San Fernando Valley Historical Society

Railroad Shanty History

Railroad Shanty HistoryThe Southern Pacific Railroad flagman's shanty, also known as a watchman's or signalman's shanty, was a 5 feet by 8 feet wooden structure.  It was originally located on the northwest side of Maclay Avenue approximately 60 feet northeast of the center line of Southern Pacific Railroad's main track in San Fernando.

The shanty and a pot-bellied stove were moved to the Maclay location in 1914.  The shanty remained operational until automatic signals were added at the Maclay Avenue crossing in 1948.  With the automatic signals, the need for the flagman and his shanty were no longer necessary and the need for a flagman faded into history..

Until then, the flagman was an employee of the railroad assigned to protect anyone performing work on, or moving toward, the railroad right of way.  For example, a car approaching the track would be warned when a train was approaching.  With his lantern the flagman would customarily signal approaching travelers and automobiles to protect them against existing dangers of approaching cars or trains and warn to stop.  "Stop, Look and Listen" was the theme of the day, when crossing any railroad tracks.  The flagman typically worked 12 hour shifts.

Knowing the inevitable ruin of the no-longer-needed shanty, Ray Ayers, a railroad enthusiast and a member of the Railroad Club of Southern California, came to the rescue and purchased the shanty from Southern Pacific for $1.00 on January 20, 1949.  His plan was to convert the shanty into a meeting place for railroad buffs. The original stove had disappeared long before the signals were installed, but one was provided by Southern Pacific when the shanty was purchased by Ayers.

Sixty-one years later, Ray Ayers' son, Paul, donated the same shanty to the San Fernando Valley Historical Society (SFVHS).

The Society took possession of the shanty on March 29, 2010 and restoration began immediately.  Within days a foundation was framed and poured.  Once dry, the shanty was placed onto the foundation and nailed down to the mudsill that was bolted to the foundation.  Deteriorating and weather-worn wood portions were removed and scraped clean.  A new roof and a new wood floor were added.  The windows were cleaned, glass panes restored and missing putty replaced.

The interior has also been painted and period railroad mementos including a telegraph and vintage typewriter have been included.  Bricks were installed where the coal burning pot-bellied stove now sits.

The exterior was repainted with the original Southern Pacific Railroad shanty colors.  An awning over the door was constructed and installed so that the shanty looked as it did in 1914.  A redwood deck was added, with wheel chair access, at the front of the shanty and around its left side.  The Society placed railroad memorabilia such as a luggage cart, water barrel and other items on the deck.  Original railroad tracks and ties have also been placed next to the shanty, providing the observer a glimpse into the past.