Real story of one that got away – freight car that is ……

When Jim Johnson and his delightful wife were visiting our layout a short while back I asked him if he would share with stories about his life working on the railroad. This first one is a beauty!!!

In 1973 I was assigned to the extra board in Portola CA. This was the summer of 73 and every year about this time Stockton ran short of men and the company, Western Pacific, forced low seniority people to Stockton. The only way to get out of this was to bid and hold a regular job. I was determined that I was not going to Stockton so I bid on a midnight switch engine in Oroville, CA. I bid the job successfully and so began my summer in Oroville.

I don’t really remember the name of my ground crew but there were threee switchmen assigned to this job. One night instead of switching the yard we got the tramp duties to spot up industries outside the yard. So out the mainline west we went, a mile or so out to a place called Forest Products. We had two cars. One for Forest Products and one to go elsewhere. They were both behind the engine so the move out was a shoving move.

We got to Forest Products. We cut the one car off and left it on the main line and ducked into Forest Products. We spent about five minutes spotting up the car and then went back out to the main. As we entered the main the switchman jumped off the train to line the switch back. As he did so he looked up at my engineer’s window and threw his hands out to the side and exclaimed “Its gone. It’s gone”.

I looked out and realized that the car that we had left on the main was indeed gone. I looked further west down the mainline at the signal that was about a mile away. The signal that had been green was now red. Well. it’s downhill all the way to Marysville, 26 miles away. Away we went in chase of that car. I called the dispatcher, Gene Edgeman, and advised him of what was going on and advised him to stop any trains headed east and to call the SP dispatcher and advise him to stop their trains at the interlock at Marysville. About 12 miles down the main, just before Craig siding we caught up with the car doing 45 mph. We made a good joint with the runaway car and got stopped.

I did not go by any absolute signals but …….  We headed back for Oroville yard just knowing we were all fired when the dispatcher called us and advised no damage had been done and to forget about the incident. Ours jobs were intact. There was no one in the yard office, and no-one including the trainmaster was any the wiser. So. we put our car away and I went home with a solemn promise to myself  NOT to repeat this this again.

As I was reading this I thought what a great movie it would make.

Thanks Jim.

I couldn’t find any songs about runaway freight cars. But, I did remember this one from my childhood ……

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