A small Mojave Desert town witnesses the legacy of American transportation history.
40 miles West of Barstow is the town of Boron, CA. In late summer through early fall the nights are beautiful. The temps stay in about the mid-70's, the gentle desert breeze creates music in the windchimes, and there are no Mosquitos for several hundred miles. The nights are perfect for sitting outside and having a great conversation over a few glasses of wine, or just gazing at the stars.
The only thing that interupts these quiet nights are the sounds of BNSF frieght trains pushing through town a few times an hour. After a while even that becomes part of that ambient environment, and the rumble of trains seem natural and missed after they pass.
From the porch of my wife's childhood home, one can look accross a 1/2 mile of desert and see the trains pass. Sometimes as you sit there, especially at night, your imagination allows you to hear what these tracks where 60 plus years before as steam locomotives made their way down these stretches. You can hear the whistles blow, and the chuffs of steam, and see the glow of the fireboxes in the still desert night. You can imagine the outline of a 2-10-4 Texas, pulling an endless stream of box cars in your minds eye.
You see as middle of nowhere and as far from civilization and history this little desert town may seem, the town itself has many stories to tell. This little nowhere town has a history that in many ways should make it well known, yet it lies forgotten. You see in Boron, the roads, the tracks, and the sky all have a story to tell. Boron is a town of ghosts and legacy's in 20th century American history.
The tracks running through Boron have a particularly captivating history. Currently these tracks serve a very busy BNSF route between the Barstow Yards and the Bay Area, as well as serving a lively spur to US Borax mining operations nearby. But the interesting facts about these tracks is that until 1971 these tracks saw Santa Fe passenger operations.
Such trains as the San Francisco Chief, The Navajo, and The Grand Canyon all traveled this route on their way North through the Tehachapis and on to the San Francisco Bay Area. I can only imagine what it must have been like to pass through the tunnels and grades of thr Tehachapi mountains, and than the famous Tehachapi Loop as a passenger on one of these trains.
Although the bulk of Santa Fe's passenger trains headed to Los Angeles, Santa Fe knew that the San Francisco market was competitive, and lucrative. Passenger service to San Francisco gave Santa Fe access to the surrounding cities of the Bay Area and Northern California beyond. The San Francisco Chief was Santa Fe's luxury answer to the City of San Francisco a luxury liner jointly opetated by the Union Pacific, Chicago Northwestern and Southern Pacific, and the jointly operated California Zypher shared between the CB&Q, Western Pacific, and D&RG. Santa Fe was obviously hoping the brand value of The Super Chief would carry over to the name on the San Francisco Chief when the luanched the service in 1954, which obviously it did since the train discontinued service in 1971 with all other Santa Fe passenger operations.
The Navajo was meant to serve a similar role as the El Capitan did on the Los Angeles route as an all coach consist, and The Grand Canyon was to serve a mixed consist aimed at Grand Canyon tourism and the Santa Fe/Fred Harvey operations nearby.
As in the cases of most passenger trains the town of Boron probably saw each of these trains twice a day, one Eastbound, the other Westbound. I try to imagine what it must have been like for this small town to see the Warbonnet livery, and gleaming consist of silver stainless steel passenger cars flying through the town. You have to ask what stories could be told, and if and when the trains made flag-stops to pick up town residents.
I could only imagine what a thrill it would have been to stand on the porch of my wife's childhood home, or from the patio of Domingo's Restaurant in town and see these trains go by. To see the desert sun shining off the cars and thier windows, and watching the train disappear accross the flat desert beyond.
To its residents of Boron the mere fact that these silver luxury liners passed through town every day must have made them feel like the center of the world at that time. Today though there are no reminders of that era, no connection to those gleaming daily visitors. What are left behind are the ghosts of Santa Fe's passenger train heydays, and the legacy of its operations in today's BNSF traffic through the town.
But remember I said the roads and sky had a story to tell here too, and I will tell them in postings to come.