It is difficult to believe that in nine consecutive columns, nary a one has alluded to the Mighty SP railroad, a topic that ranks right up with schools and teachers in reader popularity. Well, 10’s the charm, and this morning we’ll touch on the SP, actually when it was the Central Pacific.
While some towns lower their train tracks, others raise ‘em: In 1903 E. H. Harriman completed the purchase of the Central Pacific Railroad from the Big Four and immediately started to re-engineer the CP tracks to get rid of some awkward grades and curves to accommodate a new, heavier generation of locomotives and rolling stock. The main line at that time ran down Prater Way, and engineers decreed that the better route would be south of Prater with a major yard in a lowland area just south and east of the Sparks Nugget’s present location. It was then known as the Mary Wall ranch.
The area south of the present Nugget was low and therefore flood prone, but did afford room to expand the train yard, build a first-class roundhouse and locomotive shop, and relocate Southern Pacific’s branch operation from Wadsworth to the west, closer to the east threshold of the Sierra and Donner Pass. No sweat; a large community of Chinese laborers were available, the toughest in the world, whose fathers gained experience in creating the landfill Marina/South of Market areas of San Francisco in the 1840s, later in the Comstock mines, their descendants in the Donner Pass railroad tunnels and the Virginia & Truckee Railroad’s mountainous right-of-way, and were by 1902 looking for work.
They laid railroad tracks from the present Sparks rail yard along the route of the present Highway 40 to a spot near the present Stoker Drive. As many as 300 laborers, according to the Sparks Heritage Museum’s railroad expert John Hartman, took earth by pick and shovel to the gondola cars and offloaded it at the site of the new railroad yard. The work continued under torchlight night and day for 13 months until Sparks’ new railyard had been elevated and then compacted, adding a compacted elevation of nearly two feet. Incorporating almost 80 miles of switching track, it was dead level, and it’s never flooded. The early engineers knew what they were doing.
A roundhouse servicing 36 tracks was begun after that, and the shop was completed after the yard was laid in 1904. The PFE Icehouse came relatively later, go here for some information about that operation.And if you’re a real glutton for punishment, here’s a yarn about the engine shop east of the original shop that was built during WWII.
I don’t know about you but I’m tired of reading about choo-choos. See ya tomorrow for Day 11 of the Artown Challenge!
roundhouse photo © SP Railroad