Western America Rail Museum

WARM: More Than Just a Museum

She sits a little behind the rest of the rolling stock at the Western America Railroad Museum, welcoming visitors in her fading red-and-silver Warbonnet, a sparkle in her 47-year-old eyes.

Despite being beat up by weather, time and blowing desert sand, the grand dame of the Western America Railroad Museum, Santa Fe 95, stands regal on a spur near the museum. The 47-year-old beauty still attracts the attention and admiration from visitors from all over the globe.

The old cowboy band Riders in the Sky got it right when they sang,

…watch her fly, here comes the Santa Fe.
She’s thundering loud, she’s roaring haughty and proud at the break of day.”

There’s nothing like a train. Whether rumbling through a crossing — horn shrieking, gate bells clamoring or sitting peacefully on a track at the local railroad museum, a train can quicken the pulse or simply bring back memories. It doesn’t matter if it is Union Pacific or BNSF.

Maybe a grandfather worked for a railway, or a great-grandfather before then, inspiring a love for the railroad. Often WARM visitors are retired railroad men and women, studying the artifacts, remembering the glory days of railroading — the last years of steam or passenger trains. Many of them retired from the Santa Fe in Barstow.

Perhaps they are members of family trying to find a bit of history — when Dad or Mom worked for the railroad and what they did.

Lawrence Dale, president of the board of the Western America Railroad Museum said, “You know, people come in and ask about relatives who used to work for railroad. We have rosters that go back to 1923. We can tell you when they worked here and their craft.”

If they can give us a name, we can run them down.”

WARM is about memories, exploration and research. A library is available by appointment for those on fact-finding missions or delving into the past.

BNSF donated a locomotive simulator control stand designed to be exactly what engineers will experience on the road. You can sit in the engineer’s chair in the booth and run through the control modes just like a real locomotive — apply the brakes, determine how fast to go and see what signals and crossings are coming up.

Western America Railroad Museum President Lawrence Dale operates the controls at the console of a locomotive simulator at the museum. At this spot on the road the virtual train is approaching Goffs, Calif. on Route 66.

A video display shows the track ahead. Want to go to Needles? Have a seat. Or Bakersfield? Be prepared for a long haul; it’s slow going up the Tehachapi Pass.

From stop to full-ahead power, as the train picks up speed, the simulation display changes accordingly.

The simulator runs in real time — no jumping ahead to the interesting locations. You just have to sit there and watch the empty desert roll by. This what an engineer in the Mojave sees. “It’s pretty boring,” Lawrence said, but still he sat in the booth enjoying the controls.

In addition to what you can see from the cab, you can watch a ES44 GE locomotive and its train blow by from the virtual trackside. If someone from the museum who knows how to work the simulator is on hand, visitors can pretend to be engineers for a while. The horn works!

The only thing you miss is leaning out the cab window, the wind thrashing your hair and the thrum of the powerful engine under your feet.

Ed Squires and wife Marlene talked with Lawrence about the days Ed worked in the Santa Fe diesel shops. Ed, who grew up in Barstow enjoys remembering those days. He recounts how creepy it was in the basement below the shop.

Ed Squires and his wife Marlene share stories and memories while making a visit to WARM.

The couple lives in Apple Valley now but Ed remembers the waiting room in the Harvey House when he was little, with its curved benches and ticket window and coming to the station to pick up people. After 48 years, he recalls how that felt, “The museum sure brings back a lot of memories.”

A mannequin dressed in the uniform of a Harvey House girl catches Marlene’s attention. She reads how young women would come west to work in Fred Harvey’s chain of restaurants and hotels along the rail line; bringing meals for famished passengers and a touch of class and civilization in places where the Old West still lived.

One case displays precious, often pristine pieces of china used on trains and in the Harvey House restaurants. Other cases have examples of old locks and keys, tools, artwork, timetables.

Watching little trains wend their way through the Dog Tooth Mountain Railroad’s complicated layout, is a captivating sight. The model train was built by Richard Vye of Santa Monica in his living room. Dale Lawrence said they had to wrestly the layout out of a second story window.

Occupying almost the entire east end of the museum is the model Dog Tooth Mountain Railroad layout built by Richard Vye of Santa Monica. Started in 1988, he finished the complex structure in 2002 — with a four-year break due to the 1994 earthquake in Los Angeles. Gold mines, pine forests, and an urban section with switchyard, machine and blacksmith shops invite rail fans and just plain folks to explore the 1930s steam era.

When WARM acquired the layout they had to wrestle it out of Mr. Vie’s second-story window, Lawrence said.

Before having a permanent home, WARM members met in various places but the goal was always to have a physical museum to display railroad artifacts, most of which once belonged to retired railroad employees from the area or their families.

Lawrence has three cases of items he collected while working for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, known around town simply as “the Santa Fe.”

Past board president Hank Graham has a case of model and miniature trains, detailed down to handrails and bells.

One of the rarest items in the museum is the largest collection of date nails on display anywhere, Dale said. They were collected by a machinist named Al Gustafon.

Date nails are for sale in the museum gift shop.

On Jeff’s Date Nail web page it states, “Briefly, a date nail is a nail with the date stamped in its head. For example, a nail with a “41” is from 1941. Date nails were driven into railroad ties, bridge timbers, utility poles, mine props, and other wooden structures for record keeping purposes.”

Date nails are a way for those fascinated with the railroad to own a piece of history. As the old ties are pulled out and replaced with new ones, the date nails go with them unless they are rescued by collectors. Even if they can be found, pulling date nails out of a track is an unsafe and illegal practice. The museum offers them for sale.

WARM’s rolling stock is impressive. Its equipment includes a vintage ATSF horse car, an ATSF caboose, Santa Fe locomotive 1460 “The Beep,” a vintage business car from the Arizona & California Railroad and Union Pacific locomotive #9950 and more. The business car, red caboose and #95 will be open to the public for the museum’s Railfest in October.

Climb aboard, pretend.

Santa Fe WARM Sign

Western American Railroad Museum

Free Admission

11th Annual Rail and Craft Fest
October 11th & 12th at the Barstow Harvey House
All you want to know about date nails —http://pages.uindy.edu/~oaks/DateNailInfo.htm

Dog Tooth Mountain Railroadhttp://www.trainlife.com/articles/549/dog-tooth-mountain-railroad.


Time Traveler

Take a trip down Route 66 for good eats and good times

You can sit at a counter, a table or in a red vinyl booth. Most likely the waitress will call you “Hon” as she hands you the menu — unless you are at the Village Cafe in Barstow. Owner Henry Wong does not call anyone “hon.”

Finding good food while getting your kicks on Route 66 is not a problem. Choices run the gamut from American Diner to Chinese. There are many eateries on the Mother Road, but I chose five nearby to explore.



Dianne DuVall, a waitress at the Summit Inn asks, ‘What can I get you hon?’ as she seats customers.
Dianne DuVall, a waitress at the Summit Inn asks, ‘What can I get you hon?’ as she seats customers.

I started my multi-day culinary expedition at the Route 66 landmark, the Summit Inn, located at the top of the Cajon Pass in Oak Hills. This ’50s cafe is owned by Apple Valley resident C.A. Stevens. He is only the second owner of this cafe (where Elvis was rumored to have visited) and has preserved its vintage American feel.

The coin-operated fortune-telling napkin holders still work — ask them a “yes” or “no” question to get a look at your future. The restaurant acts as the “local country club because there is nothing else here,” says Terry Kostak who lives nearby. “Without this place we would all go nuts.” Locals like math teacher Phil Kimmel appreciate the cafe for its good food and quiet atmosphere. “At Chili’s, it’s so noisy,” he said. “It is more laid back here, homey. It reminds me of restaurants in the Midwest.” Kostak says, “It would be a shame if anything ever happened to this place. The owner has turned down offers from Denny’s and other big name chains.”

[Read more…]


Emily’s favorite tune


Emily's favorite tune

emily’s favorite tune on the diner’s jukebox was “i am calling you” from the cult movie “bagdad cafe.”

“A desert road from vegas to nowhere

some place better than where you’ve been

A coffee machine that needs some fixing

In a little cafe just around the bend

I am calling you

Can’t you hear me

I am calling you”

she was worn; the desert wind and hard living having taken their toll on her skin. the summer wind is like a blowtorch; dry, searing heat that leaves browned hands and elbows desicated, thirsting for moisture.

emily was more than thin. it looked as if drugs had played a sad, starring role in the movie of her life leaving her gaunt and malnourished. her jeans were worn and the t-shirt under the voluminous bagdad cafe shirt she had on was soiled at the neck.

she is one of the many lost ones who find their way to the desert.

 bagdad cafe owner andree mitchell had given her a job waiting tables and cleaning up around the place. i think andree is always giving people a helping hand out there on route 66, perhaps a life-sustaining job even if only for a short while.

 i don’t know how long emily stuck around working at the cafe. the next time i visited she was gone.

 emily was following the song only she could hear. 

 i am learning how few good images i really take. i used to say “i only need one” from a shooting trip. now i say “gosh i hope one of these is a keeper.” the number of keepers gets smaller the older i get.

“You know how few of the pictures you take turn out to be any good.”

–Diane Arbus


Tom and His Dogs


owned by the larger-than-life personality of tom lewis, tom’s welding is one of the must-see attractions of barstow;

the shop is known world wide for the thousands of artifacts from america’s early love affair with the automobile and the railroad. a denny’s sign, each and every one of the state route 66 signs, gas station signs even some old gas pumps jam-pack the aisles and cover the walls of the open-air building. it is the go-to place for collectors of americana.

when i drove up, mr. lewis came out from behind the truck he had been working on, shushed the enormous barking bull dogs and asked if i wanted a tour.

i took a look around and knew there was a story here.

tom invited me in for a chat and i grabbed my notebook. the weather was chilly but inside the office there was a little iron stove beating back the cold. the office was as crowded with relics as the main shop.

i talked with tom for quite a while, taking notes and trying to absorb it all. as i was leaving he opened a desk drawer and handed me a small buck knife.

 i really didn’t know what to say, so i said “thanks.”


Calico Days Sept. 28th & 29th, 2013

Last weekend in September.

Calico Ghost town awakens the imagination. It’s part fun and part history and Calico Days is the perfect time to make a visit to the old mining town.
The two-day event the weekend of September 28 & 29 – 2013 will include a wide number of activities and shows for folks of all ages. Everything from Burro Races to the Frying Pan Toss. Clog dancers and living history re-enactors will be there showing off their skills. In addition to the special events, the normal activities and areas of Calico will be open. 
People are invited to join in the Horseshoe Pitch, Egg-throwing Contest and the Nickel in the Haystack Hunt for the kids. Or pan for gold, stamp your own leather or maybe ride in a stagecoach.
I can’t decide which event I liked best, whether it was the Burro Run, which is part of the Miners’ Triathlon or the little kids hunting for nickels in a bunch of hay. Something about those guys trying to pull a burro where the burro didn’t want to go — like across a ditch full of water — was pretty funny. Mud everywhere and folks standing around laughing.


Burros were used to carry miners’ tools and supplies in the long-gone glory days and miners had to walk leading them by a rope when the load got heavy. If two or more miners found silver they would race each other to town to be first to stake their claim. The Calico Days Burro Race commemorates this activity.
calico-cowboy-characters Calico-gunfighter_2
The Miner’s Triathlon kicks-off Sunday at 11:00 a.m. with the Burro Run, the Rock Pull at noon and Muck Raking at 1:00 p.m. In this context I am going to say “muckraking” literally means mucking (removing) with a rake – the muck being dirt or dung.
Another fun event to watch is the bubble gum blowing contest. What a mess when the bubble stretches to its bursting point!
The big and colourful Calico Days Parade is on Main Street, Saturday at noon. There is a costume contest with splendid outfits, some with exquisite details and fabrics. Others are a little more tattered in keeping with the mining town theme. All are designed to look as realistic as possible.
The Calico Parade Awards will be at the Reviewing Stand: Main Street Stage, at 2:00 p.m.
In front of the Calico House there will be Gunfight Exhibitions and quaint old-time characters can be found all around town making for great photo opportunities!
Calico Ghost Town, located in Yermo, CA approximately 10 miles north of Barstow off I-15 and Ghost Town Road, was designated California’s Official State Silver Rush Ghost Town in 2005 by Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger. Mines at Calico are extremely hazardous and must not be approached for any reason.  Due to the historic nature of the town, not all areas are ADA accessible.