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Mojave Circle - Soledad Canyon and Cajon Pass 4/17/1988

by Chris Guenzler

The Pacific Railroad Society sent me a flyer for their Mojave Circle Trip which my Parents, myself and my good dear friend Jeff Hartmann decided to go on together. Since there was a choice between Amfleet cars and the chance to ride in private railroad cars for $15 more we choose to ride in Bill Hatrick's Amber Trail. The trip was scheduled for a Sunday so we all meet and drove to Los Angeles Union Station for our trip to Mojave via Soledad Canyon outbound and return via Cajon Pass. While this was my first chance to ride through Soledad Canyon, Jeff had ridden through it before on the San Joaquin Daylight when he was a kid. The trip over Cajon on the other hand would be Jeff's first as I had just ridden over it just five years before on the Mojave Limited Trip. My parents would be making their first trip over both of the lines. We walked into the station and waited at the gate to board a very unique train to a very unique location over two unique routes. Our train was two F-40 PH's, three Hi Level ex Santa Fe Cars, the PRS cars "Shasta Springs"{ex Daylight Coach}, the "National Forum" {Pullman Car}, the "Starlight Cafe" {ex UP Diner/Lounge}, Bill Hatrick's "Amber Trail" and Dave Rohr's "Native Son" {ex UP Dome/Lounge}.

We left on time and headed out the same way as the Coast Starlight does, out to Mission Tower and across the Los Angeles River heading along the east bank. We crossed Main Street and went under Broadway Bridge. We went under the Santa Fe's Second District Bridge before passing under the maze of highway bridges of the Golden State/Pasadena Freeway interchange. We passed Dayton Ave Tower before running along the east side of Taylor Yard then under the Glendale Freeway at the yard's north end to our passenger stop of Glendale, We sprinted north to Burbank and at Burbank Junction we entered new mileage for me as the train entered SP's Saugus Line. The train went through the industrial areas of the San Fernando valley before ducking under Interstate 5. We passed the LA Water and Power Steam Plant and by the airport used in the "A Team" episodes. We went through Sun Valley, Pacoima and San Fernando before we reached Sylmar with it's long siding under both the Interstate 210 and 5 freeways. We took the short but steep climb to the San Fernando Tunnel right after the train passed under the maze of bridges for the junction of the Golden State and Antelope Valley Freeway. The San Fernando Tunnel was started on March 27,1875 and completed through on July 14, 1876 with track laying taking place a short time later. It measured 6,966 feet and was the longest railroad tunnel in the world at the time. We burst back in daylight and headed down the canyon to Saugus passing the old Saugus Station now located in a park along the track.

We made the big turn to the east with the Santa Clara River to the north. We wound along the hill slope past the Saugus Car Racing Track. We continued snaking alone the hill side to Humphreys as we entered the lower reaches of Soledad Canyon. The SP line through Soledad Canyon would forever be changed by the six day rain storm that hit the area that started on February 27th and dumped 11.06 inches of rainfall. The really downpour came on March 2nd when 6.03 inches of rain fell. This storm closed the rail lines over Tehachapi, Cajon and Beaumont Passes and destroyed 13 miles of track in Soledad Canyon. Five steel bridges were destroyed. The line was rebuilt on higher ground with only one crossing of the Santa Clara River and several tunnels were bypassed.

The train headed east past the bypassed tunnels of a 1945 project to Lang Siding were on September 5th, 1876 the line between San Francisco and Los Angeles was completed. We passed the huge cement plant before rounding the corner before we crossed the Santa Clara River and plunged into Tunnel 19. The canyon walls stood tall as we exited and made the turn north to enter Tunnel 18. We made our way through the former station of Russ before we snaked our way east up Soledad Canyon. At selected locations to the north the Vasquez Rocks could be seen. The rocks were the hideout of the notorious bandit Tiburcio Vasquez and his gang. Vasquez was hung on March 19, 1875. The train passed several RV Parks before it run by the Wild Animal Park with it's elephants and other assorted animals. We crossed under Soledad Canyon Road as the canyon opened up a bit. We came to Ravenna siding before passing a large RV Park prior to reaching the small community of Acton. We stayed along the stream as the San Gabriel Mountains came into view to the south. We ran through Paris before reaching the top of the grade at Vincent. We descended the steep hill making a wide horseshoe curve near the bottom passing under the Pearblossum Highway. We crossed over the California Aqueduct then the Sierra Highway at grade prior to travelling over the San Andres Fault and passing Lake Palmdale. We crossed Avenue S, made a little "S" curve before we went through Palmdale Jct where the Palmdale Cutoff that we would be taking on our return trip leaves. We traveled through Palmdale crossed Sierra Highway and went by the Lockheed Plant.The train passed through Lancaster and Rosamond then climbed Ansel Hill before descending into Mojave. We went into the yard, wyed the train on the Oak Creek Branch before the train was spotted on a yard track and we were allowed to get off the train to explore the town.

My parents, Jeff and I went to Carls JR for lunch before we split up to look around town. It was cold and windy as Jeff and I walked to a liquor store where I bought a pint of Kesseler and some Coca Cola so I could have a few drinks on the way back without anyone else knowing I was doing that.

We all returned to the train which left on time and I rode in the Amber Trail until near Palmdale where I got a seat in the Native Son's Dome for the trip over the Palmdale Cutoff. As we neared Cajon Pass a wall of clouds was spread out in the pass and we went from clear blue sky into a wall of gloom and darkness right before Hiland all the way down Cajon Pass. Jeff was really disappointed as we did not get to see Cajon Pass in full grandeur as he had on other trips. I thought that the clouds really added character to the pass. Any trip over Cajon Pass is special and one over the Palmdale Cutoff is really unique no matter what the condition were. We made our way down the grade to West Colton where we turned onto the Sunset Route for the rest of the trip back to Los Angeles. We made a passenger stop at Pomona near the City of Industry when the train went into emergency. We learned later that the problem was caused by some idiots putting a shopping cart on the track. The train ran over it and the cart was dragged under the train breaking the air hoses between two of the cars causing the brakes to be applied. They fixed the problem quickly and minutes later after crossing the San Gabriel River, we ran west down the State Street Line back to the Los Angeles River which we crossed at Mission Tower before running into Los Angeles Union Station ending another fine Pacific Railroad Society Trip.