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Speaking from personal experience based upon a stint as a laborer in Southern Pacific's Track Department, maintenance of way workers in the days before massive mechanization were the hardest working, most underpaid and least appreciated people in the railroad universe. Nobody else on the railroad put up the long hours and miserable conditions that M/W employees often faced. They resided at the bottom of the food chain, and they knew it.

Yet, I found a no more agreeable bunch on the railroad. The mostly middle-age Hispanic gentlemen that I worked with went out of their way to make sure that I worked safely and in a way that made the hard work endurable. They were as friendly as hell, although in those days this was expressed mostly as body language, for no idle chatter was permitted on a section gang, except at breaks.

In late 2015, S.R. Bush, the #1 LSA in seniority on Amtrak West, posted the wonderful series of photos that you see below on They seemed a natural to help fill a gaping hole in Wx4's SP Railroaders' Pages, and Steve has kindly assented to their display here. The page title and following words are his. - E.O.

S.R. Bush: In the early-mid 80's I used to ride along with the Track Inspection Crew out of Colfax.  The idea being a sort of Day-In-The-Life photo record of a rather unsung, but vital, part of running SP's Donner Pass.  At the time most of The Hill was still jointed rail that required a twice a week look that was still done with motor cars.  HiRail trucks were coming into use more and more, but these guys liked the speeders- it gave them a better (closer) look at the track, and they were easier to climb in & out of.  Colfax was responsible for the line from Bowman east to Yuba Pass.  They'd run up The Hill on Mondays & Wednesdays, and down on Tuesdays & Thursdays.  I was allowed to tag along pretty much as I pleased and in return shared prints of my photos with the crews.

Around Cisco, I think.

Crossing over at the Eastern end of their distinct, Yuba Pass.

Lunch at Cisco.

Cisco turntable pit.

While they ate I got a few shots of the Cisco turntable pit.  This is where the fire train locomotives were turned back in the days of the Red Mountian Lookout (in the background) and continuous sheds.

Shed 10 roll by
(2 photos)

I don't remember why we stopped here- more than likely to check the crossovers.

Replacing missing bolts

Their day was mostly this- replacing missing bolts.  I'd say an average was about 5-6 broken bolts a day.


On Fridays they tackled problems they'd spotted during their weekly tour that needed extra attention.  If it was an uneventful week, Friday was motor car maintenance day.  Here the 5699 was getting new curtains.

Somewhere around Troy or Crystal Lakes?

Working fast on the Number 2 track

The crew had spotted a broken bolt and deciced to get it quick before an Eastbound got there.
(we could here it climbing towards us about two miles off)

Lunch at Emigrant Gap

...with the crew from the east. (Not sure, but I think they were out of Norden)  They were actually a bit beyond their territory,the border was Yuba Pass.  But E Gap had the old Pullman Troop Sleeper that was kept warm and made a good place to get out of the
weather for lunch.

Passing an EB at Rawhide crossing near Gorg, about MP 159.75

If I were to look over my right shoulder I'd be looking out over the American River towards Giant's Gap.

An epilogue of sorts...
(2 photos)

You maybe noticed we used 3 different motor cars. (2 MT19's and a MT14, if you know your Fairmonts)  Well, poor MT19 5699 took a rock coming out of a tunnel one morning-  someone wasn't watching the track ahead!  5699 was pretty much totaled.  As you might imagine, such an incident would bring a lot of undesired and uncomfortable attention to anyone even remotely involved. But the foreman was an old school good guy who protected his own. (and to be honest, himself too)  I don't know where it came from, or how he acquired it, but within a week and with the help of stencil...  "5699" was back in service.

So what happened to 5699?  Well, somewhere there's a shallow grave....