Friday, September 10, 2010

The Carlaw Brothers Granite and Marble Works

Lately my attention has been focused on the Carlaw Brothers buildings since they will be on the front edge of the module I’m building for the Sacramento Modular Railroaders’ layout.

John and Andrew Carlaw, two brothers from Scotland, arrived in Sacramento around 1880 and set up a granite and marble works that took up a quarter block at 10th and R. The business lasted for many decades, long enough to be there during my modeling time-frame.

As I’ve stated before, I’m trying to model things the way they looked in August 1950, but with some of the details for the Carlaw project I may have to fudge a bit. There is photographic evidence that the begging-to-be-modeled crane of theirs was no longer there by January 1950. It was definitely around at least up to 1941 however, so it’s not too much of a fudge.* Perhaps the more serious infraction of the spacetime continuum is presenting Carlaw as a rail served industry in 1950 when photos and railroad documents show their spur was not in use and likely buried or removed by the 1940s . On the other hand, they were listed as a team track customer as late as 1958. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to pretend that they still had enough rail traffic to justify keeping their delivery track, so I’m forgiving myself for imagineering a Carlaw spur in 1950. Frankly, Carlaw Brothers is just too tempting not to model with an active rail spur.

The Carlaws had their own quarries locally over in Loomis, California at least during the early part of their existence. My guess is that stones from there probably didn’t come by rail but rather hauled by wagons and trucks from fairly early on.** However the Carlaws advertised that they were importers of eastern and Scottish marble and granite. It would seem that these long distance rocks would have to come by rail probably until at least the 40s and maybe into the 50s if they were still importing that late.

Pictures archived at the Center for Sacramento History reveal that the brothers Carlaw had some great buildings to model during this period. The polishing shop, interesting in itself with its old west style false front, had an attached blacksmith shop. This bit of information*** was a particularly cool find for me. I’ve had castings of an HO scale blacksmith, his bellows and forge plus assorted blacksmith tools rattling around my spares drawer for years. The poor guy and his stuff had little hope of ever being used. Now they have a home, and at long last, my pack rattishness has a tangible payoff! Also included in that set is a LED to light up the forge. Should I dare buy a smoke unit for this too? Animation can be like a strong spice, the perfect amount turns an ok dish great- a bit too much and the meal is ruined.
There were also two open sided work-sheds in the compound. The smaller of the two had stout truss frames on the sides and housed a marble saw. The other was quite large, approximately 38 feet by 75 feet and probably protected a number of big stone working tools. Alas, I’m not sure if the big shed will make it on the module though; test fitting my mock ups with it included really crowds the open yard section of the scene.

The only remaining structure still present from that time is a brick building on the corner of 11th and R streets. It was originally built for the Carlaw operation, but I don’t think they used very long. In the 40s and 50s it changed hands a number of times. I plan on modeling it when it housed a beer distributor. The front door is on a short wall that cuts diagonally across the northeast corner and has some decorative brick work that will be fun to model. If I can figure out how to do it, that is.

One find in my digging around on Google was that John Carlaw****, before he came to Sacramento, was involved with quarrying the granite for the Ames Monument.***** This towering edifice was a tribute to the Ames brothers of Union Pacific and the Transcontinental railroad fame and the Crédit Mobilier scandal infamy. When it was built it was sited on the highest elevation on the railroad. Since then, the line moved away from the monument. Now it seems to be in the middle of nowhere.

The Carlaw brothers worked on another monument with railroad connections, the AJ Stevens Monument which is still standing in Plaza Park in downtown Sacramento. They did the stone work for the base.

I’ve been learning a great deal about the stone works industry from many sources, but I’d like to pay special consideration to Peggy and Pat Perazzo’s Quarries and Beyond web-page. The Carlaw project presents a great opportunity to model some of the equipment that was common in stone yards, and their site has been a treasure trove of information towards that end. If I get anything right on the look of the tools, it’ll be because of the Perazzos.

*A picture taken by Eugene Hepting that includes the crane can be seen on page 52 of William Burg’s Sacramento Then and Now.

**There is some evidence that the before the Carlaws arrived, the site itself was used as a stone masons staging ground for work on the capitol. There is also some documentation that shows the Carlaw brothers at least bid on some of the later stone decorating work down on the Capitol and the Capital grounds.

*** Gleaned from a Sanborn Fire Insurance map -- BL. SM. equals blacksmith if you ever see that notation on one of their old maps by the way.

**** The 1880 version of John Carlaw - it appears that “John” was a well used family name through the generations. In the Eugene Hepting scrapbooks (at the Center for Sacramento History) notes that in 1938 the business was run by Jack Carlaw, probably John’s son.

***** History of Laramie County, Wyoming by Jean Bastian page 329.

I’m stealing the * footnote idea from - so here’s a shout out to Carl Pyrdum, proprietor of that wonderfully written site.


  1. Nice, Tom - I'll be looking forward to progress photos as you fill out the scene! The open work sheds ought to make the scene particularly good from a model railroad standpoint because you'll be able to show activity.
    I know that feeling of finding just the perfect item saved away in the scrapbox; it doesn't happen very often, but it's a pleasant surprise when it does!

  2. If you need loads, a local modeler here in San Jose sells granite and marble load kits. He provides 1/4" x 1" x 6" slabs, thread for cable, and stripwood for lagging. Let me know if you want contact info for him.

  3. Tom: Do not worry too much about "pulling" the Carlaw operation into 1950 on your module. Besides providing different car operations from the typical R street boxcars (flats? gons?) it will be a very interesting looking lot with all the different buildings. I have seen the the Eugene Hepting photos of Carlaw, but I did not realize the building at 11th and R was part of their operation. Keep up the good work, keep posting to the blog. Great reading.