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Along the waterfront: One man's HO obsession

Dec 7, 2010 • 6 comments • 6543 views

In the 1970s and '80s, while my father worked on his European model railroad layout on Telegraph Hill, overlooking San Francisco's northeastern waterfront, the San Francisco State Belt Railroad continued to serve its last customer: the Bauer-Schweitzer Malt Company on Francisco Street.  Schweitzer's last hopper car load in 1980 effectively sounded the death knell for the almost 100 year-old railroad, which suspended operations in 1993.


VP of Special Projects for the National Model Railroad Assocation (NMRA), Bill Kaufman is creating in his garage an HO-scale version of the Belt Line and its customers set at the time of its last peak in 1944. On  a recent rainy Sunday afternoon I took my 85 year old fellow model railroad enthusiast dad to see Bill's handiwork at his open house in San Rafael and recorded him telling us a little about the railroad and the various piers, warehouses and industries it served along the Embarcadero,  Fisherman's  Wharf, and the vicinity of Second and King streets.



In addition to serving local industry, the Belt Line connected the Port of San Francisco with the Southern, Western and Northwestern Pacific railroads, allowing goods to arriving by ship to proceed to their final destinations in the West. During the Korean and Second World Wars, the Belt Line ran as far west as the Presidio, shunting troops and supplies along Marina Boulevard. Remnants of the tracks can still be seen there and elsewhere.



Bill has also written a book on the Belt Line with lots of photos he found for Signature Press in Berkeley. He's not sure when it will be out but we hope soon.


The Belt Line on the Embarcadero circa 1949. Note the short-lived underpass, which Bill says was "in use for many years. It allowed the cars to go under the circle that the Muni and White Front trolleys made in in front of the Ferry Building."

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Sheer obsessive genius. This guy is a national treasure.
12.07.10 •
These models are amazing. My uncle has one about 6 tracks wide with bridges, lakes, mountains, trees, railroad workers, lights. Looking underneath at wiring would be an EEngineer's nightmare.
Designer of SF bridge designed the bridge in Victoria, and after months of heated debate from opposing sides, it is being torn down and replaced. Almost caused a civil war! Nostalgia for all things old...
12.07.10 •
Sweet article, sweet film, sweet stuff altogether!
12.07.10 •
Wonder if Neil Young knows about this guy. Neil is a big model train fan.
12.07.10 •
What a great story! I started dabbling in model railroading in high school and love to hear about all those out there keeping the history alive!
12.07.10 •
Nice Article. What a great story! Nice models like bridges, lakes, mountains, trees, railroad.
It is very interesting . Neil is a big model train fan.
12.20.10 •
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