In the early 1940s, when steam locomotives were supreme, I worked on
the Santa Fe around Los Angeles. At Redondo Junction, today the north
end of the “Alameda Corridor” to the L.A. and Long Beach harbor
facilities, Santa Fe’s Harbor Branch left the main and went south
through the South Los Angeles industrial district and down along
Slauson Avenue, crossing Slauson at a siding called Wildasin. The line
then proceeded up Inglewood hill, which was about 2 miles long with a 1
percent grade. Most harbor trains had heavy tonnage, and you had to
work the engines at maximum to get over the hill.
Holderman, an “old-timer” engineer who was affectionately called “Old
Wooden Shoe,” was a Dutchman to the core. His usual assignment was the
El Segundo Turn that left Los Angeles about 1 p.m. every day. The
trains were always heavy, and a small 3100-class 2-8-2 was the regular
power; Bill struggled up the hill every day. About a quarter mile from
the top was an elementary school whose playground was right along the
track. Every day, as Bill’s train was barely moving, it would be the
target of rocks and anything else the kids could find to throw, as well
as anything they could place on the track. Bill endured this for some
time, but when he’d show his displeasure, it would only make his
tormenters more aggressive.
One day I was on a northbound train
on the siding at the top of the hill, waiting for Bill to go by so we
could proceed to Los Angeles. Now, all steam locomotives had steam
blowoff cocks on each side of the engine, just below the mud ring of
the firebox. The cocks were used periodically to flush the foam and
impurities from the boiler.
On this day, I guess Bill had had
enough harassment from the kids, because as I watched, when his engine
got to the playground, he opened the side blowoff cock, and water and
steam at 200 lbs. pressure shot out toward the schoolyard. A mass
exodus from the area then ensued, as steam, water, and dust were flying
everywhere. Bill held the cock open for just a second or two, but it
was enough—he never had trouble there anymore, nor do I think any of
those kids soon forgot their encounter with “Old Wooden Shoe.”
took place more than a half century ago, and I shudder to think what
the kids’ response would be in this day and age. Today, the lawyers
would have been at the railroad’s office before Bill finished his trip.
There were no reported injuries that we ever heard of, since steam
cooled immediately upon leaving the blowoff cocks and the open time was
Bill Holderman was a steam engineer to the core. When
diesel locomotives were introduced, he decided to retire. “Old Wooden
Shoe” said he just didn’t trust those new, steamless machines.First published in Summer 2006 Classic Trains magazine.
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