Part of Wx4's "The Past Less Traveled" series:

Antioch, California Area Coal Mines & Railroads Map
Circa 1898

Black Diamond R.R.
Pittsburg R.R.
Empire Coal Mine R.R.


Page corrected with additional material 8-26-2018

(click on the map for an enlarged version)
Click HERE for a map of the area today
In the latter half of the 19th Century, the hills south of Antioch and east of Mt. Diablo hosted several coal mines served by three small railroads, whose lines are shown in the map above (click on it for a larger view). Exact dating of the above map is tricky, but there are a couple of clues. First, the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley R.R. line through Pittsburg and Antioch formally became part of the Santa Fe in 1899, Second, the Empire R.R. line is depicted as a "right of way", which indicates that the map was drawn sometime subsequent to the railroad's closing in 1897.

This one is one of the prizes in the Wx4 collection. As far as anyone knows, this is the only one in existence. We would love to hear from anyone who knows something about these little railroads. eMail: wx4org@yahoo.com

Black Diamond Coal Mining Railroad Company
Standard guage; construction begun in 1868; length 5.9 miles; operations ceased in March, 1923. Owner Black Diamond Coal and Railroad Company also had network of 3' mine trackage in Nortonville. Mines closed in 1883.
Pittsburg Railroad Company
Standard gauge; completed 1866; at time of map official name was Pittsburg & Black Diamond Railroad; length 5.33 miles; operations ceased 1911; abandoned 1916.
Empire Coal and Railroad Company
Purportedly 26" gauge; began operations 1878; length 6,75 miles; operations mostly ceased 1897; re-organized as Antioch Railroad in 1899, but apparently operated little, if at all; re-organized as common carrier and tourist railroad (!), Mt. Diablo & San Jose Railroad in 1900; extended to Diablo (Blackhawk); total length of 22 miles; grading extended towards Livermore and Bryant's (Orinda); abandoned 1907, due to 1906 Earthquake damage. (see update, below)

August 26, 2018 Correction & Additional Material

Correction: This page first appeared nearly 15 years ago - an early Wx4 effort, which, much to our chagrin / delight, has until now unwittingly supported a bit of historical mischief perpetrated by the late, well known-historian Ted Wurm. We obviously fell for it hook, line and sinker:

Referring to the narrative in red type immediately above, the Mt. Diablo and San Jose Railroad never existed, except in Ted's impish mind, as kind Wx4 reader Clyde Underwood recently pointed out to us. According to PacificNG.org, Ted, in a moment of boredom, composed a believable (to us), but fallacious tale of the "railroad", which he published as a 12 page pamphlet in 1988 under the nom de plume Theodora Gusano. We nevertheless take some solace in the fact that we are not the only party to be hooked by his mischief. A certain 1997 Cal State Hayward master's thesis (not ours!) quotes profusely from Ted's book, for example. How many wide-eyed folks have been bamboozled by Ted's effort is anybody's guess, but on the other hand, Wx4 staff wishes to point out that we did not bite on the entirety of PacificNG's description of the affair. No, Bob Brown of the Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette did not review Ted's book, as PacificNG purports (for reasons that should by now be apparent, we checked). Nice try, boys. We conclude that narrow gauge aficionados are undependable sorts.

We certainly would like to see a copy of this seminal work of Ted's:
Gusano, Theodora. The Devil's Shortline: Mt. Diablo & San Jose Railroad: a Forgotten California Narrow Gauge. Albany: Ross Valley Books, 1988

Additional Material:

Above - Empire Coal & Railroad Company's Jenny E. Belshaw and train sit at the foot of F Street in Antioch in 1881. Wx4 collection; original photo in the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve collection, and also appeared in the book by the same title, pg. 58 (see additional sources, below).

  • Extract covering California coal mines and resources in 1868 from: Report of J. Ross Browne on the mineral resources of the states and territories west of the Rocky Mountains
  • Extract: Report of the Black Diamond Coal Mining Railroad Company to the California Board of Railroad Commissioners, 1881
  • Mullenberg, M. V. BENEATH THE SHADOW OF THE MOUNTAIN: A HISTORY OF MOUNT DIABLO AND THE CONTRA COSTA TO 1900; M. A. thesis, California State University, Hayward, June, 1997

Selected Sources:

  • Ward, Bert. "Mt Diablo Coal Mine Railroads Part 1", Western Railroader Vol 33, no 12, issue 370, December 1970.
  • Ward, Bert. "Mt Diablo Coal Mine Railroads Part 2", Western Railroader Vol 34, no 1, issue 371, Jan 1971.
  • Parent, Traci & Terhune, Karen. Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve; Charleston, S.C.: Acadia Publishing, 2009
  • Historic Topographical Quadrangles at Berkeley.edu