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.
Here’s a preview of our upcoming article on the Holly Sugar refinery in Tracy and how it was served by rail and barge.
A General Electric 25-ton switcher snoozes beneath the silos at Holly Sugar’s Tracy plant.
Prior to the extension of the “Sugar Spur,” beets were transported to the sugar mill via barge via Sugar Cut, a man-made inlet dug from Tom Paine Slough to the refinery.
The sugar refinery at Tracy, circa 1930s.
A train loaded with sugar beets arrives in the Southern Pacific’s yard on the west side of Tracy, having just traversed the Altamont Pass on its way into the Central Valley
A 1973 Southern Pacific “SPINS” map – a handy “aid to navigation” for train crews – showing the track schematic at the Holly Sugar plant.
(Click to enlarge)
Switch 7470 on the Sugar Spur, just inside the gate (March 2008 Photo)
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.
The backside of this picture postcard has “Monday, Oct 25, 1948” penciled in script, so we’re guessing that this view of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s yard is from the mid to late 1940s.
The caption under the photo on the postcard reads “Southern Pacific Railway Yards and Shops, Tracy, California.”
If you’re looking at this photograph today, imagine yourself on the roof of the Tracy Transit Center, facing toward the new-fangled overpass that recently opened, taking 11th Street over the Union Pacific tracks.
Here’s a tinted picture postcard of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s “Employee Club,” located for many years along an extension of C Street in the downtown Tracy railyard.
The sign above the Club’s front door…
The clubhouse served as a rest stop for SP train crews between trips — a place to grab forty winks, a bite to eat, or shoot some pool (or some bull) before hitting the high iron again.
The club lacked air conditioning in the early portion of the 20th Century, so a screened-in “porch” upstairs allowed off-duty workers to sleep beneath the stars and escape the oppressive heat of summertime evenings in the San Joaquin Valley.
Back in May 1961, the Southern Pacific Railroad began moving the first of hundreds of railcars to the “other side” of the Eleventh Street overpass in Tracy, marking the shut-down of operations in the city’s downtown area — ending nearly a hundred years in the sprawling facility that included a passenger depot, two roundhouses, numerous water tanks and freight docks in the “Bowtie.”
The June-July 1961 edition of the railroad’s employee magazine, The SP Bulletin, featured a two-page article on the move, including photographs of the new yard being filled on Day One (May 16, 1961) and Tracy yardmaster Elroy Pope controlling operations from his perch in the new tower overlooking the rails, which covered (then and now) the territory from the Eleventh Street overpass all the way to Banta Road.
Tracy has three roads named Schulte Road. You know — if you come into town off 580 at Patterson Pass Road, then drive past the big Costco and Safeway warehouses, you are on Schulte Road, which dead-ends at Lammers Road.
But if you turn right onto Lammers, just before the train tracks you can make a left turn onto … Schulte Road.
If you drive to the end of that version of Schulte Road, which bottoms out at Corral Hollow Road, you can hook a quick, awkward and sometimes dangerous U-turn around the tracks, then drive a couple of blocks to the next signal light which is, of course … Schulte Road. Why wouldn’t it be?
If you live in Tracy or its outskirts, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the names of the several villages that rest at the city’s edges. You know, places like Tesla, Carbona, Banta, Lyoth, Kerlinger, Ludwig, and Rhodes.
Wait. You’re not familiar with all those names? Well, sure, Banta is fairly well known — there’s still something there — but what about Carbona?
You may actually drive past the “Carbona Curve” on occasion and not know that it’s there. In fact, if you ride an ACE train through Tracy to or from points east (such as Stockton or Manteca), then you’ve rolled through Carbona.
The original right-of-way leading into Tracy from the Bay Area via the Altamont Pass was built back in 1873 by the Central Pacific as part of the Transcontinental Railroad linking California with the East Coast.
Trains traveled in and out of Tracy from the railyards near downtown, along old Schulte Road through the original site of the Ellis coaling station, then curving up toward the foothills to Midway and Cayley, then on to the summit at Altamont.
For decades, oil from Kern County was transported by rail in tank cars (appropriately dubbed “oil cans”) to this Associated Oil storage facility in Tracy, which served as a way station as the oil traveled to Port Costa.
In the aerial photo from 1926 (shown above and below), the tracks heading to the right are part of the Mococo Line, which is now a seldom-used single track that extends up through Byron and Brentwood into Antioch and Pittsburg.
In the distance, just right of center in the photograph is an oil reservoir (also known back then as the “Gravel Pit”), which was located approximately where Alden Park is today.
A 1926 aerial view of the Associated Oil Tank Farm in Tracy.
Click image for enlarged view.
The Mococo Line was fundamental to the creation of the city of Tracy, which was founded in 1878 when the nearly fifty-mile-long line was opened between Martinez and here.
Originally constructed as the San Pablo & Tulare Railroad, it was built as an extension — a shortcut, as it were — connecting the Central Pacific’s established northern line near San Pablo Bay and its line through the San Joaquin Valley via Stockton and Lathrop over the Eastbay Hills to Oakland. (The SP&T was consolidated into the Southern Pacific Railroad, the successor to the Central Pacific, in 1888.)
All that currently remains of this facility today is a group of hillocks at the corner of Tracy Blvd. and Beechnut Avenue, across from the city’s corporation yard.
Contaminated soil in the area led to a landmark court case, Cose v. Getty Oil Co., over who was responsible for waste from the tanks that had seeped into the soil surrounding the “Gravel Pit.”
ABOVE: An excerpt from a 1955 USGS map of Tracy, showing the Tank Farm area. Note that the current Tracy Boulevard, previously known as Oil Road, did not extend across the tracks here at this time.
ABOVE: A Google Earth aerial view of the Tank Farm area as it appeared in 2013. Tracy Blvd. curves from top to bottom at right, with Alden Park in the lower-left corner.
Southern Pacific Train 51, the westbound San Joaquin Daylight, roars past the Tank Farm (at right) on July 7, 1956, on its way to Martinez and Oakland by way of the Mococo Line, in this photo by E.K. Muller
(Western Railway Museum Archive)
ABOVE: A typical Associated Oil tank car. The San Francisco-based company used “Tidewater” and “Flying A” as brand names.
Special thanks to the Western Railway Museum for permission to include E.K. Muller’s majestic 1956 photograph of the San Joaquin Daylight in Tracy (Negative No. 90126) in this article.