Hetch Hetchy Railroad management went to A. Meister & Sons of Sacramento in 1919 to order a car built on a White Motor Company standard truck chassis. In 1920, the unique pony truck and rail brakes were installed and a self-contained turntable was mounted by the San Francisco Municipal Railway. No. 19 could carry thirteen passengers, but was primarily outfitted as an ambulance car during Mountain Division construction carrying injured and dead to the hospital in Groveland. With its self-contained turntable under the floor it could be jacked up and turned anywhere along the railroad. No. 19 turned out to be the favorite of Hetch Hetchy Project Manager, Chief O’Shaughnessy, who always requested it when he was up from San Francisco on business or inspections. The track car was originally decorated with red and black paint, ornamental tassels and gold lettering and numbers. It could run on track at speeds as high as 50 mph, running in overdrive on the straight stretches at Buck Meadows and Smith, getting sixteen miles per gallon. No. 19 set the trend; five more track buses were purchased, all White’s and no two exactly alike.
After many years at the El Portal Museum, a screened outdoor structure, Al reclaimed the No. 19. It was placed in storage and shortly thereafter Al Rose past away. In July 1997, Helga Rose, Al’s widow, donated No. 19 to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.
A restoration team from Railtown inspected the car and brought it to Railtown’s roundhouse using a low-boy truck.
Today, the Hetch Hetchy Railcar #19 is on display inside the roundhouse at Railtown. The San Francisco Public Library has historic photos of the #19, and other Hetch Hetchy cars, in their online collection.
Thanks to Joe Sparagna for contributing to this article.