Railroads & Locomotives History LA’s Taylor Yard: Always something different

LA’s Taylor Yard: Always something different

By David Lustig | October 25, 2023

When you figure you know what to expect when train hunting, railroading throws you a curve

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Always something different at LA’s Taylor Yard

Steam engine next to SW1500 switcher
Southern Pacific 4-10-2 No. 5021 put in a brief appearance at LA’s Taylor Yard on Dec. 21, 1975, on its way back to owner RailGiants Train Museum. The steam engine can be found there today at the Fairplex railway exhibit in Pomona, Calif. David Lustig

A wise man once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It’s a nice thought. But he never met a train fan.

For decades, whenever I had a few free minutes, I’d drive down to Southern Pacific’s sprawling Taylor Yard complex in Los Angeles to see what was in town. Most of the time it was just regular power, and cookie-cutter freight cars. But just often enough I’d come across a stranger on the ready tracks, or a distinct piece of rolling stock.

Those are the days you really enjoyed. With the sweet smell of the Van de Kamp’s bakery adjacent to the yard’s north throat adding to the day, for some of us it was heaven on earth.

The photo above of SP No. 5021 is one of the examples of what I found over the years. Here are some others that illustrated why I would enjoy both the sameness of the scene as well as the unusual stuff that rarely made it to Southern California.

Black and white photo of Alco locomotive among EMDs at rail yard
SP’s small fleet of 10 Alco RS32 road-switchers was originally assigned to fast freights on the Coast Line between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. Soon bumped to local service in California, a handful provided power for San Francisco area locals and act as protection power for the commuter fleet. The fleet was moved to Texas in the 1970s before leaving the roster by the end of the decade. I found No. 4008 in transit on a lazy Saturday afternoon in 1975. David Lustig

At one time the U.S. military flirted with train-mounted mobile ICBM missile launchers to make it harder for an enemy to target. A lucky encounter in April 1991 at the north throat of Taylor Yard resulted in this photo. The platforms, officially Peacekeeper Rail Garrison cars, were apparently heading to Vandenberg Air Force Base on the railroad’s Coast Line. David Lustig

Black and gold diesel demonstrator unit
The year 1963 found a quartet of gold and black Alco C628 demonstrators idling at Taylor. Southern Pacific was impressed enough with the units that they ordered a production batch, and for good measure, purchased the four demonstrators. The units were patched with the road’s name and worked Los Angeles-Bakersfield during testing before joining the others in Northern California. David Lustig

Disel locomotive with large B unit
Not exactly rare, but for me unusual, was the pairing of one of SP’s EMD GP20s to its small fleet of EMD double-engined DD35s,, as seen on June 6, 1965. Usually, they worked with GP35s. Waiting for their next call east on the Sunset Route, GP20 No. 7229, DD35 No. 8400, and another GP20 will move out in about one hour. David Lustig

Steam locomotive on flatcar next to wrecking crane
One of my bigger surprises one day in 1974 was Southern Pacific 4-6-0 2248 perched on a flat car deep inside Taylor. An 1896 product of Cooke Locomotive Works, it was a typical Ten-Wheeler until it was modified to power the firefighting train that stood at the ready over Donner Pass. It was retired in 1959, bounced around between private owners and was ultimately sold to Texas State Railroad in 1974, where it was restored to active duty. Later it went to Fort Worth & Western before going to Grapevine Vintage Railroad, also in the Lone Star State. David Lustig

Today, Southern Pacific is gone. It’s now part of Union Pacific. Taylor Yard is history, as well. A facility 50-odd miles east is the new Southern California hub.

I’ve moved on, as well. I left the San Fernando Valley in my rear-view mirror years ago and moved to the next county north. But I’m still near the former SP Coast Line. The trains are fewer, the power more mundane. But that still doesn’t stop me from detouring to where the station once stood to see what’s powering the next train.

I’m pretty sure what the power will be. But I’ll show up, anyhow. Just in case.

One thought on “LA’s Taylor Yard: Always something different

  1. Mr. Lustig,
    Your letter dated Oct. 25 containing memories of Taylor Yard arrived in this morning’s email. Your closing comments brought a tear to my eye. My earliest memory of train watching stems from the early-mid 1950’s when my family and I would often visit the Union Pacific depot in Topeka, KS. The depot was and is located at the divergence of the Rock Island’s golden state route, the UP “branch” which joined the UP’s Nebraska mainline at Gibbon, Nebraska, and the UP’s Kansas mainline to Denver. My wife and I have carried on that tradition first with our two boys, and now in retirement. In the 50’s, my duty was to walk down the brick platform, enter the depot, and check the arrival/ departure board to see which trains were on time and which were late. The image of leaving the depot one evening and encountering the last steam engine (an 800) in regular service I ever saw there, rolling west, double-headed with a diesel, is forever engraved in my mind. My wife and I still park in the same spot, having brought McDonald’s and a book, to “see what will show up.” Thanks for the memories.- Karl Landis, Grantville, KS

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