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SP freight jobs explained:

On SP, freight crews came in three categories: local freight, road switcher and pool freight, each with its own regular and "arbitraries" (extra pay earned under certain circumstances) pay rates. Road switcher crews (like yard switchmen) were paid on an hourly basis, whereas local and pool freight crews were paid on an accrued mileage basis, with 100 miles being a basic day's pay on SP and most large carriers. Note that many railroad terminals were 100 miles apart.

Pool freight crews worked on a rotation basis between specific points, and were often referenced by the away-from-home location, such as the Carrizozo Pool out of Tucumcari (El Paso also had a Carrizozo pool, but it was called the North End pool).

Some pools worked between several points, such as Oakland's dreaded Pool 1, which worked the triangle between Oakland, San Jose and Tracy, and also from Tracy to Pittsburg. A Pool 1 crew left Oakland for, say, San Jose without knowing if they would return to Oakland on the next trip, or work over the Altamont from San Jose to Tracy. At Tracy, they might stand to work one or more "Steel Turns" (round-trip runs to the steel mill in Pittsburg) over the course of several days before returning to Oakland.

It used to be worse. In earlier days, pool crews might arrive at their away-from-home terminal and then be required to work in an "emergency" (def.: at the company's convenience) to some point outside of their normal territory. So, a Pool One crew theoretically could be called to work from Tracy to Sacramento, and from there to Stockton, and so forth. Practical considerations limited this sort of thing, but it was common enough for the unions to insist on a contractural prohibition of the practice.

Many freight pools were interdivisional, meaning that train and engine crews worked over parts of two or more divisions, or seniority districts. For example, Oakland-Watsonville Pool Four (a "cesspool" - see Chain Gang , below) was wholy contained within the Western Division in the 1980's, but spanned the historic Western Division (Oakland-San Jose) and former Coast Division (San Jose-Watsonville) seniority districts. Therefore pool crews were apportioned between the two districts based upon the timetable miles of each district. Every so often, the mileage accrued by "Coast" and "Western" crews was tallied, and the ratio between the two was adjusted to resolve imbalances.

Local freight crews worked on jobs involving considerable switching, whose assigned runs exceeded 100 miles, such as the San Luis Obispo-Watsonville Peddler, or the Bayshore-to-Permanente-and-return Permanente Local. Since these jobs paid more than a basic day at a higher rate than the other classes of service, local freight crews often had allot of "whiskers" (seniority).

Road switcher crews worked defined territories that involved a run of 100 miles or less. These jobs typically switched industries along main lines that, according to union agreements, were not switchmen's turf. On the 1980's San Francisco Peninsula, the Millbrae, Redwood and Sunnyvale Locals were actually classified as road switchers for pay purposes.

A note on switchmen and yard limits. The territory 'owned' by switchmen did not necessarily coincide with the yard limit boards placed on main track at terminals. Yard limit boards were positioned for operational reasons (relaxed flagging and authority requirements), while the extent of switching limits was determined by union agreement. At one time, stakes or posts, proclaiming something like "1918 agreement switching limits", were placed at these agreed-upon limits. For example, San Jose's southern yard limits ("yard board") began at Lick (m.p. 55.3), while switchmen worked all the way to the area of the old Oak Grove station (m.p. 60) to serve the IBM plant.


This term was used on SP and many other railroads in reference to a freight pool. The Tucumcari-Carrizozo run thus was the Carrizozo chain gang. Particularly malordorous freight pools (low paying / lots of switching), like the Oakland-Watsonville Pool 4, were called cesspools.

This was SP vernacular for a regular pool freight crew assignment. Prior to caboose pooling in the early 1960's, each crew had their own assigned caboose "car", which also served as away from home quarters (though many men chose to rent rooms at their own expense). Thus, if you worked for Conductor Smith, you worked on Smith's car.