A ride into the past


If all goes well, sometime in October, I hope to be heading east. By train, of course.

That’s not unusual. Several times a year, I find myself making the occasional day trip out of the Bay Area. Los Angeles or Reno as the destination. Good rides with good folks.

No, this trip has a different destination. One which you will probably read about here as it unfolds. But part of the way, I’ve ridden once before. And there lies today’s tale.

My great-grandfather (Christopher Cameron Walker) started his employment career riding on various ranches out in the Pine Valley. He went to work as a locomotive fireman for the Southern Pacific at Wadsworth, Nevada on December 1st, 1900 (and never rode a horse after that). His job took him east, along the original route of the Central Pacific. The railroad was pretty much as it had been since it was constructed in the late 1860’s as part of the Transcontinental route. Ties in the alkali dirt across the Silver State.

Nevada was a pretty rugged place in those days. Towns were not what one would call developed by any means. The pleasures of running water, electricity and indoor flush toilets were limited to the bigger cities. Roads were dirt and at best a chancy proposition. If you traveled, it was by train or by horse (and wagon).

Over my own years, I have been out to visit some of the places that Chris Walker worked and lived in. In some, the only difference between now and then is the passage of time. In others, where once was a community along the railroad, it takes a good eye to find remnants. In only a few, progress has brought prosperity and growth. Yet in all of them, it only takes a bit to leave civilization behind and find yourself out in the open with nothing but the sagebrush for as far as the eye can see.

Nevada east of Reno is hardly flat. And contrary to popular belief, it is not all desert either. In some years, I have seen so much green along the way, you would think you were a lot closer to the equator than you are. And in others, dry doesn’t being to describe it. Water has a habit of being found where and when it wants to. Ask the people who live out here and they will share all about it. Be it the snows of winter or the rains of summer. Water is life and death, too.

In later years with the railroad, Chris was number one in seniority out on the Salt Lake Division. His usual trip was aboard the City of San Francisco one way between Sparks and Carlin and the reverse aboard another passenger train. I have several train register books from a station in  the middle of those two right after World War II.

When he retired, his last trip east to Carlin was on the Streamliner (powered by a diesel locomotive). West, he brought the “Gold Coast” to Sparks, aboard a steam locomotive. It was 51 years with the railroad without a day sick or without an accident to his credit.

In the fall of 1980, I rode the train east of Sparks for the first time. Making that trip, I was making a connection to Chris and all of the times he rode the same rails between there and Carlin. It was pretty thrilling then, and I’m looking forward to it again later this year. Crossing the Silver State by train as passengers have for more than 143 years isn’t as dull as one might expect.



Posted in Travel | 1 Comment

One Response to A ride into the past

  1. ray spencer says:

    Sounds like a very admirable man. I would be proud to have that kind of record. I remember stepping off the Eastbound train in Sparks and being hit by a blast furnace only to be lulled to sleep later while gazing at a full moon bathing the desert with cool blue light from the comfort of my roomette. The Nevada Crossing can be spectacular and is loaded with history and romance. Thanks.

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