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Ghosts of the Alameda Belt Line

August 11, 2008

Since the Alameda Belt Line (AAR: ABL) ceased operations in 1998, a lot of its infastructure has remained intact, thankfully for modelers, but much to the chagrin of local motorists and city development officals. There is a long battle in at the city level for control of the little railroad’s land holdings.Some want a park where the the ABL had a 22 acre yard to service the waterfront industries.

A nicely written history of the Alameda Belt Line is available HERE.

The ABL was an all-ALCo railroad for 49 years, 1942-1991. They rostered a mix of ALCo S-1’s and S-2’s unitil their last S-2 was scrapped in 1991. In 1991 they went looking for replacement motive power and bought an ATSF GP7u and used that until abandonment in 1998. The ABL GP7u #44 went to the Central California Traction Co. in 1998 to become their #44.

At any rate, here’s the southern portion of the ABL photographed today, August 10th, 2008, a decade after the ABL’s abandonment. Here’s a guide as to where these photos were taken:

Alamap

The largest and most noticable landmark of the Alameda Belt line is the Fruitvale Avenue Bridge. The bridge was built in 1951 by the Army Corps of Engineers for the Southern Pacific and is featured in a separate post, here.

Alameda Belt Line Bridge

looking towards the bridge

Looking towards the bridge from Blanding Ave. crossing. This crossing is fully protected by gates (out of service) which still stand today, along with a UPRR crossing control box.

Looking towards the team track

further towards the bridge
Further towards the bridge, you can see the torn up switch that used to lead to the street trackage that runs down blanding avenue.

Looking towards the team track across the Blanding Ave. crossing. Note the old wooden crossing with the huge tie bolts holding the crossing in place. Also note how the tiebolts are staggared.

Team track

Here’s an aerial view of the ABL team track. The Mainline snakes up and to the left, down Clement Ave. There is a spur that serves the side of the ramp closest to Tilden Way.

Team track ramp
Here’s a view of the ramp, notice that it’s a concrete platform framed with older rail around it’s edges, I suppose to protect the concrete from being chipped by train or truck loading.

ramp detail
Here’s a better view of the ramp.

Clement Ave.
Looking down the street trackage of Clement Ave. Rocky Mountain Supply Co. is on the right.

ACR building
Here’s the unusual notched and curved warehouse that now houses Alameda Collision Repair. The Brick wall is notched to accept a spur and has railroad car-level loading doors along the side.

Cool sheet metal building
This great old corrugated tin building was probably a small boatworks at one time. this structure is LOADED with character.

Rug warehouse
This former Rug factory is kittycorner to the ACR warehouse and across the street from the above building. Neat painted signs really add interest to this brick building. Note the rails embedded in the street.

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36 Comments leave one →
  1. Rich Sievers permalink
    July 16, 2009 6:35 pm

    Interesting web site. However, there are some errors.

    Neither the Key System nor the Interurban Electric Railway ever used the bridge shown in the photos. It was built in 1951 – some ten yars after the IER discontinued service – while the Key System used the Park Street Bridge instead. Thus, this bridge was used solely by Southern Pacific (Union Pacific, after 9/11/1996).

    Much of the trackage indicated in red as being ABL was actually owned, maintained and operated by SP (UP after 1996), not ABL. The line of demarcation between the SP and the ABL was on the south side of the crossing at Broadway; thus all trackage south of there (including the Team Track at Broadway and Tilden) was SP. This explains why the crossing relay house at Blanding Avenue lists UP.

    The ABL “history” that is linked to has been much published, but contains many errors. For example, it refers to the railroad as the Alameda “Beltline” (one word) while the actual name was Alameda Belt Line (two words). Also, it states that ABL was owned jointly by the Santa Fe and the “Western” Railroad. The second company was actually the Western Pacific Railroad.

  2. Don Stabler permalink
    August 10, 2010 6:23 am

    Mr. Sievers is correct on his corrections. One of the problems the Belt Line had was their track had a challenging curve at Grand Avenue as some rail cars got longer, it was more difficult for them to handle the curve and had many a derailment there. The last ABL engine, the 2144 now is the CCT (Central California Traction Company) 44, and is currently at the Port of Stockton, still in Santa Fe colors, although the long term plan is to paint it in the CCT red and renumber it, I believe it will be the 701.

  3. Anders Swenson permalink
    January 29, 2011 6:16 am

    Are there any photos of the Del Monte Cannery

  4. Don Stabler permalink
    October 23, 2011 2:50 pm

    Regretfully, as many hours as I spent at the ABL tagging around behind my dad, grandfather, uncle and cousins, I have no pictures. I have always wanted an acurate picture of the yard to build a model railroad.

    Update: The former ABL 44 (BNSF 2144), now the CCT 44 will someday be sent in to be converted to a GENSET and who knows where it will wind up. The CCT has taken delivery of CCT 2101, a GENSET and it will offer up an engine, possibly the 44 for a conversion. The last remaining engine even related to the ABL is the Oakland Terminal 97, still in service their today. The OTR 101, a Baldwin that from time to time worked the ABL is now at the Niles Canyon Rail Museum, and I believe it is in running condition.

    • Joe Pattison permalink
      December 14, 2012 3:28 am

      Don – are you related to Eddie Stabler that was Chief Clerk for ABL and also worked for Del Monte?

      • Don Stabler permalink
        December 14, 2012 9:22 pm

        Yes Joe, my dad was Fred and Eddie was my uncle. I think I may have spoken to you shortly after my dad died, if it was you, I believe you were working at the OTR.

  5. Ed Kolt permalink
    April 21, 2012 5:40 am

    I was a switchman on the ABL 1966-67. It was a real hoot woring the trians down those narrow streets. At the other end of the island was a pier with a ramp, we used to load cars on to a barge bound for SF. Also we switched out the Naval Air Station which the Myth Busters now use for thier antics. Thes phots sure bring back memories.

    Ed S

    • Joe permalink
      December 14, 2012 4:20 pm

      Don – Are you related to Eddie Stabler who was Chief Clerk for Alameda Belt Line and also worked for Del Monte and Freddie Stabler who also worked for ABL? Joe

      • Don Stabler permalink
        December 14, 2012 9:29 pm

        Joe, I heard the OTR is gone, is that true?

  6. Don Stabler permalink
    December 14, 2012 9:24 pm

    Yes, and if you go back further in time, my Grandfather Fred was yard master for years and I believe super for awhile, also my cousin Ronnie worked at Del Monte, Eddie was his day. Nepotism was alive and well at the ABL and Del Monte in those days.

    • joe permalink
      December 15, 2012 8:58 pm

      Yes it is closed. There was only Rick and I left, doing the switching, engineering clerical and m/w and around the first of June we were notified the OTR would be ceasing operations. I remember being told by an old switchman, Marion Lari, at the ABL shanty when I put in my application at age 18. “Ah kid you don’t wanna hire on here this place is gonna close any day. You wanna go to one of the big roads like the WP, SP or ATSF.” Ironicall we outlasted them all. Also ironically when I was visiting my dad at Holy Seplehere Cemetary in Hayward about a yaer ago I was strolling around. Three or four rows below my dad was “Marion Lari”! I said to him “Lari – I’m still there!” and put my Chief clerk buisiness card In his flower pot! 41 years I had and it was a great run. And the stories I was told from Your dad, Eddie & Phyllis, Bill and Ev Avery, Bob Beddig & Betty, and others about things that when on before my time would always have me on the edge of my seat laughing. Sorry – got carried away – what I did want to tell you is somewhere in my boxes of things from the ABL/OTR I have a map and article of the ABL from a modelrailroader”S magazine. My computer got hacked so I lost everything, contacts, in and out box, etc. Yahoo is looking into and advised me not to use it until I here from them. So I guess when I find it I’ll contact you through this sight.

      • Don Stabler permalink
        January 21, 2013 11:15 pm

        Joe, those names brought back memories, I think it was Bob that I thought from a kids perspective was the tallest guy on earth. Great people. I remember many a Saturday they would be at our house or us at theirs and there was a good amount of adult beverages consumed.
        Well, I would hope you had enough time for retirement and that you enjoy it. I have flunked retirement once and am back with another fire department working part time and enjoying it, but I turn 65 next summer and that eliminates me from the fire lines which I still find challenging.
        There has been some discussion on “CALRAILFANS” about the OTR and its closing. Do you know where the OTR 97 is going to wind up?
        It is sad to see the OTR gone, that is the last tie of the Stabler family to the rairoads as far as I know. Ironically, a few years ago we had a family tree study and found that my great grandfather also worked for a railroad in one of the Southern States, maybe Alabama or Georgia.
        I don’t know if I have told you this before, but I had been in the fire service for about 5 years before my dad stopped bugging me about going to work for the railroad (I guess being a “fireman” was not the same”). I told my dad that after listening to him bitch about the railroads all the time, why did he think I would want a career there?
        Joe, thanks for the information. Please stay in touch and live life well my friend. Someday I need to take you to lunch!

        don

      • Ed Kolt permalink
        January 22, 2013 3:28 pm

        I was a switchman on ABL 1966-1967 and I have a few stories. I was a young buck moved out from the Midwest to explore California. When I got to San Francisco, I rented a place in town and went to the RR retirement board to collect some unemployment. The next day they sent me out to ABL to work.

        I got into the hippie scene and rode my 1951 BMW motorcycle from SF to Alameda every night. It was a real joy crossing the bridge back to SFat dawn.

        As I recall we switched out a peanut butter factory (Skippy maybe) at the end of the switching yard opposite from the trainmans office. One night there was a box car there with the door open and several bags of peanut lay inside. One bag was torn open. Since I love peanuts, I thought I was in hog heaven. I grabbed a couple handfuls of peanuts for a snack on the next break. Well to my surprise the peanut were raw, not yet cooked. They did not taste very good.

        At the other end of the yard was a wye track. That crossed the road that curved around the yard. In the middle of the night we were pushing and empty container car up to the road crossing which had no lights. The hind-man was on the end with a lantern. I was in the cab and we saw a car coming down the road like a bat out of hell. The engineer kept whistling but the car never slowed down. We hit him on the passenger side and pushed the front seat with him on it out the other side. He was not hurt. We asked him why he didn’t stop. He said he heard the whistle and saw the engine and but he did not see the flat car.

        We had finished switching out the naval yard and headed back to ABL pulling some really heavy covered hoppers (no air hooked up). We were coming up to the main gate at the naval yard. Must have been a shift change because there was a lot of traffic and cars were backed up at the crossing. The engineer was on the horn and the bell ringing. All the cars stopped and we started across. Just as we began to cross over a car pulled right in front of us and we put the knuckle right in the passenger window… It was like slow motion, the auto slid around to the side of the loco by the time we stopped. No one was hurt. When the driver finally stopped shaking, we asked him why he pulled out. He said he heard the horn and thought the truck behind him was honking for him to pull up.

        I have more if anyone is interested. Remember the hippie part, I had very long hair and sometimes wore beads which led to some interesting encounters along the route.

        Ed

      • Don Stabler permalink
        January 22, 2013 3:44 pm

        Good Morning Ed, uno, the stories of the ABL and the OTR are good as they at least keep the memory (and history) alive. I do not recall the peanut place, but I do remember Del Monte and California Packing Co which faced Buena Vista. In ’66 I graduated from high school and I believe my dad and grandfather were still there, I don’t recall what year it was when my Uncle Eddy left and went to work at CalPack or Del Monte. If I recall correctly, the street you are referring to in the first accident was Sherman and I could not understand how a street with that much trackage crossing it was unprotected, especially with black engines. Thank you very much for sharing.

        don stabler

      • Ed Kolt permalink
        January 22, 2013 7:39 pm

        Hi Don,

        The peanut butter place was at the opposite end of the ABL switching yard from the Del Monte warehouse. I remember it well because of the peanut smell in the air.

        When I worked; there were no house toward the water front, just big cranes for loading container ships. Those are gone now. The area was quite isolated. The road was a two lane road with no traffic at night. The crossings had no lights or gates at that time.

        I just looked back Google Earth. Del Monte was to the east and the peanut place to the west of the switch yard. The road we crossed was Sherman or Atlantic Ave. If you look at Google Earth you can still see the wye track. We hit the guy on the north leg as he came around the curve. There were no buildings or parking lots just empty space at the time.

        Ed S

      • Don Stabler permalink
        January 22, 2013 7:57 pm

        I took my dad over there probably in the year or two before they shut down. He was surprised to see the ABL 2144 (at that time, I believe it was) and then the 105 sitting in pieces in the yard. There were office buildings it seemed leading to the docks, and a stop sign on the line going by Del Monte. That did not surprise him as they had trouble making the bend on Grand Avenue when some of the cars were built longer. I know there were buildings they served that I had no idea what they were. I do remember Pennzoil from what seemed like a lot of tank cars in the yard. What really was amazing with all their street crossings and runnings, I don’t recall a single crossing being “protected” by signals.

        don

      • Ed Kolt permalink
        January 23, 2013 7:55 pm

        Don,

        When we ran trains down the street, one of the switchmen had to walk ahead and flag the crossing. Which leads to another story. As you may recall, I was of the hippie type with very long hair and often wore beads (to impress the girls). Several times when I went to flag the crossing, the motorists would ignore me, thinking I was some stoned hippie with a lantern.

        Pennzoil was an interesting switch but more fun was a tank farm near one of the packers. The tank cars had corn syrup in them and they leaked. So the ground was covered with corn syrup and very very slippery. But it smelled good. You could hang onto a grab iron and surf you way through the area.

        We did get a few cans of peaches now and then.

        Ed

  7. edkolt permalink
    December 14, 2012 11:07 pm

    I was back in Alameda this summer with my son. We visited the site of the ABL, the old switchman shanty is still there and we followed some of the track through town. The surrounding area is all built up now. I read that the city finally won the law suit to regain the property so I am sure it will soon be filled in. No more room on the island.

    Found and stayed at a great motel on the water front, Marina Village Inn, nice place to stay.

    Ed

    • Don Stabler permalink
      January 21, 2013 11:25 pm

      I don’t remember the last time I was there, but it within the same week that the last ABL engine was repainted at the CCT 44 and moved to Stockton. Many, many memories, from playing in the sandbox near the old roundhouse while my dad worked and walking the tracks with my granfather. So many childhood memories have been lost an as time goes on, so many memories of the ABL.

      don stabler

  8. Dorothy Freeman permalink
    July 16, 2013 5:28 am

    Hello Guys,

    My name is Dorothy and I am a member of the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park Committee in Alameda. (Facebook: Jean Sweeney Open Space Park, Alameda, CA).

    I didn’t see any mention in your posts about the recent changes to the Belt Line switching yard, the 23 acres between Sherman St and Constitution Way. In 2002, the citizens of Alameda voted to rezone the 23 acres as open space and for it to become a public park. So Ed, it will not be filled in for anything but an open space park. This came about by the work of Jean Sweeney, hence why the park will be named after her. She was also responsible for finding the contract between the City of Alameda and the Belt Line Railroad that stated the City could buy the property back for 1927 price plus improvements. The Railroad sued but gave up the court fight in 2009 and the city was able to buy 40 acres of Beltline property for less than $1 million dollars.

    The small railroad building (shanty) that still sits across Sherman Street from the Del Monte Warehouse is an historical building and will be retained as part of the park. During the community meetings to determine what the park would contain many people thought the building should become a railroad museum.

    Your history about the railroads in Alameda would be a wonderful asset to help us tell the story of the Beltline and railroads in Alameda. If this is a project any of you would be interested in, please let me know.

    In June the people from the Latter Day Saints Church volunteered to renovate the exterior of the shanty building. It isn’t completed yet but looks 100% better than what it was. You can read about what is going on with the park (switching yard) on our Facebook page.

    I hope to hear more stories from you all.

    Dorothy

  9. Don Stabler permalink
    March 14, 2014 12:04 am

    Dorothy, I would be interested in helping preserve the area and anything related to the ABL, feel free to contact me at: retired911dj@gmail.com
    Don Stabler

    • December 18, 2015 9:29 pm

      Hello Mr. Stabler,
      Thank you for offering to help with preserving the history of the Belt Line Railroad in Alameda. The latest information on preserving the history in the park is this. When ARPD applied for the last $2 million grant the State of California Historical organization stepped in with questions about how the history of ABLR and railroads in Alameda were going to be preserved. The fact that there are plans to develop the small admin building that still stands there as a railroad museum helped. We got the grant. We would love to have you all help with creating that history for inclusion in the museum.

      Their other request was for a rail car to be included inside the park. I have looked for a rail car but have had little success since they are very expensive. If we can find a car, we can repaint it to be a BLT car. Any help in finding a rail car will be greatly appreciated.

      Construction on the Cross Alameda Pike/Walk trail will start in 2016 and construction on the East end of the park will start in 2017. The Railroad Admin building is in the East end so hopefully we will be able to work on the interior of the building long before the park is finally completed.

      Again, we hope you all will help us preserve this great history.
      Dorothy

      • Ray deBlieck permalink
        December 18, 2015 9:52 pm

        Dorothy,

        I seriously doubt that the ABL ever owned any rolling stock, other than locomotives of course, or possibly Maintenance of Way equipment. Someone else may be able to confirm that as I am not 100% sure, but really close to it.

        Also, I would really like to get inside the office building to draw and photograph the interior. I have drawn, measured and photographed the exterior already. Any idea how I can arrange that? Thanks.

      • December 23, 2015 2:06 am

        Hello,
        I have been trying to get the Parks Directory to let us in the building for the same reasons, To take pictures and to measure it but so far she has not oked going in. I think she is afraid of someone getting hurt. I’ll keep you posted when we can get access.
        Dorothy

      • Ed Kolt permalink
        January 4, 2016 2:29 am

        Dorthy and Ray,

        I can help with details that I remember. I may be visiting SF again this summer and will stay on Alameda island.

        Talking about the office building, I worked out of that building as a switchman in the late 60’s. As I recall there were two rooms in there with a few desks scattered around. The crew would take breaks in there. I believe there was a large window on the side away from the road and you could watch trains go past. there was a small ares in front of the building for parking. During the day, clerks would work there.

        Ed

      • January 16, 2016 7:46 am

        Ed,

        Please stop by and see us if you do visit San Francisco. Hopefully construction on the bike path will be underway. I would love to talk to you about the building. I am constructing it in Sketchup and would love to know about the interior rooms.

        Dorothy

      • Ray deBlieck permalink
        January 16, 2016 2:24 pm

        Ed, can you contact me at raydbcs@aol.com? I have several questions regarding operations on the ABL.

  10. Joe permalink
    May 19, 2014 8:33 pm

    Dear Sir,
    I grew up in Alameda. My mom’s house was right across the street from the warehouse you described on blanding at Everett. That used to be a rail to truck transfer warehouse. then it became a car dealership. you’re right the tower bridge was never used by the I.E.R. or the Key system. before the tower bridge, there was a turn table bridge which it replaced. And it was built by the I.E.R. there was a double track mainline where tiltone way is now. and there was a train station at tiltone and park street. the only key system operation on park street was a small trolley car and it used the park street bridge. I really miss the alameda belt line. at times, i have seen steam, western pacific and southern pacific operate on the line and i understand Santa Fe was one of the partners. I.E.R. operated all the way around the island out to what was known as the Alameda mole before the naval air station was built. I might also mention, as soon as the train cleared the lead switch for the blanding ave branch there was a loop lumber yard and stones boat works that would be a great addition to a model railroad. If I can help you with any of your research, please let me know and I will give you any information i have.

    • Ray deBlieck permalink
      December 17, 2015 1:09 am

      I have lived in Alameda since the late 60s. I graduated from Alameda High in the 70s. I am in the process of designing a model railroad that will include much or all of the Alameda Belt. I’d be very interested in talking to or writing someone familiar with operations of the Belt.

      • Joe permalink
        December 17, 2015 2:01 pm

        Hi Ray.
        I understand you are working on a layout that involves the Alameda Belt Line. I will be glad to help you with whatever information I have. Post your contact email and I will contact you.

      • Ray deBlieck permalink
        December 17, 2015 2:44 pm

        Joe,

        Thanks much. You can reach me at raydbcs@aol.com.

        Ray

  11. Ray deBlieck permalink
    December 15, 2015 11:39 pm

    I have lived in Alameda since the 60s. I graduated from Alameda High in the 70s. I am in the process of designing a model railroad that will include much or all of the Alameda Belt. I’d be very interested in talking to or writing someone familiar with operations of the Belt.

  12. leon theriault permalink
    March 8, 2016 6:08 pm

    leon theriault my grandfather cliff theriault was one of the engineers on the abl. in 1954 i was 12 years years old and was able to ride in the engine with cliff[,swing shift] he always had a jar of peanuts with him from the skippy place. one night while riding in the engine, cliff stopped the engine at the encinal terminal,he said to me lets go,we got off the engine and walked toward some old buildings there along side the tracks where the stevadores would have lunch, we went into the building, there are about 10 rough looking guys gambling– big pile of money on the table, cliff said to these guys as he was reaching into his pocket pulling out a fist full of money- cut me in, beings that was only 12 years old and seeing a part of my grandfather that i had never seen before. i still have the newspaper articles from when cliff retired from abl. the articles say that cliff put over a million miles on a ten mile track, thanks leon theriault

    • March 10, 2016 11:43 pm

      Hello Leon,

      The Jean Sweeney Open Space Park Fund would love to have scans of those old newspaper articles to put on our website. sweeneyopenspacepark.org. Let me know if you would consider doing that. If you look at the “In The News” link at the top of each web page you can read the news papers from early 2000’s when the rail yard was being rezoned to Open Space. We would love to have more history.

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