Rough and Ready was the Early Day Motto

Railroading a half century ago on the Sacramento Division of the Central Pacific took brawn as well as brain

By T. R. Jones, former Supt. Sacramento Division


Responding to our request, Mr. T.R. Jones, formerly superintendent of the Sacramento Division has written an article for The Bulletin giving his interesting experiences in the old days of railroading on the Central Pacific. These remeniscences are so well written and comprehensive that the article will be given in three installments, the latter appearing in the September and October issues. Mr. Jones has furnished a vivid picture of the early days and Bulletin readers will no doubt read this and subsequent issues with pleasure. —The Editor.

I was employed as a telegraph operator on the Sacramento Division of the Central Pacific Railroad on May 1, 1872.

In Sacramento at breakfast time onthat date I had no more idea of becoming a railroad man than of becoming a tragedian.

As frequently happens in the life of a young man the aim and ambition of his future life is changed by the unexpected meeting and remarks of another person and he is sent in another direction. Probably it wads opportunity knocking at my door.

The position of Postmaster in the Assembly of the State Legislature which I obtained throughthe political influence of a friend, had become no more by the session coming to an end.

I was looking for employment. An application I had made to the manager of the Western Union office had been turned down and I was trying to ge in touch with "Van." He was J. L. Vandenberg, superintendent of the A. and P. Telegraph Company, to whom I intended to apply for a job "Van's" office was in his hat. If you could find that you would find him in. He seldom removed his office from his head. I heard he had a large tumor on the top of his head. That maybe was the cause. He was constantly on the go between Oakland and Ogden looking after wire trouble and was hard to locate.

On J. Street that morning I met a State official to whom I mentioned my intentions. He informed me that he was well acquainted with Colonel J. W. Bowen the superintendent of the Sacramento Division of the Central Pacific, and that he had just come from the depot. While there he had overheard the dispatcher inform Colonel Bowen that the division was short two operators. I immediately went to the depot at Front and J Streets.

It was a long rambling one-story wooden shed-like structure nearly a block long. At its north end, next to the bar and lunch counter, were two offices, one for the superintendent and the other for the telegraph office, both with their doors open to the public.

I found Colonel Bowen a very affable man and after stating my business was immediately turned over to the chief dispatcher, or rather the dispatching force, which was Ned Hartwell.

It took him about three minutes to hire me, take my name, write out a pass and direct me to tke the train to Rocklin to work there as night operator.

I did not have to make out a personal record, furnish a tintype, undergo a medical examination, nor state my experience as a telegrapher. I suppose it was taken for granted that I could fill the place or I would not apply for it.

Made Good on Nerve.

Some years later, awhen superintendent of the division, I sometimes admired the nerve I must have had to apply for a job as a railroad telegrapher. I was little more than a lad in my teens; there were signs of an insipient mustache on my upper lip that has since become an awrray of gray bristles; I had never been inside of a railroad telegraph office; never had heard the "27" of a train nor the "13" to a train order, and did not know such things existed; I had traveled less than 500 miles on railroad trains and had no idea of the methods by which they were run, and my experience as telegrapher was limited to a few years in a Western Union office in a small mining town, where an average of a message a day would make a big month of business. I frequently made six dots instead of five for a P, which is the attribute of a "plug." But I found out later that expert handling of a key and sounder did not count for much as reliability. The operator always on deck and answering his office call promptly stood a better chance of holding a job than the expert who could handle "A. U B.," as a press report was then called.

I was on hand when the train arrived early in the afternoon. I emphasize the term "the" as used by Dispatcher Hartwell, for it was the only passenger trin going East daily.

Only one passenger train each way was run daily over the division. This was composed of mail, baggage and express cars, sleepers, smoker and coaches. The sleepers were run ahead of the coaches. All the cars were painted yellow.

The two passenger trains were through trains, but made stops at all stations and did the local work. Engines assigned to these runs were, as compared with the Mallet of today, pygmy eight-wheelers. Two crews were assigned to these trains between Sacramento and Truckee. Up one day and down the next. The second class passengers were then called emigrants and rode in emigrant cars, somewhat better than stock cars, attached to the rear of through freight trains Nos. 5 and 6.

Bar Most Popular Spot

All freight trains carried passengers in their cabooses. The depot at Sacramento had a long bar and short lunch counter. A large number of passengers got off on the arrival of the train, most of whom went to the bar to get a drink while a few purchased and ate sandwiches.

The probable cause of this was passengers had dinner, as the noon-day meal was then called, at the Lathrop eating house. As the westbound passengers took dinner at the Roseville eating house before arriving at Sacramento, this station was not a regular eating house, hence the limited accomodations. It was managed by Jack Biderman, a political friend of Governor Stanford, and like a number of others was probably given a profitable privilege on that account.

While waiting for the train to start an amusing incident occurred.

On account of its animosity and the personalities published against the company and its directors, the Sacramento "Union" was not allowed to be sold by newsboys at the depot. A five-board fence along the plarform extending to I Street kep them off the north end of the depot while Special Officer Fred Burke with a heavy cane patrolled and kept them from the south end and from climbing the fence which they frequently did when he was out of sight. The passengers were anxious to buy and read the paper and I saw a couple of them beckon to "Hash." Harris Ginsberg, afterwards an attache of the superintendent's office, one of the news-



Courtesy of the Lynn D. Farrar Collection.

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