Saturday, Jun. 15, 2019

A Tiburon Railroad Ghost Story

By Robert L. Harrison · November 01, 2016

NWP Railroad Brakeman Elmer Pimm, 1956 <span>&copy; Codoni & NWPRRHS </span>

NWP Railroad Brakeman Elmer Pimm, 1956

This is a ghost story.  But it is not a scary story.  Rather, it is the story of a railroad man who was killed by a train in the Tiburon rail yard and whose spirit has chosen to remain in the only railroad building still standing in the Tiburon yard, the Tiburon railroad station.  Today that building houses the Tiburon Railroad and Ferry Depot Museum.

 Elmer Pimm, a veteran Northwestern Pacific (NWP) Railroad brakeman was killed on December 22, 1958 when he slipped from the stirrup step of a railroad flat car while working at the Tiburon freight yard.  Pimm, a NWP railroader since 1920, served most of his time in the passenger service.   Just a month before his demise, as the last NWP passenger train in Marin County was abandoned, he asked to be transferred to the freight service at Tiburon.

 He was well known in Marin County for his service on the electric interurban trains which, in the 1920’s, provided school transport from Fairfax, San Anselmo, Larkspur and Corte Madera to Tamalpais High School.  In the 1930’s he worked on the long distance NWP steam trains operating from Sausalito to Eureka.  During World War II Pimm worked at the busy Hamilton Air Base station. 

 Pimm was popular with the riders of the “Redwood,” the last scheduled passenger train from San Rafael to Eureka, for his jokes and courtesy to passengers.  After the abandonment of the Redwood passenger train he entered the freight service at the Tiburon yard, just five years before retirement.    

 Elmer Pimm’s spirit has not left the NWP nor departed Tiburon.  His ghost has been seen and/or felt several times since 1997 in the Tiburon Railroad and Ferry Depot Museum.  This building served as the Tiburon railroad station, the administrative headquarters for the NWP and was the home of the Tiburon station master and his family for many years.

 A particularly vivid encounter with a ghost in railroad uniform was reported by Surrey Blackburn, a long-time docent at the Angel Island State Park and Executive Director of the Angel Island Association.  The Association Board of Directors held monthly meetings in the old railroad station building.  After one of their evening meetings had adjourned, Surrey went upstairs to use the ladie’s room.  As she climbed the stairs she recalled that the air seemed particularly cold, as if a window had been left open.

 At the top of the stairs she was startled at the sight of a faded man in an old blue railroad uniform.  Facing such a ghostly encounter provoked two thoughts: first, there were indeed ghosts, thus forcing her to alter her opinion on whether such things existed and, second, she really did have to use the bathroom.  She wondered if he might follow her into the stall.

 She saw no evidence that the ghost had walked through the wall.  But she wondered what to do.  Perhaps he would dematerialize, so there would be no need to pass him again on her return downstairs.  What if he was still there?  Should she ignore him? Should she speak to him?

 She says a friend once told her that if you see a ghost tell the ghost that it’s safe to move on to the next world.  The ghost was still there so Surrey politely told him to please move on to where he belonged.  He let her pass without incident.

 Once downstairs in somewhat of a state of shock, she was met by the Board of Directors president, a serious judge from Los Angeles.  She describes how he with a pale gray face said “You saw him too.”  At that moment his wife screamed from the upstairs as she had also seen the ghost.

 When these three members of the Angel Island Association Board shared their experiences, they concluded that each had seen the same man in a blue railroad uniform.  It seems most evident that the spirit each of them saw was the ghost of Elmer Pimm.  While most NWP yard workers wore gray overalls, Pimm was the only brakeman to wear his blue railroad uniform when working in the Tiburon freight yard.

 Ever since Surrey Blackburn’s encounter with the ghost, he has been felt, but not seen, by members of the Museum docent team. These docents volunteer their time to present the Railroad and Ferry Depot Museum’s working model of the Tiburon rail yard, ferry boats and refurbished station master’s home to the public.

 As a working docent at the Museum it is my hope one day to meet and discuss NWP railroad nostalgia with the ghost of Elmer Pimm.

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Dorsey McTaggart wrote over 2 years ago

For the years that I worked as an Angel Island docent (now called Interpreters) under Surrey's guidance I had never heard this tale, which I can easily associate with her.  Surrey was a remarkable person—a dedicated, selfless, delightful personality who loved every aspect of the island, and whose enthusiasm was contagious. It does not surprise me tht Elmer Pimm would have chosen to appear before her.  I suspect that Surrey charmed him, as well.

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