Category: People

Jack Godwin, Carbona Station Agent

Jack Godwin served as station agent at the Western Pacific Railroad’s Carbona depot from 1954 until his death in 1974. Ten years after he arrived, wife and children in tow, the WP renamed the stop “Tracy” on their timetables, as well as on the station’s roof-top nameboard.

The Ted Benson photo featured above shows Jack in a classic railroader’s pose, fingers on the telegrapher’s key, carrying on a conversation with his colleagues down the line in well-timed dots and dashes.

A Western Pacific freight train heads west past the Tracy depot. The bikes leaning against the depot wall belong to station agent Godwin's kids.

A Western Pacific freight train heads west past the Tracy depot. The bikes leaning against the depot wall belong to station agent Godwin’s kids.

Jack’s daughter, Bonnie Godwin Parker, spent a good portion of her childhood at Carbona depot, along with her mother, sister and two brothers. Bonnie takes the story from here, in her own words:

We came to Carbona in 1954 from Wells, Nevada (Population: 500). We moved there via the California Zephyr. The prior agent was single so the place was a mess when we arrived. We stayed at the Mission Motel in Tracy for almost three weeks while my parents got the depot livable.

My parents loved California. No snow, and things grew there. My Dad even watered the weeds just to watch them grow.

It was pretty neat living in a train depot. My grandfather lived in the Southern Pacific depot in Fallon, Nevada, so being in depots just seemed natural to us.

When we were kids and the trains would come to switch out the gravel pits, we would get to ride in the engine and ring the bell and blow the horn. We all learned to drive by sitting on my Dad’s lap and steering while he wrote down the numbers on the cars.

My Dad was a telegrapher/agent. He would transcribe incoming telegraphs, type them up and then attach them to the hoops, and then he would stand out as the train went by and one went to the engine and one to the caboose.


As you can see there are two different kinds here. The first (with loop) had the disadvantage of going with the train. With the second one (Y-shaped) just the message and string went and the loop stayed with the depot. This was before radios, etc. He would also send outgoing messages via the telegraph.

As I stated above, his father lived in the Southern Pacific Depot in Fallon; his cousin was the agent for Southern Pacific at Hazen, Nevada. They lived in a railroad house across from the depot, and his brother worked for the Southern Pacific as Crew Dispatcher.

When people would come to our home and a train would go by, they would panic because it shook the depot — some went by at 70 MPH just a few feet from our living room, and then we had tracks that ran right in front of our house where they would set out cars at some times.

Jack Godwin Way (Street Sign Photo)

Jack Godwin Way street sign, at the corner of Depot Master Drive in Tracy, near the old Carbona station.

Jack Godwin had begun working for the WP in June 1942, assigned initially to their Elburz, Nevada, outpost and later to other stations along the way in rural Nevada and Utah. He was felled by a heart attack in 1974 that took his life at only 51 years of age, having worked on the railroad for 32 of those years. The Western Pacific’s old Carbona/Tracy depot survived another decade before it, too, was felled.

These days, nearby in the Linne Estates housing subdivision just off the tracks east of the Carbona Curve, you’ll find Jack Godwin Way and Jack Godwin Court. They’re located off Depot Master Drive, a block down from Zephyr Drive.

Not coincidentally, the railroading that was in Jack’s blood was passed down to yet another generation, as two of his sons, Dave and Mike, continued their family’s heritage by also working, respectively, for the Southern Pacific and Western Pacific.

Jimmie Dameron (1933-2015)

The Tracy Press and the Tracy Historical Museum have reported the passing of Jimmie L. Dameron, a retired Southern Pacific Railroad engineer and resident of the city for the past 55 years.

Jimmie Dameron (1933-2015)Mr. Dameron, who was 81 years old, died on October 29, 2015, at Sutter Tracy Community Hospital following a brief illness. He had been scheduled to present a discussion at the museum on October 21 covering his lengthy and colorful career with the SP when he fell ill. (The program has been re-scheduled for November 18, with Stephen Ridolfi replacing Mr. Dameron. Please click here for more information.)

Born in Turlock and raised in Delhi (Merced County), Mr. Dameron and his wife moved to Tracy in 1960 when he began his career as a brakeman with the SP. He later advanced to engineer with the railroad, and served as local chairman for the United Transportation Union.

Upon his retirement from the SP, he became a part-time engineer of the Redwood Valley Railway scale model live-steam train in Tilden Park in the Berkeley hills. Over the years, according to his obituary, he was an ardent devotee of steam locomotives and was a passenger  — and sometimes volunteer assistant engineer — on numerous steam-powered trains while traveling throughout the world. He also visited countless railroad museums over the years.

Read Mr. Dameron’s full obituary on the Tracy Press website.


Museum Program: The Life and Times of a Tracy Trainman

Mark your calendars for the next History Seminar on Wednesday, November 18th at the Tracy Historical Museum!

The Life and Times of a Tracy Trainman

Learn about Tracy’s railroad history from someone who lived it.

Robert Firth Railroad PhotographsJoin Stephen Ridolfi for a discussion about his life and times as a Tracy Trainman. Mr. Ridolfi, a lifelong Tracy resident, worked as a Southern Pacific conductor and brakeman out of the Tracy area for 40 years. Mr. Ridolfi will describe the adventures and myth-busting life of a trainman in the San Joaquin Valley.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015
7:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Tracy Historical Museum
1141 Adams Street, Tracy

Speaker: Stephen Ridolfi

There is no charge to attend this event at the museum.

For more information, please email the Tracy Historical Museum, visit their website or phone 209-832-7278.

Thank you very much for your support of the West Side Pioneer Association and Tracy Historical Museum.

Event information via Larry Gamino, President of the West Side Pioneer Association/Tracy Historical Museum.

INSET PHOTO: Southern Pacific’s Tracy railyard, circa 1954, by Robert D. Firth. (Courtesy of David Firth.)


Stephen Ridolfi - Tracy Museum

Steve Ridolfi gave a lively talk on his life riding the rails with the Southern Pacific, covering everything from getting his start with the railroad — interrupted early on by a stint in Vietnam with the Air Force — to the dangerous conditions encountered (snakes, stray box cars, random derailments and trespassers), to the grind of working 16-hour shifts in conditions that ranged from ice-cold winters to sweltering summertime. Mr. Ridolfi is also a noted portrait and event photographer. His work can be viewed on his website at


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