California’s famed Tehachapi “Loop,” where the rails of the Southern Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroads crest Tehachapi Pass between Bakersfield and Mojave, is one of the seven wonders of the railroad world.
The rails over the Tehachapi Range were laid during 1875-76, a time during Southern Pacific’s days of expansion. The celebrated “Loop” made possible the lifting of the grade 2,734 feet from the base of the range to the summit of the pass itself 3,969 feet above sea level. The construction of the line involved miles of track laid through abysmal gorges and along narrow shelves cut in the mountainside and by way of many tunnels, climaxed by the “Loop” where long trains pass over themselves as they circle a cone-shaped hill en route to Tehachapi Summit.
Tehachapi by John R. Signor differs from many histories of the railroad, in that it features two mainline railroads operating over a single mountain grade. This volume does not stop at an early date or deal mainly with construction or the locomotives that worked the hill, but is a stirring pageant of freight and passenger trains, about dispatching trains on the hill, the signal systems, the use of helper power, proposed line changes, electrification proposals, the disastrous floods, earthquakes and wrecks, and about the men that run the trains, all wrapped up in a single cover from the first trains to the current date.
Superb photographs are expertly integrated into a sparkling text and is sure to fire the imagination of historian and rail enthusiast alike, those who remember the Southern Pacific’s powerful cab-forward steam locomotives or Santa Fe’s first blue and yellow-painted diesel units as they made their way around the “Loop” with a reefer block of San Joaquin Valley produce.
Here is Tehachapi — a huge, generous slice of it — served up in an easy-to-read style with a matchless picture gallery of big-time mountain railroading.
Meet Author John R. Signor
Growing up in Orange County, California, the author developed a keen interest in railroads and the history of his home state. A part of the Southern California railroad scene is the joint-track Tehachapi crossing and the author, in the company of friends, made his first sojourn to the “Loop” in the early 1960s. Two decades later, he made his conductor’s seniority date on the district aboard Southern Pacific’s Starpacer. Working for the SP and sharing an interest in railroad history has given the author an ability to probe deeply into the subject. Legend and lore handed down by his fellow railroaders blends easily with facts distilled from musty corporate records and operating statistics. The end result is a book of entertaining, yet definitive reading.
Tehachapi is the author’s second book on western railroading. Rails in the Shadow of Mt. Shasta was first published in 1982. In addition to his writing and railroad pursuits, the author labors as a freelance artist and cartographer. John R. Signor, his wife Julie and two children, reside in Dunsmuir, California.