A Ride on the Burbank Branch

Photo story by Jack Neville.


SP 5213, a Baldwin AS-616 at North Hollywood. Jack Neville Photo

I stumbled on your Burbank Branch website today, and took a very enjoyable trip down memory lane. I grew up on Harmony Street in North Hollywood in the 1950's and would ride my bike up to the NH station every day during the summer, and on weekends during the school year to watch the Local switch out cars. I got pretty friendly with the crew and they would let me ride the engine while they switched. On one summer day they let me ride all the way out to Chatsworth and return in the caboose. At that time the regular loco was 5213 and the assigned hack was wood cupola caboose number 104. It disappeared one day, to later reappear in the pool assigned to transfer jobs that operated out of PE's Butte Street Yard in LA.


Caboose #104 on the Burbank Local at North Hollywood

Two views of Caboose #104.

The same crew held the assignment for several years and the conductor was a heavyset fellow named Mac. He and the other crewmembers shared jelly donuts with me during the trip, and let me ride in the cupola - pretty heady stuff for a young boy. Couldn't do it today, but things were a lot more relaxed back then. Some years later, as I was approaching driving age, I mentioned to another crewmember that when I was old enough I wanted to get a job with the railroad so I could buy a car. I never forgot his answer. "Don't do that. You'll buy a car, then you'll want a newer car, and then you'll get married and start having kids, and 15 years later you'll be working this damn local wondering where your life went!" As a result, I went railroading only one summer, while I was in college - as a switchman for the Santa Fe in Los Angeles. It all seems so long ago.

Raised windows hint that July 20th. 1952 must have been a warm day as passengers waited for PE 5126 to depart North Hollywood Station for Hollywood Boulevard. A.M. Payne Photo

My relationship to the SP's Van Nuys or Burbank Branch as it is often called, is inextricably bound to what caused me to become a railfan - the Pacific Electric Railway. Our family did not have a car, so the PE became my rolling window on the world, with the shriek of the air whistle and the growl and whine of traction motors signaling the start of each new adventure.

Just minutes out of the North Hollywood station, Hollywood car 5170 is crossing the Tujunga Wash. Andy Payne Photo

It's April 20, 1952, and business car 1299 waits on the SP/PE house track just west of the North Hollywwod station for a regularly scheduled Hollywood car to pass on the main. Two PE White transit busses are parked at the end of the freight platform. Andy Payne Photo

I was born in December 1945, and when my Mom's wartime job of installing asbestos insulation in Liberty Ships at Kaiserís production facility in San Pedro came to an end, she moved from South Los Angeles to North Hollywood, where she worked a as waitress for a variety of coffee shops.

Our first apartment was a few blocks off Vineland Avenue near the border with Universal City, and the PE Hollywood class cars were our transport to shopping in downtown LA, North Hollywood and Van Nuys. For trips to North Hollywood and Van Nuys, we would board a northbound car at Cahuenga Boulevard for a short run up the private right of way in the center of Vineland Avenue, swing around the curve at Chandler Boulevard and run west, parallel to the SP's Van Nuys Branch for about a half mile before alighting in front of the Southern Pacific - Pacific Electric Station. Sometimes when we arrived at the station there would be a steam or diesel locomotive on the adjacent track. This was much more interesting then those times when we arrived to find only a boxcar or flatcar loaded with lumber. Unfortunately, I was too young to have any kind of clue as to what the motive power was, other than the fact that the Steam locomotive had a somewhat different shape than the diesel and made much more interesting noises. If Van Nuys were our destination, then we would continue on across Tujunga Avenue to where the two lines merged on shared right of way for the extension of the journey. There were stops at Colfax, Laurel Canyon, Whitsett and Fermo (Coldwater Canyon) before reaching the junction at Kester (Ethel Avenue) where the SP diverged for its own approach to Van Nuys. When I was 5 or 6 I remember asking my mother why we never took that track. She said she did not know but she thought it had something to do with the fact that there were no trolley wires over it. And so I learned that trolleys needed electric wires in order to run.

Late afternoon shadows illuminate the steel bridge over the newly cemented channel of the Los Angeles River as tiger striped Baldwin 5210 heads back to Taylor Yard on July 20, 1951. The location is just east of Kester Junction in Van Nuys. Andy Payne Photo

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