A Puzzling Day at Bayshore
featuring totally unreliable info from a switchman

On Southern Pacific, as with most railroads, the two generally-approved appliances utilized for crossover movements between two parallel railroad tracks were /are crossovers and slip switches (further sub-divided into "single" and "double" categories). Two other common, but unapproved methods were: 1) derailing and going sideways at a facing-point switch whose rotten ties and adobe ballast had dissolved due to winter rains; 2) backing and going sideways through a facing point switch, whose misaligned points you had previously trailed through (vernacular: you had "run-through" the switch). These latter two methods usually were unsuccessful, though they could get you into the ballpark of the next track, given enough momentum.

The setup for a continual repeat of unapproved method #2 is depicted in the photograph that you see here, of a crew readying a double slip switch (a double crossover can also be seen in the background, for comparison) for installation at the top end of Bayshore Yard, in about 1950 as near as we can tell. Since Wx4 Staff did not begin braking out of Bayshore until shortly after the switch was de-installed, the following info largely comes from a Bayshore switchman. Please note that Bayshore switchmen were unreliable sorts and well-known as alcoholics.

The photo clearly depicts why SP employees called them "puzzle switches". You could stare at one of these contraptions forever, yet still possess a vague unease that you weren't sure where you were headed. Example: One day at the 4th & Townsend (now, King) Depot, my equipment was supposed to back-up over a puzzle switch that was being worked upon by a signal maintainer. The maintainer aligned the switch for us and radioed my brakeman that it was OK to bring 'em back. As my engine passed the switch, I heard the unmistakable ka-CLACK of wheel flanges trailing through misaligned switch points. Both the signal maintainer and the brakeman had lstudied the switch and thought that it was properly aligned. In truth, I probably would have made the same assessment. As it was, I was able to climb-off the engine and advise the maintainer before anyone in a dress shirt was the wiser.

We surmise here that the puzzle switch seen here, whose point motors would be controlled by Bayshore Tower, was later installed where the men are standing at far left, between the two parallel switch leads containing the double crossover. In later years, after Bayshore Tower closed (date? - help us out here, experts) the switch became a hand-throw job. According to the aforementioned switchman, that is when the problems began. Since nobody could dependably figure out things (certainly at night, it would have been a nightmare), movements almost routinely headed for the ballast, so much so that the company was forced to locate a section crew there to deal with the frequent faux pax. Sometimes, he said, the section-men barely finished cleaning-up a derailment before the next movement plopped onto the ties. Apparently, this went on for some time before the company finally concluded that a replacement with no-brainer crossover switches might be called for. Wx4 Staff was appreciative of that, because if there was one thing that guys did not want to see after dragging-in on the 12-hour Night Redwood Local, it was a puzzle switch! (see below the photo for a further description of the trackage layout)

(SP Co. photo; Wx4 Collection)

Trackage seen here is looking south (timetable east); double track main lines, defined by signals in the upper left corner; yard tracks, whose leads all converged at the puzzle switch; the near switch, diverging right, led to the car shops and industrial trackage; the far switch diverging right, beyond the double crossover, was the roundhouse lead; presumably, the double crossover seen here was removed when the puzzle switch became manually-thrown. East trains cut off their engine on the yard tracks, run light to west of the puzzle / crossover, then if all went right, the brakemen would ride down to the roundhouse lead to line the power for the house. Again, whatever you knowledgeable readers want to add would be welcome: Wx4 email