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Bagdad: 1943

Bagdad: 1943

March 1943. "Bagdad, California. Going through the station on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad between Needles and Barstow." Medium-format negative by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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The alphabet between Ludlow and Needles...

When the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (later acquired by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway) started putting in tracks they needed to set up quite a few watering stations across the desert for the steam locomotives. The first of these points (they all became towns of one form or another) was Amboy. The committee that named these stations got very clever and put them in alphabetical order, going from west to east:
- Amboy
- Bristol
- Cadiz
- Danby
- Essex
- Fenner
- Goffs
- Homer
- Ibis
- Java
- Khartoum
Because Bagdad is close to Amboy, they often make Bagdad the B, although Bagdad is west of Amboy. People also make that mistake about Klinefelter, which was actually another name for Ibis (both names are used today).

Newberry Springs

The Bagdad Cafe as seen in the film of the same name is actually in Newberry Springs, also along Route 66. It was still open as of 2005 when I took my Route 66 trip.

As mentioned already, nothing is left of the real Bagdad besides some flat spots in the desert. It was apparently the only town for miles around with a jukebox, which made it a very popular place for awhile.

Exercise Gallant Eagle '86

I believe that this is at the northern end of Twenty-nine Palms Marine Corps Base.

I was involved in a huge training exercise there, as an Army pilot, in 1986.

As I recall, the 82nd Airborne Division was using Bagdad to load out their equipment.

I saw Jack Palance... a quirky movie in 1988 titled Bagdad Cafe. It took place in a very similar remote desert watering hole and had a strange assortment of characters, sort of reminded me of a Fellini film. If you want to know how it ends, rent the movie.

Phone shanty

The six-sided kiosk is an ATSF standard telephone shanty. These were usually found at passing sidings and other remote locations where it was necessary for a train crew to contact the dispatcher or vice-versa.

The lower quadrant train order signal in front of the operator's bay is missing both arms, so I'd assume the station has been closed and there is no longer an operator assigned here. The phone booth would still permit contact as needed.

Shaking the dust out

A trip via Google Earth also reveals some foundation outlines & a couple of ghost streets at Bagdad. However, its neighbor to the east, Amboy, is quite interesting.

We always stop at Roy's to see whether or not they are currently in business. You never know.

Been there

Not far from Bagdad is Amboy and the Amboy Crater, an extinct volcanic cone. I looked for Bagdad when we visited the crater, but I'm not sure I really saw the spot. There truly is no "there" there...

No There There

If you look at Bagdad now on Google Street View, there's nothing but a dusty road winding out into the empty desert.

Kiosk Query

What is the little kiosk there?

Aptly Named

The environment here seems as bleak as that outside Baghdad, Iraq, which may have been the inspiration.

Desolate though it may be, its not without its alleviations...that is if you like solitude, opressively hot days and a dozens of roads going off in every direction to nowhere.

Every time I see the name Baghdad (or Bagdad) on the news I'm reminded of the intro. to a Johnny Cash song in which he says, "We're going to play an Arabic song for you: 'Oh, What a Bag Dad Had.'"

Bagdad's bones

At one time Bagdad was a busy little community, but like many others along Route 66, it went bust as the interstate came into use. In 1991 the remaining schoolhouse and other buildings were demolished. All that remains is the rail siding, a tree, some broken glass and a lonely cemetery.

Bagdad the Book

Rudy VanderLans made a book about the place, with photographs and an essay. By the time he got to Bagdad, all the buildings had gone, and only a stump remained of the palm tree -- could it be the same one in the photo?

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