Re: Shipping Coal - How Far?

Garth Groff <sarahsan@...>


I have also heard/read that coal was what brought Columbia to Pittsburg. According to Bert Ward's MOUNT DIABLO COAL MINE RAILROADS, coal was being commercially taken from Mt. Diablo as early as the 1850s.

The earliest was the Union mine at Somersville was one about 10 related or neighboring operations that shipped coal to Pittsburg on the Pittsburg Railroad. Operations were largely wound down by 1907, but the mines and the railroad limped along until 1916.

Black Diamond Coal and Railroad Company began operation around 1859 in the Nortonsville area. The company also shipped to Pittsburg, but was wound down in 1902 and the railroad was removed around 1911.

The final operation began around 1861, but really didn't take off until a number of years later. In 1878 the investors opened the Empire Coal Mine and Railroad Co., which ran between several mines/shafts at Stewartsville and Antioch. This operation closed down in 1897.

Railroad Historian Dan McKellips claimed the mines supplied bunker coal to Sacramento and San Joaquin river boats and it was also used on the SP ferry Contra Costa. Some was sold for industrial use in Stockton. Neither he or Ward mention coal being sold to the Columbia works.

Hope this of use.

Yours Aye,


On 2/27/17 5:42 PM, John Barry northbaylines@... [STMFC] wrote:

Thanks for that pointer.  I have from another source that Columbia received pig iron from the mills in Utah.   The jury is still out on coal needs prior to the end of the war.  The mill was sited in Pittsburg due to it's proximity to the local coal deposits.  As they petered out and the local coal hauling road shut down and pulled up the tracks from the right of way some form of fuel had to replace the local coal.  I have no direct evidence of coal shipments or a gas pipeline but the plant's history page shows that they started with a 150 ton open hearth furnace in 1910.

Columbia steel Pittsburg history
The first Pittsburg steel facility opened in 1910 as a 60-man foundry under the name of Columbia Steel. Consisting of one building and a single 150-ton open hearth, the plant furnished steel castings for the dredging, lumber and shipping industries.

In the 1920’s, the plant expanded to include the West’s first nail mill, and later, the first hot dip tin mill west of the Mississippi.
During the 1930’s and 1940s, facilities and equipment were added to help supply major public works projects – the most notable being the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge – and to meet the demand for steel products during WWII.

Post-war expansion includes modern continuous sheet and tin mills, the West’s first continuous rod mill, cold rolling mills, electrolytic tinning, cleaning, continuous coating and annealing lines.

I can confirm that they did provide steel to the war effort but got behind on some of the orders due to the priority system.  This was noted in a history report in the national archives that referenced an Oakland manufacturer of practice bombs that had to re-order from eastern mills when Pittsburg could not make an immediate delivery mid-war.  That order was for a quantity of thin sheet that would be used for bomb blanks.  Orders for Oakland and San Francisco industries would be nearly on-layout moves for me, and that delivery was scheduled via rail.

It would be interesting to confirm the availability of gas.

John Barry

From: "Garth Groff sarahsan@... [STMFC]"
To: STMFC@...
Sent: Monday, February 27, 2017 3:48 PM
Subject: Re: [STMFC] Shipping Coal - How Far?

John and Friends,
This doesn't answer the question about coal for Columbia Steel, but here is some information about the plant from my old SN On-line site: . Most of their can production was cold rolled, but they also worked steel for other uses. I have seen photos of a hot ladle from their works. It is likely that soaking pits and remelt furnaces were gas fired, as was the case of some other California remelt plants (Bethlehem Steel in Downey being one example).
Yours Aye,

Garth Groff

On 2/27/17 2:48 PM, 'Dave Nelson' Lake_Muskoka@... [STMFC] wrote:
I’m skeptical about Colombia Steel needing coal.

The plant did not need coal to produce coke because (AFAIK) there were no blast finances there and I’m inclined to think they did not need boiler coal either as natural gas was readily available as a fuel for any reheat jobs they had.

By and large the Colombia Steel plant produced sheet steel for the tin can industry. This product was the highest profit margin for any steel mill and it is produced by rolling cutting, and final finishing of material from steel coils. What I don’t recall right now is whether this was done by cold rolling or whether the source material was heated first. I’m inclined to guess it was cold rolled.

Colombia Steel did get a lot of steel coil, DRGW/WP/SN and they shipped their product to can making factories all over central California and perhaps beyond.

Dave Nelson

From: STMFC@... [mailto:STMFC@...]
Sent: Monday, February 27, 2017 11:12 AM
To: STMFC@...
Subject: Re: [STMFC] Shipping Coal - How Far?

Columbia Steel at Pittsburg, CA got most of it's coal from Utah. Originating on the D&RGW, it went via WP to either Sacramento thence the Sacramento Northern or Stockton for ATSF delivery. Rio Grande had a tremendous fleet of gons (6048 in Jan 45) for hauling that coal and almost no hoppers (72, including a few covered HMRs).

Prior to the future, almost all the coal shipped from mines in the western US most likely came in a gon rather than a hopper unless it originated on the GN. They alone of the western roads had a majority of hoppers (9827) over gondolas(1711). Not that hoppers were unknown, the western lines owned 28,801 but they also owned 71,164 gondolas, 2.4 to 1, better than 3 to one outside the GN.

John Barry

On 2/26/17 8:19 PM, Tom VanWormer robsmom@... [STMFC] wrote:

The Southern Pacific in the 1890s was shipping coal from Australia, Japan and British Columbia.
Tom VanWormer
Documenting the 1890s

jimbetz jimbetz@... [STMFC] wrote:


How far would coal be shipped in hoppers? Especially as
it relates to the West Coast. I'm talking about regular
everyday coal for steam - such as to a railroad or to a
cement plant (or any other large industry such as a steel
mill or power plant).
And what was truly in control of the sourcing of coal?
Of course it was price per ton - but, for instance, how
much closer would the coal mine have to be before
the shipping costs based upon ton miles started to be
more important than how many RRs were involved in
the shipment or other factors?

For instance - where would coal for such purposes
have been shipped from - going to locations in Central
or Northern California?
I know there was coal in Utah that was being shipped
to Southern California. Other sources/locations?

Extra credit - what 'influence' did the railroad that the
industry was on have on the source of the coal in
received? For instance if you have a cement plant
in Northern California being served by the ATSF ...
where did the coal it received -probably- come from?

Steam/transition era answers only - please. I'm not
asking "what is happening today?" or "what happened
in the 70's or 80's?".
- Jim B.

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