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Bell Gardens Equipment

A short history and general information

The "Convair" train was built by the employees of a large aerospace company, "Convair Corporation" in San Diego, Calif. The company name was changed to "General Dynamics" in the late 70's. The train (locomotive, four cars and a caboose) was built over a period of time from 1959 to 1963. It was built with the permission of the company for the "Convair Recreation Association" and the train and equipment belonged to the company. The company said the employees could build the equipment using company material and machine tools but not on company time. When they started they were going to build three complete trains (three locomotives, 12 cars and 3 cabooses). Two locomotives were started when the Air Force (who had many contracts with the company) said "No", you can build one set and only one; they were afraid this would show up in their rocket costs. So, they (the employees) scaled back to only one train set. We don't know what happened to the other locomotive frames that were started.

The company had a 20 acre park at their headquarters, in an area called Kearney Mesa in the northern part of San Diego. They built a loop of track about one half mile long and an engine house/car barn/machine shop on this property. In addition to the train they had some buildings with a wood shop and a model railroad, all of this was for the employees.

Locomotive 452 (GP9)

The 452 comes from the number of the building that the engine was built in. This building housed one of the machine shops in the Convair Aerospace Company's complex. The building was located next to San Diego's international airport (Lindbergh Field). All of these buildings were dismantled some time ago. The original engine was an automobile gas engine with a hydraulic drive. The locomotive was later rebuilt with a Ford diesel tractor engine connected to the original hydraulic drive.

The cars that go with #452 were built in different areas of the company's complex. The numbers on the cars are the badge numbers of the employees that built the train. The D&RGW gondola #83561, UP hopper #2203300, SP lumber car #54381, NWP log car #52526, and the SP caboose.

The stock car (Pig Palace) was built some years later at the Kearney Mesa site. The number they assigned is 14410 - that's the street address of the train barn on the farm. The NP in the pig's crown was for the Northern Pacific RR. The NP RR had complete unit trains of pig cars, and they were called Pig Palaces. This car was not placed in service until May of 1998.

The car that is now the handicap car was built as a handicap flat car in the late 1980's, also at the Kearney Mesa site. One employee's wife was in a wheel chair and they built this flat car for her. The first attempt at a handicap car at the farm was started off site during the spring of 98. This design was not workable, so in Aug of 99 Bill Palmer removed everything above the frame and built the car that we have now. This was completed and in service February of 2000. The handicap car was never lettered or numbered at Convair, so when Bill rebuilt it he lettered it MKT for the Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad and the number (30841) is the street address of the farm.

The caboose was never numbered even though it was built with the first cars at Convair. It always had a Southern Pacific herald on it.

The two slat sided cars are "Beet Cars" - the Southern Pacific Railroad had cars that hauled sugar beets from the Imperial Valley in Southern CA to the sugar mills north of Los Angles. The number is 29837 - that was the old address of Bill Palmer's home; 29845 is just another number to go with the Beet car class.

The high sided gondolas:

These cars are all welded aluminum. This was a learning curve for Eric and Bill. Who did all the welding in house. The material was cut in a shop in Escondido.

AT&SF 1509: The number 1509 is the number of an ex Santa Fe Café Observation car that is out at the San Diego RR Museum and Campo - a very nice car.

SD&AE 4414 is named for the San Diego and Arizona Eastern RR that runs between San Diego through Mexico to Campo then through the Carriso Gorge to El Centro, CA. The number has no significant meaning.

Great Northern lumber car number 12678 is the present street number of Bill Palmer's house. It is a copy of the older car.

The new Pig Palace is assigned number 14104 - this is a number to go with the other pig car. It never got its Northern Pacific lettering. This car was placed in service June of 2000.

The black flat car wasn't finished until the summer of 2002. Even though the parts were on hand before then.

F7's #325 and 216

These were bought new from Custom Locomotive works of Chicago in 1998 by Mr. Bill Norred. He was going to start a miniature railroad in the community of Thousand Oaks (north of Los Angles), but he ran into problems and he passed away before it was ever started.

The 325 was the birthday of Bill Norred's wife, March 25th.

The 216 is the birthday of Bill's daughter, Feb 16th.

The 216 is the only battery powered locomotive Custom built. This is most likely the most powerful locomotive of the four as far as tractive effort is concerned. On the hydraulic drive locomotives once one axle slips its wheels all the oil will go to that axle's motor. On the 216 you have to slip all eight wheels at once.

497 SW1200 was bought used from Custom Locomotive works in 1997 by Bill Norred. This locomotive is supposedly the first locomotive Custom built. They built it to build their railroad at their plant in Chicago. The number (497) is the date the locomotive arrived at the farm, April of 1997.

The black hopper/ballast car was bought by Bill Norred from Custom Locomotive Works and was used at Seymour Johnson's railroad near Santa Barbara, CA. It was borrowed and brought down to the farm in 1996 when Bill Palmer and others were building the track. It was never lettered or numbered.

The speeder was bought by Bill Norred at the same time as the ballast car and saw some use on Seymour Johnson's railroad. It was used as a track inspections vehicle each day before the trains went out. Do to some vandalism they checked the track every day - and a couple of times it was a good thing they did!

All of Bill Norred's 15-inch-gauge equipment ended up at Bell Gardens and when he died his wife sold all of it to the Bell family except for the steam locomotive.

The trolley was built in 1998 for Glen Bell so he could take people around the railroad. He couldn't get into or operate the other equipment due to his illness. They would use the trolley as a track inspection vehicle on some occasions to keep it and the batteries in shape. It was great at locating low spots in the track.

The trolley trailers were built later (1999) when Mr. Bell would bring more people than there were seats on the trolley.

Bill Palmer built the work car at home when they started to build the railroad in 1996 - it was built to the plans of Dan Staver. Dan was in charge of building the railroad at the time. This was the first piece of rolling stock on the railroad.

Thanks go to Bill Palmer formally of the Bell Gardens Railroad for putting all this information together for use.