Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rocklin's Roundhouse and Other Things

From: "Ken Morrow"

I never cease to be amazed at the history that this place (Rocklin and vicinity) harbors. It doesn't surprise me that land speculation was going on then. The housing bubble that we have today is not much different. I am reminded of a comment by Ann Richards when someone questioned why politicians in her state were so corrupt, she said, "Hey, this is Texas." With land in the "Wild West" so cheap (even free), one would have had to be crazy not to take advantages of the "available opportunities." Hey, out here you could even pick up gold from the streambeds!

On March 24th, Ken Yeo, the retired Supervisor of Restoration and Maintenance of the Sacramento Rail Museum, gave a pictorial presentation before the Springfield History Club. He showed literally hundreds of photographs of the railroad line in the vicinity of Auburn. He had developed the talk years before at the request of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce who had their offices in an old historic railroad building.

He showed before and after photos and made many comments about the denuding of the land that occurred when the railroad went through an area. The appetite for wood was voracious in the early days of the rails. As one might expect, the cutting of trees proceeded outward from the line. The easiest trees to harvest were those closest to the rail line. The Rocklin History Museum is where I found the information that Oak was preferred for the railroad ties. Considering the growth pattern of Oaks, there are probably not very many ties that could be cut from a single oak tree, but the other limbs could still be used for fuel. Also, from the photos that Ken Yeo showed, it didn't seem to matter whether the trees were on a steep hillside or not. It was still easier to take those closest to the line than those that had to be carted a larger distance.

With regard to the Roundhouse Foundation, I went to the site some months ago and discovered that most of the foundation is still there although a good section is covered with soil (or so it seems to me). I just stepped off the distances, but it looks to me that about 300 feet of the foundation is still there. Does anyone know the actual dimension of the facility? Some other comments follow. Even though it was called a "roundhouse," I think that it was in the shape of a semi circle. Is that true? The assumption seems to be that it's primary function was the servicing of the engines. We know that there were about 25 stalls. It seems to me that not all stalls were occupied by engines. Ken Yeo showed pictures of logging trains that had a brakeman for each car. I am of the opinion that the bearings on the first railroad cars were made of bronze. I would like to see someone answer the question as to when ball bearings arrived on the scene. If the bearings were made of bronze then it is quite likely that many of the roundhouse workers were employed as "grease monkeys" trying to keep the car bearings from burning up. Another large amount of work must have been associated with keeping the brakes in working order. Air brakes didn't come until later.

I also think that I may have some faulty information that I obtained from the Museum. On one photograph of the Roundhouse it mentions that it was capable of storing 25,000 cords of wood. I now wonder if this is correct. A cord of wood is a stack with dimensions of 4 by 4 by 8 feet or 128 cubic feet. It appears to be a unit of measure that was the amount that could be gotten on a horse drawn wagon of the time. Gary mentioned that the wood storage shed was 8000 square feet in size. If the stack of wood that could be stored inside of this structure was as much as 20 feet high (which is suspect), the volume would be 8000x20=160,000 cubic feet. This is 160,000/128=1250 cords. Knowing that 16 cords was required to power each of the three engines, each train would have to be loaded with 48 cords. If that is true, then the shed could only have serviced 1250/48=26 trains going uphill. Does anyone know how many trains were going uphill in any given day?

What is even more disturbing is that if the 25,000 cord figure is correct then 25,000/48=520 trains could have been serviced. This is 20 times more than could be stored in the wood shed. The following is even more difficult to contemplate. If you were to make a stack of wood that was 20 feet wide and 20 feet high, 25,000 cords represents 3,200,000 cubic feet, and the length of the pile would be 3,200,000/(20x20)=8,000 feet long! This is about 1.5 miles. Does anyone know if this has been photographed, researched or verified? Were there long piles of wood stored adjacent to the tracks? Has anyone researched how this wood was handled. Was it loaded by hand? Very interesting questions, you must admit.

As to Gary's comment about getting a fix on how property can be located, this can be answered by getting the tract maps for each of the land sales or transfers that are recorded at the Auburn County Assessor's office. They are keyed (I believe) to the Township and Section layout that has been used for years. I believe that this is indicated on the original maps. ... I am of the opinion that copies of all of the 140 +/- land transactions of Joel Parker Whitney could be acquired for 1 or 2 dollars per transaction. I'll check this out.

I'm also including .. a table that I obtained from the Museum that shows the elevations of each of the towns along the rail line. Unfortunately, the information regarding the distance from Sacramento was not included (other than the 82 miles to the summit). If anyone has the distances, along the railroad right of way, I would appreciate it if you could respond. I could calculate the (average) grades between the towns if I had this information. Just by looking at the data in the table, and knowing that Rocklin is about 20 miles from Sacramento, you can see that, yes by gosh, we are going into the hills near Rocklin, Loomis and Penryn as Wendell Huffman suggested in the statement that this is where the grade commenced (and the going gets tough). I'll bet that the firemen had memorized the number of logs that they had to throw on the fire at each point along the way. Did they have some way to get the logs moved to the front of the firebox other than stoking by hand? Anybody know that answer?

—Ken Morrow