Fifty Years at the Throttle

Earl Heath, Associate Editor

Southern Pacific Bulletin, 1926

When Charles C. Trott, locomotive engineer on Sacramento, stepped down from the cab of locomotive No. 1453 at Sacramento roundhouse December 30 after bringing train No. 55 in from the round trip to Gerber, he brought to a close a career of 56 years 2 months service on Southern Pacific Lines. All of this service was spent on Sacramento division and for half a century he was in the cab as an engineer. This is believed to be a world's record for continuous service in this branch of railroad work.

Engineer Trott now takes a place on the honor roll of pensioners. His long service record is exceeded by that of only one living veteran, Patrick Sheedy, formerly superintendent of motive power at Los Angeles, who was with the company three months longer than Trott. Only two other engineers, Charles H. Ball and James Jefferson, were in the service more than fifty years.

Seventy years have been kind to Trott. He looks to be many years younger. As he sat in the cab of No. 1453 waiting for the signal from conductor Wm. Schwab to start on his final run, his hand was as steady and his eye as clear as most of the younger engineers.

Not Anxious to Quit

"It wasn't what you would call a moment of joy," said Trott. "I had been working for the railroad since I was fourteen years old. Riding an engine was just to my liking and I didn't look forward with a great deal of pleasure to leaving the job. It's going to be hard to get used to a new routine, but I expect something will turn up to keep me from 'going stale'."

All along the line from Sacramento to Gerber the news passed that Charlie Trott was making his last run. Charlie was known everywhere. He had been on the choice valley run for sixteen years. At every stop, from the first at Roseville until he got back to Sacramento in the evening, he met with congratulations and well wishes. This last trip was no "dinky" run, such as some veterans finish their active service on. Inspite of his age Trott was still capable of handling any run on the division. On his last round trip he made the 251 miles in 7 hours 40 minutes running time, including 31 stops, four of which were from 10 to 12 minutes each.

Next morning Charlie was back at the roundhouse to "close up" his affairs. To Fireman "Mike" Gleason he gave his gold cap badge with the two stars given him for his fine work in fuel oil saving. The coat he wore when on duty went to Engineer "Spark Plug" Pelham, and his hat to Engineer "Buddy" Jeardeau. Another hat was given to Hiram Ford, helper who sets wedges, and a pair of gloves to "August" Bryant, air brake inspector. Younger men in the service like to have a keepsake from a retiring veteran. Engineer Al Brown will have Charlie's old locker at Gerber.

Pasted on a window in the office of Rounhouse Foreman Bellhouse is a letter from Trott thanking his fellow workers for the large, overstuffed chair presented him Christmas Eve by a committee of veterans still in the service. The gift carried a message of comaraderie born of years of friendly association. Tott's letter is one of appreciation.

Started When a Boy

Charlie Trott went to work as a boy for the Central Pacific at Rocklin. His parents had moved there from Volcano, Amador County, Cal., a few years after Charlie was born December 10, 1855. Rocklin was a busy railroad point at that time. It was here that young Trott saw his first locomotive. The little, puffing wood burners seemed wonderful to the boy. They were so bright and shiny in their gay colors and brass trimmings. He persuaded his father to let him quit school so he could become a railroad man.

Master Mechanic M. W. Cooley who is now 84 years old and living at Santa Barbara, put Charlie to work in November, 1869, cleaning the little engines that were so fascinating to him. That was just a few months after the first transcontinental railroad was opened for travel. Thomas O'Connell, retired engineer living in Sacramento, who was a fireman then, likes to tell how he first remembers seeing Charlie Trott scampering to work at Rocklin with a bun in one hand and holding his breeches up with the other

A little over two years passed before Charlie realized the first step in his ambition. He was given a seat in a locomotive as a fireman. It was one morning in April, 1872, that he started out of Rocklin with Engineer Jim King on the old "Bison," locomotive No. 57. But his first trip was destined not to be a long one. The locomotive went about ten car lengths and was derailed because a stub switch had been left open. Young Trott then had his first experience at a real hard job. There were no injectors on the locomotives in those days and no way of getting water into the boiler when the locomotive was standing still. Charlie had to pull the burning cord wood out of the fire box, stick by stick. He admits it was some task.

A year later he was given a switch engine in Rocklin yard and was an engineer for several months. Then he went back to firing. He also worked as machinist helper for a while.

Burns 20 Cords of Wood

"There was nothing easy about a fireman's job in those days," recalls Trott. "The engines were all wood burners and on a round trip from Sacramento to Truckee about 20 cords of wood had to be loaded on the tender and in turn shoved into the fire box. There was no time to loaf as a fireman. He could always be busy polishing the engine. I mean the whole outside of the engine, not just the brass trimmings. Some engineers would run their hand over the frame to see that all dirt and grease was gone. I have known firemen to be called back to the roundhouse to clean off some spot of dirt the engineer or foreman found.

"I don't remember ever being called back. I wasn't perfect in my work. I made mistakes then, just as in the years since, but I always tried my best to do the right thing. A job worth having is a job worth taking care of. That has been my theory. Back there in the early days I took care of the engine cleaning just as earnestly and conscientiously as I have watched my engine and tried to follow orders and rules since I started pulling trains over the main line.

Locomotives certainly have grown in size and power in fifty years. Why, the old "Bison" had 18-inch cylinders, four-foot drivers, and weighed 35,000 pounds. Today the most modern Southern Pacific locomotives have 29 1/2 x 32 inch cylinders, five-foot 3 1/2-inch drivers, weigh 640,200 pounds and are ten times as powerful as some of the locomotives of my early days. What an improvement it was when air brakes came into use. Still the early day brakemen were very skillful and they 'pulled down' a freight train so that it could be stopped almost as smoothly as is done today.

"One of the funniest experiences I had while firing was with Engineer Provo, a Frenchman. That is, it seems funny to me now, but at the time it was far from humorous. There were no water glasses or injectors then. The pump worked by means of a connection to the cross head. Provo would invariably forget to shut off the pump when we hit a grade, with a result that water and mud would spout out over the engine. "Well, Charlie, you better get out and wipe 'er off,' he would say. It was humiliating to me to have to do this clean-up job while out on the line. Other firemen joked me about it. I transferred to another engine the first chance I had."

Charlie was 21 years old when promoted to engineer in April 1876. For several months he had a switch engineer at Rocklin. Then he was given the locomotive "Dragon" No. 74 and went out on the main line in road service. He alternated in helper and switch service at Truckee and Rocklin until April, 1882, with the exception of a couple of months work at Sacramento shops late in 1879 when business was slack. Illness caused him to take out a leave of absence in 1885. He returned to his engine at Rocklin in July, 1886, and remained in continuous service on Sacramento division until retired.

"We used to have our own engines," says Trott, " and we were mighty proud of them. We took care of them like they were persons. Fact is those little engines often acted like they were humans. Sometimes they had to be petted and coddled before they would settle down to real work. Others were so mean they simply wouldn't get up steam for an engineer but would purr right along for another fellow. Of course we got used to our engines and knew their peculiarities, so probably it isn't odd that they didn't want to work for a stranger. A man got to love his engine like his wife and family; maybe some engineers loved their engines best.

"My first love was my engine. But in '81 I was married and the little engine dropped to second place in my affection. My wife was almost as fond of railroading as I was. We raised three children. My two boys, Charles Byron and Samuel Edgar, served their apprenticeship in the shops at Sacramento. They now have good positions as machinists in the automobile industry. Since my wife died about ten years ago, my daughter, Grace, has been my housekeeping companion.

Lost His Own Engine

"My last engine, before the company took over the motive power, was No. 1377. I say 'before the company took over the engines' because we all felt like the locomotives were our own. When an engineer was off duty, his engine was off duty, too. Naturally, we hated to lose something to which we were so attached. Of course, the old arrangement caused a lot of power to be uselessly tied up.

"Some fellows have an idea we engineers did just about as we pleased in the old days. But we had inspections then that would make the youngsters today fairly gasp. Take, for instance, "Ben" Smith, road foremen of engines during the '70's from El Paso to Ogden, and D. J. Brown, who was for years foreman of the roundhouse at Rocklin. All the old timers remember these men for close inspections and strict discipline. Just the same, they were fine, likeable men.

"We never knew when we were going to pick "old Ben." It might be at a wood pile or water tank. The news soon spread when he hit the division. Enginemen and trainmen passed the word along to be on the lookout for Ben. But even with this warning he had a faculty of showing up most unexpectedly. His eyes were as keen as a cat's. If there was anything wrong with an engine from the top of the stack to the bottom of the tender 'old Ben' saw it right off. We used to say he could see a loose nut half a mile away. The first thing to catch his eye when he got in the cab was the steam gauge. Maximum boiler pressure was then 125 pounds. If the gauge registered one pound more we sure heard about it.    

"After Master Mechanic A. J. Stevens died, Ben resigned and went to Towles Station to live. One day a few years later when I was waiting for the staff at Towles, 'old Ben' came up on my engine 'How many pounds you got, Charlie?' he asked. Two hundred pounds, Mr. Smith' I answered. 'Look out, Charlie, or you'll get blown to the devil.' the old man warned. Of course, maximum pressure had increased since he was on the line, but he couldn't imagine any engineer safely handling more than 125 pounds.            

"Throwing the Babbitt"    

"I don't suppose there is a veteran engineer who ran over the mountains that doesn't recall many and frequent sessions with roundhouse Foreman Brown. 'Throwing the babbitt' was the offense he took particular exception to. If the call boy followed us home with the message that Mr. Brown wanted to see us, it was almost a cinch he had been looking over our engine and found that the crank pin had gotten hot and the babbitt melted away from the brasses. This act was inexcusable; no need to make explanations; he knew we were just careless.    

"I respected Mr. Brown's point of view, but just the same I knew it was almost impossible at times to keep from melting the babbitt. So I planned to get out of being called on the 'carpet'. I managed to get from the storekeeper a block of babbitt and several sheets of emery paper. During a layover at Truckee I could babbitt and reset the brasses, or polish off the pin if there was evidence against me.    

"We used to have some fun with Mr. Brown later when he went out on the road again as an engineer and 'threw' more babbitt than any of us. He laughingly admitted that it couldn't hardly be helped. I got a letter from him a few days ago. He is living at Napa and is 88 years old.

Known Everywhere    

Probably no employee on the Pacific Lines is more widely known than Trott. Having spent a lifetime on Sacramento division, which was the first link constructed on the company's lines, he is known to the oldest men in the service. From among his friends have come many of the company's officers. He knew J. H. Dyer as a boy at Colfax before the present manager was a brakeman for the Central Pacific. As a young man he worked at Rocklin with "Pat" Sheedy, former superintendent of motive power. While Assistant General Manager T. Ahern was working his way up from his first job on the section, Charlie Trott was one of his closest friends.

"Not long ago," said Trott, "I had to appear in court as a witness. The judge and jury seemed startled when I answered I had been working for the Southern Pacific 56 years. I thought my word was going to be questioned, when the judge turned to me and said, "That must be a fine company to cause you to stay with it so long.'    

"Well, we have got a fine company. I am going to receive a liberal pension that will be a big help in making the days to come more comfortable and pleasant. I am perfectly satisfied. I gave faithfully of my services and I have been given a 'fair deal.'"    

Among Trott's cherished possessions is a personal letter from former President Taft thanking him for the "painstaking care and skill" with which he handled the President's special train in December, 1911.                

May Go to Europe    

"I don't know what I will do now that I am out of a job," he answered Superintendent W. L. Hack. "I can't seem to get out of the habit of figuring when I am due out again to Gerber. I catch myself studying my watch every little while. I think I'll have to get away from Sacramento to keep from wanting to wander over to the roundhouse. I've always wanted to go to Ireland and England. My mother was Irish and my father was English. John Wright has been back there since he was pensioned and wants to go again. Albert Brown wants to go, too, soon as he is pensioned. Maybe he and I and Tom Newton will join John on a trip back to Belfast next summer.    

"This job of being a pensioner may not be so hard to hold down after all."


Courtesy of the Lynn D. Farrar Collection.

Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum
Copyright ©2005,  All Rights Reserved.  [Last Updated 6/11/2005]

Use of this Web site constitutes acceptance of the User Agreement;
Click any image or link to accept.