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Removing a Bit of History : Transit: Plans to pull up Union Pacific's Glendale tracks bring back memories of a once-thriving electric trolley.

April 25, 1991|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the last freight train rolled down the odd little spur track that parallels San Fernando Road just south of Forest Lawn, few people paid attention.

But Bryan H. Allen did. He reached for his camera, jumped on his bicycle and pedaled off from his Glassell Park home in chase.

It wasn't his lucky day. He followed the train to the end, but the camera was out of film.

"In a sense, there was a historic photo opportunity, but I missed it," the lifelong train buff said self-reproachfully.

That was in November, 1986. Today, Allen's mortification has deepened--he just learned that the Union Pacific Railroad Co.'s Glendale branch line itself is nearing an end. The railroad is selling its 1.2-mile right of way and expects to pull up the track by midsummer.

"It means an end to what I've found to be the favorite aspect of living here--being next to the railroad," Allen, 35, said last week. "I took it for granted that the railroad would always be here. I never suspected it would be abandoned as a has-been. I rue the fact that I did not take more photographs when it was in operation."

Not all of Allen's neighbors share his affection for the sights, sounds and smells of the railroad.

Forest Lawn Memorial Park has complained about overgrown vegetation along the Union Pacific right of way. For cars pulling into Pater Noster High School, the old rails create a bumpy crossing, as they do for motorists on Fletcher Drive. Much of the line is choked with weeds and surrounded by discarded bricks, broken flowerpots and other trash.

Nevertheless, the loss of these tracks will trigger sad emotions among fans of the once-thriving electric trolley network that now occupies a special place in Los Angeles mythology. For them, the removal of the Union Pacific tracks just east of San Fernando Road, roughly between Glendale Boulevard and the Glendale Freeway, will erase the last link in what was once the Glendale & Montrose Railway, the town's ill-fated early attempt to tie into the Los Angeles transit system.

"That's hitting pretty close to home," said Raymond Younghans, 69, a retired railroad switchman who lives in Cypress Park. "I rode on that trolley way back in 1930. We rode up to Forest Lawn cemetery to put flowers on my father's grave."

Younghans recalls it as a rough ride because the financially strapped Glendale & Montrose couldn't afford to keep its rails in top condition.

In later years Union Pacific used the track to service industrial plants and other businesses along the spur. Since 1938 it has connected to the busier Southern Pacific Transportation Co. line that runs parallel to San Fernando Road.

By the 1980s, traffic along the Glendale branch had decreased dramatically, causing concern among train watchers.

Five years ago, Younghans photographed the departure of boxcars that had taken Christmas trees to a platform on Fletcher Drive. He called Allen to tell him that it might be one of the last freight runs on the Glendale spur.

"Stupid me, I didn't believe him," Allen said. "And I failed to take pictures of that."

Allen traces his own interest in trains to a trolley ride he took as a preschooler during the late 1950s. In 1967, while living in Inglewood, he dreamed of building a scale replica of the Union Pacific freight station on Fletcher Drive that he'd seen in Model Railroader magazine. He persuaded his mother to drive him to Glassell Park for a closer look.

His model never materialized. But seven years later, in a coincidental twist, Allen moved into a house on Drew Street, just a few blocks from the station. Soon he was snapping pictures of the freight cars that clattered past his house. He plunged into research and learned that 60 years ago these same tracks carried electric trolleys bound for Glendale and Montrose.

Allen, who is not employed, wears a mustache and shoulder-length hair and says that he "marches to a self-made drummer." He has no car and gets around mainly by bus or bicycle. He has educated himself extensively about transportation issues and has spoken on the topic before several government boards.

Over the past 17 years, Allen has seen his neighborhood rail line take some gloomy turns. First, Union Pacific demolished its station. Then it halted freight service. And soon the track itself will be gone.

For the railroad company, financial concerns outweighed sentiment.

"The businesses dried up, and it was no longer economically feasible for us to continue to maintain the track," Union Pacific spokesman Ed Trandahl said from the company's Omaha headquarters.

In April, 1990, the Interstate Commerce Commission approved Union Pacific's request to abandon its track rights along the Glassell Park stretch. Trandahl said the company expects to complete its sale of the property by the end of this month.

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