Wheels of Time Blog
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The Daily Commuter

Ever been a train commuter? Can you remember what was it like before automatic sliding doors, air conditioning, PA announcements, and passengers tuned to their  electronic gizmos?

I experienced the life of a daily commuter during the summers of my youth, and later, when trains took me to my local JC. My memory is full of small moments that made lasting impressions. If you're interested in commuter trains, stay tuned for a Wheels of Time announcement, coming soon.

In the meantime, to satisfy your inner old-school railroading habit, I'll share some of my memories, some of the daily rituals I had on SP's commute trains before Caltrain, before the internet, and all the gizmos we use to block out the world.

Inside SP's suburban coach. Newspaper from my collection.What was it like? ... I remember reading the Chronicle in the morning, and the Examiner in the evening; flipping the 'walkover seat' to face backwards to have a friendly chat with a fellow passenger; playing a hand of poker on the wooden board located at each end of the commute car - provided by "your friendly SP."
(Need to catch up on your sleep? No problem. The conductor would rattle your seat with his ticket puncher to wake you in time for your stop.)

Eastbound (by timetable) evening SP commute train stopping at San Bruno in March 1983. Notice the red marker light on the suburban coach ("subs" were class 72-IC-1, 2, 3)
I remember the smooth but gentle swaying of the coach with the ever-familiar click-clack on the jointed rails. It was pretty easy to guess the speed of the train by the timing of the click-clack.

I remember the conductor singing out each stop ... "BROAD-way,  broad-WAY", and hearing the release of air brakes and the slamming of the vestibule trap doors, and the scurrying of passengers with their briefcases and Chronicles.

I remember the conductor's wave of the hand to the engineer that all were onboard. Vestibule trap doors closed and trap doors on the other side (where the platforms will be located at the next station-stop) are opened.

My first Cal-Trans Southern Pacific monthly pass, pre-Caltrain era

The conductor and the brakemen collect our money, punch our tickets, and wedge a zone stub into the clip on the seat, actions repeated a thousand times a day.

As the train makes its way through the many tunnels in San Francisco, passengers instinctively close their windows. The final stop is called: Fourth and Townsend. The train eases it way through the maze of track work before you reach the depot. The brakeman opens the trap doors and vestibule doors, and gets a head start on ratcheting the car's hand brake. The train squeals to a stop and everybody rushes off. Out of the sea of humanity, a commuter waves good morning, reaches up and gives his Chronicle to the engineer. As the sun sets, the tide of humanity is reversed and the rhythm is played over again.

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