A Short History of the
Cowell Portland Cement Company Railroad

The Cowell Portland Cement Company operated about 2 miles of standard gauge railroad track and spurs around their plant, excluding the rails of the Bay Point & Clayton Railroad. The Company’s standard gauge line extended from the crushing mills to the main plant, a distance of about one and a half miles, upon which the Company’s engine, No. 2, hauled a number of drop-bottom steel cars of 10 tons capacity.
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The main line consisted of a 3-mile narrow gauge (42″) track running from the crushing mills to the quarry. In addition, there were about one and a half miles of similar narrow gauge track for loading, passing and sidings. There were 42 Kilbourn & Jacobs rocker-bottom steel cars of 6 tons capacity in active service, as well as a few old Western side-dump cars with wooden frames which were kept in storage.

The line operated with four narrow gauge saddle tank locomotives, all of which were purchased from the Baldwin Locomotive Company: two in 1907 (Nos. 3 & 4), one in 1916 (No. 5), and one in 1924 (No. 6) – see “Engine Roster".

Due to heavy use, unusually heavy rails – averaging between 50 and 65 pounds per yard – were used in the track construction. The line was built to very high standards and had many cuts and fills that would have been a credit to any standard gauge line.

Both the standard gauge and narrow gauge engines used oil. They were kept in good running order in two shops – one for standard gauge and one for narrow gauge – operated by the Company. The crews belonged to the railroad brotherhoods and the lines were run according to standard railroad practice.

[Adapted from The Western Railroader Magazine,
January, 1953, Issue No.159]

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No 1

Railcar 2

Railcar 2

MCR 1860

MCR 1860

MCR-1852

MCR-1852

MCR1852

MCR1852

A Short History of the
Bay Point & Clayton Railroad

The Bay Point & Clayton Railroad was incorporated on August 29, 1906, as a common carrier for the purpose of constructing a standard gauge railroad from Bay Point (later called Port Chicago) to Clayton – with a branch line to the site of a proposed cement mill at Cowell – a total of 18 miles of line.

The Henry Cowell Lime & Cement Company (who had previously been in the lime and cement business to supply lime and rock to the Spreckels Sugar Company) had purchased a large tract of land in Contra Costa County for the purpose of building a plant for the production of portland cement. At first, the Company asked the Southern Pacific RR to construct a branch from Concord to Cowell, but when Southern Pacific refused, the directors of the cement company decided to sponsor the construction of an independent line from Bay Point.

Due to the prospects of hauling hay, grapes, wine, rock and other products from the region around Clayton, the backers of the railroad decided to build their main line from Bay Point to Clayton and put the cement mill on a branch line. However, after construction had been started at Bay Point, it was found that the owners of the vineyard and orchard land between Cowell Junction and Clayton wanted such a high price for their land that it did not warrant its purchase for a railroad right-of-way. Therefore, it was decided to build only that part of the line between Bay Point and Cowell, a distance of only 9 miles.

For use in building the line, the railroad company bought an 0-6-0 standard gauge switching engine from the Baldwin Locomotive Company and the cement company bought an identical engine at the same time for use around the cement mill. The railroad company’s engine was numbered 2, while the cement company’s engine was numbered (Cowell Portland Cement Company) 1. This arrangement was necessary because both companies used the same yards at Cowell and the cement company’s engine was leased to the BP&C when the railroad’s No. 2 was in the shops. In addition, the railroad purchased an old open-ended combination car from the Santa Fe RR (Santa Fe No. 2440).

Construction was finished on April 9, 1909, at which time the line was opened as a common carrier with a big celebration. The line prospered almost from the start; not only did the cement plant send out a constant stream of business, but the line hauled a substantial tonnage of agricultural products, hay, grain, wine and rock. Likewise, the passenger business prospered, even excluding the almost weekly excursions. The line hauled many groups as Sunday excursions, using equipment from other lines in the movements. Most famous of these excursions was the huge crowd that left Cowell on April 3, 1915, to attend Contra Costa Day at the Panama Pacific Exposition.

In 1939, the BP&C was still operating its original nine miles of track between Port Chicago (Bay Point) and Cowell. Intermediate full or flag stops were made at Clyde, Bollman’s Siding, Matherson and Cowell Junction. Operating rules called for a maximum tonnage for southbound trains of 300 tons; a maximum speed for all trains of 20 miles per hour; and northbound trains having rights over southbound trains. Although the BP&C had no regular depot connections with the Santa Fe RR or the Southern Pacific RR at Port Chicago, the daily train connected with Sacramento Northern RR train #8 at Clyde. The northbound train left Cowell at 5:00pm daily, reaching Port Chicago 30 minutes later; the southbound train left Port Chicago at 6:05pm, reaching Cowell at 6:40pm.

By the late 1930s, truck competition had deprived the BP&C of much of its revenues. The cement mill kept the line running, even though the railroad’s finances had fallen into the ‘red’.

[Adapted from The Western Railroader Magazine,
January, 1953, Issue No.159]

NOTE
The text of this short history originates from a special issue of The Western Railroader magazine on the occasion of a Northern California RR excursion over the Sacramento Northern RR and Bay Point & Clayton RR lines on April 2, 1939.

The BP&C’s Port Chicago portion was taken over by the U.S. Navy during World War II for the Port Chicago Ammunition Depot. The cement mill was shut down in the late 1940s and the BP&C line discontinued common carrier operations. In 1952, the mill and railroads were sold for scrap and in 1953 the track was ‘fixed up’ so that the estimated 150 cars of scrap iron could be hauled out by rail.

As recorded on page 1 of this history, the four narrow gauge locomotives (Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 6) were sold to the South San Francisco Scrap Metals Company in 1952. So far as is known, only No. 3 survives today.

Cowell Portland Cement Co RR

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Cowell Historical Society

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