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Railroads Shipped by Sea
Railroad History, Bulletin 180, Spring, 1999. pp. 7-30.
By Wendell W. Huffman

Courtesy Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, William F. Howes, Jr., President.

R&LHS Copyrighted © 1999 by the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Inc., P.O, Box 1418. Westford. Massachusetts 01886. The R&LHS, founded in 1921, is the oldest organization in North America devoted to railroad history. Its object is to promote research and encourage documentation.  Source materials — printed, manuscript and graphic — are housed in the Society's archives in Sacramento, California.  For additional information, contact William H. Lugg, Jr, R&LHS Membership Secretary, P.O. Box 292927, Sacramento, California 95829-2927.

Wendell Huffman is a reference librarian at the Carson City Library in Nevada. He grew up in Sacramento and is presently working on a book about the Sacramento Valley Rail Road/Placerville branch of the Southern Pacific.

Remoteness from sources of manufactured goods was a major obstacle to the construction of railroads on the Pacific Coast of North America before completion of Sailing Ship - Newspaper Cutthe transcontinental railroad in May 1869. Nevertheless, some thousand miles of railroad were built and operated by a dozen companies in the western states and territories in the 1850s and 1860s. To accomplish this, nearly every necessary tool, appliance, rail, and piece of rolling stock had to be ordered well in advance of its expected use, then packed and shipped to its destination. While it is only 3,000 miles across the continent, the great expanse of prairie, desert, and mountain range that lay between the Mississippi and the Pacific was an effective barrier to cross-country shipment of goods. The only practical and economical route for delivery from the East Coast to the West was by sea, a route that entailed sailing all the way around Cape Horn and stretched well over sixteen thousand statute miles. Rails for several early railroads were delivered to California from Great Britain, and, while laborers were often recruited in eastern cities, the Central Pacific procured many from China. Only crossties, timbers for bridges and structures, brick, and stone were readily obtained from West Coast sources.

California's pioneer railroad was designed only to move fill material from sand hills into adjacent marshlands to improve San Francisco's waterfront. Though this was only a contractor's operation, the arrival from Boston of 150 tons of railroad iron, one locomotive and tender, and thirty dirt cars aboard the ship Hannah Crooker on January 24, 1851, marked the commencement of importing railroads by sea to the West Coast. As "seeing the Elephant" was jargon for participating in the Gold Rush, California's pioneer locomotive was appropriately named Elephant—a 25 ton, inside-connected American standard from the Boston works of John Souther. Ironically, while this engine was the first to arrive on the coast, San Francisco prohibited its operation. It was not steamed until being sold to the Sacramento Valley Rail Road in 1855, by which time at least two other locomotives were already operating in California. The sand railroad nevertheless went into operation using mules and gravity for motive power, and it also provided the state's first railroad fatality.[1]

Beginning with Elephant, at least 195 locomotives were imported to the West Coast by sea through 1869. (See list on pages 26-27.) Although Elephant was delivered for an industrial operation, locomotives also were imported by a number of bona fide common-carriers: Sacramento Valley Rail Road (four locomotives between 1855 and 1864); California Central (five in 1860 and 1861); California Northern (two in 1862); Oregon Steam Navigation Co. (four between 1862 and 1866); San Francisco & San Jose (seven starting in 1863); Central Pacific (147 starting in 1863); Western Pacific (ten between 1865 and 1867); California Pacific (eight starting in 1867); San Francisco & Oakland (one in 1867); Oregon Central (four in 1868); San Francisco & Alameda (one in 1868); and Los Angeles & San Pedro (one in 1869).[2]

Ordering and Importing

From the shipping of Elephant in 1850 until well into 1869, very few things changed in the process of ordering and importing locomotives and railroad material for the West Coast. When the Sacramento Valley began importing material in the mid-1850s, not even a telegraph line spanned the country. To arrange orders, the company president made two round trips to the East Coast by steamer and stagecoach crossings of Nicaragua between December 1853 and September 1854.[3]  The Sacramento Valley imported rails, spikes, passenger and freight cars, locomotives, turntables, and machine tools, with freight charges amounting to $100,000—one-third the cost of the material alone. Even civil engineers and artisans were hired from the East.[4]

By the time the Central Pacific began ordering materials in 1863, there was direct telegraph communication across the country, and the railroad across Panama made that route-with steamer connections-preferable for business travel between California and New York. Nevertheless, CP Vice President Collis P. Huntington moved to New York City permanently in order to oversee the shipment of material and to manage the company's financial affairs.

One other change between the 1850s and the 1860s was the increasing degree to which California sources could supply the needs of local railroads. While the Sacramento Valley and other early California railroads imported passenger and freight cars as well as locomotives, the CP began using West Coast timber for car construction in 1866, and by February 1867 the CP was ordering only springs, wrought-iron truck frames, and iron castings from East Coast factories. The rest—wooden components and wrought ironwork other than truck frames—was produced locally.[5] To achieve some degree of uniformity among car parts provided by different builders, patterns made in Sacramento were sent to the eastern foundries.[6] Eventually, even the iron castings were made for the CP in the Sacramento Valley's nearby shop.

By the late 1860s, first-class locomotives were being built on the West Coast as well. H. J. Booth's Union Iron Works in San Francisco delivered nine engines to various California railroads before the transcontinental railroad was completed, and Goss & Lambard's Sacramento Iron Works proposed to build twenty-five or more locomotives for the CP early in 1867. The primary reason the CP did not buy from these local suppliers was simply that Californians expected payment in gold, while eastern manufacturers would accept paper. Paper dollars were sufficiently less expensive than gold dollars that, even with the expense of shipping, eastern products cost the company less than their Pacific Coast equivalents.[7]  Because the CP's importation of materials is best documented, it is primarily through that road's experience that we learn some of what was involved in importing locomotives (in particular) to California before the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

The 195 identified locomotives known to have been imported to the West Coast by sea for all railroads before 1870 came from fourteen different builders. The largest single share (forty-one locomotives) was from McKay & Aldus, while Danforth (thirty-nine) and Schenectady (twenty- five) also made sizable contributions. Rhode Island (nineteen), Richard Norris and Mason (seventeen each), and Rogers (fifteen) were well represented. Baldwin, Boston (Hinkley), Globe (Souther), Grant, Norris-Lancaster, and New Jersey contributed between one and five units apiece. Although any one railroad generally made purchases from only one or two builders, the CP ordered its 147 imported locomotives from nine different firms. (In subsequent years, the CP inherited most of the other imported locomotives as it absorbed other early California railroads.)  The CP would have preferred to buy from fewer builders, as its growing diversity of locomotives only complicated operation and maintenance.[8] Yet it seems to have been powerless to follow any other course. Possibly, no single maker could have produced the large number of engines being ordered by the CP in 1867 and 1868 while simultaneously servicing eastern customers as well, and C. P. Huntington could not resist playing one builder against the other in his quest for bargains. Moreover, Huntington patronized builders willing to accept promissory notes or bonds in lieu of cash, and few if any manufactures had the financial strength to devote much of their output to non-cash orders. Indeed, overcommitment to Huntington's noncash business may actually have contributed to the bankruptcy of McKay & Aldus in December 1868—a failure which cost the CP eight locomotives that were ordered but never delivered.[9]

One factor contributing to the lack of standardization on the CP roster was the inability of management to agree on the type of locomotive needed. Part of this inability can be blamed on the fact that none of the company directors had any significant prior experience with railroading, and only Edwin B. Crocker could boast training as a civil engineer.[10]  Moreover, the problem of not knowing the sort of   locomotive needed was significantly compounded by the great deal of time it took to finally try them out after being ordered.

A clear example of the problems imposed by long delivery time is the case of the Danforth 2-6-0s. The first of these Moguls was ordered from Danforth, Cooke & Co. in October 1864; yet, it was not until March 1866 that the Nevada and Utah actually arrived in Sacramento. Initial optimism about these "heavy" mountain engines gave way to disappointment when they were placed in service; in May 1866, Huntington was informed that their wheelbase was too long for the railroad's curves and that they wore the tires off their front drivers.[11]  By then, however, the last of an order of six more identical Moguls from Danforth was being loaded onto a ship in New York Harbor.

Huntington, who often conferred with eastern builders and operators, recommended that the flanges be turned off their middle drivers. In Sacramento, however, nobody had apparently seen blind drivers and it was feared that on the Danforth 2-6-0s the tires would need to be 8 inches wide (rather than the standard 6 inches) or they would fall off the rails on sharp curves. This concern ultimately led to instructions to Huntington that orders for locomotives with blind drivers should stipulate that the tires be 8 inches wide.[12]  Dutifully, Huntington persuaded eastern manufacturers to produce these very wide tires, and in early 1868 he was able to report that such locomotives were on their way.[13]  By then, however, Sacramento had received several locomotives with conventional blind drivers (ordered-but not received-before the experience with the Moguls) and discovered that 6-inch tires were satisfactory. Furthermore, a year's practical education had revealed that wider tires would introduce new problems with necessarily longer crank pins. Accordingly, Huntington was directed to have those excessively wide tires turned down to 6 inches, although it is possible that some locomotives with 8-inch tires actually reached California.[14]

Ordering batches of locomotives in advance of their need-and long before they could be tested- also led to the acquisition of six 0-6-0 tank locomotives (from three different builders) and two 4-6-0 tank locomotives. Requests for tank engines were sent to Huntington in the spring of 1867, but when they arrived a year later they were found to be too heavy-so heavy that they "crush[ed] the rails and everything.[15]  All but two were immediately stripped of their tanks and outfitted with tenders (the first tenders built at Sacramento), and within five years most of the unsuccessful locomotives (including most of the Danforth 2-6-0s) were rebuilt as conventional 4-4-0s.  From these experiences, the company slowly learned not to buy too many of a new design of locomotive until a pilot model could be tested. Yet, the delay between initial order and ultimate test, forced by the long transit time, doubtless cost the CP the use of successful locomotives. By the time management recognized the superiority of their Richard Norris built No. 1 Gov. Stanford and Huntington was told to get more like it, Norris had gone out of business and only six more Norris locomotives could be found.[16]  Likewise, while the first Schenectady-built locomotive on the CP—the No. 84 Gazelle—proved to be an outstanding success, Huntington continued buying less-successful locomotives from other builders while apparently awaiting a report on Gazelle's performance.[17] By the time that arrived, the company was nearly through buying engines. When McKay went out of business, Huntington shifted most of the unfilled orders to Schenectady, and he remained loyal to that firm for years to come. Without the long delay from purchase to trial, it is conceivable that even more Schenectady locomotives would have been ordered for the road in 1868.

Huntington reported that it required an average of three or four months from the time an order was placed until locomotives were ready for shipment.[18]  This, of course, was for locomotives made to order. Huntington occasionally found 4-4-0s in stock that he could buy and ship immediately, but he rarely found Ten-wheelers on the market.[19]  (Ogdensburg and Malone were exceptions, apparently originally ordered by the Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain Railroad. With so many locomotives to order, the CP was not particular about names and did not bother renaming locomotives already named by the builders.)

Packaging and Shipping

While ordering from distant sources posed its own set of problems, delivering locomotives by sea was anything but simple and each required special preparation. Even a modest-sized locomotive with an operating weight of 50,000 pounds weighed as much as 35,000 pounds bone dry and packed for shipment, not including the tender.[20] The heaviest locomotive imported by sea weighed 77,000 pounds operating and something in the area of 50,000 pounds dry.[21]  None of the locomotives delivered to the Pacific Coast was shipped fully assembled. Rather, existing records indicate that they were shipped broken down as kits and thus were handled in shipments of small, more manageable packages.[22]   It is not known whether all California-bound locomotives were fully erected and then disassembled for packing, or whether they were only partially completed prior to crating.

The number of components comprising a single locomotive kit apparently varied from builder to builder and with the engine's design. Identifiable as separate units in various manifests of cargoes are boilers (with tubes and dry pipe installed), driver pairs on axles, tender and engine trucks, locomotive frames (generally divided), tender frames, bundles of side rods and main rods, planks (for tender decking and running boards), smokestacks, tender tanks (often divided lengthwise into two pieces), cylinders, tool chests (with tools), foot plates, and various boxes of castings, appliances, and miscellaneous parts. Some locomotives were shipped in as few as twenty-nine separate packages, while other shipments ran to more than sixty pieces per locomotive. When the CP found that it could build smokestacks more suitable for local wood fuel than those provided, builders were instructed to leave the stacks off and at least seventy-four locomotives were delivered without them (at a savings of from $33 to $120 per engine, depending upon the builder).[23]  Few if any CP locomotives arrived with headlights, which were ordered directly from suppliers.[24]

Little is known about the means of moving these packages of locomotive parts from the factories to points of embarkation. What is clear, however, is that locomotives were not necessarily delivered to the closest port. Of the locomotives for which shipping information is available, one Philadelphia-built engine and five from Paterson, New Jersey, were shipped through Boston rather than New York. Going the other direction, five Mason engines, built in Taunton, Massachusetts, and all nineteen of the Rhode Island locomotives were shipped through New York. Perhaps most surprisingly, twenty-five of the McKay & Aldus locomotives, built in East Boston, were conveyed to New York for embarkation.

In most cases responsibility for shipping locomotives to the point of embarkation fell upon the builder, and so few clues pertaining to delivery means or routes are found in CP records. But Huntington's ledgers do reveal that at least some shipments of Schenectady and McKay & Aldus locomotives were carried as railroad freight to Port Morris, New Jersey, and then taken by canal boat via the Morris Canal to New York. On the other hand, the pieces of the Mason-built No. 11 Arctic were carried from Taunton to Boston in wagons and then conveyed by schooner to New York.[25]  It is fair to assume that the means selected, as well as the port of embarkation, were determined by economic considerations as well as the availability of cargo space at any particular time.[26]  In the winters, frozen canals and rivers prevented the delivery of rail to ports, and local weather conditions may also have affected determinations of port of embarkation.[27]  Shipping records have been located for 179 of the 195 identified locomotives known to have been shipped to the West Coast before 1870. Of these, 29 were shipped from Boston and 152 through the port of New York.[28]   All but two of these locomotives were shipped to San Francisco; the two exceptions were shipped directly to Portland, Oregon.[29]

In spite of the impression created by newspaper reports that ships might be filled entirely with railroad supplies, locomotives and other railroad material were generally rather lost among all the other paraphernalia bound for the West.[30]  Enumerated on manifests along with railroad shipments are boots, shoes, wagons, paper, soap, blinds, sashes and doors, syrup, picks, axes, shovels, tool handles, candles, oil, lead, glass and glassware, pipe, hams, furniture, nails, scales, cod and mackerel, sugar, dried apples, knocked-down houses, coffins, alcohol, turpentine, paint and varnish, plaster, acid, rope, medicine, brandy, wine, groceries, lard, chocolate, pails, butter, cheese, seeds, coffee mills, salt, and boxes and packages of unspecified hardware and merchandise. In short, anything and everything that could be sold at a profit was likely to be shipped.[31]  Only the manifest of the vessel Emma C. Beal stands out as comprised primarily of railroad material—rail and one locomotive—yet even here we also find barrel and pipe staves and coal. Huntington preferred to ship in small lots as there was less risk.[32]

Of the various crates and individual items that comprised a single locomotive shipment, the boiler was undoubtedly the largest component, the largest of those shipped being something in the order of 20 feet by 4.5 feet in diameter at the small end. Understandably, there is some question whether such a load could be maneuvered into a ship's hold or was carried on deck. One clue that boilers were carried below deck is a response from Huntington to word from California that two locomotives had gotten wet in transit; he advised selling them in the belief that they had been damaged by salt water.[33]  Such an event was reported but once (and after several locomotives had already been shipped), suggesting that locomotives only rarely came in contact with sea water. Since deck loads would have been continually awash in heavy seas, it seems apparent that even boilers were stowed safely below. Hoisting such a load on and off a ship must have taxed the limit of ordinary tackle, and the CP recorded an extra payment for labor and use of block and falls for taking a boiler and tender out of a ship in San Francisco.[34]

The High Seas

By the 1850s, sailing to California from the East Coast was almost commonplace and about as routine as sailing the high seas could ever be.  Yet, sailing through two hemispheres meant that every voyage experienced all four seasons, and almost every ship sailing between the East and West Coasts encountered at least some severe weather. The Atlantic Ocean was generally the roughest part of the entire passage to California. Lawrence (in December 1867) and Sovereign of the Seas ran into heavy gales just after leaving New York and in both cases lost sails, spars, water casks, and boats. Under strong winds, Lawrence was on her beam's end for nearly four hours, flooding the cabin.[35]  In most cases, damaged vessels were repaired at sea but Helvetia, carrying rail, returned to New York de-masted and leaking after encountering a North Atlantic storm in 1868.[36]

 One ship carrying a locomotive, Cremorne, sailed through a hurricane in October 1865, while another storm completely de-masted J. F. Chapman and left her leaking. Under jury-rig, she put into Rio de Janeiro for repairs, only to have her rudder swept away by yet another storm, forcing her into Talcahuano.  Storm damage forced Criterion into Rio de Janeiro twice on the same voyage. The delays made the passages of J. F. Chapman and Criterion the longest of any ships carrying locomotives, at 354 and 357 days, respectively. Although such stops for repairs were uncommon, in October 1868 five vessels carrying rail were at Rio de Janeiro at the same time being repaired from storm damage.[37]  In 1866, Carlyle put into Rio in such bad condition that she was condemned and her cargo of railroad spikes and other goods had to be reshipped.[38]

Gales in the South Atlantic swept away Swallow's rudder and broke a mast in 1867; they split sails, smashed boats and the forecastle door on Electric Spark the following year. The vessel St. Joseph was capsized by a South Atlantic storm in 1869. With her cargo shifted, she lay on her beam's end for fifteen hours; her crew had to cut away masts and rigging to right the vessel- perhaps the closest any ship carrying a locomotive to the West came to being lost at sea.

Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America, was notoriously perilous, and prevailing winds blew hard against the California-bound vessels. In rounding the Horn, many of the ships carrying locomotives reported mountainous seas, icebergs, snow, and hail. The vessel Haze broke both her rudder and stem on icebergs in 1866. The following year, Cutwater endured forty days of successive westerly gales near the Cape, which rent sails, carried away spars, crushed boats, and filled the cabin with water, while sailors on Intrepid a few days later suffered frostbite. In August 1868, gales with snow and freezing temperatures left the deck and rigging of Golden Fleece encased in ice. Two months later Golden Rule and Escort each experienced two weeks of gales, icebergs, hail, and snow off the Cape. Heavy weather off the Cape in March 1869 washed everything loose from the deck of Simla, and stove in her forecastle door and hatch houses, while in the same season St. Lucie struggled off the Cape for sixteen days in heavy weather. Governor Morton, carrying rail, was so badly damaged near Cape Horn that she had to return to Rio de Janeiro for repairs.

While storms failed to claim any ship carrying locomotives, individual seamen were not so lucky. Winged Racer, carrying the first locomotive for the Sacramento Valley Rail Road, lost a man overboard, and sailors were blown Yom the rigging of Sea Lark and Lawrence in 1866. All of these accidents occurred in heavy storms off the Horn when rescue was impossible. Sailors faced disease as well; upon reaching San Francisco, Sea Lark reported nearly the whole crew sick, and two sailors of locomotive-carrying ships died of consumption while en route to California.

During the Civil War there was fear that Confederate raiders might attack ships carrying railroad material to California. After all, the CP railroad was supported by Congress in part as a strategic ploy to keep the West—with its gold and silver—allied with the Union. The war increased insurance premiums, but, in fact, no railroad material was ever reported lost from this cause.[39]

Even without the attack of a hostile warship, however, fire from lamps or cooking stoves was a serious danger on board wooden ships. In 1866 the ship Hornet burned at sea, going down with rail, spikes, and chain belonging to the CP. Reunion, on her voyage to California with locomotives in that same year, chanced upon a burning British ship and rescued her crew.[40]

The constant threat of death from accident or disease may have been mitigated somewhat by the pleasures and excitement that sometimes occurred at sea. The crew of Sumatra must have been elated in rounding Cape Horn in such fair weather that they were even able to set her skysails. While ships often sighted other vessels at sea, it must have been delightful for Sumatra-after rounding the Horn in fair weather-to fall in with an Australia-bound ship and sail in company for three days. Yet, a similar event must have become monotonous for Belvidere as she sailed nearly 2,000 miles across the Pacific in company with another San Francisco bound ship in late 1867. One can imagine that they finally pulled apart because they were tired of seeing each other.

On the long voyage to California everyone must eventually have suffered monotony. Seminole, Ella Norton, Majestic, and Edith all reported voyages with fair winds the entire way. While this must have been better than the alternative of dangerous storms, it meant there was little work to keep the crew busy. In a long period of fair weather, John Tucker sailed fifty-four consecutive days without furling skysails on her 1865-66 passage, a record almost matched by Swallow in 1867, which only had to furl skysails once in fifty consecutive days.

Monotony doubtless gave way to frustration when the winds died or grew fickle. Santa Claus lay becalmed seven days, Intrepid eight days (in 1866), and Prima Donna went fourteen days without a breeze (also in 1866). Winds often died in the tropics, but John Tucker (in 1867), Guardian, Favorita (it 1868), and James R. Keeler actually found themselves becalmed for a day or so each off Cape Horn. Light winds could be  just as aggravating as no wind at all. For fifty- seven consecutive days, light winds pushed Electric Spark fewer than 100 miles per day. The fact that light winds were often encountered off California—when crews were most anxious to reach port and supplies were low-must only have compounded the frustration. The bark Emma C. Beal was within 850 miles of San Francisco for thirteen days, while Derby and Favorita (in 1869) were within 600 miles of San Francisco for eleven and fifteen days, respectively.[41]

The quickest passage of a vessel carrying locomotives from the East Coast to California—that of Seminole-took 97 days.[42]   The average voyage, however, was 145 days, almost five months. The longest (not counting the repair-delayed voyages of J. F. Chapman and Criterion) was the 205-day passage of Ellen Southard. She was held back 48 days off Cape Horn by persistent westerly storms—so long that she had to put into Juan Fernandez Island to replenish drinking water.

Steamer Shipments

The length of time it took to receive materials from the East became a serious problem for the CP in 1868. Early that year the railroad was nearly completed across the Sierra Nevada, and construction eastward was becoming a race with the westward-building Union Pacific for government bonds, land, and future commercial territory. Wanting to build 300 miles of railroad in 1868, the company determined that it would need sixty new engines as well as 30,000 tons of rail. Accordingly, Huntington began placing large orders for rail and locomotives in January 1868. By the following summer, however, few of these engines and little rail had actually arrived in Sacramento, even though the end-of-track had reached the open Nevada desert.

To speed delivery, Huntington began sending rail across Panama in June, and the following month, with the railroad "very short of rolling stock especially locomotives," company director E. B. Crocker urged that locomotives, too, be shipped via the Isthmus of Panama.[43]  Ever since the completion of the Panama Railroad in 1855, the Isthmus had been the favored route for people in a hurry, express goods, and mail between New York and San Francisco. The passage required only about twenty-five days and was, therefore, significantly faster (and more predictable) than the route by sail around South America. The premium for speed and the need to transship goods at each Panama coast made the Isthmus route far more expensive than the slower route by sail around South America. Nevertheless, when agents of the CP traveled between Sacramento and New York in the mid-1860s, they traveled via Panama. The company had been sending small shipments of urgently needed material via Panama for some time: iron parts for the bridges along the Truckee River had been ordered shipped via Panama in early 1867.[44]

In September 1868, Huntington agreed to ship via Panama twenty locomotives that his partners in Sacramento had requested to be delivered "the earliest day practicable."[45]  However, mail steamer hatches and holds were even more constraining than those of the clippers, and the locomotives going by Panama had to be delivered to the wharf in even smaller packages. Boilers were the biggest problem and actually had to be cut in half One locomotive (No. 108) already in New York awaiting space on a sailing ship was returned to its builder just to have the tubes and dry pipe removed and the boiler divided (at an extra charge of $684) to make it available for steamer shipment.[46]  Three of the locomotives sent by steamer are known to have been shipped without built-up tender tanks-just sheet metal and bags of rivets; it is possible that the others went the same way. While ships could handle rail up to 30 feet in length, rail shipped by steamers could be no longer than 24 feet.[47]

By early October the shipment of locomotive parts from New York to Panama finally commenced, and almost immediately problems developed. When Huntington first approached the Pacific Mail Steamship Co., he was quoted a price of "about $2,000" per locomotive via Panama and told that they would take four engines per steamer. By the time locomotives were actually delivered to the wharf, however, the Pacific Mail's competition had ceased operation; the company now wanted $3,500 in gold per engine, and it would only take them "as fast as they can.[48]  To make matters much worse, rather than taking all the parts of the same engines, it took partial shipments of two or three different machines on each steamer. This meant that shop men in Sacramento had to wait for several shipments before they could begin erecting any of the locomotives.

Understandably, Huntington was furious. Three locomotives (Nos. 141, 142, and 143) awaiting delivery to the steamer wharf were diverted to the sailing ship Sumatra loading for San Francisco, and no more deliveries were made to the steamship company until they had cleared off the locomotives already received. Thereafter, Huntington saw to it that locomotives were loaded in as complete shipments as possible.[49]  Unfortunately, he had no agent in Panama with his sort of determination, and everything became thoroughly shuffled and delayed there.

While the first of the locomotive material sent via the Isthmus of Panama arrived in San Francisco in mid-November 1868, the last pieces of these first locomotives did not arrive for another six weeks. The last Panama-bound locomotive material left New York in early December, and shipments finally stopped trickling into San Francisco late in January 1869. In the end, eighteen locomotives were shipped across Panama.[50] By comparison, thirteen other CP locomotives were shipped from New York on sailing ships via Cape Horn during the same period, and they all reached San Francisco by mid-March.

At first glance, it might seem that getting these eighteen locomotives to California two months ahead of the others was a measure of success. But the fact that locomotive parts were not delivered together greatly delayed assembly in Sacramento. In order to get some locomotives into operation early, parts were robbed from incomplete kits of identical engines.[51]  Furthermore, thirty-four CP locomotives—already on their way to California by sail when engines began to be shipped via Panama—had arrived in California and were in service by the end of 1868. These may have filled the immediate need for locomotives even without the other engines being rushed across Panama. By the time the last of these Panama locomotives were being assembled in Sacramento, the CP was drawing close to its connection with the Union Pacific.


San Francisco was the end of the journey and final erection point for only a very few imported locomotives. While most of the San Francisco & San Jose locomotives and two CP engines (Nos. 146 and 147) were set up at San Francisco, the vast majority of the imported locomotives had to be reshipped to their respective railroads.[52]  The San Francisco & Alameda and San Francisco & Oakland locomotives were apparently set up at Alameda, and California Pacific locomotives were erected at Vallejo. At least two of the Western Pacific locomotives were taken to San Jose (though perhaps they were set up at San Francisco and run over the rails of the SF&SJ). And at least five WP engines were stored unassembled in a San Francisco warehouse when control of that company fell to the CP in June 1867, and these were taken by river schooners to Sacramento. There is a hint that at least some of these WP locomotives were assembled at Rocklin.[53]  The unassembled San Mateo was hauled by train to Cisco—then the CP's end-of-track—and then by wagon to Truckee, where it was erected in August 1867 as the first  locomotive in the Great Basin.[54]

The Los Angeles & San Pedro locomotive and two of the four Oregon Steam Navigation Co. locomotives were taken back to sea by coastwise vessels for delivery to Southern California and Portland, respectively (the first two OSN engines were delivered directly to Portland from New York). The four Oregon Central locomotives were imported through San Francisco where they were sold to the CP. With the exception of two assembled in San Francisco, all imported CP locomotives were taken by lighter to Sacramento. The California Central and Sacramento Valley locomotives were likewise assembled at Sacramento; the California Northern locomotives were apparently assembled at Marysville.

While a handful of locomotives was carried inland on river steamboats or barges, the vast majority were carried on schooners. Although sailing across the bay and delta and up the Sacramento River presented far fewer hazards than sailing around Cape Horn, this endeavor was not without its occasional mishap. Due to accidents, at least one load of rail ended up in the bay, and another load was lost into the Sacramento River.[55]  The sloop Willie capsized in the Carquinez Strait in February 1869 with a load of parts for CP Nos. 121, 131, and 135, but all was salvaged.[56]  (Earlier, an unidentified locomotive sank with a lighter in the Hudson River.[57]) The crew of the schooner Columbia, delivering 3,000 ties to Sacramento from the California coast, had to throw a third of their load overboard to save themselves in a strong gale encountered while still at sea.[58]

By late 1867, the CP had received some twenty-seven locomotives, and its managers probably thought they understood everything about shipping engines from the East. But each engine had come in one at a time, and the arrival of five clippers carrying nine locomotives within a week's time in mid-December 1867 introduced a whole new problem. Only one of these engines was unique; the rest were nearly identical tank engines (Nos. 26, 27, 32, and 33) and Eight-wheelers (Nos. 34-37). All together, the shipment of these locomotives consisted of more than two hundred individual cases, plus drivers, trucks, engine and tender frames, tanks, cowcatchers, and boilers. The various pieces had probably been intermixed in loading the ships in New York; they were further shuffled in transfer to river vessels at San Francisco, since the schooners often made up their loads from more than one ship.[59]  Parts were further mixed in unloading at Sacramento. As it turned out, none of the cases or separate parts was labeled, and it required considerable effort over several days to sort everything according to the respective locomotives so that assembly could begin. Huntington was immediately instructed to have each locomotive's name henceforth clearly painted on each box and part. Indeed, it appears that the company assigned names to locomotives as long as it did primarily as a means of identifying shipments.[60]

Another problem that stemmed from the magnitude of the CP's purchases and the slowness of transcontinental communication was the difficulty of keeping track of what was on the way. Besides assigning names to the locomotives, Huntington numbered them—apparently in the order in which builders asked for marking instructions.[61]  This worked fine so long as he was the only one buying engines. In late 1867, however, E. B. Crocker bought four used engines from the Yuba Railroad in California and, not knowing what locomotives were on the way, assigned these engines what he thought were the next available numbers (Nos. 40-43). Soon, eight unexpected locomotives already numbered by Huntington showed up in San Francisco, and the simple process of keeping a roster was thrown into confusion.[62]  Several new locomotives had to be renumbered; but, in order to correct his accounting Huntington skipped too far ahead, and the numbers 54 and 55 were not assigned until late in 1868.[63]

In the earliest CP records, the WP locomotives were identified with letters—A to J—rather than numbers. Since the last received of these locomotives Was given the first letter (and the first received assigned the last), this pattern must have been created after the last engine was on hand. This system of identification was probably created by the CP, after it obtained control of the WP in 1867, specifically to avoid confusion with the numbering of their own locomotives.

End of Shipment by Sea

All together, 195 identified locomotives are known to have been imported by sea for all West Coast railroads from 1851 through 1869. Eighteen of these were shipped by steamships via Panama, while the rest were shipped by sail via Cape Horn. Of those, the 161 engines for which definite shipping information has been found were carried on seventy-one different vessels on eighty-three individual voyages. Eleven vessels made two passages with locomotives, while one vessel, John Tucker, carried locomotives on three voyages. With only three known exceptions, all of the vessels that carried locomotives were full-rigged ships; the exceptions were the barks Emma C. Beal and Win. A. Banks and the brig North Star.[64]  While several vessels carried more than one locomotive, the ships Edith, Resolute, and Golden Fleece (on her 1868 voyage) each carried six locomotives-the largest number consigned to a single vessel. Locomotives were of course only a small portion of the railroad material carried by sea to the West Coast. The total shipment of rail during that same period amounted to something on the order of 100,000 tons.

The activity of shipping locomotives and railroad materials built to a crescendo in late 1868 and early 1869. Within calendar year 1869 at least seventy-two locomotives arrived in San Francisco, most of which had departed the East in 1868. This number includes the eighteen locomotives to arrive by steamers (though some parts of some of these had arrived in previous weeks in 1868). While this is the largest number of locomotives to arrive in San Francisco by sea in any particular year, the importation of locomotives essentially ceased by midsummer. Three of the locomotives imported by sea still exist. These are the CP's Gov. Stanford and C. P. Huntington (preserved at Sacramento) and the WP's Mariposa (as Stockton Terminal & Eastern No. 1, in Los Angeles). The completion of the transcontinental railroad in May 1869 completely changed the circumstances that governed the shipment of railroad (and other) material to the West Coast. At a stroke, goods could be loaded on a railroad car in New England and delivered to California in days. In anticipation of this new capability, Huntington directed engines 156 and 157, completed by Rogers in April 1869, to be delivered overland. Unlike the locomotives shipped by sea, those sent overland were delivered fully erected. They were towed west in freight trains, generally in pairs, and accompanied by a "messenger" who was responsible for oiling. Nos. 156 and 157 were the first locomotives delivered overland. They passed Promontory shortly after the driving of the gold spike and were in service in California by the end of May-while ten CP locomotives were still at sea. The last CP locomotives to arrive by sea were the Nos. 151 and 152, which departed New York on the ship Favorita on February 9 and arrived in San Francisco on June 24, 1869. The Los Angeles & San Pedro's Los Angeles departed New York on the ship St. Joseph on March 1 and arrived in San Francisco on September 19, 1869.

Generally, following the completion of the transcontinental railroad, eastern-built locomotives bound for Southern California or the Pacific Northwest were shipped overland by rail to San Francisco and then on by sea to their destination. Perhaps surprisingly, however, while locomotives were shipped overland, the shipment of railroad material to the West Coast by sea did not immediately come to an end. This is true even for CP-related projects: rail for the construction of the Southern Pacific eastward from Los Angeles was delivered by sea through the 1870s.[65] Even some locomotives continued to be delivered to the West Coast by sea all the way from the East after 1869. Ten engines were delivered by sea to the California Southern Railroad at National City on San Diego Bay in 1881-82, even though three other engines for this road were shipped overland through San Francisco. The three engines delivered to the California Southern by the ship Anna Camp in November 1882 have been identified as the last locomotives actually delivered to the West Coast of the United States by sea.[66]

Certainly the shipment of locomotives and railroad material by sea did not begin with the first development of railroads in California, nor did it end with the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The activity of shipping nearly entire railroads one piece at a time in sailing vessels all the way around South America was a relatively short-lived endeavor beset with frustrating problems and fraught with danger and expense. Still, it was a necessary aspect of the construction of early western railroads that is rarely given much thought.

Click to see table:
 Vessels/Voyages That Delivered Locomotives to California and Oregon, 1850-1869, Listed in Order of Arrival.

Click to see Footnotes

Illustrations for Article Railroads Shipped by Sea
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