We lived for a time on Otsego Street near Lankershim Boulevard, about a mile from the Station. During summer vacation, and on Saturdays, I would hop on my bike around 10:30AM or so, and would ride up to the yard to await the local, which would usually arrive round 11:00. Needless to say, this was before the days of scanners, and all times were approximate. If the local was late I could always hang out at the fire station, or the park, or watch the high, spindly-legged Hysters trundle loads of lumber, the stacks dangling beneath the driverís cab, from the team track, down the north side of Chandler to the Hammond Lumber Company yard on the corner of Tujunga. Hyster driver. Now those guys had a cool job. Why if they wanted, they could drive right over a car and never even touch it! At one time I aspired to be a Hyster driver. Where did all the Hysters go? If the Hysters weren't working, I could amuse myself by climbing up on the freight cars and pretending I was a big time brakeman on the railroad. This usually lasted until some right thinking adult yelled something foolish like, "Hey kid, get down offa there fore ya fall and break your damn neck!" Fall? Me? No way. I was cool! Another time killing pursuit involved watching DC-3's, DC-4's, DC-6's, Constellations, and a host of other aircraft on their climb out of Burbank airport.
Once the train arrived, the crew would cut off the cars for the local industries and leave the remainder of the train on the main between Fair Avenue and Vineland. Fair Avenue was a small grade crossing in the middle of the industrial area. If the train length exceeded the space available between these streets, they would leave part of the train between Fair and Vineland, and the balance on the east side of Vineland. During the late 1950's and early 60's, there was sufficient traffic on the branch to occasionally warrant a helper if the weight and length of the train exceeded the tractive effort of the normally assigned Baldwin AS-616. These locomotives did not have the capability to MU, so when extra power was needed a helper would be assigned. Most of the time this would be an orange and black Baldwin yard switcher. It would be coupled to the rear of the train, behind the caboose. On rare occasions a tiger striped Alco S-2 or S-4 switcher would be used, and on one occasion a Black Widow Alco RSD-5 showed up. Needless to say this operating practice required a second engine crew that had little to do while the head end crew performed the switching chores. They would usually climb down off their engine and walk forward for coffee and pie at either Phil's Diner or the small lunch stand immediately adjacent to the station office. By the mid 60's helpers were eliminated through through use of multiple unit GM products.
After cutting off the loads the crew would pull forward and collect any empties from the various industries. Once this was done they would set out the loads, and with this complete would tie the engine and empties down on the main before going to beans at one of several lunch counters nearby, including Phil's Diner. This whole operation usually took from two to three hours, including lunch, keeping me out of trouble for the middle portion of the day. After lunch, the crew would reassemble the train and head for Van Nuys. Departing the yard, the train would run down between tall eucalyptus trees that bordered much of the right of way along Chandler, in what was classic Southern California scenery. Sadly, by the end of operations on the branch, this was a narrow corridor of ugly, graffiti covered warehouses.
One of my favorite places to watch the local as it headed to Van Nuys was the pile trestle over the Tujunga Wash. Standing in the wash itself, directly under the trestle, and letting the locomotive and cars pass over my head would immeasurably enhance this experience. I can still see the patches of blue sky between the ties incrementally disappearing into dark shadow, to be replaced by the frame, trucks, traction motors and fuel tank on the big Baldwin, while I shielded my eyes with my hands from the dirt falling from the timbers and squinted up at the oncoming train. Talk about dumb stunts of one's youth, it's a wonder I didn't go blind.
After our move to Harmony Street, I would ride my bike up to the end of the block where it dead-ended at the branch right-of-way; lift it over the rails and pedal east on Chandler into Burbank. The local paused here to switch the Orowheat Bakery at Clybourn Street. The smell of freshly baked bread and rolls emanating from the ovens was a wonderful olfactory backdrop to the activities of the crew as they pulled the empties and set out hopper loads of fresh flour in the siding. When the switching was finished here, I would ride my bike west to North Hollywood for the rest of the day's action.