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Washington \ Seattle Coal & Transportation Co.
Reference Data.
May 8, 1871

Corporate Ownership.
Seattle Coal Company.
February, 1870 - May 8, 1871
Seattle Coal & Transportation Co.
May 8, 1871 - June 1877
Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad.
June 1877 - 1880.

Last Updated: September 8, 2015

Seattle Coal and Transportation Company.

By Randy Hees

T he Seattle Coal & Transportation company operated a 17 mile long tram and ferry system to move coal from its mine at Newcastle. The route was included a tramway from the mine to Lake Washington where the cars were loaded on barges. Once across the lake the cars were then taken via a portage railway (reports suggest that at least initially cattle were used as the motive power on the Portage segment) to Lake Union where they were again loaded on barges, then back onto a steam powered railroad line to the Coal Companies bunker and wharf at the foot of Pike Street on Elliot Bay. The system was reported to have cost $71,221.

Construction started in 1870, with the line opening with a grand celebration on March 22, 1872, every citizen was given a free ride; benches were installed for the occasion in the system’s first eight gondolas.  Accompanied by a brass band – for at least the first trip – the train ran back and forth from sunrise to sunset.

With the success of "Ant" and steam powered railroading, two additional 0-6-0t locomotives were purchased from Baldwin in 1874, The "Geo. Bode" and the "Georgina". With the two new engines on hand, "Ant" would be rented in either 1875 or 1877 to the new Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad as a construction engine.

The large coal wharf on Elliot Bay collapsed due to pile-eating teredo worms in June 1877. By now the Seattle and Walla Walla was building a new coal handling pier at King Street and their tracks had reached Renton, and were nearing the coal mines at Newcastle on Coal Creek.

The barge and tramway system was replaced in 1878 (last run Jan. 29, 1878) by the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad which reached the mines with an all railroad route, south from Seattle around Lake Washington to Renton and the Duwamish River Valley replacing the clumsy barge and tramway system. The SC&T railroad equipment was then sold to the S&WW and a transportation contract negotiated.

Apparently due to financial problems, the S&WW did not pay its debt to the SC&T for the equipment. At one point the coal company offered to pay higher freight rates if in exchange the railroad would pay the debt. This lead to the railroad entering receivership, and eventually in November 1880 both the S&WW and the Seattle Coal and Transportation Company would be purchased by Henry Villard and become part of his Oregon Improvement Company.

1. Railway World, March 19, 1891, quoting the Annual Report of the Oregon Improvement Company for 1891.

Hilton, George W. (1990). American Narrow Gauge Railroads. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-2369-9.
Gerald Best, Ships and Narrow Gauge Rails, Howell North, Berkeley, 1964
Kurt E. Armbruster Orphan Road: The Railroad Comes to Seattle, Washington State University Press, Pullman WA, 1999
Frederic James Grant (editor) History of Seattle, Washington: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches, American Publishing and Engraving Company, New York 1891.

Reference Material Available Online:


Collected Seattle Coal & Transportation Co. Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

Equipment Roster.

Equipment of the Seattle Coal & Transportation Co. Compiled by Randy Hees.

Additional Sources.

Donald B. Robertson Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History vol III Oregon, Washington Claxton Printers, Caldwell Idaho, 1986.
While generally, Robertson’s books are a good place to start researching railroads and their equipment, in this case it is included here if only to warn readers that the entries for Seattle and Walla Walla, which includes information on Seattle Coal and Transportation are not accurate and should not be relied on.

Seattle Coal & Transportation Company begins operating Seattle's first railroad on March 22, 1872. Essay #5412

Seattle citizens start work on Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad on May 1, 1874. Essay #924

Oregon Improvement Company completes purchase of Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad Company and Seattle Coal & Transportation Company on November 26, 1880. Essay #10920

Newspaper Clippings.

Article Thumbnail
Historic Engine.
Article describing the history of the locomotive "Ant".
The Ranch. October 15, 1912.

Courtesy Library of Congress.

"California Built Locomotive". Santa Cruz Weekly Herald, November 14, 1874.


Washington State Library, Seattle, WA.
Arthur Armstrong Denny Papers
The collection includes Seattle and Walla Walla records, including correspondence with Seattle Coal and Transportation over debts owed by the railroad to the coal company and in part lead to the sale of both to Villard.

Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle WA.
Oregon Improvement Company Records - 1880-1935.

Washington \ Seattle Coal & Transportation Co.
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