Steam's Last Summer at Niles Tower

Much has been written about how suddenly steam disappeared from SP rails. Indeed, during 1956, SP steam rapidly retrenched to Central California, then was gone from regular service by the following January. For more particulars, see Tom Dill's article in the Spring, 2005 issue of the SPH&TS Trainline.

In the Summer of 1956, no right-thinking foamer in the San Francisco Bay Area would have believed that steam would never see another warm season, let alone survive only until Winter. There were just too many steamers around.

This page's small collection of paperwork from Niles Tower ought to prove the point. These forms originated in about a half-day period on June 27, 1956, and we judge that it is incomplete, but they represent most of the extra movements during those twelve hours. Only one regular train is represented (#402), so its probable that other regular trains were powered by steam, as well. Nearly and notably absent are diesel movements - only three total, with two of them apparently being a Pleasanton rock turn (xe & w 5207). We suspect that the paperwork's original collector may have had something to do with this, as he seems to have generally eschewed saving diesel stuff. It's a fair bet to say that many of the regular trains had GP-9's or F's on the head end.

Let's also not forget that the Altamont east of Niles was still big time helper territory in those days, and that some of these trains likely had steam helpers that went unrecorded on register tickets and clearances. (Editorial note: Although much glory and press has been heaped upon the more-fabled humps elsewhere - Donner, Likely Loop, Santa Margarita, Cascades, Siskiyous, Tehachapi - it was the Altamont that provided the last steam helper show).

Now, let's see a show of hands among you: who wishes that he could called-in sick, hauled his Speed Graphic out of the closet, and driven his brand new two-tone Chevy Nomad over to Niles Tower to record steam's last hurrah on Wednesday June 27, 1956?

Eastbound Trains
Westbound Trains
At right is a summary of the information found in the forms below, plus a train order, or two.

Further below is
Steam's Closing Show @ the Tower - some short evidence that steam still abounded later in the year.
x2566 C-9 2-8-0
x2854 C-10 2-8-0
x4205 AC-10 4-8-8-2
x4220 AC-10 4-8-8-2
x4236 AC-10 4-8-8-2
x4246 AC-11 4-8-8-2
x4259 AC-11 4-8-8-2
#402, eng. 4289 AC-12 4-8-8-2
x5207 Baldwin AS-615
x2553 C-9 2-8-0
x2566 (see east)
x3203 MK-4 (ex MK-2) 2-8-2
x4217 AC-10 4-8-8-2
x4468 GS-6 4-8-4 (ex SSW)
x5206 Baldwin AS-615
x5207 (see east)

Train Register Tickets


Steam's Closing Show @ the Tower

Unfortunately, Wx4's train order collection is very sparse for post-June, 1956, but we do have some evidence of SP steam's strong showing up until the end.

Note that AC-10 4228 appears in both October 9 orders at right. SP management ordered most steam operations to cease on November 30, and the 4228 became the second-to-last AC to move between stations under it's own power when it ran light from the Sacramento Shops to Roseville on the day after Christmas. The 4274's similar light move on January 12, 1957 and it's excursion activity on November 30 - December 1, 1957 marked the final Cab-Ahead runs.
Also note that the lower October 9 order contains four steamers of three classes: P-8 4-6-2 #2466; GS-3 4-8-4's #4421 & #4428; and the aforementioned 4228. The upper October 9 order has another - roller-bearing equipped GS-5 # 4458 - which makes five steam engines, with no reference to diesels.

The other engine in the GS-5 duet, the 4459, appears in the November 10 order. You've already noticed the 'ghost' on the September 8 order authorizing the 4246 to RUN EXTRA ELMHURST TO NILES TOWER VIA DECOTO (Hayward). This is actually the order underneath showing through. They don't call 'em flimsies for nothing, folks.

Footnote: Although Niles Tower saw some of Southern Pacific's last steam moves, it missed the final standard gauge revenue move by a hair - that train, the X2475E of December 30, 1957, went VIA MULFORD, SP's parallel route a few miles west of the Decoto line.

SP Index
Train Order Primer