Learn about the history of Sacramento's railway control tower.
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The History of Sacramento’s Railway Control Tower
Narrator: It may not look like much but it meant a lot to this town. You might have even seen it is a blur from the freeway as you were driving out to Cal Expo and wondered, “Does somebody live in that odd yellow house by the railroad trucks?” Well, believe it or not, yeah, people did live here for eight hours a day anyway.
Starting in 1912 when the tower was built and the guys who run it literally kept the trains running on time through Sacramento for nearly a hundred years. Rail fans called it the Elvas Tower after the street has sat alongside. But the only thing that shook or rattled here were the windows as the train drove, roll, rolled on by.
Paul Hammond: The Elvas Tower was built around 1910. Control Towers were built either where lines crossed or where lines came to gather.
Curt Riley: These towers were used for micro managing smaller areas. Actually, it served its purpose well because they could really put the person in charge in this little bit area here and not worry about what trains are going to come to them. It was efficient.
Don Rosen: It was very unusual for this big or wide because speed here is like 25 miles an hour and the trains don’t have to slow down. And behind me, that’s coming from Roseville. The track to my right is what we called Western Division—train. The track to my left is the south that goes down through Stockton and down into Bakersfield and down to LA Division. 25 to 30 trains are shift per through here.
Paul Hammond: It always was a busy route and that had to be manned 24/7.
Curt Riley: Well, you’d come in right here and of course, we’d be here interlocking machine. Right above it would be your board that would show you what levers to pull.
Don Rosen: Give you an example if you had a train coming from Roseville going south, you’ll pull out to 23, 22, 2, 1 and pull up to eight which is signal and that line you up. We still remember that. We’re working here for 30 years.
Curt Riley: We’ll remember that forever.
Don Rosen: When I worked in here, a train goes by and the wheels are just cherry red like all the train and tell them and they stop to inspect it, and find out it was three propane paint cars that the wheels were read on it.
Curt Riley: We work at the midnight shift and I hear this—trade most are coming in here and all of a sudden, it comes to a stop. They had derailed. I remember right here. So that I started my day off like that. It’s a busy night.
Don Rosen: It was actually the very last tower in operation in Northern California.
Curt Riley: They cut it over at my shift. It was a midnight shift.
Paul Hammond: The railroad museums crews went ahead and salvaged as much of the building as we thought both practical and useful for the future.
Don Rosen: I was glad to see that the museum is taking everything inside and going to make another tower down here to show it. Well, you kind of miss it. It’s like a second home.
Curt Riley: Until my last day, I guess so I did. Carved my initials in the old, old desk, so for my children maybe at later years, they’ll see the desk that—. They’ll see it maybe.