Southern Pacific's Coast Line

by John R. Signor

Full Text of Some Reviews:

Review from Trains magazine, September, 1995

"From its beginnings in the 1870s through its boom period in the 1930s and into today, Southern Pacific's Coast Line from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles has been a source of pleasure for train-watchers.

"Here in one stretch of railroad, trains run within splashing distance of the Pacific Ocean, traverse high trestles, tap the agricultural wealth of central California, wind their way through coastal mountains, and give passengers a superb view of the ever-changing makeup and natural beauty of the Golden State. Add helper districts, a few short lines and commuter-type services to a railroad as eclectic as SP and you have a fascinating route that never becomes tiring.

"Author Signor has already proven he knows his railroad with previous tomes covering the Tehachapis and Donner Pass. With this book, he is again right on the money.

"Mixing a nice blend of history, construction, rolling stock, and motive power, Signor takes the reader through the motivations of the line's planners and operators. He carefully dissects everything from helper districts to the various Daylights, reminding even the most hard-core Coast Line fan that there were plenty of passenger trains before SP discovered that red, orange, and black looked spiffy on passenger equipment.

"The book shows us not only Gaviota Trestle, Cuesta Grade, and that most important of midway stops, San Lu;is Obispo, but also covers varous aspects of their development.

"There are nice photos of some of the rarities that visited the area, too, including a General Electric turbine and the Rexall Train. Some of the photos may have been published previously (mostly diesel and mostly in magazines), but the vast majority, especially from the steam era, will be fresh to readers.

"There are some color pages, but the strength of the book lies in its excellent historical black-and-white photos and the strong research Signor has used to assemble a very nice package."

-- David Lustig


Review from Book News

"An extraordinary book. Signor has collected a fine gallery of hundreds of historic and modern photos from myriad archives. These cover trains, stations and the development that motivated and was itself stimulated by the 1901 line from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Signor's text is thorough, authoritative and graceful. He has also painted a picture of the Daylight and drawn lucid birds-eye views of the entire line and of notable sections. A rare confluence of art, scholarship, authorship and publishing."

-- Book News, Inc., Portland, Oregon.


Review from Vintage Rails magazine, Summer, 1996

"In perhaps his best effort yet, noted western rail author John Signor has produced a magnificent volume on one of the most famous stretches of railroad in the world, the fabled Coast Line of the Southern Pacific. Drawing on SP file photos and private collections, Signor presents the history and deelopment of the 465-mile Coast Line from its inception until the present. An accomplished artist and cartographer as well, the author provides cover art and endpaper maps to accompany his exhaustive text.

"Black and white photo reproduction is clear and sharp, and color plates are life-like. Although the book is loaded with historical photos, this reviewer especially liked the contemporary photography of Ted Benson, John Roskoski and Tim Zukas on Cuesta, Callender Hill, and along the ocean below Surf. There is a station list, compiled by L.D. Farrar, a bibliography, and a comprehensive index. In all, Southern Pacific's Coast Line is more than just a book about the railroad; it is a significant conribution to the history of the Golden State." p

-- Brian Jennison


Review from Railroad Model Craftsman magazine, March, 1996

"I have fond memories of the Southern Pacific's coast line in its heyday (I later became a dedicated Santa Fe fan--but that's another story). In my teens I used to lie awake at night listening to cab-forward articulateds battling freight tonnage up the one percent grade from Taylor Yard to Burbank Junction. I rode the original red, orange, and black Daylights behind handsome Lima-built 4-8-4's, and I slept in a roomette on the Lark when it lived up to its billing as "the finest overnight train in America." For obvious reasons, then, the announcement of an entire book devoted to the Coast Line came as welcome news.

"My anticipation was heightened because John Signor has previously authored six highly regarded books on various aspects of Western railroading. Now that I've read Southern Pacific's Coast Line, I'm happy to report that his latest effort is the best of the lot. The qualities that established his previous works as landmarks of their kind are present in even greater abundance: original art work and intricate maps, historic timetables and other documents, and a profusion of photographs in both black and white and color. Above all, the text is authoritative, well organized, and consistently lucid and readable.

"Unlike some of his predecessors in this field, who exemplify what might be termed the "romance of the rails" school of railroad history, Signor has clearly done his homework. While his comprehensive and detailed account of Coast Line history is never pedantic or tedious, it reflects a great deal of sustained and systematic research. I learned a lot from it that I didn't know. Indeed, some readers may find that Signor conveys more information on the subject than they ever wanted to know. This is hardly a problem, however, as the photos, captions, and maps provide a richly rewarding journey through Coast Line history in themselves, even if you only skim the text.

"Especially notable is the extent to which Signor has chronicled day-today operations: train schedules and routes, locomotive and crew assignments, traffic patterns, and the like. For a modeler who wants to replicate some part of the Coast Line in miniature, such information is invaluable. For any modeler or railroad buff, it affords an enlightening look at prototype operating practices on a busy main line railroad over a period of more than a century, from 4-4-0's to double-stacks.

"Physically, Southern Pacific's Coast Line is a hefty, handsome, high quality book. Though Signature Press is a new publishing firm, it represents the partnership of two seasoned railroad historians and authors, Bob Church and Tony Thompson, who have previously collaborated to produce a much-praised book on Pacific Fruit Express among other things. Their experience shows; the design, printing, and production of this initial effort by Signature Press are all first rate.

" While the book isn't perfect, typos and other errors are commendably few, minor, and confined almost entirely to the captions. Photo reproduction is also very good, on the whole. A few photos are on the dark side (probably because the originals themselves were dark). Some are also smaller than I would have liked. But then the alternatives are either fewer but larger photos or an even bigger and more costly book; here, as elsewhere, there's no free lunch.

"Carping about a book this good is ungenerous, anyway. If your primary interest is in the Southern Pacific or Western railroading in general, and especially if you're interested in modeling the Coast Line in any era, Southern Pacific's Coast Line is a must. Even if you just like well written, well made railroad history books, it should be at the top of your want list."

-- Richard H. Hendrickson


Review from Mainline Modeler magazine, September, 1995

"The Southern Pacific's Coast Line from Los Angeles to San Francisco is the subject of this 315-page hardcover by author John Signor from Signature Press. The book is a well-done review of this very interesting line, one with a multitude of modelable scenes, many shown in the well-reproduced photos."

-- Robert Hundman


Review from Railroad History, No. 174, Spring 1996

"One of the most remarked line segments of Southern Pacific's crescent-shaped route structure from Portland to New Orleans is its 470-mile "Coast Line." Opened to through service in 1901 between San Francisco and Los Angeles on an alignment serving San Jose, Salinas, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara, the Coast Line was designed to complement and not duplicate SP's existing route in the San Joaquin Valley.

"The new line was an immediate hit with passengers because of the marvelous coastal scenery and with shippers--especially local growers--because of its short-mile quality. SP routed several of its premier trains--the famous Sunset Limited, for instance-over the Coast Line, but no train was more firmly associated with this route than the Daylight.Arguably the most handsome train ever, the upgraded Daylight was powered by streamlined and cross-counterbalanced GS-4 4-8-4s painted in a breathtaking combination of red, orange, black, and aluminum; trailing were lightweight cars from Pullman adorned in the same striking color scheme. GS locomotives were likewise assigned in "Overnight" service-high-speed "merchandise only" trains in head-to-head competition with trucks in the vital San Francisco-Los Angeles corridor.

"The Coast Line, like its owner, enjoyed its finest hour during World War II and, like its owner, later fell on rougher times. Presently SP seems likely to disappear under Union Pacific's huge shield. What the new owners will decide to do with the Coast Line is problematic.

"This is a handsome book, typical of those produced by John Signor, who has already given us several studies of SP line segments. Signor's appreciable talents as an illustrator, a cartographer, and an inveterate collector of high-quality visual material are present throughout. The layout is marvelous, and photographic reproduction is crisp. The text is readable if not compelling; the research is difficult to evaluate because the bibliography is thin and because there are no reference notes.

"Southern Pacific's Coast Line will have a great attraction for SP enthusiasts. Indeed, for them it is a 'must'."

-- Don L. Hofsommer