At Harrison Square (downtown, at 7th and Harrison Streets), there used to be … trains! It was called Harrison Railroad Park and was dedicated in 1967.
On July 26, 1960, Southern Pacific Engine 2467, the first of five giant retired SP steam locomotives, arrived at Harrison Railroad Park. Reading the following day’s Oakland Tribune article1, one can sense that the logistics and excitement that day were akin to Space Shuttle Endeavor being moved through city streets in Southern California in 2012.
The engine weighed 267,500 pounds and its water tender, moved to the site the following day, weighed another 110,300 pounds (unloaded). The move involved being piggybacked on a trailer, makeshift rails to unload the locomotive from the truck, and slowly winding its way through city streets as railroad buffs and passers-by watched all along the route.
There were several other railroad cars in the park:
- Coach Car - Western Pacific #302
- Baggage Car - Western Pacific #128
- Superintendent’s Car - Southern Pacific #121 “Western”
Additions to the park were planned (were they implemented?), including
- A "picturesque station of early style, donated by SP"
The idea for Harrison Railroad Park was championed by District 3 City Councilmember Howard Rilea, a retired railroad engineer who had, incidentally, ridden this exact locomotive (Engine 2467) from Fresno to Oakland on February 10, 1945, on its last run before being decommissioned. Rilea's hopes for the park could be found in the last line of the Tribune article 1: “With subsequent additions, the display will provide a capsule history of the fascinating era of rail transportation.”
Rilea may have selected Harrison Square as the site for the display because the first transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869, formerly passed by the square on Seventh Street, the portion of which west of Broadway was then called Railroad Avenue. 3 However, back in 1958 Rilea had apparently tried to get a steam locomotive placed in Jack London Square. 4
Ain’t no trains there today. Look there now, there are some structures, and a sign reading “Welcome to Chinese Garden Park”. Oakland Councilmember Henry Chang had set out to convert the rolling stock into a history of the contributions of Chinese workers who came to California and helped build the transcontinental rail line across the United States. The rolling stock did not work for this purpose and were removed to make way for the current pagoda-style structure 3.
During the 1980s, the “Friends of the #2467” group began the process of restoring the locomotive to operating condition. The locomotive was moved out of the park in 1990.
According to recollections on Trainorders.com,2 the locomotive and railroad cars were given to different organizations:
- the Western Pacific cars are now at the Western Railway Museum at Rio Vista Junction
- the Southern Pacific superintendent’s/business car is at the Niles Canyon Railway undergoing restoration
- Engine 2467 was given to the Pacific Locomotive Association, which temporarily moved it into a warehouse on the Oakland Army Base where it was restored to operating condition. From there it was driven under its own steam to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento
Nellie Wong wrote a book of poetry called Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park which was published in 1977.
Links and References
- Oakland’s Railroad ‘Home’ Gets Its First Occupant - Oakland Tribune July 27, 1960
- Trainorders.com: WP Passenger Potpourri, SP P-8 #2467
- Chinese Senior Center, Garden Beautified by Annalee Allen Oakland Tribune February 28, 2010
- The Knave Oakland Tribune May 30, 1958