San Jose Sentinels


Where Have All The Towers Gone?

Today, there are no operating towers left in the San Jose area. In fact, as of May 2000 there are no manned towers in Northern California at all! In the Bay Area the last structures to emanate the warm glow of life were Amtrak's 16th Street Tower and SP's Fruitvale Tower, both in Oakland. The 16th Street structure closed when Amtrak moved operations from the earthquake-damaged 16th Stree Station to Emeryville and Jack London Square stations in 1994. And finally, SP's Magnolia Street Tower in Oakland was razed in the spring of 1996 to make room for construction of the Cypress Freeway project.

In late 1998 the famous Stockton Tower was closed and finally razed in early 1999. The final NorCal tower to close was Elvas Tower in Sacramento, closing its doors on November 1, 1999.

Where do operators go when there's nothing to operate? Gary Lower saw the writing on the wall for towerman who had no tower to work in. Gary transferred to train service as an assistant conductor, and now works Amtrak's passenger trains in Southern California. After the closure of Santa Clara Tower, Don Douglas began working as a clerk at the JPB's accounting office on San Fernando Street, not far from the Cahill Street depot. His wife began working the ticket counter at the depot in April 1993, when College Park closed. Engineer Phil Gosney has since moved from the Capitol run back to the San Joaquins, from whence he came. Phil's job security on the Central Valley corridor is much better, what with the State Of California threatening to terminate funding for the Capitols..

What of the towers themselves?

What of the towers themselves? The fate of College Park was sealed by fire in March of 1996, but not before a few pieces of hardware, including the accordion telegrapher's telephone, were removed and donated to the Southbay Railroad Historical Society (SBHRS), the same group responsible for restoring the CalTrain depot. See College Park Update.  Finally, the tower was fenced off and has the hope of being moved and rebuilt at the new San Jose Railroad Museum (yet to open).

The CTC machine from San Jose Telegraph now "lives" in the Santa Clara CalTrain depot as a ward of the SBHRS. This historic piece of equipment was donated to the SBHRS the day after it was retired from active service by the railroad, and has been on display at the museum ever since.

Santa Clara Tower and its entire contents were donated to the SBHRS The group has already started restoration of the tower, which is slated for eventual display to the public. In mid-1996 the SBHRS was awarded an ISTEA grant from the federal goverment to aid in the restoration of the tower and adjacent speeder shed and utilty shed. (See Who Is The SBHRS? for on-going restoration updates concerning the tower)

SBHRS has its work cut out for it though, as the tower has termites and attracts the homeless, who tend to like to light fires to keep warm in unused structures.

And finally, the Supervisor Commute Operations has been dispatching trains over the entire CalTrain system for quite some time now seems to be generally working well. The center itself deserves more than just a few words in passing, but that's another article.

In 1996 Amtrak's operations contract was renewed, an indication that the Joint Powers Board has no outstanding issues with the passenger corporation's execution of the CalTrain Schedule.

End Of Article

Who (Or What) Is The SBHRS?

Not long after posting San Jose Sentinals I began receiving email messages concerning the article. Most were patting me on the back but one, while quite complimentary, also pointed out a few needed corrections to my original text concerning the South Bay Historical Railroad Society. While I have since made the requested corrections to the article, I also offer, by way of SBHRS member David A. Grenier, the below informational text.

The SBHRS is NOT a model railroad club. Primarily, we are an historical organization dedicated to
preserving the railroad heritage of the Santa Clara area. It is true we do have model railroads, but they
are officially termed "scale operating displays" in our charter from the State of California.
If we were only a model railroad club, we would not qualify for organization under IRS Section 501(c)3,
but we do. Therefore we cannot be "a model railroad club" as you state (in your original article),
but are a bonafide historical society.

Also, the City of Santa Clara only gave us $25,000 to get started. The remainder of the materials came
from CalTrans. We also bought all the tools, nails, and other consumables for the (Santa Clara CalTrain
depot) project. In addition, neither agency sent anyone to help with the actual work. The SBHRS invested
tens of thousands of volunteer manhours of sweat equity restoring the depot."

Also, the musuem, along with the (San Jose Telegraph) CTC machine, is open every Tuesday evening
from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm, and on Saturdays from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, not just on the third Friday
night (of each month) when the NRHS meets in our building."

David A. Grenier Treasurer, SBHRS

David also offers this update:

"This Saturday, 9/14/96, at 0800, Amtrak will be conducting a training session for members 
of the SBHRS on working safely around mainline tracks. Afterwards we will be enclosing the Santa Clara
Tower with construction fencing to begin actual restoration work. Sometime next week (Tuesday, I think),
a local contractor will be tenting the tower and fumigating for termites. After that, a new roof will be
installed by another contractor. Once this work is done, the volunteers of the SBHRS will start stripping
paint and making repairs, especially to those rickety steps to the second floor.It should be an exciting
Thanks David!


The Author would like to extend a special thanks to Don Douglas and Gary Lower for allowing me access to the "mysterious" inner sanctums of their towers. Without their input, this article would not have been possible. And last but not least, to Steve Sloan for encouraging me to move forward with building an Internet edition of this article, and for taking time out of his busy schedule to digitize many of the photos used in this work. Steve is also responsible for San Jose Sentinels original posting, donating time and space to post an early version of these pages to his popular Track Warrents site.

Ken Rattenne
Modesto CA, 1996

You can reach Ken Rattenne via email at

This document is Copyright ©2000 by Ken Rattenne and KPR Media Services and was last updated in May of 2000.