Benjamin Welch, General Master Car-Builder, Southern Pacific Railroad, was born on “Peck’s Island,” Casco Bay, near Portland Maine, in August 1827. The Welch family emigrated from Yorkshire, England, to the north of Ireland. His grandfather, James Welch, settled in New England in the early colonial days, and was in the Revolutionary army. The family of the mother of Benjamin Welch, Lucinda Bracket, was of Scotch descent, and settled in New England in 1636. They were nearly related to George Cleves, the pioneer settler of the city of Portland, Maine. Like so many of New England’s sons, especially in the early days, the father of our subject “followed the sea,” and, although a man of means, young Benjamin was not brought up to idle away his time. At the age of sixteen we find him working as a carpenter in the Portland Locomotive and Car Shops, doing the work for the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railroad, afterward the Grand Trunk Railroad, under the superintendence of Horace Felton and John Sparrow, where he remained for five years. In the spring of 1852 he came to California via the Vanderbilt steamer Daniel Webster, to Greytown, on the Nicaragua River, thence across to the Pacific, reaching San Francisco on the 26th of March, where he resided for three years. On the 4th of March, 1855, he started for the Kern River mining district, and during this trip of four months visited the various mining operations in the San Joaquin and Bear valleys. It was during this trip that his services were engaged by the Sacramento Valley Railroad Company as a car-builder and superintendent of their pattern shops, which position he filled for seven years, being at Folsom during a portion of that time. Leaving that point, he went to the San Jose road, which was being constructed, making his headquarters at the “Seventeen-Mile House,” with Charles McLaughlin, who was killed in San Francisco a few years ago. He was also on the Mission and other roads until 1863, when he was engaged by Mr. Huntington, in the interest of the Central Pacific Railroad, T.D. Judah, Chief Engineer of the road, being his personal friend. He was engaged as Car Master, but to this duty was added that of General Superintendent of Construction of the different shops, buildings, etc., the first one being 20 x 150 feet, on which only half a dozen men were employed for the first year. Additions were made of 130 x 30 feet, and this was the shop as occupied until 1867, when the present structure, 60 x 200 feet, was built; in 1868 the building, 90 x 230 feet, with an L 90 x 40 feet, which was soon followed by another, 100 x 200 feet, and the Round House. In 1865 he constructed his first immense snow-plow, which was in successful use for many years, the original cost being $2,400. He reconstructed the American River bridge, which had been destroyed by fire. In 1869 he invented a machine known as a “Framer and Tenon Machine,” thereby saving much time and labor in the construction of cars. In 1870 the “Emigrant Sleeper,” or “Tourist Car,” was constructed upon his plans, and has since been adopted by the majority of the roads throughout the Union. These cars, built by the Pullman Company, were shown at the Railroad Exposition at Chicago in 1884, and received very general and favorable comment. At this writing (1889) the department under his control employs 1,950 workmen.

Mr. Welch was married January 4, 1860, to Mrs. Ellen Marsh, nee Barbour, a native of the State of Maine. Their living children are: George Henry, Walter Hatch, Frank Cummings and Benjamin Bradford. Mr. Welch is a member of Union Lodge, No. 58; F. & A.M., Sacramento Chapter, No. 3; Commandery, No. 2, and Council, No. 1, having been identified with the latter society over thirty years. He has held many positions of trust in connection with railroad matters, among which might be mentioned his membership with the Car-Builders’ Association since 1870. He was appointed as one of a committee on brakes, which was in session at Burlington, Iowa, for thirty days in 1886, and again in 1887. Plain, unostentatious and unassuming, his thorough knowledge of every detail, his fertility of resource and kindliness of nature, has secured to him the happy cognomen of “Uncle Ben,” and in the language of one of his associates, “Whatever Uncle Ben says, goes.” The friend and associate of the late A.J. Stevens, Master Mechanic and Superintendent of Motive Power; his inherent knowledge of men and things; his practical ability and inventive genius, brought him into intimate, personal relations with the master spirits of this, the greatest railroad enterprise of the present generation, and no man stands higher in the councils of the great corporation. His name will find a place side by side with those whose thought first spanned the continent; whose plans and purposes, finding an echo in his breast, were brought to a successful issue by their energy and executive ability.


Transcribed by Debbie Walke Gramlick.


An Illustrated History of Sacramento County, California. By Hon. Win. J. Davis. Lewis Publishing Company 1890. Page 393-394.

© 2004 Debbie Walke Gramlick.

Sacramento County Biographies