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Mileposts cover March 1983 Final Issue  
The final issue of Mileposts (March 1983 issue shown at left) carried a reprint of Gil Kneiss' article, "Fifty Candles for Western Pacific" as well as R.W. "Dick" Bridges article "Eighty Candles on the Final Cake" chronicling the final 30 years before the merger with the Union Pacific.

By the time Mr. Bridges wrote this article, thirty years had passed since Gil Kneiss wrote the fifty-year history of Western Pacific. As Western Pacific's independent existence faded into oblivion with the implementation of Union Pacific control, it seemed fitting and proper that the task so well begun by Mr. Kneiss should be finished by the chronicling of those final thirty years.

40 Candles 40 Candles

Eighty Candles on the Final Cake

by R.W. "Dick" Bridges  


line_brk_spire_left_inverted.gif IMPROVING THE NCE line_brk_spire_rt_inverted.gif

As the "second fifty years" began to run it course, the Whitman-Munson era still had some twelve years ahead of it (Harry C. Munson retired February 29, 1964. Frederic B. Whitman retired June 30, 1965). Significant and tumultuous events were to occur in those twelve years, events which shaped the course of the railroad and those who worked for it in whatever capacity. During the summer of 1953 work began on the Northern California Extension (Keddie to Bieber) which substantially improved service via the "Inside Gateway" as well as significantly reducing operating and maintenance costs on that segment of the railroad. At a total cost of close to $700,000 Tunnel No. 1 was concreted, Tunnels Nos. 7 and 8 were eliminated by a line change and Tunnel No. 9 was "daylighted". The ability of Western Pacific to offer service via the Northern California Extension in conjunction with the Santa Fe and Great Northern which could compete favorably with the Southern Pacific's coastal route was enhanced by the work done in 1953 and played its part in a decision favorable to the Company in the so-called Northwest Rate Case. That case was brought by the Company to force the rail carriers operating north of Portland, Oregon to grant joint rates to the Western Pacific, Great Northern and Santa Fe on traffic between Southern California and the Pacific Northwest on as favorable a basis as the rates those northern carriers already participated in with the Southern Pacific. The long continued litigation in this Case culminated in 1966 with a favorable decision on the merits from a federal district court after the U. S. Supreme Court had upheld the Company's right to sue. 


line_brk_spire_left_inverted.gif FORD COMES TO MILPITAS line_brk_spire_rt_inverted.gif

Probably the most significant event to occur in the history of Western Pacific subsequent to 1953 was the location of the Ford Assembly Plant on company property at Milpitas, California on the San Jose Branch. The agreement with Ford to build its plant at Milpitas was reached in 1953 and the first new car rolled off the assembly line on February 28, 1955. From that day forward each year through 1982 the revenue to the Company from the carriage of auto parts to the plant and assembled automobiles from the plant represented a substantial portion of gross revenues. But 1983 not only brings to an end Western Pacific's service of the Ford Plant as an independent company; it also brings to an end that service by any railroad with the announcement by the Ford Motor Company late in 1982 that operation of the Milpitas plant would be terminated by June, 1983. No longer will the "Ford Fast" symbol train make its regular, expedited runs providing a moving, one thousand-mile long inventory of auto parts for the Milpitas assembly plant.


line_brk_spire_left_inverted.gif THE ONE HUNDRED-YEAR STORM line_brk_spire_rt_inverted.gif

When Western Pacific "old rails" gather to reminisce about the memorable dates in the company's history, the month of December, 1955 will hold a prominent place in their conversations. For it was in that month that Mother Nature demonstrated her awesome force by battering Northern California with a series of storms the like of which (fortunately) has not been seen since. Almost thirty inches of rainfall was recorded at Bucks Creek, in the Feather River Canyon midway between Oroville and Portola, during the period December 16th to 26th. The water flow in the Feather River was measured during this period at a record high of 250,000 cubic feet per second. Washouts, flooding and landslides occurred at several points on the railroad but the most serious damage resulted from a massive slide at Milepost 250.35 in the Canyon about thirty miles west of Keddie. Around noon on December 22nd about 40,000 cubic yards of decomposed granite and rock (with some boulders as big as freight cars) slid away from a slope about 800 feet above the tracks, completely covering the roadbed and the highway below to a width of about 400 feet. By December 28th track forces working around the clock had managed to clear the slide sufficiently to permit laying of rail which was scheduled to begin on the following day. But Mother Nature wasn't through yet. At about 7:00 p.m. that evening with the workers and equipment drawn off of the slide area, a second slide, larger than the first, covered the cleared right-of-way with an additional 50,000 cubic yards of material. Not until January 8, 1956 were the weary crews able to clear the right-of-way and relay the track to permit reopening of the line. However that was not to be the end of the problems at Milepost 250.35. A geologic survey taken of the slope above the right-of-way confirmed company engineers' suspicions that the area above the track was extremely unstable and subject to future and frequent slides. The survey recommended that a tunnel be constructed under the hill to avoid the incipient landslide problems at that particular point. This required boring a 3,116-foot tunnel through practically solid rock. Work was begun on the project (the new tunnel had become tunnel No. 15, replacing the earlier No. 15 which had been daylighted in 1944) on March 27, 1956 and the tunnel was opened to traffic January 30, 1957. Cost of the project was $2,000,000.


line_brk_spire_left_inverted.gif OROVILLE LINE CHANGE line_brk_spire_rt_inverted.gif

An event important both in the history of the State of California and of Western Pacific occurred on June 1, 1957 about five miles east of Oroville when Governor Goodwin J. Knight presided from the observation platform of the rear of a special Western Pacific train over the ground-breaking ceremonies for the Oroville Dam. Because water impounded by the dam would inundate Western Pacific's right-of-way from the dam site eastward to Intake (Milepost 232), it was necessary for the State to relocate the railroad. Work on this line relocation, known as the Oroville Line Change, began in 1957 and the first train operation over the new line took place on October 22, 1962. The new line is about twenty-three miles long and includes four bridges, the most spectacular of which is the North Fork Bridge which carries the new line across the Feather River to its junction near Intake with the old line. This bridge is a reinforced concrete arch with a main span 308 feet in length; total length of the bridge is nearly 1000 feet and its deck is some 200 feet above the river bottom.


line_brk_spire_left_inverted.gif SIGNS OF THINGS TO COME line_brk_spire_rt_inverted.gif

Two events occurred in the year 1960 which, had an observer been blessed with 20-20 foresight, might have been recognized as portents of significant changes ahead for Western Pacific. The first of these was the discontinuance of the operation of Passenger Trains 1 and 2, which had provided tri-weekly service between Salt Lake City and San Francisco with two self-propelled diesel cars, the so-called "Budd Cars". Patronage on these two trains had decreased to the extent that employees being deadheaded by the Company from one work point to another often out-numbered revenue passengers. Operating losses too large to bear with no prospect of revenues increasing at a greater rate than expenses dictated the discontinuance of Trains 1 and 2. But did anyone in March of 1960 when the application to abandon the operation of those trains was filed suspect that, ten years later to the day, those same factors (i.e., increasing costs and decreasing revenues) would dictate the abandonment of Trains 17 and 18, the California Zephyr?

The second portentous event of 1960 occurred on October 12th of that year when the Southern Pacific Company announced in a press release that it was that day filing an application with the Interstate Commerce Commission requesting authority to acquire control of Western Pacific. Thus was born the "Control Case" which was subsequently expanded when the Santa Fe also filed for authority to acquire control of Western Pacific. This battle of two giant corporations fighting over a small but significant property was ultimately resolved on February 3, 1965 when the Interstate Commerce Commission rejected both applications and ruled that Western Pacific should remain independent. But the unanswered question remained: could Western Pacific remain independent? That question was to remain unanswered but always lurking in the background until October of 1982 when the Interstate Commerce Commission recognized the inevitable and approved the application of Union Pacific to acquire control of Western Pacific.

After having successfully guided the Company through the Control Case, President Whitman retired June 30,1965, thus bringing to a close a most significant and productive period in the history of Western Pacific. To his successors Mr. Whitman bequeathed a railroad in strong physical condition, financially solvent and operated at all levels by people willing and able, as he was, to adopt and adapt innovative methods of getting the job done better, faster and more efficiently.


line_brk_spire_left_inverted.gif A NEW PRESIDENT line_brk_spire_rt_inverted.gif

As Mr. Whitman's successor the Board of Directors selected Myron M. Christy who became Western Pacific's ninth President July 1, 1965. Mr. Christy joined Western Pacific in 1949 as a traveling accountant and thereafter served in several capacities throughout the railroad including Division Superintendent and Executive Vice President-General Manager. During the subsequent five years of Mr. Christy's tenure as President important organizational changes resulting in improved operation and administration were effected. The separate Accounting and Treasury Departments were combined in one Department of Finance under the Vice President-Finance; the Industrial Development section of the Marketing Department was up-graded to full department status, reporting direct to the President; improved, modern methods of material accounting and inventory control were introduced in the Purchasing Department; the train dispatching functions were consolidated in Sacramento; and the heavy locomotive repair work was transferred from Sacramento and Oroville to a newly-built $2,000,000 diesel facility at Stockton. Also during the Christy era a power-pooling agreement was reached with the Burlington Northern and an agreement was consummated with Southern Pacific for joint use of Western Pacific trackage between Flanagan and Weso in Nevada.


line_brk_spire_left_inverted.gif DESERT DISASTER line_brk_spire_rt_inverted.gif

On June 29, 1969 there occurred an event in the Nevada desert that could not have happened in a better place if it had to happen at all. Train Extra 765 West with four units and seventy loads was passing a small siding known as Tobar, about 15 miles east of Wells around 4:00 p.m. in the evening. Included in Extra 765 West's consist were twenty-two forty-foot boxcars each loaded with one hundred and twelve 750 pound un-fused bombs consigned to the Naval Weapons Station at Concord, California. These box-cars were entrained Numbers 43 through 64 in the train behind the engine. As the train passed through Tobar a low-order detonation occurred in the 61st car, blowing off its door and apparently severing the train line because the train immediately went into emergency and came to a stop. Immediately thereafter there occurred a whole series of explosions which completely disintegrated the last four boxcars and one gondola behind them. Except for the door of the 61st car, no identifiable piece of the four boxcars was ever found. The train conductor suffered a skull fracture and the rear brakeman cuts and bruises; these were the only injuries suffered except for two transients riding the train who were slightly burned. Because of the destruction of the car in which the original detonation occurred, experts were unable to establish a definite cause of the explosion.


line_brk_spire_left_inverted.gif THE LAST RUN line_brk_spire_rt_inverted.gif

Train No. 17, the westbound California Zephyr, arrived in Oakland on March 22,1970 about four hours late. The delay was not the result of any equipment malfunctions or operational problems, but rather the result of its operation being impeded by celebrations held at its several stops along the way. For this was the final trip of America's "Most Talked About Train" and townspeople at every scheduled stop had turned out to pay their last respects. The decision to discontinue the Zephyr was one that had to be made because its operating losses had become so great as to imperil the Company's ability to operate an efficient and profitable freight service. Nevertheless, it was a decision that was not made without a good deal of anguish on the part of the Company's management and one that its employees accepted with considerable regret. For twenty-one years the California Zephyr had provided its passengers with a level of service and magnificent scenery unsurpassed in the annals of passenger train operation. The service and the scenery were still there in 1970, but the patronage was not; transcontinental train service had become an anachronism with the advent of the jet age in air travel.


line_brk_spire_left_inverted.gif THE PERLMAN-FLANNERY ERA line_brk_spire_rt_inverted.gif

For Western Pacific people the passing of the Zephyr was change enough for one year, but 1970 was to bring even more significant events. On June 24, 1970 Mr. Howard A. Newman, who had been elected a member of Western Pacific's Board of Directors on May 5th, was elected Chairman of the Board. By the end of the year Mr. Newman had formed a holding company, Western Pacific Industries, of which Western Pacific Railroad became a subsidiary. Also in the same period Mr. Newman brought in a new management team to run the railroad. Alfred E. Perlman was elected tenth President of the railroad effective December 1, 1970 and R. G. Flannery Executive Vice President effective January 1, 1971. Mr. Perlman came to Western Pacific after a long and distinguished railroading career which included service for the Denver and Rio Grande Western, the New York Central and the Penn Central and was recognized as one of the foremost railroad executives in the nation. Mr. Flannery had worked under Mr. Perlman both on the New York Central and the Penn Central. During the Perlman-Flannery era of the '70s great emphasis was placed on modernization of the railroad in all of its aspects, including equipment, roadbed, operating procedures and administrative techniques. One of the most significant of those modernization projects was the "computerization" of the railroad. By the end of the decade train consists were being produced and transmitted by computer with pertinent waybill data included, car inventories and switching movements at the several yards were computerized, as were payrolls, accounts payable, freight claims, demurrage, car accounting and locomotive maintenance functions. Computerization of the railroad was achieved over the course of a decade, but in other areas the innovative leadership of Mr. Perlman had its impact immediately. Most significant of all was the fact that for the year 1971 (the first full year under Mr. Perlman) the railroad operated in the black after two successive years of deficit operation. Furthermore, that pattern was to continue during the balance of Mr. Perlman's tenure and during the tenure of his successor, Mr. Flannery, for each of the years of the 1970 decade. These "bottom-line" results achieved during a period of ever-increasing costs and continuing intra-and inter-modal competition offer solid testimony to the high level of management expertise with which Western Pacific was blessed during the Perlman-Flannery years. As the Company girded itself for the challenges of the '80s, it did so under a management team formed during the course of the '70s. R. C. Marquis would be Senior Vice President-Operation; W. G. Treanor Senior Vice President-Law; R. W. Stumbo, Jr. Senior Vice President-Finance; R. G. Meldahl Senior Vice President-Marketing; A. P. Victors Senior Vice President-Industrial Development; and J. J. Gray Senior Vice President-Intermodal. Presiding overall was R. G. "Mike" Flannery, President and Chief Executive Officer. It was this management team that formed a corporation which, with Interstate Commerce Commission approval (dated January 26, 1979), acquired the assets of The Western Pacific Railroad Company from Western Pacific Industries, thereby restoring Western Pacific to its independent status.

However, despite the bold and resolute action taken by the Company's management in restoring its independent status, it soon became evident that intra-modal competition was becoming too powerful for a small railroad such as the Western Pacific to overcome. Chiefly responsible for that situation was the rate-making freedom granted carriers offering single-line routes by the enactment of the Staggers Act of 1980, a freedom which did not extend to carriers required to participate with other roads in joint rates to the same points served by the single-line carrier. So it was that on January 23, 1980 President Flannery announced that an agreement providing for the control of Western Pacific by Union Pacific had been approved by the Board of Directors of both companies and that an application for authority to consummate that transaction would shortly be filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission. Two years later in mid-October 1982 the Commission rendered its decision granting the requested authority (and approving at the same time the companion request for authority for the merger of the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific). In the meantime in June of 1982 Mr. Flannery was elected President and Chief Executive Officer of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and Mr. Marquis was elected Western Pacific's twelfth President and Chief Executive Officer effective June 9, 1982. THE FINAL WORDS line_brk_spire_rt_inverted.gif

The eightieth anniversary of the incorporation of The Western Pacific Railway Company (which was to become The Western Pacific Railroad Company) would have occurred March 6, 1983. Western Pacific's independent corporate existence however may be said to have terminated on January 11, 1983 when at a meeting of the Company's Board of Directors action was taken to confirm the Company's status as a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad Company. Even so, we feel that the Company is entitled to light the eightieth candle on its final birthday cake and herewith take the liberty of doing so (symbolically, at least) with the hope that no one will gainsay our right to stretch the truth just a little.

So now the time has arrived when the final words must be said. But how do we find the words properly to mark the end of an eighty-year corporate existence?

One thing is clear - that corporation was merely an intangible legal entity; its spirit or soul or being, if you will, were people: people who planned its creation and constructed its facilities, people who operated its trains, maintained its tracks, bridges and assorted other structures, people who kept its records, sold its services, maintained its signal and communication facilities, kept its equipment in repair, in short all those people who, as Western Pacific employees, did the necessary jobs to keep the Company operating. It is to those people that this final salute goes. In the course of eighty years the numbers of such people has become legion - too many, of course, to be identified by name. But to all of them we say, "Congratulations on a job well done!"


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