The Zephyrette's - Trains 1 & 2

Page 1

A Problem Arises

Isolated areas are plentiful in the deserts of Nevada.

When the surprising approval for discontinuance of daily operations of the Royal Gorge was granted by the ICC with the requirement that tri-weekly service between Oakland and Salt Lake City be instituted as a replacement, Western Pacific now had a new problem, What to put in it's place?

Although it was clear that public patronage would not support a conventional local train, W.P. could not carry on its own business without some means of transportation for employees to and from some 20 remote locations in the Feather River Canyon and in the deserts of Nevada and Utah where rail service was the sole dependable year-round means of transportation for employees and their families.

The possibility of a bus and truck service for employees had already been studied thoroughly. By auto, access had been sought to every siding, section house, as well as other sites where employees were stationed. At some places no roads of any kind existed; at others they were so primitive as to be impassable for long periods of time during bad weather. To and from accessible locations, transportation by chartered bus or company truck of essential (but non-revenue) passengers engaged in the normal operation and maintenance of the railroad was estimated to cost about $165,000 annually, including $130,000 for movement of maintenance-of-way laborers to and from job sites.

Enter the RDC Solution

Recently introduced by the Budd Company, a rail diesel car, the RDC-1, was on demonstrator runs around the country. The Company's brochure about its RDC diesel rail car stated the view of the manufacturer was that it is "suited to every type of railroad passenger run - with the single exception of overnight express service."

BUDD RDC-1 on test trip.
BUDD RDC-1 during testing on the WP. This led to the orders for 2 RDC-2's.
Brad S. Lomazzi Collection

But the WP paid no attention, and in January 1950 conducted a 10-day test with it in revenue service on the 600-mile portion of the runs of Nos. 1 and 2 between Portola, California and Salt Lake City, Utah. With Budd approval shop forces temporarily modified the car with a head-end compartment for baggage use and ran it as numbers 1 & 2. Budd, at their expense, also applied pilots at each end. This gave WP the distinction of being one of the first railroads to use the RDC in revenue service.

After the successful trail runs Western Pacific, on January 25, 1950 became the first railroad to place an order for one of the new Budd rail diesel cars, when the passenger and express model, technically referred to as the RDC 2, was purchased for delivery in May, at a cost of about $130,000. WP’s order for the first car was followed very quickly by C&NW, PRR, B&O, and the NYS&W. RDC-2 differs from RDC-1 only in that it contains a 17-foot baggage section and seats 71 instead of 90 passengers. A second RDC-2 was ordered shortly after the first specifically in response to the requirement of the discontinuance approval. Cutting costs and also providing local passenger service and allow movement of company employees and supplies made purchase of these cars very attractive. These were designated by the Western Pacific as numbers 375 and 376. Applications were then made to the public utilities commissions of California, Nevada, and Utah for authority to replace the daily local train with a tri weekly self propelled diesel rail car.

Then the road went to work drafting schedules for the new rail car service. The utility commissions of each of the three states through which the line runs had individual ideas as to what hour of the day the car ought to operate through their respective states. In Nevada, for example, Nos. 1 and 2 had provided, quite accidentally, a trans-desert "commutation" service between Gerlach, site of a large gypsum wallboard plant, and Winnemucca, a market center 94 miles distant, which was greatly appreciated by the ladies of the former town. At hearings, Gerlach insisted that this schedule relationship be continued, and, to back its plea, summoned to testify a score of housewives, a large percentage of whom were obviously expectant. Unemotional traffic statistics showed that a daily average of less than 3/4 passenger used this service.

The original plan was to run one car between Stockton and Salt Lake City, 834 miles, on a tri-weekly schedule. It was felt that the remaining 90 miles between Stockton and Oakland was already well served by alternative means of transportation. Furthermore, the Stockton-Salt Lake run was the absolute limit of mileage one car could protect. But the California Public Utilities Commission ruled that the tri-weekly service must run through to Oakland, making a one-way trip of 924 miles. This necessitated the WP's purchase of a second RDC-2.

After the series of public bearings in all three states, the various commissions did grant authority to make the substitution and beginning September 15, 1950 the diesel car operation was inaugurated. Christened the Zephyrette, a car would leave Oakland Pier and Salt Lake City each Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday. While this substitution resulted in reduced passenger revenues, a net savings resulted. In the beginning it made the over all passenger operation a profitable one rather than a source of considerable loss.

Test Runs

WP #376, the second model RDC-2 Budd Car ordered by Western Pacific was received from the builder at Elko, on July 20, 1950. The car was immediately inspected and prepared for operation. On July 21, 1950, Friday, a test trip was operated from Elko to Wells and return (104.4 miles).

Eastbound the run was made in 1 hour 20 minutes (average speed 39.4 m.p.h.) including 3 stops to make signal shunt tests. The car was operated at speed restrictions for conventional trains (70 m.p.h. max.). A complete report on the signal tests is to be made by the Signal Department.

Westbound the run was completed in 1 hour 39 minutes (average speed 31.5 m.p.h.), including a stop in the interlocking plant at Alazon for shunt tests, and a loss of 8 minutes at Halleck, while an S.P. freight pulled out of the siding in front of us. Operation from Halleck to Elko (20.7 miles) was further delayed account of running on the block of this train. The car functioned properly throughout the trip.

Aboard the car during this run were:

Engineer Charles Perry Colin C. Eldridge, Assistant to General Manager, WP.
Conductor Roy Butler M. W. Hammond, Road Foreman of Engines, WP.
Brakeman T. C. Reynolds A. A. Moldenhauer, Signal Supervisor, WP.
Edward D Meredith, Service Representative, The Budd Company
Robert T. Hair, Service Representative, Detroit Diesel Division, General Motors.

As a result of its extensive tests with the demonstrator RDC-1 and several "shake-down" runs with the RDC-2's the Sacramento shops were tasked with making a number of modifications to the standard RDC-2 to adapt it to the road's service requirements. These changes did not affect the basic design, power or controls, and were comprised chiefly of added elements of comfort which were not needed in the usual services for which the rail cars were aimed.

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