It’s perhaps the most visible landmark across the flatlands of western San Joaquin County – a cluster of tall, white silos bearing the Holly Sugar brand – which can be seen from miles away, towering above the landscape north of Tracy.
Here’s a preview of our upcoming article on the Holly Sugar refinery in Tracy and how it was served by rail and barge.
A General Electric 25-ton switcher snoozes beneath the silos at Holly Sugar’s Tracy plant.
Prior to the extension of the “Sugar Spur,” beets were transported to the sugar mill via barge via Sugar Cut, a man-made inlet dug from Tom Paine Slough to the refinery.
The sugar refinery at Tracy, circa 1930s.
A train loaded with sugar beets arrives in the Southern Pacific’s yard on the west side of Tracy, having just traversed the Altamont Pass on its way into the Central Valley
A 1973 Southern Pacific “SPINS” map – a handy “aid to navigation” for train crews – showing the track schematic at the Holly Sugar plant.
(Click to enlarge)
Switch 7470 on the Sugar Spur, just inside the gate (March 2008 Photo)
The village of Bethany could, once upon a time, be found along the Southern Pacific Railroad’s Martinez-to-Tracy extension, just a few miles outside the latter city’s limits.
These days, few signs remain of Bethany: an old farm road that ends near the tracks is perhaps the most significant remnant. (A reservoir in the nearby Livermore Hills is named for the town, but is several miles distant.)
The Central Pacific Railroad built a depot at Bethany around 1878 along the extension, which was constructed as the San Pablo & Tulare Railroad; in the early Twentieth Century, this section of tracks appeared on USGS maps – including the one below from 1914 – as the Southern Pacific’s “San Francisco and New Orleans Line.”
Today, it is known to railheads as the “Mococo Line.” It was the construction of this extension that led directly to the birth of Tracy at the end of the 1870s.
Fresh into our yardmaster’s office today is this big win off of eBay, showing Southern Pacific Railroad SD-9 4426 and partner(s?) leading a string of cars under the old Eleventh Street overpass in 1981, headed out of town toward Banta and Mossdale.
This view can no longer be replicated for several reasons, not the least of which is the tear-down and rebuild of the old overpass.
The backside of this picture postcard has “Monday, Oct 25, 1948” penciled in script, so we’re guessing that this view of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s yard is from the mid to late 1940s.
The caption under the photo on the postcard reads “Southern Pacific Railway Yards and Shops, Tracy, California.”
If you’re looking at this photograph today, imagine yourself on the roof of the Tracy Transit Center, facing toward the new-fangled overpass that recently opened, taking 11th Street over the Union Pacific tracks.
Showing here (above) is a portion of the schedule for the San Joaquin Daylight for the segment during which it traversed the so-called “Mococo Line” (from MOuntain COpper COmpany) from Martinez to Tracy and back again, excerpted from the Southern Pacific’s official Timetable #10, issued on May 12, 1968.
A Southern Pacific promo shot of the steam-powered San Joaquin Daylight near Bakersfield in the 1940s
Following the SP’s practice of designating “east” and “west” on its timetables based on the location of its Market Street corporate headquarters in San Francisco, the “eastward” San Joaquin Daylight (Train 52, originating in Oakland) is actually heading south to Los Angeles, while the “westward” return trip (Train 51, originating in L.A.) is heading north to Oakland.
Here’s a tinted picture postcard of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s “Employee Club,” located for many years along an extension of C Street in the downtown Tracy railyard.
The sign above the Club’s front door…
The clubhouse served as a rest stop for SP train crews between trips — a place to grab forty winks, a bite to eat, or shoot some pool (or some bull) before hitting the high iron again.
The club lacked air conditioning in the early portion of the 20th Century, so a screened-in “porch” upstairs allowed off-duty workers to sleep beneath the stars and escape the oppressive heat of summertime evenings in the San Joaquin Valley.
Back in May 1961, the Southern Pacific Railroad began moving the first of hundreds of railcars to the “other side” of the Eleventh Street overpass in Tracy, marking the shut-down of operations in the city’s downtown area — ending nearly a hundred years in the sprawling facility that included a passenger depot, two roundhouses, numerous water tanks and freight docks in the “Bowtie.”
The June-July 1961 edition of the railroad’s employee magazine, The SP Bulletin, featured a two-page article on the move, including photographs of the new yard being filled on Day One (May 16, 1961) and Tracy yardmaster Elroy Pope controlling operations from his perch in the new tower overlooking the rails, which covered (then and now) the territory from the Eleventh Street overpass all the way to Banta Road.
Tracy has three roads named Schulte Road. You know — if you come into town off 580 at Patterson Pass Road, then drive past the big Costco and Safeway warehouses, you are on Schulte Road, which dead-ends at Lammers Road.
But if you turn right onto Lammers, just before the train tracks you can make a left turn onto … Schulte Road.
If you drive to the end of that version of Schulte Road, which bottoms out at Corral Hollow Road, you can hook a quick, awkward and sometimes dangerous U-turn around the tracks, then drive a couple of blocks to the next signal light which is, of course … Schulte Road. Why wouldn’t it be?
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.
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.
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.
Join 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.
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.)
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 RidolfisPhotographics.com.