By Jeff Livingston, Historian
Originally published in the Akahele I Ke Ka'aahi Nov/Dec 2010 Vol.40 No. 6

The short answer to the question posed in this title is "Benjamin Franklin Dillingham," but there's more to it than that. A more correct answer is "Benjamin Franklin Dillingham, Contractor." What's the difference you ask?

Following the formation of the OR&L by Dillingham, he took the title of Superintendent (later, General Manager) as an employee of the company. Dillingham was not an officer of the OR&L and did not sit on the Board of Directors. Others held those positions.

The OR&L then let a contract for the initial phase of construction, from Honolulu to Pearl Harbor, to "Benjamin Franklin Dillingham, Contractor." As such, Dillingham was an independent contractor hired by and to be paid by the OR&L to build the railroad. It was the "contractors" responsibility to finance the construction contract and not only to build the railroad but also equip it for operation.

To this end, it was "Benjamin Franklin Dillingham, Contractor" - not the OR&L - who actually purchased the original OR&L equipment from Baldwin and Carter Brothers. For the construction of this new railroad Dillingham bought two locomotives, Nos. 8 and 45 and twelve flat cars from the San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad (SF&NPRR). This equipment had last been used by the Sonoma Valley Railroad (SVRR) and became excess when the SF&NPRR purchased the SVRR in 1889 and converted the road to standard gauge.

In addition to the purchase of equipment to build the railroad Dillingham also hired Chief Engineer C.H. Kluegel, John Hughes and George Denison, all of whom were shortly on the payroll of both "Benjamin Franklin Dillingham, Contractor" and the OR&L. On the September 4,1889 opening of the railroad on Dillingham's 45th birthday, the OR&L consisted of only two miles of track, and the first lot of six canopy top Carter passenger cars.

Lacking a locomotive, Dillingham bought "Kauila" from the Hawaiian Government to pull the first train. By November 16, 1889, King Kalakaua's birthday, the railroad had reached Halawa, about eight miles from Honolulu and the two new Baldwin locomotives, Leahi and Kaala had arrived along with the remaining Carter equipment.

Dillingham also purchased a steam shovel of about fifteen tons with a capacity of about 1,000 cubic yards per day, which arrived in November 1889 and was set up at Moanalua. One hundred 3-yard dumping cars were constructed to haul earth from the shovel to town to be used for filling in all the tidewater lands where the depot, train shed and other buildings were to be located. The material to build the dump cars likely came from Carter Brothers but this has yet to be confirmed. The rudimentary railroad nearing completion (Honolulu to Pearl Harbor), it appears that Dillingham was about to or had run out of money to continue construction. An influx of cash was needed.

The Hawaiian Construction Company

The Hawaiian Construction Company was a partnership formed in May 1890 by Benjamin F. Dillingham, Mark P. Robinson and William R. Castle for the purpose of bidding on the construction of the Oahu Railway and Land Co. infrastructure including the right-of-way, Honolulu Station, car and locomotive shops etc. Dillingham held a 50% stake in the company with Robinson and Castle holding 25% each.

It was later incorporated in March 1891 with a capital of $223,000.00. Dillingham's 50% stake was not paid in cash but in the tools and equipment of "Benjamin Franklin Dillingham, Contractor" which included the locomotives Nos. 8 and 45, flat cars, steam shovel, dump car etc.

A new contract was let to the Hawaiian Construction Co. to build the right-of-way from Honolulu to what is now Pearl City which was to become the OR&L's "Pearl River Division." The Hawaiian Construction Company completed their contract and built the OR&L to Pearl City, January 1, 1890, and onto Ewa Mill reaching there July 4, 1890. In the process they acquired even more equipment including additional rolling stock. Apparently, having again run out of money and being unable to float more bonds, the Hawaiian Construction Co. gave up work in 1891.

A. Feek, Contractor, Seattle, Washington

In a turn of events not fully understood as yet, the contract to continue the line from Ewa Mill to Kahuku was given in October 1893 to A. Feek, Contractor, Seattle, Washington, rather than The Hawaiian Construction Co. This writer makes no pretense of understanding the complex business relationships of the various companies and principals involved in the construction and operation of the Oahu Railway and Land Company, and it is no wonder that Dillingham eventually suffered a nervous breakdown, especially when his other business ventures are added to the mix.

Like the previous contracts, the Feek contract called not only for the construction of the line but also the railroad equipment to operate the additional trackage. Feek surveyed and built the main line as far as Waianae but failed to complete the contract and for a time Waianae was the "end of the line." Bringing in a mainland contractor seems a bit unusual for those times. It may have been necessary due to both the OR&L and Hawaiian Construction being unable to raise the necessary funds to continue construction but the possibility exists that Feek was "set up" to fail while continuing construction of the OR&L.

OR&L Acquires Assets

After awarding the construction contract from Ewa Mill to Kahuku to A. Feek, the OR&L Board of Directors authorized the acquisition of the assets of the Hawaiian Construction Co. in June 1894 for the sum of $87,467.65. These assets included the following:

Rolling Stock

Traction Engine

Steam Shovel And Plant 1

Lime Kiln And Quarry





Office Furniture

Car Shop Material

Tools and Machinery


Note that "Kauila" No. 6 is not a part of theN Hawaiian Construction Co. assets purchased by the OR&L. It is believed that the OR&L purchased this locomotive from the Hawaiian Construction Co. prior to the remaining assets.

In May 1898 the Hawaiian Construction Co. was dissolved nine years after its inception and seven years after it did its last work. In the various orders for railroad car parts and equipment found within the archives of Bishop Museum, it is impossible to determine which if any material ordered by the OR&L was actually for the Hawaiian Construction Co., although there is very strong empirical evidence that such orders were made.

This apparent mixing of companies makes it even more difficult to justify the various reports and car counts of the OR&L in the early years and may account for some of the gaps in information we are consistently confronted with in our research.

B.F. Dillingham, Contractor

Following Peek's failure to complete his contract to build the OR&L to Kahuku, the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy and the insurrection of 1895, the economic situation settled down in Hawaii and Dillingham was successful in floating $2,000,000.00 of OR&L bonds abroad.

The OR&L re-funded its debts and was able to continue construction from Waianae.

A new contract was let to none other than "B.F. Dillingham, Contractor," Like the other contracts, this new contract included the equipment to operate the line. Dillingham continued construction beginning in 1896 and completed the line to Kahuku in 1898.

Ed. Note: Thanks, Jeff, for a fascinating look back at the beginnings of the OR&L