Railfanning hot spot at Caliente's Horseshoe Curve
June 10, 2023
Caliente, California is a quick trip for Tehachapi railfans to see the interesting Horseshoe Curve. The day I went I saw seven trains in a period of three hours, which included a Southern Pacific Heritage Series 1996 and a BN Santa Fe Warbonnet.
The Horseshoe Curve at Caliente is on the Union Pacific railroad Mojave sub-division, part of the old Southern Pacific Los Angeles to San Francisco Valley route. This route was built between 1875 and 1876. The curve is about a three mile drive downhill from Hwy 58 on the Bealville Road. As a note of safety, make sure you have good brakes on your car. It's a fairly long hill from Hwy 58; just keep your speed in check.
Caliente is a bit of a snapshot of the past and it reminds me of a most famous railfan trip made in the closing days of the American steam engines. This trip was called the "Bankers Holiday Special" in 1954 from Los Angeles to Caliente.
The motive power for this 1954 railfan trip was two Southern Pacific steamers: a GS-4 locomotive and a cab-forward steam engine. They had over 500 people for this trip and they all debarked the train in Caliente, so the steam power could be changed out at the Bakersfield shops for a fresh GS-4 and another cab forward for the return trip to Los Angeles.
The group saw an impressive display of motive power that included first generation diesels and steam power.
The EMD F-7s were the most successful diesels of that time and the F-7s had 1,500 horsepower. The Electromotive Division of General Motors started making the F-7 in February of 1949.
Steam power is fantastic to watch but we can see why the move to the newer diesels units were being phased in for lower maintenance equipment.
Diesels did not need to stop for water and had dynamic braking using the electric traction motor as a generator and wheel brake when slowing the train down. This was perfect for our long downhill grade from Tehachapi to Bakersfield, saving the train cars' wheel brakes.
Caliente is still a railfan's dream. The day I went, I met Cleave, who had traveled all the way from Australia to see our famous Tehachapi Loop and the Caliente Horseshoe Curve. He told me there is nothing in Australia like the altitude changes we have here. The rail line goes from Tehachapi at 4,000 feet (msl) to Caliente at 1,312 feet (msl). Cleave commented on the very green hills that we have now due to all the rain we have been blessed with and he saw snow still on Tehachapi peak, too.
Caliente is a rustic, wide open location with over a 1,000 people living there. You are only about 22 miles southeast of Bakersfield. So, you can spend a few hours in Caliente, have lunch in Bakersfield and still have lots of daylight left to check out all the poppies on the return trip back to Tehachapi.
With the high cost of fuel these days a day trip near home fits well in my budget. I hope it fits into your day trip plans, too. It's well worth it. Our area has lots to see right around the corner.