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Feather River Bulletin
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January 8, 2014     Feather River Bulletin
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January 8, 2014
 

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Bulletin, Record, Progressive, Reporter Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 11I 66 Bars outnumbered churches. I believe there were four or five on Commercial Street alone, not to mention two houses of "ill repute" east of town. 99 66 One of the busiest times ever in the history of Portola railroading was World War II. Troop train after troop train passed monotonously through, taking thousands of young men over to fight in the Pacific campaign. 99 Jim Jenner proves he still enjoys the outdoors in old Western Pacific Hospital, said Portola was a was rough around the edges and provided akid this recent photo provided to Feather Publishing. Jenner, 81, who was born in the "wild and wooly" place in the 1930s and '40s. He said the bustling railroad town like himself many opportunities for adventure. Editor's note: Jim Jenner submitted this reoollection of growing up in "wild and wooly" Portola during the town's railroad heyday. Jenner, who was born in the Western Pacific HospJtaI in 1932and has subscribed to the PortoIa:Reportar for more ....... than 45 years, lives in Berkeley. Jim Jenner Special to Feather Publishing emories of growing up in a wild and wooly railroad town like Portola during the 1930s and '40s remain the most vivid of my life. That experience alone should qualify a lucky kid like me as some kind of latter-day Huck Finn. My grandfather, William Jenner, came to Portola in 1909 as one of the first Western Pacific telegraphers and locomotive engineers. Railroad pay, he said, was a damn sight better than what he got teaching school in Ohio. He suffered a cruel fate, however, dying in Portola in the great Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which also nearly killed my father and his sister. My dad, Paul Henry Jenner, followed William's footsteps, quitting school at age 14 to work as a WP callboy in 1916. His job, in addition to notifying crews in person of impending assignments, involved being yardmaster, crew dispatcher, engine herder for passenger trains, delivery boy for Western Union messages and janitor. His pay was $50 per month for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Why it was necessary to personally notify crew members of impending assignments remains puzzling, as Alexander Graham Bell's magnificent invention had been around for well over a decade. But, many are the vagaries of railroad life, as you'll soon see. He rose through the ranks and became a locomotive engineer in 1928, fmally getting promoted to the main office in San Francisco in the mid '40s. Railroaders were a fascinating bunch of oddballs. Every one of them seemed to have some kind of unique, often wacky, nickname that was associated with a landmark event in their career. For instance, my dad was Jim Jenner's grandfather, William Jenner, stands in front of a Western Pacific locomotive in Portola in this circa 1911 photo. William Jenner was an engineer for the railroad. Photos courtesy Jim Jenner nicknamed "Boomer." Old Mr. Johnson, who lived across the street on California, was called "Highball." And then, of Course, there was the inimitable "Over the Road Ray." Any given day on Commercial Street you could be sure to see a gaggle of railroaders all standing around talking shop even though it was their day off. There never was enough railroading. Consequently, wives often became rail widows and tall tales would proliferate, One in particular deals with how the town of Portola got its name. According to legend, Ignacio Bertola, one of the early citizens, was hit by lightning under a large pine tree near where land was being leveled to build company houses. Bertola had been missing for a day or so when he was finally found stone cold dead, prompting a compatriot to murmur, "Poor Tola." Another tale, told by Hap Manit, a legendary rail character in his own right, The Western Pacific Railroad yard in Portola as it looked in the 1930s and '40s. Railroad workers use ice from the frozen Feather River to refrigerate cars carrying perishable goods. A locomotive steams into the Western Pacific Railroad Depot in this photo taken around t940. involved my father. Hap bring it back alone. He same vintage as the one at claimed that there was a engineered and fired the Promontory Point in Utah at Jupiter locomotive in Reno locomotive all the way the site of the original golden that needed to be broughtsingle-handed, which may spike ceremony. Whether or back to Portola. There wasn't not qualify him as a modern not such stories are true a sufficient crew availabke to day Casey Jones, but did doesn't matter. A story is just man the locomotive with make him somewhat of a that, no more, no less -- with both a fireman and engineer, legend in his time. I believe the passage of time a so my dad was sent over to this locomotive may be the tradition held dear. Working on the "road" in those days was very dangerous. Railroading, in fact, was more dangerous than coal mining or working in a steel mill, both notoriously dangerous professions. Accidents involving death and severe injury far exceeded those in the mines and mills. Paul Jenner himself was nearly killed in a train wreck near Reno Junction. A rock had rolled off the mountain at Scott Siding and was lodged directly in the middle of the track, leaving no time to stop and avoid a collision. My dad, the engineer, saw the accident developing and yelled at the ffn'eman to jump. Dad jumped and cartwheeled three or four times, breaking his leg in several places. The fireman stayed with the train and was crushed and scalded to death. Dad was laid up for almost a year. Evidently, there was no equivalent of worker's compensation in those days. This egregious inequity prompted people like my father to push for organizing rail workers so they could secure protection for themselves and their families. Big shot owners called these activists wobblies or, worse, commies. There were also many Wrecks down in the Canyon caused mostly by slides; but perhaps one of the most dangerous places was the switching yard. when I was about 13 a hobo had been riding in a boxcar that had been spotted in the yard. Once the train stopped, he stuck his head out the sliding door only to have the car suddenly jolted by the engine up front. The door decapitated him. Kids ran down to the yard to see where they had placed sawdust to cover the gore. "Out, damned spot. Out..." Lady Macbeth would say. This didn't deter us brazen young Huck Finns from hopping a freight car to 'ride as far as Blairsden, or even Spring Garden. Luck must have been on our side because we always managed to get back alive just in time for dinner, our parents none the wiser. One of the most mysterious places was the roundhouse-turntable complex. On days off my dad would take me down to the roundhouse to wash his coveralls. They had a metal trough filled with scalding water and steam where the SeeBrat, page 15B