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Rocks, Rails & Ranches

Roundhouse was gateway to Sierra

GPS coordinates: (N 38° 47.506', W 121° 14.263')
By: Gary Day, Special to the Placer Herald
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History Tour

This is the seventh installment of a 19-part series where Gary Day will take readers on a tour of Rocklin’s historic sites. You can find the sites yourself with a handy Rocklin History Tour booklet, available at the Rocklin History Museum, 3895 Rocklin Road. GPS coordinates were provided by Brian Ignaut. Short stories about Rocklin’s history are at www.rocklinhistory.org/history_series.asp.

Rocklin’s roundhouse was at the intersection of Front Street and Rocklin Road, east of today’s Crossroads Church. A plaque near these remnants of the west-facing roundhouse wall marks the spot.

The Central Pacific Railroad built the roundhouse in 1867 to service extra engines that trains needed to surmount the Sierra. They chose Rocklin as the site because it is close to the point where the rail bed steepens as it heads toward Auburn. Also, Rocklin was close to large stands of oak and pine. An engine could consume 16 cords of firewood on its strain to the Sierra summit.

The roundhouse included 28 engine stalls, a turntable and an 8,000-square-foot woodshed.

In 1906, the railroad intended to expand its Rocklin facilities, but decided there was insufficient room. They gradually opened roundhouse operations in Roseville and closed the Rocklin facility in April 1908.

By 1912, Rocklin’s abandoned roundhouse had become a dangerous eyesore and Rocklin’s City Council required the railroad to demolish it.

In its heyday, just prior to its operations moving to Roseville, Rocklin’s roundhouse employed 300 people with a monthly payroll of $25,000 to 30,000. A report from the time asserts that, from 1906 through 1908, while the roundhouse was closing, Rocklin’s population declined by 80 percent. This could be an exaggeration, since this was also a time when Rocklin’s granite quarries were busy providing curbstone and granite blocks to rebuild San Francisco after the earthquake and fire of 1906.