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Replacing the FM Train Masters
By Fred Boland, Machinist 1928-1980
14 Train Masters and the two demonstrators (#3 & #4) were bought and numbered 4800 to 4815. They were powerful giants, ten years ahead of their time. I wish they had remained under the original numbers because we called them that for several years, but they gradually became Train Masters, the trade name.
In the 1965 renumbering, the higher the number the greater the horsepower, with 3000 to 3299 being reserved for passenger power. You could not refer to them as 3000’s because they shared that number with the lighter GP’s.
As the Train Masters careers were ending the Motive Power officials began thinking of what to replace them with.
They took two SD9’s rated at 1800 hp, (actually turned out to be 1750hp) put the latest improvements in, overhauled the steam making boiler for heating the passenger cars, and numbered them 4450-4451. They were not too successful, and no more were rebuilt.
At the time, Amtrak had been to buying their own locomotives in order to have their trains pulled. This released the 3200 to 3209, outside the eleven steam boilered, communication whistled GP9’s, the only passenger power the SP had at the time. At 3600 hp compared to the Trainmasters 2400 hp, they were satisfactory.
The two 4450’s were usually held to freights on the peninsula. They were used in passenger service on rare occasions when too much passenger power was out of service.
They were also used to pull officials trains when required. Benjamin Biagini, Board Chairman, or Dennis K. McNear, President, used them once in a while.
This led to an incident involving me. About three years later, the 4450 had been sent to Roseville for wheel truing. On the way back they had found 8” flat spots on the wheels at Martinez, and it was sent right back to Roseville. This resulted in thin wheels.
When wheels reach the ICC limit of wear, I notify management. My notification was overlooked on the 4450, and the next month Joe Duenas on second shift caught it and turned the measurements in. Still nothing was done and when I caught it in the 3rd month more wheels were down to the limit and at least one was well under.
In exasperation I turned in the sizes and wrote “Engineers and firemen can be replaced. Our passengers have been told many times to stay off the commutes so we can abandon them. But if Ben or Denny break their necks while riding behind this locomotive we will all be fired.” It had the desired result, although I was asked why I didn’t sign it. Had I done so I would have faced a hearing.
So much of any tale is taken to explain the background and set the stage for the tale itself. Not many people are left who lived and worked in the days of steam. Mention an O’Connor, a Jay Soliman, or the Scullin Brothers or Cadogin Brothers and you draw a blank expression. If the listeners knew them or the area or the working conditions, the tale could proceed. But if they were non-railroaders or born since steam disappeared, a long set of statements is necessary, in many cases spoiling the point of the tale.
In the final years of the Fairbanks Morse Train Masters the Christmas Eve train leaving San Francisco at around 1 PM took on a ceremonial stature. The fans would be around with their cameras and a general air of holiday festivities was there.
One year, I believe it was 1973, I had to go down to Redwood City on an air brake problem on one of the Alco RS32 hood units in the 4000 class. The unit was tied up awaiting a 4 o’clock call. I had just finished solving it when a train appeared in the distance. It stopped with two Train Masters right beside where I stood on the Alco’s platform. 14 gallery cars, all exactly the same, presenting a smooth, unbroken line for 1250 feet or a quarter of a mile was beautiful. Hundreds of people pouring off that train was a sight to behold, and must have turned the hearts of some officials from stone to brick at least.
Now, a word of explanation on some locomotive characteristics. When you wind up an EMD, just like a horse it will look back at you and smile. There are four changes of path for the electricity, called “transitions”, whereby your horsepower is gradually changed from power at low speed to using the horsepower for high speed. EMD’s will not go into the next transition until it is ready.
But a Fairbanks Morse, when placed in Run 8 will take off in Run 8. Why they didn’t blow a fuse I don’t know.
Well, being a ceremonial train and stopping at all 26 stations and probably the three flag stops in 47 miles as well, they were already a half hour late. That engineer didn’t bother with the niceties of starting the train gently. Into Run 8 it went. The air sounded like a thunderstorm, and the earth shook. The 4000 I was standing on swayed, fire belched up the Train Master’s stack and stinging hot carbon fell all around me. In a moment it was gone, that five chime whistle, much sweeter than the three chime EMD’s, wailing for each crossing in the next six blocks.
The next year it was billed as the last year the Train Masters would work. I sneaked halfway down to Bayshore station to see the 3021, one of the two original demonstrators lead and I think the 3031 was second. The galleries were down to eleven and while there was quite a display, it was more nostalgic than interesting.
In a few weeks the 3021 broke a piston, and as the 3031 had already been withdrawn the era came to an end. Starting in 1954 when the demonstrator 4, (later 4801, finally 3021) came into the shop with a failed auxiliary generator until the end, only Bayshore, Tucson and El Paso handled Fairbanks Morse products. Standing among the Alco switchers, it was a giant and reminded one of a 2-10-2 standing among ten wheelers, though some of the steam engines in the shop equaled it in size.