A Triple* Meet at Hornbrook
*at the very least

SP Pages

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Ahhh, to accompany that couple peering into the inner workings of SP 2nd #16's 4-6-0 road engine as it drifts northward to a stop past the depot lawn at Hornbrook, California. What a sight! The brakeman on helper #2547's footboard probably tipped his hat to them as he rode along into position for lining the main line switch once his train's turn came. Note that the helper fireman appears to be looking back for a stop signal to spot the train, which probably added its helper from the roundhouse lead on the west end, where things would have been less congested. On the main track between it and the depot, a section of #14 appears to be all set to pull, with the pop valve already blowing steam on what looks to be its MK-2 2-8-2 road engine. The section number is not visible, so it may have been 2nd #14, or maybe even the first section, which had fallen down on its schedule.

(click on the image for a big enlargement)

At right is a clipping from SP's August, 1912 public timetable that graphically lays out the situation: a headache for dispatchers and crews alike. This scheduled jackpot (SP equivalent term for SNAFU) apparently did not last very long, maybe a matter of months, since the company incessantly fussed with its Shasta Route schedules, probably in part for reasons like this.

Click on the clipping to view the full page, or click on the timetable cover above to download a pdf of the full timetable, one of hundreds of SP employee and public timetables on Wx4.

But wait, there's more! At left is T-28 #2341 receiving a bit of attention while it sits awaiting for the depot to clear. It may be 1st #13 or a following section's loco, which likely will receive a helper for the short slog southward up the hill to Snowdon. The northbound trains have considerably more work cut out for them, on the other hand, for immediately ahead of them lies the steep climb up Bailey Hill, with only a brief respite while crossing the border at Hilt, where they will begin staking their way up the stiff grade to Siskiyou Summit.(Although the published ruling grade on the south side of the summit was in the neighborhood of 3.6%, a local section forman once told me that the actual grade in one spot - on Bailey Hill in the vicinity of the I-5 crossing - was actually 4%. Any wonder the line was chosen to conduct Westinghouse AB-type air brake tests shortly after World War I?)

The scene was only on the tip of things, one would guess, given that it involved one or more trailing sections. The lead sections of these trains were scheduled to depart Hornbrook within 10 minutes of each other - opposing #13 and #16 simultaneously at 2:47 pm, with #14 departing 10 minutes earlier. The latter train actually left Oakland a full two hours behind #14, but it had traveled "Via Willows" on the West Valley Line, while #16 took the lengthier route through Sacramento. If all went as planned, #14 would have beat #16 by eight minutes into Tehama, where the two routes converged. Thus, the triple meet that we see here may have been a repeat of a similar event of earlier in the afternoon.

Judging by the leaves on the trees near the depot, the bicycle tire ruts through the mud in the foreground and the apparently green in the background, this wondrous event must have occured on a spring day considerably later in the afternoon than the first sections' scheduled times.

We even can come up with a fairly reliable date range. This scheduled convergence of trains does not seem to have lasted very long either side of 1912 (see box at left). The MK-2 on #14 went into service no earlier than May, 1911, while the lettering below the "Southern Pacific" on #2571 does not include the loco's so-called "nominal class", something that did not begin showing up until May 1913.* This period coincides nicely with a set of photographs possibly taken by the same unknown photographer that appear in John Signor's Southern Pacific's Shasta Division (starting on page 76.)He also includes a nice, more encompassing diagram of the yard area.

When we contemplate SP big time mountain railroading, Donner and Tehachapi always seem to eclipse Siskiyous Summit in our thoughts, perhaps because traffic has been, at best, marginal for so long. But when we do remember the Siskiyou Line, it always seems to be in terms of 2-10-2's pounding out of Ashland and the De Autremont brothers robbery at tunnel 13. Despite once being a rip-roaring railroad town that hosted an enormous amount of traffic, Hornbrook tends to be overlooked, no doubt due to its remote and uninspiring environs.

But when you have daily events such as this (nevermind otherwise watching freight crews put together eight engine freight trains - see box at right) who needs scenery?

No discussion of Hornbrook in the Teens is complete without a look at The Photo, the well-circulated image that has long defined SP's attack on the Siskiyous. Photographer Greene stood right where Interstate 5 now crosses underneath the tracks, in this southward facing view. In a few car lengths, the lead engine (of eight) will begin traversing a short length of 4% grade, as mentioned in the text. It is possible that Greene exposed the Hornbrook photo, since #2642's cab lettering / train indicator arrangement falls into the same 1911-1913 period.




*locomotive data from Diebert and Strapac's Southern Pacific Steam Locomotive Compendium


Hornbrook then and today: The 1912 Sanborn insurance map at right from Library of Congress shows the layout of Hornbrook at the time of the photo (click on the image for an enlargement). Street names (in dark type) have been added for clarity, should you wish to compare with Google Maps. The crossbucks shown next to Button Hollow Drive show the approximate location of those in the photo. The Google Maps Street View image was recorded from almost the same spot. Evereything SP is gone except the main track (nearest), siding, east turntable lead (terminating in a dirt pile at the approximate location of the former turntable) and an SP signature concrete phone booth sitting at the corner of the old station lawn. Soley from looking at this empty field, one could never guess how busy it was a century ago. Despite that puny three-stall roundhouse, Signor's book reports that Hornbrook once had more than two dozen helper jobs.




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