Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Question: McKeen cars

From: "Bill Anderson" bill@fedshra.org

McKeen cars ran on the Placerville Branch of the Old S.P. line from (?) to 1939. Any information on the cars, stories etc.?

—Bill Anderson


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin" mikadobear45@yahoo.com
... I can easily add a bit about the use of McKeen motors on the former SVRR/SP Placerville Branch.
Some years ago, when still working for CSRM in Sacramento, I had easy access to a host of records prior to delivering a paper at the V&T Symposium in Carson City on the topic of McKeen Motor Cars use on both the SPCo and the V&T. I did focus my talk on the SP's uses of the wedge-nosed cars inasmuch as their acquisition – coerced by Harriman or otherwise – dictated quite bit of mechanical improvement within a short time frame. While I do not presently have my notes conveniently at hand, I can say that SPCo tested the McKeen prototype 2-truck car very early on, initially on the Sacramento Southern between Sacramento and Walnut Grove Junction in 1909 [sic] and about the same interval between Sacramento and Folsom. Very shortly thereafter they dared to put two freshly delivered McKeens on the Sacramento-Auburn-Colfax local trains run and discovered, not soon enough, that stock McKeen cars were severely underpowered and could not meet a normal timetable;s demands in mountainous grade profiles settings.
They didn't do all that well on the former SVRR either. It was reported in the Sacramento Bee (and I'm paraphrasing) that McKeen cars on the Folsom Branch could be beaten easily by almost any other means in that they never seemed to be able to cover the regular schedule with all local stops and without breaking down en route. One run broke down repeatedly and consumed nearly 4 hours more than the regular steam mixed train to Folsom! Suffice to say that was harsh criticism since the old SVRR was a relatively pancake-flat roadbed as compared to the climb to Auburn and Colfax from Sacramento.
Nevertheless, SP built a McKeen Motor Car maintenance shop immediately southeast of the former Arcade Depot opposite 4th & I Streets and began, fairly soon after the cars' deliveries from Omaha, a major rebuilding program that added as much tractive effort as possible under the shortcomings inherent in the basic original design. Also, SP surrendered any thoughts – very early on – of using these cars on mainline mountainous grades. While they stretched the physical lengths of their McKeens, and added trailer RPO cars no less – SP assigned them to most of the San Joaquin and Sacramento vallies (and the former SPCRR line to Los Gatos and Santa Cruz) branchlines local runs. The McKeens managed, somehow, to handle the Sacramento-Folsom-Placerville runs for years through the 1920s. My dad, who grew up in Folsom, remembered them all too well, having had many an occasion to deliver cream and whole milk to the cars at Folsom Junction after their westbound departure from downtown Folsom. The family dairy's milk products were consigned daily as Railway Express Agency cargo to Crystal Creamery in Sacramento, and my dad had to meet both westbound motor trains morning and late afternoon with milk and cream after making household deliveries in the buckboard until 1939.
While I've not been able to determine (yet) why McKeen cars ended their runs on the Folsom Branch in 1939, it looks as if this was the very last easy assignment for them inasmuch as their uses elsewhere had long since been surrendered to local mixed trains or 1-car steam+combine consists on other former McKeen-operated branches north, east and south. McKeen car No.45 was the last such car to cover the run to Folsom (and Placerville?) in 1939. I can also wager that it was the Depression as much as the remaining cars' advanced age and general pain-in-the-ass operating characteristics that did them in before 1940. Frankly, that they lasted as long as they did, sans the more extreme modifications foisted on the same types of cars by the Union Pacific, seems a minor miracle and only attests to the SPCo's sharper sense of frugalness above all else.

10/04/2005 11:40 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "John Snyder" johnsnyder@onetel.com

There are some photos of the Placerville McKeen's in my former photo collection, now in the hands of Tom Irion in Walnut Creek.

—John Snyder, Shropshire

10/05/2005 12:31 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Bill Anderson" bill@fedshra.org

How many pages do you want? Is this for yourself or for the newsletter?

The first demonstrator McKeen was in Sacramento in July 1906 and apparently run at least to Folsom--and probably the whole way to Pville. First order of McKeens appear in September 1908. McKeens had no reverse gear. To go backwards the motorman stopped the engine, altered the timing of the cam shaft, and restarted the engine running the opposite direction. Thus it was a pain to change direction. When arriving in Folsom, to save having to back from the station to the turntable switch, and then go forward onto the turntable, the crew took to pulling right onto the turntable lead and letting off the passengers there – which apparently made the passengers mad, a comment appeared in the newspaper, and the SP told the crews to go to the station. The McKeens got trailers in 1909 – but they couldn't pull them on the grade to Pville. A trailer was put on the ground at Folsom for the McKeen to bed down in when laid over. Due to the poor track condition from Folsom to Pville the cars ran slow – so slow that the editor suggested the railroad put a cowcatcher on the back of the McKeens to protect them from cattle who might run into them from behind while they were walking down the track. The first cars were 55-footers. In 1910 the got the first of their 70-footers. To turn these the 56-foot turntable was lengthened to 66-feet. Even this was apparently not satisfactory and the wye was built in March 1913 and the turntable taken out.

For a time there was a McKeen operated on the Fair Oaks branch. It ran from Citrus – where it met the Folsom-Placerville train/car – and ran to Fair Oaks Bridge – a nice little two-mile ride. There was a turntable at Fair Oaks Bridge, but none at Citrus, so the car ran backwards one way. Apparently it pointed toward Fair Oaks Bridge – at least on the day that, at the end of its day, it ran backwards to Sacramento – and hit a truck at one of the road crossings – running backwards after dark with no back up light.

As near as I've been able to determine, the last regular passenger "train" on the branch was a McKeen – at least the last train in January 1939 corresponds with the date of the demise of the last McKeen.


10/05/2005 8:53 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Bill Anderson" bill@fedshra.org

I have photos of the Gold Discovery Special Excursion commemorating the "Final Passenger Excursion over the historic Sacramento-Placerville line — California's First Railroad." Photos by Herb Puffer in Folsom. Taken Jan. 24, 1939. I wonder if there was any connection to the demise of the McKeen at this time.

—Bill Anderson 

10/07/2005 10:09 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin" mikadobear45@yahoo.com

I don't think there's any real McKeen car service end connection...the excursion was really a part of the "Roarin' Time in '39" fair held in Sacramento at the same interval...I have ticket stubs and postcards somewhere in my familial stache of booty for same event and train trip. My great grandma, Clara Goodrich Bunker Freeman was a special guest on the train as she had been among the first SVRR passengers to travel from Sacramento to Folsom and was still alive in 1939. Grandma Freeman was born and raised in Hangtown, married my great grandfather Jake Bunker in Bodie in 1852 or '53 (I think that year is correct; my records are put away) and they eventually relocated to Placerville for most of the rest of their lives.


10/08/2005 7:24 PM  

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