wheel table there may be a problem.

After its passage another SP passes in front of us. On a longer route this waiting may cause a crew to "Die on the law" but with only 107 miles to our destination there is not to much chance of that. Finally the dispatcher is on the radio to us to let us know he has a train at BOWLES (MP 988.3) and when it passes he will advance us to BOWLES to wait for the next one. Chess pieces moving on the board.

As the "Q" train passes we get our green and Pete eases on the throttle to pull us forward over the ladder of tracks before the crossing. The trainmaster is out in his blue car at the crossing to give us our rollby and at 6:50 in the evening we pass him as well as the white security truck. Ahead of us far down the track is another green signal and Pete hits the counter as we cross the SP track. Over the radio we overhear another crew switching in the yard we are leaving.

"One pig 615."

"OK that'll do 615." As for us notch 2 has us at 10 mph which Pete advances to 3. Beyond the first green signal we can see a second farther down the straight track. As this is now early evening the sun is below the cloud bank to our right and the signals which were a little washed out in the bright sun stand out in the ambient light. We pass the first at THORPE and Pete takes the throttle up to notch 7 as our speed climbs to 20. We get an "All black." from the trainmaster on the rollby which is an old term meaning that there are no sparks or fire from the wheels.

"502 East out of CALWA."

John checks in with the dispatcher as we raise our speed towards 40 and the lights on the speedometer climb in a clockwise direction. As we approach BOWLES the signal gives us a green over red since the 1-899-16 train is already occupying the siding and waiting for us to clear and gives us a good rollby.

"Detector MP 987.0 no defects." This time the message is for us and we race past irrigation ditches where the water that earlier reflected blue sky now shows as silver. The little river we crossed earlier now has ripples where fish are leaping to catch a dinner of flying insects and in the side mirror the signals from both the siding and the main we have just passed are both showing as red.

Pete hits the horn as we pass the house of signal maintainer Roy Stingley who is out watering his lawn on this Saturday evening and he replies with a friendly wave. A group of kids dash across the track at Lacy Blvd in Hanford making it safely to the other side while the sun peeks out from the bottom of the cloud bank to our left with a sudden dazzling unexpected burst.

Signal 9662 is giving us a flashing yellow and beyond that we see a hard yellow and Pete puts on the dynamics in anticipation of the next one that may put us into the siding as we can see it as yellow over red but then changes to green over red. We keep the main and Pete is back onto the throttle. Ahead we now spot a headlight with double stacks behind it holding JB Hunt containers. This is the QALRI-1 with warbonnet units 850 (8-40CW) and 817 (8- 40CW) and eventually this long siding (9,951 feet) will be changed to double track. Behind it we see another green signal and keep on moving. The sun is now in its final stages and ahead a headlight beyond the green signal. By the time we are at MP 956 we have a flashing yellow and the headlight ahead of us dims. Pete is bringing our speed down and we can see that the other train is sitting on the siding and we pass it at 35 mph. The sun is now completely below the horizon, more green signals are ahead of us and we have a new dispatcher sitting halfway across the continent watching over our progress. As we pass BLANCO (MP 945.9) at 50 mph we hear Colleen Judge talking to another train ahead of us and get the impression that we will probably end up in the hole for awhile. At the moment though our signals continue to stay green and we watch as insects rising from out of the fields impact on our headlights. Our earlier palm oasis now shows as black bushes and silver water while the prison and other lights show up as fire flys in the distance an a highway sign beside the tracks gives the distance to Bakersfield as 49 miles. However Colleen has finally gotten around to us and tells us we will be going into the siding. The signals are no longer our emerald road but now a flashing yellow and then red over flashing yellow and then at the end of the siding the red signal reflects off of the rails. In the clear desert air the signals seem closer than they actually are which means that experience on the route is a must. Pete brings us to a gradual halt, turns off the headlight, two red signals stare balefully at us with the one on the left guarding the east end of the siding and the one on the right the main. Colleen's plan of the moment is to allow three trains to pass us by and then advance us to another siding to wait for a fourth train. The question for the dispatcher is which makes the railroad run smoother? To hold one train for over an hour and keep three or four others moving or to move each train and only delay them for 10 minutes each. Tonight the formula works out so that we will sit and wait. Out in the darkness the air is still warm and on the highway to our left an occasional car headlight passes us with those coming north almost giving the impression of a northbound locomotive. John climbs down with his electric lantern to give a rollby while a moth flys in the open door and begins to buzz the light on Pete's console. While John's has two from above to aid with his paperwork the engineer's consists of one light from above and one from the side.

Out at his place of vigil John stands with his lantern under the light of a half moon plus that of the truck lights and number board of #502. To the east he begins to see the approaching headlights causing the poles along the track to stand out and then the westbound dims its lights showing a number board of #902 (8- 40CW). John briefly shines his lantern against his chest to let the crew know he is standing safely off to the side to make his inspection and then as they pass the lead unit Pete in the cab puts his lights on to illuminate the passing cars. As they pass the gaps between them allow the light to pass and have the appearance of an early Kinescope projector until finally they are past trailing the blinking red ETD.

From up in the cab Pete watches the next train approach and #7417 (B40-8) with its headlights and ditch lights which again are dimmed. As this short local passes the parked units sway as they are buffeted by the air compressed ahead of it and then almost in an instant it flashes past. Like most dispatchers Colleen has her cliche lines. The crews know that most questions regarding when they will be able to depart will be greeted by a terse, "Watch for the signal Santa Fe Bakersfield sub out." With the next train not due for awhile John returns to the cab and in front the signals are still at red so here we will sit until Colleen gives us "permission to pass go."

Finally the headlight of the third train in the series lead by #8259 (SD75M) approaches between the red signals, dims it lights, and glides quickly towards us pushing wind and dust. Our headlights come jarring on to catch the corrugated contours of box cars in linear shadows and then it to is past and now the ball is in Colleen's court. Over the radio we here the detector report on the just passed train, "Santa Fe railroad milepost 921.0 no defects." which matches the opinion of our own rollby . We settle back into the waiting mode while making bets as to whether she will use her standard line as she works her way down the list of other trains between us and Fresno. Finally it is our turn.

"Santa Fe Bakersfield sub to Santa Fe 502 west."

"Santa Fe 502 west."

"As soon as the next westbound is by you I'll work you down to SHAFTER." Groan!

From the distance another set of headlights splits the signals and then dims. This is led by #7435 (B40-8) with a load of box and tank cars which rockets by and as it clears we are again staring at the double signals. Without waiting to deliver her line Colleen has us on a green and Pete is immediately on the throttle and we inch forward curving to the right off of the siding and back onto the main. The crossing gates go down in front of us with Pete hitting the horn and stretched out before us in the night we see a line of emeralds with the closest one reflecting off of the well shine rails.

In the afternoon's trip up the area here seemed rather sparsely populated but with the setting of the sun lights now mark houses, businesses, and streets. We keep moving and on a double yellow go into a siding and around a train holding the main but we keep moving. Out the other side is that friendly green indicator and as we near Bakersfield John gets on the radio to the yard to find out where they want to put us for the crew change. Bakersfield provides almost a solid sea of lights and we pass the refinery at JASTROW and back to single track crossing the bridge over the Kern River. As we enter the yard limits Pete dims the lights and has us down to a stately 10 mph crossing from the main onto yard tracks and eventually onto track #404.

Our track route shows up as a pair of golden rails reflecting the yard lights and they curve a bit before passing under the Oak Street bridge meandering through a wall of cars with odd angles and the occasional block of darkened locomotives waiting to depart. At night viewed from our moving perch they are all clumped together. Finally we pull to a stop across from the office with the light shining out onto that "Santa Fe" marked bench. A westbound double stack is already pulling through headed for the main line we have just vacated proving that as long as there are customers to be serviced there will be rumbling in the night from moving trains. Whither goest thou O'little blinking ETD?

Out on the bench sit the carry on bags of the new crews that will take our train and others to their next station. It is 11:30 at night in Bakersfield and the thermometer stands at 83 degrees.

I want to thank John Hearndon, Mike Long, Chris Young, D.R. (Rob) Brechman, Billy Baldwin, Paul Shaver, John Apperson, Pete Page, and Mike Martin for allowing me to find out how the BNSF works its trains between Bakersfield and Fresno in the Central Valley.