Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
James R. "Bob" Guthrie's Retirement Party
S.P.R.R. Saugus Depot | Heritage Junction

July 12, 1986 — The Guthrie family and the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society host a retirement party for the Southern Pacific Railroad's last Saugus station agent, James R. "Bob" Guthrie, at the depot's current location in Heritage Junction-Hart Park.

After closing the Saugus depot in November 1978 (when it was still in Saugus), Guthrie worked at the San Fernando depot (closed 1981) and Van Nuys.

Living quarters for the Guthrie family in Saugus were the four upstairs rooms of the depot and a trailer they attached to the roof as a living room addition. The trailer was removed after the depot arrived in Newhall in 1980.

During a walk-through at about the 5-minute mark of the video, Guthrie says the master bedroom was the current southeast room; the girls' room was the current northeast room; the kitchen was the current southwest room, and the kitchen opened onto the trailer/living room.

Would he do it all over again? "Nope."

Saugus Station Master

J. Guthrie: Trainman

Click to enlarge.

James Guthrie's father was a railroad man.

So was his grandfather.

And for all he knows, his great grandfather may have been a railroad man too. But because his grandfather was orphaned off during the great war between the states — too early for him to remember his parents, James Guthrie will never know.

Today, at 43, Guthrie has spent 23 years of his life running trains. He plans to do it at least another 20 years before retirement, and, if he has his choice, he hopes to spend them as agent at the Saugus train station.

He isn't sure he'll get to, though — "You're never sure in railroading," he says — but there is one thing he does know for sure.

His son, now a sophomore at Hart high school, will never be a railroad man.

Surrounded by the familiar green walls — which look like they have been repainted at least as many times as the ancient station is years old — Guthrie sits in his chair and watches the board, and between times when trains aren't coming through, leans back and listens to the huge old pendulum clock behind him tick and tock the time away.

No Future.

"There's no future in this business anymore," he says, quite matter of factly like the knowledge is something painful, that he has lived with for many years now. "There are fewer and fewer jobs in the business. Everything is becoming automated."

Guthrie started out in railroads almost immediately after high school. About the time he married some 20 years ago he was doing just about what he is doing now. He was a tower telegrapher for Kansas City Southern, and he met his wife, because she was a waitress in the little cafe he used to go to after he got off work at midnight.

Today he is a telegrapher-agent, as opposed to just a telegrapher. That means, he explains, "a few more cents an hour and the fact that as agent I'm boss of the station."

At other times in his career, Guthrie has even been a dispatcher. A dispatcher is the man who controls a section of track, and sends orders to the telegraphers along the way to tell the trains whether another train is coming or not.

Guthrie was once a dispatcher in Mexicali, just across the border from Calexico.

No Automation.

He is happy to be a telegrapher, though.

The section of track between Burbank and Mojave is one of the last few places in the country on a main line that hasn't been automated. That means it's one of the last places left that still has telegraphers.

Listening to Guthrie shout into the old-fashioned telephone one would almost think he's talking in foreign tongues. It's a specialized language, of course, announcing and quizzing as to which trains are coming what way.

But really it's quite simple.

He takes the orders and puts them out on a hook for the engineers coming by. Sometimes he pulls the levers that operate the signals.

And it doesn't happen much more than about half the days out of the week, now, but sometimes there's a lonely passenger for whom he has to flag down the Daylight.

Even the school kids who used to come by to catch the train as part of an excursion don't come anymore. The Daylight now runs through Saugus too early in the morning and too late at night for the school day.

And it's been five years now since the last night passenger train came through. He remembers the last night the Owl came through. "I was sad to see it go."

"Passenger traffic is doomed," he says. "They claim they're losing money on it."

When Guthrie was a kid in Missouri where he grew up, he never played with electric trains. "I had big ones," he muses. "I used to go out and watch my dad work," he says.

Despite the fact that the Guthries and their five children live upstairs over the railroad station, he doesn't think his one son is very interested in trains.

"He's more interested in being a mechanic or something like that," he says.

Would Guthrie do it all over again the same way he did it?

His answer: "Nope. It's just that I never knew how to do anything else."

Click image to enlarge.

Guthrie: Whistle Blows for Last Time for Railroad Veteran.

The last stop is about to be made in James Guthrie's railroad career.

The Saugus resident has been in the business since 1940 but will officially retire on July 9 from Southern Pacific Railroad.

The Saugus Station was one of the many posts Guthrie served. He and his family were the last inhabitants of the station before it was closed in 1978.

Guthrie spent most of his railroad career as a telegrapher. A telegrapher receives instructions from a central dispatcher and sends those instructions to the engineers as they pass in their trains. Telegraphers are, for the most part, no longer used for railroad communications.

James, his wife Arminta, and five of the six Guthrie children lived in the Saugus Station. Guthrie said most stations used to have living quarters.

"It has been that way from way back when this used to be the Wild West," Guthrie said. "The agent was upstairs. They were always provided living areas."

Saugus was not the first stop for Guthrie and his family. He began working on the railroad in Kansas. Guthrie's father and grandfather were both railroaders. He worked for his father, a section foreman, for a short while before landing a job with Kansas City Southern.

"I would sit in this tower," Guthrie said of his first job, "and watch and listen. I would sit there and the only communication I had (with the trains) was listening. I worked there all alone up in this tower in the middle of nowhere."

The towerman sat at a place in a rail line where two tracks crossed. The towerman would have to signal one train to stop if he heard another coming.

Guthrie said inside of the tower was the receiving end of a telegraph that he would spend his time listening to and learning Morse code. Once he became proficient, he moved into a new position at the railroad.

"I met Arminta at the depot in Pittsburg, Kansas," Guthrie said. "She worked in the coffee shop and we got acquainted."

The Midwestern winters were taking their toll on Guthrie. He said he had pneumonia about six times before he and Arminta moved west.

"We first came to California in 1949," Guthrie said. "I got a job in Glamis. Glamis is in the middle of the desert between nowhere and no place. We were there in June and there was no electricity. Two or three times a week they would bring us water and ice."

Guthrie worked in Glamis for a few months, then moved to a Southern Pacific station in Mexicali, on the Mexico side of the California-Mexico border.

The Guthrie family was in Mexicali from 1950 to 1958.

"We used the dot-dash system on the telegraph wire at Mexicali," Guthrie said. He said the dot-dash system was replaced soon after his stint at Mexicali with a telephone system.

After Mexicali, Guthrie worked as a telegrapher in Oxnard and as an extra dispatcher in Los Angeles. In May 1962, he heard about an opening at the Saugus Station for an agent, applied, and got the job.

"I suppose it was a pretty ordinary existence," Guthrie said. "Most everything I did then is no longer even done these days.

"SP was a real good company to work for until just recently. They had to make a lot of changes they probably didn't want to make. It is a way of life that exists no more. You used to be proud to be a railroader. There is no pride anymore in [the] industry."

Mrs. Guthrie said living at the Saugus Station was always kind of adventure.

"Our kids had so many friends," Mrs. Guthrie said. "We had wall-to-wall kids. Our kids would go to friends and have two bathrooms and wish we had that. But I don't think (living at the station) was ever a rock around their necks."

Guthrie said he never really considered actually working on a train.

"I never had any desire to be a trainman," he said. "I am legally blind in one eye. I got a cinder from a steam train when I was a bitty fella.

"It is more important that you have good eyesight as a trainman A telegrapher, heck. If you can see to the front door you're OK.

"I never really planned on making the railroad my career," Guthrie said, "but I'm glad I did. I never became rich, but I have had a good life."

When Guthrie began work for the railroad the work week was considerably longer than it is today.

"When I started out," Guthrie said, "you worked seven days a week. Then the union went to bat for us and we got a six-day week. We came to California when five-day weeks were starting and there were jobs that needed to be filled."

After the Saugus Station closed, Guthrie was the Chief Clerk at the station in San Fernando until it closed in 1981. He spent die last five years of his career in Van Nuys.

"It was modernization," Guthrie said "There used to be stations in Lang, Ravenna and Saugus. Now there is nothing bet ween L.A. and Mojave."

With the merger of Southern Pacific and Santa Fe pending, the work force of the two companies a being cut. Guthrie took one of the options his company is offering by buying out his last few months Though the official retirement date is not until July 9, he stopped working in March. "It doesn't bother me to sleep in two or three more hours, Guthrie said of the retired life style. "It's great so far "

Guthrie's children have been planning a big retirement celebration and started a savings account some time ago for the occasion.

Friends and Relatives Gather for Retirement Party.

Click to enlarge.

A retirement party was held Saturday evening in honor of James R. Guthrie of Saugus.

The party, hosted by Guthrie's children and the SCV Historical Society, was held at the Old Saugus Southern Pacific Depot on San Fernando Road.

Guthrie started his career with the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1949. He worked throughout Southern California before arriving in Saugus in 1962. He and his wife Arminta raised five of six children above the train station when it was located in Saugus.

Southern Pacific Railroad closed the station in 1978 and the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society moved it to the present location in Newhall. It was at this site that James and Arminta arrived by limousine Saturday evening.

The party began with cocktails, continued with dinner and ended with dancing to Carl Cribbs and His Canyon Country Boys. Sandwiched in between were presentations to Guthrie and a lot of nostalgic reminiscing.

The Guthrie children, Linda Gil of Sylmar, Cheryl Walker of Montreal, Eddie Guthrie of Castaic, Maria Gibson of Pasadena, Debbie Allen of Denver, and Nancy Simpkins of Saugus presented their parents with a trip to the Hawaiian Islands. The trip will take place in September, the week of the Guthries' 39th wedding anniversary.

Also honoring the Guthries were many of James' coworkers, and local community residents.

Following the Hawaiian excursion, the Guthries will spend their spare time checking out the best fishing spots in the country and enjoying their 11 grandchildren.



Video: Retirement Party 1986


Story 2003


Interview 2010


Dedication 2012

Arminta Obituary 2016


Bob & Arminta 1940s


Depot Upstairs 1960s


Outside Depot 1960s


Children 1960s


Sending Train Orders 10/10/1967


Family 1986


Bob & Arminta ~2000

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