Grab BagmmSP Pages
How to Get By A Red Automatic Interlocking Signal Using Rule 663bs
Automatic interlockings, as opposed to manual interlockings, are protective signal setups that are self-actuated (without a human operator). Southern Pacific Rule 663a specified how to deal with automatic interlockings that displayed a stop signal: in effect, the rule said, "Look up the specific location in your timetable special instructions (TTSI), and be governed accordingly. The two most common types of automatic interlockings were the ones protecting drawbridges and "railroad crossings at grade" (i.e.: railroads crossing each other). In the case of a drawbridge, it was sort of a no-brainer: wait for the signal to clear until your hours of service expire, then go home. If, however, you were with a crew of extra men that were not fully familiar with a particular interlocking protecting a railroad crossing, you might have been left scratching your head, as TTSI instructions could be lengthy, but nonetheless cryptic: "Inside the small signal box to the right of the squirrel sitting on the rock cracking his nuts, open the door and move the red thingie to the left while holding the green button down for no more than ten seconds, while whistling Yankee Doodle."
Of course, none of this applied to a switchmen, particularly old heads. Regarding the above mentioned literature as generally useless, and more importantly, heavy and cumbersome to lug around, he left his original new-hire rulebook and timetable in the trunk of his car, and had not bothered to update since. If something rare actually required la look-up, the engineer could be counted upon to find the appropriate reference material under the whiskey bottle in his grip. Basically, the switchmen's unofficial rulebook, in total, read, "Know what you can get away with." Road crews, on the other hand, were highly educated, their credo being, "Know which rule that you are violating."
Now, the warstory:
One night in the early AM, when my SP switch crew was dragging 10 or so cars down the main towards Luther Junction, south of San Jose, we encountered a red signal at the former WP Willow Glen Branch crossing at Valbrick (later CP Michael, just south of the Caltrain Tamien Station). The signal displayed a red aspect, so we stopped. We peered through the orchards to see if a Wobbly goat was in the vicinity, but of course they NEVER worked their branch at that time of night. We saw nothing, but the foreman knew what to do from experience - designate the junior man, me, to climb down and operate a signal reset button / lever located in a nearby box (which would clear the signal after five minutes, or so, if the WP was unoccupied) . The darned signal did not clear, so the foreman and engineer elected to follow what could be called Rule 663bs: look both ways and run the signal. Just after we began to move, we caught a flicker of a headlight through the trees. Yikes! The engineer couldn't get us stopped in time, but we narrowly missed a collision, because the WP boys, presumably, were doing a better job circumventing the rules than we were.
The WP crew had big mocking grins on their faces as they crept up to our engine, which was sitting squarely on the crossing. Both crews got down on the ground for a safety meeting, but the Wobbly guys' grins became nervous when we asked why it had taken them so long to arrive at the crossing - the WP branch was low speed, and the signal circuit could not have been very lengthy. Their answer was evasive, so we suspected that they were engaged in some clandestine activity in the orchard west of the tracks, probably transferring purloined loot from one of their industrial customers into the back of a crew member's car. Alternately, maybe they were busy with some hired ladies. We knew WP men were of despicable moral character. In any event, we all had a short laugh over the near miss, and proceeded to the universal topic of inter-railroad interest: the screwed up nature of each's respective railroad. Someone produced a bottle and we had a delightful confab for about 45 minutes before we heard San Jose Telegraph on the radio, asking if we were ready to come back from Luther Junction.