Category: Mileposts

Southern Pacific Diesel Shed, Tracy

For nearly five decades, the Southern Pacific Railroad utilized two massive roundhouses at its railyard near downtown Tracy. The roundhouses were constructed to service and repair steam locomotives at Tracy, which was a major waypoint on the SP during the first half of the Twentieth Century.

SP Tracy Turntable (Photo, Circa Early 1950s)

A view of the SP’s Tracy turntable, looking between the old roundhouses, circa early 1950s.

In the mid-1950s, the Southern Pacific began the complete phase-out of steam locomotives, replacing their entire fleet with more reliable diesel-electric locomotives, which required substantially less maintenance.

At the same time, the SP chose to reduce and relocate its facilities in downtown Tracy, moving its storage yard farther east of town – on the far side of the Eleventh Street overpass, spanning the area east nearly to Banta. (The relocated yard opened in 1961.)

With the relocation, down came the roundhouses and up grew a simple “shed” near the SP’s new depot at the foot of Sixth Street near MacArthur, providing just enough space to service one or two diesel locomotives at a time. A refueling dock and sanding station – essential to provide additional traction for heavy trains heading over the Altamont – were also constructed.

The diesel facility remained in use into the 1990s, after which it was shut down. Subsequently, its windows were covered with plywood sheets, its huge doors were sealed shut, and the rails leading up to it were torn out.

Tracy Engine Shed (Photo Circa 1966)

Activity at the Southern Pacific diesel shed, circa 1966. The sanding tower, or at least part of it, may be seen at far left
(Courtesy of Robert J. Zenk)

Southern Pacific Diesel Shed at Tracy (Photo)

A pair of high-nosed Southern Pacific SDs block the view of the diesel shed in this 1984 photo.
(Robert Newbegin Collection)

Southern Pacific Tracy Engine Shed (2013 Photo)

The Southern Pacific engine facility at Tracy, with its windows covered and doors sealed.
(David Jackson Photo, 2013)

UPRR 6th Street Yard (Photo)

On the chilly morning of December 23, 2017 – Christmas Eve eve – a brace of Union Pacific (left and center tracks) and California Northern (on the right track) locomotives slumber between the UP’s 6th Street yard office and the old diesel shed, while construction cranes loom over the newly-built 11th Street overpass.
(David Jackson photo)

Southern Pacific Diesel Engine Facility (Photo)

The former Southern Pacific diesel locomotive facility in November 2021, with nearly all vestiges of its previous configuration removed. The four concrete blocks (right of center) appear to be the base of the old sanding tower.
(David Jackson Photo)

Special thanks to Robert J. Zenk for generously providing the photos of the Southern Pacific’s Tracy Yard at the top of this page (1979, in black and white) and below (1966, in color).

Tracy Engine Shed (Photo)


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Mileposts: Holly Sugar Corp. Refinery, Tracy (MP 73.5)

It’s perhaps the most visible landmark across the flatlands of western San Joaquin County – a cluster of tall, white silos bearing the Holly Sugar brand – which can be seen from miles away, towering above the landscape north of Tracy.

The Holly Sugar refinery in Tracy’s rural outskirts went online in 1917 as the Pacific Sugar Corporation. The plant originally received beets by way of trucks, and later via barges that utilized a man-made waterway known as “Sugar Cut” that diverts from Tom Paine Slough and Old River, north of Tracy.

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Mileposts: Bethany (MP 75.7)

The village of Bethany could, once upon a time, be found along the Southern Pacific Railroad’s Martinez-to-Tracy extension, just a few miles outside the latter city’s limits.

These days, few signs remain of Bethany: an old farm road that ends near the tracks is perhaps the most significant remnant. (A reservoir in the nearby Livermore Hills is named for the town, but is several miles distant.)

The Central Pacific Railroad built a depot at Bethany around 1878 along the extension, which was constructed as the San Pablo & Tulare Railroad; in the early Twentieth Century, this section of tracks appeared on USGS maps – including the one below from 1914 – as the Southern Pacific’s “San Francisco and New Orleans Line.”

Today, it is known to railheads as the “Mococo Line.” It was the construction of this extension that led directly to the birth of Tracy at the end of the 1870s.

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