San Jose Sentinels

by Ken Rattenne

Sidebar: Those Mysterious Towers

Personal Thoughts From The Author

College Park and Santa Clara Towers were often used as a props by local railfans shooting commute or freight action, but seldom, it seems, did their cameras focus on the towers themselves.

I too am guilty of this neglect, and it made finding photos for this article all the more difficult. "Why is that?", I thought while rummaging through hundreds of slides and black & white prints. Well, it always seemed dark and mysterious up in that second story; not unlike a fortress. Everyone knew there were people up there, but they were usually reduced to shadowy figures behind glass. Every so often you could get a glimpse of someone holding a phone or peering out the window over his domain; and every once in a great while, a towerman would get adventurous and go out to his car to get whatever towermen get out of their cars.
A CalTrain "plug", lead by one of the 20 agency-owned F40PH-2s, speeds past College Park Tower in August of 1995. These units were originally ordered by CalTrans but are now the property of the JPB. (Below) Cindy-Of-College-Park, a one-time College Park operator on the midnight trick. Honest!  (Both photos Ken Rattenne Photo)

Did I say towermen? Not every operator was of the male gender. Over the years there have been several women operators. Don Douglas' wife, for instance, worked as an operator for many years, finishing her tour of duty in that position at College Park Tower. When that facility closed, she transferred to CalTrain ticket sales. And a familiar voice heard on the scanner in recent years was a woman simply known as "Margaret." Few railfans knew who she was or what she looked like - but there was much speculation. 

And in 1981, this writer met a young woman at a social event who turned out to be - you guessed it: An operator on the midnight trick at College Park Tower. Unfortunately, her position was a victim of the 1980-82 recession and I was unable to take advantage of what should have been an easy ticket into that tower before she was out of work.

Missing that golden opportunity to tour College Park Tower was especially bittersweet because invitations to climb the creaky steps of one of San Jose's towers were few and far in between (obviously, in 1991 that opportunity arose again while doing research for this article). Over the years there were stories of fans who tried to "crash the party" and get into one or the other tower for a look see and a quick photo. The result was usually a terse warning to get off the property, or worse, a threat of arrest! It seemed easier to get a cab ride than to get inside one of those damn towers.
SP4449atSantaClara.jpg (104036 bytes)
SP Extra 4449 marches through Santa Clara Yard in May of 1984. The famous 4-8-4 steam locomotive is on its way to San Francisco for a day of rest and maintenance before continuing its eastward trek to New Orleans and the World's Fair. The line vearing off to the left is the through route to Oakland used by most freights and Amtrak's Coast Starlight. (Ken Rattenne Photo) 
 And there was good reason, too!

Don Douglas tells the story of a man who came waltzing into Santa Clara Tower one afternoon while waiting for a steam excursion to pass. There was a lot of activity in the tower at the time and Don was busy getting instructions over the radio. All of a sudden he hears the "clink" of an interlocking handle being shoved in. In horror he turns and is surprised to see an individual standing with a look of satisfaction on his face. "What in hell are you doing here?" cried Don in anything but a calm voice. "Oh," the man replied, "I used to work one of these down in L.A." Don was quick to give the man the bum's rush after informing him he just tied up the main line. Tower doors remained locked after that.

- Ken Rattenne

Where have all the Towers gone?

This document is Copyright ©1996 by Ken Rattenne and KPR Media Services and was last updated in May of 1996. .