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Steam & Excursion > Coal-fired San Pedro Locomotives

Date: 04/24/11 06:05
Coal-fired San Pedro Locomotives
Author: donstrack

In later years, all LA&SL steam locomotives were oil-fired. The same goes for predecessor San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake, which became the LA&SL in 1916, and was controlled by UP after 1921.

There are photos of early SPLA&SL engines with coal tenders, notably photos taken in Utah, such as the first SPLA&SL through train from Los Angeles in 1905.

There are builder photos of the Light Pacifics showing that some were built as coal-fired, and some were built as oil-fired, which means that they were intended as first-class passenger engines system-wide, from Los Angeles all the way north to Salt Lake City, changing locomotives at Caliente.

William Kratville wrote in his book "Golden Rails", on page 293 that Pedro engines were "powered by coal...to Caliente until oil-firing began near the end of the first world war."

Is that the best we can do? Making a general statement that SPLA&SL converted the engines north of Caliente from coal to oil in the 1916-1918 time period. The few general photos of Caliente are in later years, so they don't show any sort of coal facilities.

Whatever we decide, I can capture it on this SPLA&SL/LA&SL general notes page:


Don Strack

Date: 04/24/11 18:39
Re: Coal-fired San Pedro Locomotives
Author: lwilton

Where did the coal come from in the early days? I don't recall a plethora of coal mines in the So Cal - Arizona area.

Date: 04/24/11 19:04
Re: Coal-fired San Pedro Locomotives
Author: scottp

I've read of shiploads of coal coming from Australia to supply California railroads, but did that become the predominant source? I realize a shipload of a bulk item can travel a long way and beat the price of trainloads coming a shorter distance.
And I'll admit I've never looked into how much coal there is in Australia...

Date: 04/24/11 19:29
Re: Coal-fired San Pedro Locomotives
Author: raytc1944

This has always fascinated me. I believe in the "golden age" of railroading, in California,
that all railroad burned oil. Obviously, wood and coal may have been fuel in the earlier days.
I would like to hear more about this subject.

Date: 04/24/11 23:48
Re: Coal-fired San Pedro Locomotives
Author: scottp

Wasn't it in 1907 that Union Oil convinced ATSF that oil was the best fuel for western steam operations? (By demonstrating it on a couple of converted ATSF engines, at Santa Paula CA-- which was on the SP.)

Date: 04/25/11 08:25
Re: Coal-fired San Pedro Locomotives
Author: CPRR

Coal for SP was mined near Coalinga ("Coaling Station A") in the late 1800's. There was also coal mines in Orange county, although very small. From Utah maybe?

Date: 04/26/11 18:29
Re: Coal-fired San Pedro Locomotives
Author: africansteam

scottp Wrote:
> Wasn't it in 1907 that Union Oil convinced ATSF
> that oil was the best fuel for western steam
> operations? (By demonstrating it on a couple of
> converted ATSF engines, at Santa Paula CA-- which
> was on the SP.)

This comment given a slight possibility of a difference in the year cited, is consistent with a discussion I had with George Manley, of the Manley oil company in Downtown Los Angeles in the late 1960's. The Manley family operated what is known as the LA City Field. "In the 1890s the oil field directly north of downtown Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Oil Field, led the state of California in oil production".

Mr. Manley noted that the first building to convert to oil firing for it's boilers was the Hamburger Building (now May Company) at Broadway and Hill in downtown Los Angeles in 1908. Around this time the Santa Fe Railroad converted their locomotives to oil firing and this "Gave the oil Industry in LA a big shot in the arm".

Southern Pacific had experimented with oil fired locomotives a early as 1879 and the logistics of supplying coal for locomotive in the LA area argues that conversion to oil would have had to have taken place around the same tome as it did on the Santa Fe. Especially as oil fired locomotive were in service in Sacramento as early as 1903.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/26/11 21:24 by africansteam.

Date: 04/29/11 07:49
Re: Coal-fired Locomotives in California
Author: DWDebs/2472

The first commercially significant oil production were in California starts in the mid-1890s at the Kern River fields, which are just northeast of Bakersfield. It takes quite a while to develop successful ways to burn oil in boilers. An early attempt results in a major loss-of-life boiler explosion on a San Francisco Bay ferryboat/steamer, and leads to demands to outlaw the dangerous new fuel. Early attempts at steam loco oil-burning design have the oil burner spraying oil forward towards the tube sheet, which dramatically shortens firebox life. So coal remains the preferred fuel for California locomotives until ca. 1910. S.P.'s conversion from coal to oil burning, including the massive capital investment in oil tanks, oil transportation, etc., is described in "The Great Transformation" by Arnold Menke, published in Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society's excellent magazine "Trainline". This 2-part article was published 2-3 years ago, IIRC. Back issues of "Trainline" are available at www.sphts.org.

There is no coal worthy of the name in California. There were a few small mines such as the Black Diamond Mine near Mt. Diablo , but the coal quality was awful, and wouldn't have been mined anywhere else in the world. It was cheaper for the S.P. to buy coal imported up to 13,000 miles by sailing ship, than bring it less than 800 miles by rail from Utah or Colorado. Coal for railroad locomotives, industry, and domestic use (kitchen ranges, fireplaces) was imported by square-rigged sailing ships from South Wales (Cardiff, Swansea, etc), around Cape Horn (the southern tip of South America - no Panama Canal until 1914). The 3-masted ship "Balclutha" - now on display at San Francisco Maritime Museum's Hyde St Pier, just down the hill from Ghiradelli Square - was built for this trade. For the return trip, the big deepwater square-riggers loaded at the grain warehouses along the Carquinez Straits near Port Costa. Grain was brought there by scow schooners - the San Francisco Bay Area local trucks of the 19the Century (the last one, the "Alma", is also at Hyde St Pier, and sails around the bay on special occasions) - from the Sacramento River / San Joaquin River Delta area, and by rail. You can still see the grain warehouse pilings sticking out of the water at low tide when you ride Amtrak between Emeryville and Martinez. Return cargoes also included canned salmon (mostly from the Alaska canneries), canned fruit, and canned vegetables.

Coal was also imported by square-rigger from New South Wales (Australia) - British manufactured goods outbound to Australia, NSW coal to California, and California grain and/or canned goods back to Europe. Some coal was also imported from the Wellington Collieries on Vancouver Island (British Columbia). This trade generally used older square-riggers nearing the end of their economic life, as the coal was gassy and had a tendency to ignite en route from spontaneous combustion. Radio hadn't been invented yet, so a coal cargo fire at sea generally lead to the ship and crew perishing at sea ("and has not been reported since", in the newspaper parlance of the day).

Steamships were not competitive in the California coal trade until oil-burning became general in California, and the Panama Canal was completed.

- Doug Debs

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