Railroads & Locomotives Locomotives Rosters Santa Fe nights

Santa Fe nights

By James A. Neubauer | October 23, 2009

A 1950s tour conductor recalls some special times on the Santa Fe

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The Grand Canyon was a stop on several of the tours I conducted in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Our groups would ride Santa Fe Railway trains to Williams, Ariz., then chartered motor coaches to the Canyon.

After dinner at the Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon, the passengers and luggage were aboard the bus back to Williams, where we’d reboard the Santa Fe. There would be a songfest while en route. Voices would be thoroughly parched by the time we got there. I would suggest a night cap in a real old west watering hole, the Billy Williams bar on Williams Boulevard. I was recognized there and knew that I would be “comped” for the business I delivered.

Williams sits in a bowl. In those days, the Santa Fe had helper districts in both directions, and the show happened right in front of the depot. Lash-ups of multiple blue and yellow F units would come through, pushing and pulling in each direction, working wide-open to surmount the grades.

We’d often ride the double-deck chair cars of the El Capitan. These cars were the best invention since the enclosed platform. With the night cap from the Billy Williams saloon, all had a good night’s sleep. Dropping down grade at Ash Fork plugged everyone’s ears from all noise, until early the next morning when the news butch turned on the coach lights and started hawking coffee. I complained about this to my Santa Fe rep in Chicago, and the next time out the news butch refrained from turning on the lights so early, but he gave me a real dirty look.

On the San Francisco Chief, which we sometime rode, things were different. No news butch to wake me up, but sunlight creeping under the bottom of the drawn window shade as we went around Tehachapi’s curves. The low sun would stab me in the eyes and wake me up. I got up to shave before we arrived at Bakersfield, where we would temporarily lose train air that maintained water pressure in the restroom. I had a friendly introductory talk with the dining car steward, had breakfast, and went to the chair car to watch for California jackrabbits.

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