History of the State Belt #4

Part 1: Operational History

Which comes first - the engine or the specifications? The first glimpse of the 100 year history of the State Belt #4 is this "Specifications for ....", a document written in San Francisco and signed by Ralph Barker, Assistant State Engineer, of the Port of San Francisco. This 10 page RFP was met with an answer from the Vulcan Iron Works in Wilkes-Barre, PA, likely by way of local agent Harron, Rickard & McCone. View the specifications here (PDF, 2.8MB), they are very thorough and match the engine nearly exactly.

Like nearly all steam locomotives built for service in California by this point, State Belt #4 was equipped to burn oil. The #4 is reputed to have been the first Vulcan product to be built as such. This letter (PDF, 723KB) illustrates the discussion of the burner apparatus and the royalties paid for the use of the design.

State Belt

Our best guess is that the engine arrived in SF on July 27th, 1911, and that it would have been barged from Richmond, CA, as there was no direct rail connection to the Port at that time. The little engine did not seem to make headlines, as examination of contemporary newspapers revealed no stories about the arrival. Its purchase price is reported at $11,785. Its trip from Wilkes-Barre was carried out under its own wheels with C. W. Bowen, a Vulcan representative.

Mr. Bowen wrote back to Vulcan Iron Works with this note (PDF, 374KB). This letter states the railroad might cut out the back of the cab (which they did). He was also likely checking in with the Harron, Rickard and McCone office on Townsend Street; he reports back on a sales lead for another Vulcan. The McCone company sold multiple locomotives in California according to Vulcan's record books.

Thus began the stealthy existence of the Vulcan in San Francisco. "Stealthy" because no news about this period of 1911-1932 has surfaced. Only a select few pictures of the #4 during its time on the State Belt are known to exist. However, we do know from physical evidence that the engine was involved in some sort of a wreck. The right front cylinder has been repaired, and in the picture below you'll see a new front bumper beam, and very clean footboards. The replacement bumper was cast in Sacramento by the Southern Pacific.

The #4 in the State Belt's roundhouse at Sansome and Embarcadero. Until relatively recently, this was the only photo we had of it during the State Belt years.

In response to growing traffic on the State Belt Railroad, the Port decided to sell the engine #4 (and #5) in 1924. Harbor Commissioners Superintendent T. J. McGinty reports "The engines are in good mechanical condition, but too light for the work we are compelled to perform."

The locomotive was sold for $1500 in 1932 to the railroad that advertised "Modern Efficient Transportation."

Modesto & Empire Traction Company

An industrious interchange route in Central California, the M&ET runs East and West. The 0-6-0 was run and photographed more extensively here than at any other stage in her career.

When the Western Railroader ran its story on the M&ET, the Vulcan was photographed pushing an ingenious device for keeping tracks free of weeds.

Using old boiler tubes and a pair of freight car trucks, a pipe from the engine's dome delivered steam to the tracks, scalding any vegetation that grew around it. The pipe can be seen in the picture on the left side of the engine.

AD Schader

Go West - again. The engine took another barge trip on San Francisco Bay. This time she joined a smaller engine on Treasure Island delivering goods and materials for the World's Fair. The details were published in the Dec. 1938 issue of Railway Magazine:

The president of Western Pacific Railroad took this photo of the engine on Treasure Island:

We can place the engine in Southern Pacific's West Oakland yard in 1939 - the Maryland Casualty Company inspected it on August 31 and the photograph was taken the next day.


More mystery. Because our records of the engine's history are from earlier sources, we rely on the Western Railroader which lists it as being sold for use at the Permanente Cement Plant near Cupertino. Once again, the Vulcan goes into stealth mode.

<<scan close up of WR roster>>

U.S. Army

The Vulcan returned to the Central Valley during World War II to report for duty as U.S. Army #6956. It hauled munitions, cargo and supplies for the Pacific Theater at the Sharp Army Depot in Lathrop. The Army replaced the driver tires with a new set made in 1941.

Only in 2015 did we find a picture of the engine in service during this period. 6956 poses for a picture during a trip to Tracy, presumably for maintenance.

Then the soldiers came home, and the Vulcan was put out to the iron pasture.....

A 1946 photo by Doug Richter at the beginning of a 25 year rest.

Thanks to the Hagley Museum for the historical files and builder's photos. The original builder's plans are courtesy of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Additional Photos courtesy Doug Richter, Ralph Domenci and John Goldie.

Next: The Missing Years