The Union Pacific Railroad Historical Society held the 1993 annual Convention in Stockton, California. The attendees were looking forward to learning more about the recently absorbed Western Pacific Railroad and the interesting history of its construction and operation. One of the places we wanted to see was Stockton tower. I and a number of other attendees drove to the Tower’s location with the intent of spending a brief amount of time photographing the movements over the classic 90 degree crossing that created the need for the tower. Once there, we found a UPRR local freight stopped on the curved transition track and fouling the approach to the crossing. There were people dressed in hard hats and overalls peering under the locomotive. It did not take us long to figure out the locomotive was disabled in some way and some drama was in the offing as the crossing could not be used until the train was moved away from the crossing. We decided to stay and record the “drama” that was to surely come.
The locomotive had derailed due to the rail underneath the wheels rolling over on its side. The crew members performing the re-railing operation were carrying blocks of wood from a truck to use as sort of jury-rigged re-railing frog. These pieces of wood were being placed in front of the offending wheels such as to form a ramp up which the locomotive could be driven under its own power. Locomotives carry a heavy steel re-railing frog for emergencies such as this, but, in this case, I concluded it was rendered useless because the rail was on its side. Hence the wood ramp. I was very doubtful of success in this effort for two reasons: first, the wood was too soft to carry the weight of the locomotive, and, second, there is no advantage in trying to re-rail the locomotive before the rail is re-set into its proper position. I did not, smart person that I am, give voice to my thoughts as I am sure the crew would not be welcoming to advice from a “foamer”. They tried to move up the “ramp” and, as I expected, made small pieces out of the big pieces. I will never know about the second part as the big road crane arrived just about the time the saga of the splinters concluded. With the arrival of the crane came the demise of the drama and the re-railing operation became merely interesting. Close observation and photography continued, however.
I have been an avid rail-fan, “foamer, if you must, for 100% of the part of my life since I became capable of cognition. I am a machinist and shop-man at an operating railroad museum, so I see first hand what is required of a person skilled at the craft of railroading. I will forgo listing all these requirements in favor of summing them up as: practical knowledge, logical thinking, strength of character, and, most of all, the intestinal fortitude to be a “railroader”. The members of the re-railing crew were very professional in their work and seemed to not to notice the presence of at least twenty “foamers”, most with cameras in hand. As most craftsmen I know do, these Railroaders made the job look easy; I am positive it was not.