Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
> 1929 SAUGUS TRAIN ROBBERY
SPRR Engine No. 5042
The Locomotive Tom Vernon Wrecked

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SPRR ENGINE 5042

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1939

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~1940s

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~1940s


Damage from the wreck? Click to enlarge.

Ever wonder what happened to the Southern Pacific's Engine No. 5042 after Tom Vernon wrecked it behind the Baker Ranch Rodeo in Saugus on the night of Nov. 10, 1929?

Well, it lay on its side for a while — SP crews from Los Angeles and Mojave worked through the night to build a shoe-fly (temporary track) around it, and they had trains running early the next morning — but it was eventually lifted by cranes and taken to L.A. for repair. Then it went right back in service on the West Coast Limited, which ran from L.A. to Portland via the San Joaquin Valley, with connecting service to Seattle.

Here we see the 5042 in Los Angeles in an undated photo (probably 1940s-early 1950s) from the collection of Harold K. Vollrath (1923-2015), a rail worker in Louisiana who became a rail executive in Kansas City — as well as a train historian and photographer who amassed a collection of 8,000 of his own negatives and 37,000 from others. He provided them to railfans and train magazines throughout his lifetime, and subsequently by his heirs.

No. 5042 was a big, Class SP-3 locomotive with a 4-10-2 wheel configuration, built by American Locomotive Co. (ALCO) in Schenectady, N.Y. Just two years old at the time of the wreck, its weight apparently contributed to its downfall when it hit Tom Vernon's handiwork.

Evidence suggests Vernon actually intended to derail the Owl, which came through Saugus minutes earlier. But the Owl used a slightly lighter-weight engine, and it didn't jump the track. Author James E. Boynton writes in "4-10-2: Three Barrels of Steam" (1973:39):

[I]nvestigation showed that the track had been tampered with prior to the passage of the Owl, a Los Angeles-San Francisco overnight all Pullman train which preceded the West Coast Limited by about 15 minutes. This fact was borne out by sectionmen who testified that removal of the spikes would take considerably more time than existed between the schedule time of the two passenger trains. It is rather hard to realize, but No. 25 [the Owl] had evidently negotiated the loosened rail with its 15-car train of Pullmans, without anyone knowing how close to disaster they had actually been. The Owl was powered by a 4300 series 4-8-2 Mountain Class locomotive, which was not quite so rigid or heavy as the big 5000[-series] engine. This fact alone saved No. 25 from being wrecked, and from suffering a fate which could quite possibly have been worse than that besetting the West Coast Limited.

Nobody died in the derailment, but it was touch-and-go with the engineer.

Engine No. 5042 remained in service until April 29, 1953, when it was scrapped in Sacramento (Boynton:115). The West Coast Limited made her final run Dec. 7, 1960 (Serpico 2000:25).


LW3260: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph purchased 2018 by Leon Worden.
1929 SAUGUS TRAIN ROBBERY

THE ROBBERY

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Passengers / Earliest Known 11-10-1929

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Daybreak 11-11-1929

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Newsreel Footage

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Loren Ayers x5

THE MANHUNT

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Boynton Story

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Pollack Story

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LAT 11-11-1929

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Vernon Captured

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Mugshots 12/1929

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Extradition 12-12-1929

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AP 12-19-1929

THE FAKERY

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REAL: Tom Vernon Prison Records

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REAL: Horse Theft 1920

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BOGUS: Tom Vernon Letters 1929-1963

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BOGUS: Tom Vernon's Fake Photo ID 1962

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BOGUS: Vernon's Own Story in 3 Parts

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BOGUS: Cattle Kate Story 12-7-1929

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BOGUS: Vernon Retells Story in 1953

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BOGUS: Sweetwater Incident 1967

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BOGUS Sideshow: Lester F. Mead
'Confessor' 11-1929

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REAL: Buffalo Vernon 1884-1939

THE AFTERMATH

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1957-1958 x3

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Pardon 1964

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Death Cert. 1967

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After the Wreck
No. 5042 x3

• A New Ending (Now Obsolete)


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