The Crap Shooter Story

For many years after the Second World War, the Union Pacific operated a passenger train, City of Las Vegas also known as the Crap Shooter between Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT) and the gambling resort of Las Vegas.  The train operated on a daily round trip from LAUPT to Las Vegas and return and was well patronized by the gambling public; however in 1972 when Amtrak took over passenger operations, there was no Crap Shooter.  Later Amtrak with the Desert Wind did provide passenger service between LAUPT and Salt Lake City with a stop at Las Vegas.  Unfortunately, the Desert Wind was eventually dropped due to low ridership.  Once again, the only way to Las Vegas was either by car, bus or to fly.

In the face of extreme competition from the Strip Hotels, some of the downtown casinos decided that to improve business, they needed to bring the crap shooter back.  With subsidies from several casinos, the UP and CSW agreed to provide weekend service between LAUPT and Vegas.  The train consisted of locomotive E8 926, a baggage car, 2 chair cars and 1 dome car. 

To the bathers in Lost Lake the sight of the 926 was a common sight.
From the beginning, the train profits were either marginal at best, or it simply lost money.  Only by subsidies from the downtown casinos was the train able to stay afloat.  Both the railroads as well as the casinos were seriously thinking about ending the service. 

On a Saturday several months ago, while the train crew was laying over in Vegas, engineer Bad Bad Leroy and conductor Montana Ed, some how wandered over to one of the casinos.  Before long, they had lost several weeks of pay at the poker table.  Leroy decided to put the 926 up for more money.  At first, conductor Ed disagreed, but soon gave in.  Leroy not being a good gambler, soon lost everything and the casino now owned the 926.  “Oh my gosh, what are we going to do.”  As the two wandered back to the train yard, they were devastated as to how get the train back to LA.  Returning to the yard, they were met by Corey, one of the car knockers who asked why the casino had taken possession of the 926.  Ed and Leroy explained their tale of woe exclaiming that they needed a locomotive to get them back to LA.  After several minutes, Corey suggested that there was an old Baldwin AS-616, UP 1261 out back waiting to be cut up for scrap. 

The engine was in bad shape, no battery, they didn’t even know if it would run.  Quickly, a battery was “salvaged” from a wheel truck and to their amazement, the old girl turned right over.  Actually, after a short warm-up, it ran quite well.  With everything seeming to work they decided to run it over to the fuel rack to fill her up and to top off the lube oil.  After a quick wash job, the 1261 was coupled to the head of the crap shooter and ready to for LA.  At departure time Conductor Ed gave engineer Leroy the highball and away they went heading west. 

The 1261 had less power, 1600 horse power compared to 2250 in the 926 and Leroy had some concerns about maintaining the schedule over Cima and Cajon.  Soon Leroy also came to realize that the Baldwin engine was very rough riding.  Arriving in LAUPT, they were only a few minutes behind schedule.  The sight of a Baldwin AS-616 pulling the Crap Shooter did however create quite a stir.  On the following day Sunday, the 1261 had been refueled and made ready for the trip back to Vegas.  As the east bound grades over Cajon and Cima were steeper then the west bound, Leroy had serious concerns about making them without help.  Soon on Cajon, the 1261 was down to a crawl and he could feel every cylinder firing in the old Baldwin 608a diesel.  Finally they made it over Cajon and a couple hours later over Cima Hill.

Once in Vegas, Leroy decided that he just had to win the 926 back, but how to do it.  He would put the Baggage coach up for a grubstake.  Once again, lady luck was not with Leroy and soon they were without a baggage car.  OH….OH….OH….  Wondering back to the yard once again, he had to find a baggage car.  There were no Baggage cars in the yard and none west of Salt Lake City.  Once again Corey came to the rescue, suggesting that they use an old Rio Grande box car parked in the yard.  After putting the train together, Leroy and Ed looked at it commenting “This train is a joke”.  Soon they were once again heading west for LA.
The Crap Shooter with UP 1261 on the point and a box car for baggage is passing Riverside Tower.
The train had hardly left the Vegas yard when the crew noticed that there were several cars following them on the highway.  Over Cima Hill cars were raising dust on the dirt roads often making it hard to see the track ahead.  What the heck is going on??  Once in LAUPT, crowds were waiting along the lead to passenger terminal.  What is going on?  After they dead headed the train to the East LA Yard, Leroy and Ed tried to hide the 1261 as best they could in back of the engine house. 

During the following week, the Passenger Department received many calls asking if they would be using the same power again on the next weekend and not knowing about the power change simply answered “yes”.  By mid week the train was sold out, a first for the current Crap Shooter.  The Passenger Department was amazed, thinking that the Casinos were running some kind of promotion for that weekend.  Both Saturday and Sundays trains were sold out and they had to turn many people away.  Once again, all went well with the 1261 on both round trips.

The bathers in Lost Lake are quite surprised to see a Baldwin AS-616 leading the Crap Shooter.
Early the following week, the trains for the following weekend were once again sold out.  Steve, the chief ticket agent in LA started to wonder what was going on and gave the ticket agent in Vegas a call.  The Agent in Vegas was also surprised and could not shed any light on the sudden surge in ridership but did mention something about a power change.  Steve reported all this to the Los Angeles Division Superintendant Lee in his weekly report. 

Wondering just what was going on, Superintendant Lee decided to make an inspection of the East LA Yard.  While inspecting the engine house Lee was unable to locate the 926, which he commented on to the shop Forman and asked why was that old 1261 was still taking up valuable shop space.  “Get rid of it”. 

Once again both weekend trains were sold out and many people were turned away.  However this weekend, Superintendant Lee was ready and waiting track side and when he saw the 1261 leading the train, he knew.  Calling Steve on his cell phone, he congratulated Steve for his marketing skills and told him that he would be sure to see a substantial increase in his salary.

As a post script, the Casinos filed a complaint with the railroad that the train riders were not coming to their casinos but hanging out in the yard watching the train.

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