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?
If you live in Tracy or its outskirts, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the names of the several villages that rest at the city’s edges. You know, places like Tesla, Carbona, Banta, Lyoth, Kerlinger, Ludwig, and Rhodes.
Wait. You’re not familiar with all those names? Well, sure, Banta is fairly well known — there’s still something there — but what about Carbona?
You may actually drive past the “Carbona Curve” on occasion and not know that it’s there. In fact, if you ride an ACE train through Tracy to or from points east (such as Stockton or Manteca), then you’ve rolled through Carbona.
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.
The original right-of-way leading into Tracy from the Bay Area via the Altamont Pass was built back in 1873 by the Central Pacific as part of the Transcontinental Railroad linking California with the East Coast.
Trains traveled in and out of Tracy from the railyards near downtown, along old Schulte Road through the original site of the Ellis coaling station, then curving up toward the foothills to Midway and Cayley, then on to the summit at Altamont.
Denise Ellen Rizzo reported in last week’s edition of the Tracy Press that an effort is being made to convince officials to build an Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train station to better serve residents in the Mountain House area.
A petition has been started on Change.org by Robi Thomas, a Mountain House resident, to bring the proposal to ACE officials.
The plan would call for ACE to “add a station near Patterson Pass Road, where Mountain House Parkway meets the train tracks,” according to the petition.
For decades, oil from Kern County was transported by rail in tank cars (appropriately dubbed “oil cans”) to this Associated Oil storage facility in Tracy, which served as a way station as the oil traveled to Port Costa.
In the aerial photo from 1926 (shown above and below), the tracks heading to the right are part of the Mococo Line, which is now a seldom-used single track that extends up through Byron and Brentwood into Antioch and Pittsburg.
In the distance, just right of center in the photograph is an oil reservoir (also known back then as the “Gravel Pit”), which was located approximately where Alden Park is today.
A 1926 aerial view of the Associated Oil Tank Farm in Tracy.
Click image for enlarged view.
The Mococo Line was fundamental to the creation of the city of Tracy, which was founded in 1878 when the nearly fifty-mile-long line was opened between Martinez and here.
Originally constructed as the San Pablo & Tulare Railroad, it was built as an extension — a shortcut, as it were — connecting the Central Pacific’s established northern line near San Pablo Bay and its line through the San Joaquin Valley via Stockton and Lathrop over the Eastbay Hills to Oakland. (The SP&T was consolidated into the Southern Pacific Railroad, the successor to the Central Pacific, in 1888.)
All that currently remains of this facility today is a group of hillocks at the corner of Tracy Blvd. and Beechnut Avenue, across from the city’s corporation yard.
Contaminated soil in the area led to a landmark court case, Cose v. Getty Oil Co., over who was responsible for waste from the tanks that had seeped into the soil surrounding the “Gravel Pit.”
ABOVE: An excerpt from a 1955 USGS map of Tracy, showing the Tank Farm area. Note that the current Tracy Boulevard, previously known as Oil Road, did not extend across the tracks here at this time.
ABOVE: A Google Earth aerial view of the Tank Farm area as it appeared in 2013. Tracy Blvd. curves from top to bottom at right, with Alden Park in the lower-left corner.
Southern Pacific Train 51, the westbound San Joaquin Daylight, roars past the Tank Farm (at right) on July 7, 1956, on its way to Martinez and Oakland by way of the Mococo Line, in this photo by E.K. Muller
(Western Railway Museum Archive)
ABOVE: A typical Associated Oil tank car. The San Francisco-based company used “Tidewater” and “Flying A” as brand names.
Special thanks to the Western Railway Museum for permission to include E.K. Muller’s majestic 1956 photograph of the San Joaquin Daylight in Tracy (Negative No. 90126) in this article.