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Passing the Chief: 1943

Passing the Chief: 1943

March 1943. "Summit, California (vicinity). Passing an eastbound passenger train, the Chief, while coming down the mountain on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad between Barstow and San Bernardino." Medium-format negative by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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In 1943, the retainer valves weren't accessible from the ground, they were mounted at the top of the of the B end of the car, next to the brake wheel on cars fitted with vertical brake wheels, or next to the brake wheel shaft on cars with stemwinders.


• Note the wartime headlight shroud on 3770.
• Retainers were accessed from the ground, not atop the cars.

This is at "Summit".

You can see the Summit Train Order station roof just to the right of the tank car, over the Chief.
For reference, here's some views of Summit from 1964:

My 2 cents: It may be that they are just getting done cutting the helper off. That would explain why the 3770's stack is clear and also explain the caption "Passing The Chief". They would be "passing" her if she was sitting still.
How 'bout it: Can any ATSF experts out there shed more light on operations on Cajon Pass during the war? It surely was important getting these trains over the summit.

Helper? Maybe.

Good catch. It might be a helper. On the other hand, there is an intermediate track between the freight the photographer is on and the track with the Chief. So it may be yet another train. Cajon Pass was a busy place.

Meeting the Chief?

Interesting problem here. If we are looking toward the head end of the train, then in railroad parlance this would be categorized as a meet, not a pass. On the other hand, if we are looking rearward, then it is indeed a pass. But that would bring up the question of why a mixed freight would be passing the Chief. 3770's stack is very clean, suggesting that she is standing still. Of course it is wartime, so anything is possible. There could be a reason that the freight has priority. Or perhaps the Chief is stalled?

Cajon Pass

A location well-known to railfans, Cajon Pass is the transportation artery that carries busy BNSF (formerly the Santa Fe) and Union Pacific rail lines between San Bernardino and the Mojave Desert. When this photo was taken, Route 66 also ran through the Pass. Alas, it's no longer intact, replaced by I-15.

And if you lost your balance

Back in the 1940s or so my Uncle George was a brakeman - I forget the railroad but he worked out of the Chicago area - and while doing what the roofwalker here was doing he fell off, losing his left arm. Every car he owned after that had a steering wheel spinner and, until he finally bought one with an automatic transmission, somehow managed to control the car's direction with what was left of his arm and shift gears with his remaining hand.

Not Everybody Was Impressed

My father was Chief Special Agent and General Claims Agent for the Western Pacific. He spent about 20 years lobbying the Association of American Railroads to change car layout standards so that employees didn't have to climb on the tops of cars to operate equipment.

Mt Baldy?

I think that may be Mt. San Antonio (better known as Mt. Baldy) in the background, the highest point in Los Angeles county (10,068 ft (3,069 m)).

Here's Baldy in Google Street View

View Larger Map

A little help here!

Is that another locomotive in the background, helping 3770 up the grade?

Times Change

Before George Westinghouse running atop car to car was how you
stopped the train.

The photographer was on top of the boxcar too

Wonder if Jack Delano, the photgrapher, used a camera with
a tripod or hand-held to get this photo? Either way, that's some balancing act while you're on top of a moving train!

The General Code of Operating Rules,

Rule 1.21, prohibits railroad employees from occupying the roof of moving equipment.(Employees whose duties require them to occupy the roof of a car or engine must do so only with proper authority and when the equipment is standing.) As recently as the early 70s the practice was still permissible. I recall many cold, windy, winter nights in Milwaukee seeing a switchman climb to the top of a car at the end of a long cut with a burning fusee to pass signals while shoving into the darkness of the Airline yard.

As usual, Delano’s composition is near perfect, and the detail incorporated is of special interest: semaphore, hand throw switches, handbrake wheel, mountains, pole lines, etc. Wonder if anyone knows if this was double main territory.

The locomotive is

a "Northern" 4-8-4 originally a coal burner converted to an oil burner, loved the times you could ride on top of a boxcar, now their are no walkways or method of getting up om top.

Google is your friend

I went looking for further info on 3770 and was surprised at how many photographs of it there are on t'interweb.

While I've got your attention, a Happy New Year to all you Shorpists and to Dave in particular.


The guy is up there setting the retainer valves on the cars, which hold the brakes on somewhat without using up air.

Must be in Engalnd

Looks like they are driving on the wrong side of the road.

Happy New Year to all.


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