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World's Largest Train Ferry

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					World's Largest Train Ferry

                    The Solano carried trains across the Carquinez Strait from 1879 until 1930.




The Solano, the largest train ferry in the world, made her first trip from South Benicia or Bull Valley (which
would later be named Port Costa) to Benicia on December 28, 1879. On her first day of service two
transcontinental trains came through Benicia. The Atlantic Express Transcontinental Train #1, which took
passengers from San Francisco to New York, was the first train ferried across the strait. The trip was
completed in six or seven minutes, despite dense fog and was greeted when it arrived in Benicia with the
music of military bands from the Benicia Barracks and a cheering crowd. The Atlantic Express was also the
first train to travel over the new Suisun Line, a new 60-mile short-cut in the Central Pacific railroad system.

Originally, the Pacific Express Transcontinental Trail #2 carrying passengers from New York to San
Francisco was to have been the first train ferried across the Strait on that day, but it was delayed by weather.
The crossing, nevertheless, marked the beginning of a new era; an era when Benicia when was a bustling
center of railroad activity and economic growth. In 1914, another even larger ferry, the Contra Costa was
built to carry the growing railroad traffic across the Strait. By 1920, passenger volume had become too great
for the super-carriers and Southern Pacific Railroad began planning alternatives. In 1927 work was begun on
a new train bridge from Benicia to Martinez. It was completed in late 1930

The Solano crossed the Carquinez Strait from Benicia to Port Costa for the last time on November 1, 1930.
Southern Pacific had just completed a train bridge from Benicia to Martinez, putting an end to Benicia’s
railroad history.

Charline Erwin was one of the passengers on that last trip. She wrote:

The great boat was jam packed with teary-eyed Benicians and visitors who were making a “Sentimental
Journey”. “Progress”, the ogre of civilization, that day terminated the magnificent performance of the “Queen”
of all train ferries, the “Wonder of her Age”, - SOLANO.

Benicia’s participation in the “Golden Years of American Railroading” ceases. The lovely name of Our Town
would never again grace the North Western and Cross-country timetables.

An Era had ended!

Facts about the Solano: Built in Oakland in 1879, it measured 420 feet 5 inches long by 116 feet wide. It had
a depth of 18 feet 4 inches. and operated with two engines, each 1500 horsepower with paddle-wheels 30
feet in diameter. The wooden boat weighed 3549 tons with a displacement of 5440 tons. The Solano was
dismantled in 1934.
        THE RAILROAD FERRY
         STEAMER "SOLANO."
By ROBERT L. HARRIS, M. Am. Soc. C. E.
                                                               During a journey in 1885 to and from my old home in
                                                               California, I saw much to interest me socially and
                                                               professionally. Among the objects of engineering
                                                               development was the Railroad Ferry Steamer "Solano,"
                                                               which is supposed to be the largest in the world and
                                                               which belongs to the Central Pacific Railway
                                                               Company, and is in use at the Straits of Carquinez.

                                                               Perhaps this subject has peculiar interest to me, in that
                                                               memory reverts to the "fifties," when the great boat
                                                               "Maryland" ferried the Philadelphia, Wilmington and
                                                               Baltimore Railroad passengers across the Susquehanna
                                                               River at Havre de Grace. This boat now runs on the
                                                               East River in connection with the New York and New
                                                               England Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad. The
                                                               capacity of its two tracks is fourteen freight cars, which
                                                               may be borne in mind as a familiar standard for
                                                               comparison.

That ferry was where a bridge was then considered too stupendous an undertaking to be seriously thought of, and where
early in the next decade George A. Parker, upon the completion of the wooden spans, placed this legend upon his
bridge: "The work of one thousand men for three years." (This next decade was, however, the Youthful Giant period of
the United States, when grand work was done, and for the first time in its history our people became familiar with
immense combinations of men, material and money.)
                                  CPRR Ferry Solano. Watkins Stereoview #3797.

Memory has thus brought me forward to the "sixties," when a "grand" ferry-boat, the "Louise," with its new contrivance
of compound engines (and more levers than a man could jump to), was built to run between San Francisco and the
modest little "San Franscisco and Oakland Railroad," 4 miles in length, for which I obtained the first financial backing
and was engineer, and which we then truly prophesied would grow to be the terminus of the great Transcontinental
Railway, before such a thing existed except in the minds of enterprising, dauntless men.
Still later, memory brings me to the "seventies," when as Chief Engineer of the Chicago and Canada Southern Railway,
a trial trip was made on the Detroit River with the large railroad ferry-boat the "Transfer," with three tracks to convey at
once twenty-one freight cars between Amherstburg in Her Majesty's Dominion and Grosse Isle in the United States. Let
me say, in passing, that this is Grosse Isle (French), not "Goose Ile," as its first post-marking stamps actually came from
the Washington General Post Office in 1872.

We now reach the "eighties," and on the Atlantic Coast I note that the ferry across the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, on the
route of the Now York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad, is probably the longest regular railway ferry in the world (24
miles, time card two hours from Cape Charles to Old Point Comfort, or 36 miles, three hours, to Norfolk). Its fine ferry
steamer, the "Cape Charles," which was completed a year ago, attained at its trial trip a mean rate of speed of 18 1/2
statute. miles per hour with steam pressure of 55 to 60 pounds. This boat is arranged for the transfer of four passenger
cars. Its dimensions are given as follows:




The paddle wheels (feathering) are 24 1/2 feet diameter. Each wheel has twelve floats which are 9 1/2 feet long and 40
inches wide. The motive power is one surface-condensing beam engine with cylinder 54 inches in diameter and stroke
of piston of 11 feet.
           Southern Pacific's car ferry Solano carrying a passenger train across the Carquinez Straits

And now, in the "eighties," I find that the Pacific Coast has the largeat, finest, most complete of all railroad ferry
Steamers yet launched, the "Solano," which so interested me that I asked for details, which were cheerfully given by my
friend, Mr. Arthur Brown, subscriber to the building fund of this Society, whom I formerly knew as in charge, during
the construction, of all wooden structures built upon the line of the Central Pacific Railway, many of which required
rapidity in construction as well as originality and boldness of design; the history of which, if written, would alone form
a grand chapter in the Civil Engineering of the past fifty years. The description kindly furnished by Mr. Brown is as
follows :
     DESCRIPTION OF THE CAR FERRY STEAMER "SOLANO" AND THE SLIP AT PORT COSTA,
                          NORTHERN RAILWAY, CALIFORNIA.

By Arthur Brown, Superintendent Bridges and Buildings Department, Central Pacific Railroad.

                                                                                                 WEST OAKLAND, Cal.

The ferry steamer "Solano" was built for the purpose of carrying a full train of cars (viz., forty-eight freight or twenty-
four passenger cars with engine) across the Straits of Carquinez, on the line of the Northern Railway, a leased line of the
Central Pacific Railroad. The current in these straits runs at times 8 miles per hour. The range of tide is 9 feet. The
following are the general features and dimensions:




Propelled by two vertical beam engines, placed on the center of boat, 8 feet fore and aft of midships, making the
distance from center to center of shafts 16 feet. Each engine drives one wheel, and works independently of the other.




The boilers are of steel. They are placed in pairs on the guards fore and aft of the paddle wheels, and are so connected
with the engines that one or all may be used at pleasure.
The boat is stiffened longitudinally by four wooden Pratt trusses (vertical posts and diagonal rods), one under the center
of each track. [Shown in cross—section as between each track at midships; better shown in plan.] The members of these
trusses are proportioned to stand the heaviest loads which can come upon them. In calculating the strains, the difference
between the sum of the weights at each panel, and the displacement for the panel length was assumed as the maximum
force acting at that panel. For several panels at the center and ends of the boat the, weights exceed the displacements,
but, between, the reverse is the case. A separate calculation for displacements, etc., was made for each position of the
moving loads.

Success in handling a boat of such dimensions in an 8-mile current is due principally to the use of balanced rudders in
connection with hydraulic steering apparatus, and to independent engines. There are four balanced rudders coupled
together at each end of the boat; at the forward end they are held in position by the pin, which is removed at the stern.

The axis of the slip on each side of the straits coincides nearly with the direction of the current, pointing on the Port
Costa side up, and on the Benicia side down stream, so as to facilitate entering the slips. The distance across is one mile;
the whole time consumed in transit is nine minutes, including starting and stopping.
"Portion of the ferry, a train that is making the crossing, and the name of the ferry 'Solano' on the side of the
                                                 upper tower."




                   "Front of the ferry, carrying a train as it comes into the landing area."
Solano San Francisco Bay CPRR Ferry. Photographer unknown. Cyanotype Images & Captions Courtesy Fred Sherfy.

The "Solano" has been running four years without trouble, and is handled with great ease. The variation of tide rendered
necessary the use of a hinged apron, A (see Plates LIX and LXI), supported in part by a wholly submerged pontoon, B,
and in part by the counterpoises C. The apron is 100 feet long by 44 1/2 feet wide, and carries four tracks,
corresponding with those on the boat. Its weight is about 154 tons. The pontoon displaces about 65 tons, and the
counterpoises about 12 1/2 tons each, the remainder being carried by the hinge H. When in use the apron rests upon the
end of the boat in a recess into which it fits with a little play, so that the wharf and boat act as abutments for the moving
load.

The apron is composed of five longitudinal bow-string combination wood and iron trusses, from which are hung floor
beams carrying the track stringers.

When the boat has entered the slip and is in position to receive or discharge a train, the counterpoises are raised by
hydraulic power; leaving 25 tons of the apron unbalanced, this sinks the pontoon, and when the end of the apron reaches
its place on the boat it is securely latched down; the counterpoises are then released ; the apron and boat are now free to
rise and fall with the tide, and the apron is ready to rise from its seat as soon as unlatched from the boat. The boat is
held up to the apron by means of two mooring rods, which run the entire length of the apron, are hinged at H, and bolted
back, as shown, to the piling. The rods are connected with the boat by means of links and tightening levers. The wire
rope g g connecting the counterpoises with the apron on each side is double and continuous; it passes half around
equalizing sheaves, one at the end of the supporting beam of the apron, and one at the counterpoise.

From the top of the boxes containing the counterpoises the chains K pass partly around the sheaves 11, and the sheave
m in the crosshead J of the hydraulic lift 0, and are secured at n. From the bottom of the counterpoise the chain K'
passes Similarly around l' l' and m', and is secured at n' (Plate LXI). The lift is supplied from the accumulator G, into
which fresh water is pumped by hand from the tank R by means of the pump I. It is necessary to have a man at, each
slip, and he has sufficient time to attend to pumping, so that power is obtained at no expense. The distribution valve of
the lift T, shown in detail (Plate LXI), is so arranged that when the power is cut off the ends of the cylinder are
connected, so that the piston may be drawn either way and the apron rise and fall with the tide, the water in the cylinder
merely circulating around. When the connterpoise rises or falls it pulls the piston of the lift toward one or the other end
of the cylinder by means of the chain K or K'. The stroke of the piston is sufficient to allow this change of position and
leave enough to handle the apron, take up lost motion, and allow clearance, so that, whatever may be the position of the
title, the cylinder is always filled with water, and the piston connected and ready to act. There is a lift on each side, but
only one accumulator, one tank, and one set of pumps.




The journal of the hinge H is cylindrical, the axis being at the base of the rail, so that there is no longitudinal motion of
the rail.

The position of the wharf relatively to the boat is such that the angle between high and low tide is divided by the apron.
Besides this, at extreme tides, the angles are filled with steel wedges hinged one at each end of each rail on wharf, apron
and boat. These, when not in use, lie to one side of the rail; when it is necessary to use them they are simply turned over
on the rail. These wedges are of such dimensions that they divide the angle at extreme tides into three other angles
nearly equal, enabling trains to pass without inconvenience.

Plate LXII shows more in detail the steering gear and location of engines; referring to tile plan, EE designate the
location of the engines and A2, A3 the engine shafts already referred to; P the hydraulic pumps which are arranged in
pairs; diameter of water cylinders., 4 inches; steam cylinders, 12 inches, each 12 inches stroke. The discharge from each
water cylinder is connected with the accumulator A, which consists of a tank 30 inches diameter by 8 feet in. length,
closed on top, kept partially filled with water. The air over the water is kept at a constant pressure by the pumps. In the
connection between the accumulator and pressure pipes is placed a weighted valve; this is connected with the engine
throttle, and changes the set of the throttle automatically so as to prevent variations of pressure in the hydraulic
cylinders. Pressure pipes lead from the accumulator tank to the three way valves located in the hold of the boat under
the pilot houses; these valves are shown more fully in detail. It will be thus seen that by moving the valve the pressure
may be thrown on either hydraulic piston as may be desired, at the same time changing the exhaust from either cylinder
to the tank T, to which the auction pipes from both pump cylinders are connected.
The hydraulic cylinders have each a stroke of 14 feet and bore of 5 1/2 inches. There is a pair of hydraulic cylinders
connecting with each set of balanced rudders, shown on plan, and more fully shown in detail.

The pressure pipes connect with the head of each hydraulic cylinder; the pressure is thrown from one to the other by
means of the three-way valve, and the rudders are held in position by closing these valves. As one piston advances the
other recedes.

The valves are worked, from either pilot house, by valve rods lending valves.

The tillers are connected to steering wheels by means of chains and rods running over fair leaders, and to the steering
wheels in the usual way.

The steering wheels turn with the motion of the tillers the same as though they were used directly. The object of this is
that, in case of derangement of hydraulic apparatus, the boat can be steered in the usual way.

A peculiar feature of the hydraulic cylinders is that should it become necessary to steer by hand, the piston rods, which
are a continuation of rods connecting with the tillers, slide through the pistons, diminishing the power required to turn
the steering wheels by the amount of friction necessary to move the pistons and also the water through the pipes, the
water being allowed to run from one cylinder to the other through the straight passage in the valve, until the pistons are
at the head of the cylinder.

By referring to the detail of balanced rudders it will be seen that the four rudders on either end of the boat are connected
by coupling rods; the coupling rod connecting the intermediate rudders of the four (it will be seen from end view) is
bent upward so as to run close under the fan-tail, and has a hole to receive a pin which holds the rudders in line with the
keel.

Plate LXII shows the location of the trusses in plan, and the division of the hold of the boat into eleven water-tight
compartments by transverse bulkheads; these also add lateral stiffness to the frame.




In order to appreciate fully the location where the ferry steamer "Solano" is used, it is necessary to see it; next to that,
one should have charts; failing which, I will say that the summer traveler from the East, heated and tired by his six days'
ride, is suddenly conscious, when 50 miles from San Francisco, of a delicious coolness, caused by the trade-wind from
the Pacific Ocean. At about 30 miles from the terminus there is a stop of a minute, a start followed by a pause of about
five minutes, when he feels that in some way his motion has changed, and, going to the car platform, discovers that
while he is still on the cars, the entire train is on a boat, which is crossing the Straits of Carquinez.

The Straits of Carquinez is a narrowing of what is really an arm of the sea, which, after entering through the narrow
"Golden Gate" (so first named by Gen. John O. Fremont), extends in the Bay of San Francisco southerly over 30 miles
(extreme width 11 miles) and northerly 12 miles (extreme width 9 miles). It then extends through San Pablo Bay about
13 miles (width 12 miles); thence through the Straits of Carquinez 5 miles, and terminates in Suisun Bay with its area of
11 miles by 6 miles.

This (Suisum) bay receives the drainage of the larger portion of the great State of California through its main rivers the
San Joaquin and the Sacramento. I may add that, at a low stage of water in the river, the tide is noticeable at
Sacramento, nearly 60 miles in a direct line above the Straits of Carquinez, or by the river navigation 125 miles from
San Francisco.

The width of the Straits is about 1 mile ; the shores are bold ; soundings are over 100 feet ; the current is dependent on
the state of the tide, but is said to be at times 8 miles per hour, and every summer afternoon a gale of cold air rushes
through this opening in the coast ranges to diffuse itself in the heated interior of the State, which makes life there
livable. My remembrance is that the difference in temperature of a summer day between San Francisco and Sacramento
is from 30 to 50 degrees.

Members on our Atlantic Coast may be interested in the following characteristics of the tides of San Francisco :

"There is a large tide and a small tide, and file tides are known as high and higher high (or big high and little high), low
and lower low ; the lower low occurs after the higher high tide.
"The average difference between higher high and lower low water of the same day is 5.2 feet. The greatest observed
difference between the two low waters of one day was 5.3 feet, and the greatest difference between the higher high and
lower low water of one day was 8.5 feet." My recollection of what I considered the difference in tide is 8.3 feet.

To return to the ferriage: the enjoyment of the breeze is enhanced by the grand views of the beautiful bays and their
surrounding hills and mountains which lie in ranges parallel to the coast, among which are seen the peaks of Mount
Diablo near by and 30 miles east of San Francisco, and Mount Tamalpais, 20 miles north of San Francisco, each having
an altitude of about 3 000 feet, yet in different ranges on opposite sides of this noble fiord.

The traveler hears but little noise and feels but little jar, for although the engines are powerful the hull is very strong and
stiff ; he sees no coal dust nor dirt, for the two or three firemen have but to tend petroleum and steam jets (a California
friend who has just arrived corrects me; he says "one or two firemen in handsome business suits and white unsoiled
shirts tending taps "). This mode of heating has proved so successful on the "Solano" that it is being introduced on the
railroad ferry boats between the terminus at Oakland and the City of San Francisco, which ferriage is about 4 miles.

Before the traveler comprehends the neatness or has time to question the economy of the fuel, before he appreciates the
boat or fully enjoys the scenery, he finds himself again rushed by the locomotive over the steel rails.

I passed back and forth at this ferry several times; at each time the perfection of its operation challenged admiration.

A passenger train of, say, ten cars comes to the slip. During its pause of a minute, the train has been uncoupled in the
middle and a switching engine has been attached to its rear ; the regular engine proceeds with the forward half of the
train on to the boat, the switching engine pushes the rear half on another track of the boat, the steamer is cast off with
the entire train and both engines as cargo, and yet only two of the four tracks are occupied, for the capacity of the
"Solano" is twenty-four passenger cars or forty-eight freight cars with locomotive.

The landing of the train is as simple as its embarkation, and is made in the same manner. The total detention of a
passenger train at both sides of the Straits, by reason of the ferry, seldom amounts to fifteen minutes; the time card
shows for the station of Benicia on the north and Port Costa on the south of the Straits, twenty-five minutes total
difference, including embarkation, ferriage, landing and station stops.

This ferriage forms a most pleasant interlude on the long journey, equaling the stop at Multnomah Falls on the route of
the Northern Pacific Railway at about the same distance from its Portland station, and to a traveler is no more of an
objection to the route. It is a delay of fifteen minutes in a journey of 10 000 minutes, which, were it necessary, could be
shortened some 3 000 minutes, and yet the trains not be run on what is called "fast time."

Neither a tunnel nor a bridge in this vicinity can be seriously considered for the present, while to remain on the south
side of this water is to use part of the route first built by the Central Pacific people, the "Western Pacific Railroad," to a
junction at Sacramento with an increased distance of 60 miles, or double the distance by the short "California Pacific,"
now the main passenger route, our old opposition road, to which feature of directness I recur with pleasure as once its
chief engineer.

There is no gainsaying the old axiom, "A straight line is the shortest distance between two points," especially if by
traveling it all grades are avoided.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION.

The following additional information in regard to the Solano has been obtained by reason of the interest manifested at
the presentation of the foregoing paper.

The idea of this large ferry-boat was suggested by Governor Leland Stanford, President of the Central Pacific Railroad
Company, and now United States Senator from California.
The design and construction of the "Solano" were entrusted to Mr. Arthur Brown, West Oakland, Cal., Superintendent
of the Bridge and Building Department of the Railroad Company, with the only conditions that she should be large
enough to convey one of the largest freight trains across the Straits of Carquinez.

The boat generally, the slips, approaches, aprons, machinery, and all other accessories, were designed and built by Mr.
Arthur Brown.

The engines were designed and built by the Harlan & Hollingsworth Company, Wilmington, Del.

The boilers were designed and built, and the machinery in the boat was erected, by Mr. Andrew J. Stevens, Sacramento,
Cal., the Master of Machinery for the railroad company.

The boat is considered a success in every particular. The hull is of wood; the longest timbers are the deck beams, which
are single sticks 115 feet in length. There were a great many sticks of large size up to 100 feet long. The trusses under
the tracks take the place of keelsons, so that excessively long sticks were not a necessity for that duty.

The following data are given in regard to the comparative cost and evaporation of fuel, oil and coal:




There have been no measurements of the actual evaporation accomplished with either coal or oil. As the duty performed
by coal and oil is the same, a comparative idea of their efficiency may be obtained from the foregoing data. According
to the calculations of those using the boat, the saving by the use of fuel oil is about 18 per cent., principally in labor.




   [NOTE: These pictures were scanned from photocopies - CPRR.org would appreciate help in obtaining better
        scans of the photographs from the original 1890 printed ASCE journal. — CAN YOU HELP?]

A diagram of the mode of using oil has been received.

The force employed to operate the boat is as follows:
The total detentions, including stoppages at both ends of the trip, are about ten minutes.


                                                          NOTE.

Since this paper was printed, I have received the following information from Mr. Arthur Brown, Superintendent Bridges
& Building Department, Southern Pacific Company, in response to recent inquiry :

"The use of petroleum, as a fuel for making steam on our boats, was discontinued because it was found that, as the
boilers were not constructed for such fuel, its further use might result in injury to them. It would seem that for liquid
fuel, boilers should be of special construction."
Citation:

Harris, Robert L., "The Railroad Ferry Steamer 'Solano.'," American Society of Civil Engineers. Transactions,
vol. 22, No. 436, 1890, New York, ASCE, 1890, pp. 247-261.
The Ferryboat "Solano"




  American, Port Costa, California, after 1879

The camera angle from Carleton Watkins's position atop a hillside produced a dynamic image with extreme diagonals
and numerous triangles. Watkins took this picture at Port Costa off the Carquinez Straights, where the transcontinental
trains were ferried across the waters on the newly built Central Pacific train ferry Solano, "the largest train ferry in the
World" between Port Costa and Benicia, California, on their final leg to San Francisco.

The smoke is billowing forth from a train about to depart from the Port Costa station westbound to Oakland/San
Francisco. The position of the eastbound train on the ferry suggest that the ferry and train are about to depart for
Benicia.




Thomas Rubarth notes regarding the wharf at Port Costa that the pilings used to support the wharf are approximately
18" - 20" in diameter spaced at 10 ft intervals parallel to the shore and 7.5 ft intervals perpendicular to the shore. The
top wooden beams that were placed immediately across the top of a row of wood pilings appear to be 18" or 20" square.
The dock was modified somewhere around 1915 or 1916 to accommodate the Contra Costa, but we do not have any
documentation of construction changes.
                                        Car Ferries and Floats




           Southern Pacific's car ferry Solano carrying a passenger train across the Carquinez Straits.

Some people confuse car ferries, which carry railroad cars, with auto ferries, which carry automobiles. San Francisco
had both.




              A broadside view of Solano carrying a freight train. Solano was the largest ferry on the bay.

Besides the Oakland Mole for passengers, the Central Pacific opened the Long Wharf in Oakland as a terminal for
freight trains in 1871. Two car ferries, Thoroughfare (I) and Transit hauled freight cars to various points on the bay.
Thoroughfare (I) was retired in 1909; Transit lasted until 1934.

When the Central Pacific acquired the California Pacific and rerouted its transcontinental line to Benicia, it needed a
way to get its trains across the narrow but deep Carquinez Straits to Port Costa. In 1879, it built the giant car ferry
Solano, which could carry an entire freight train or two passenger trains. Solano carried on alone until 1914, when the
Southern Pacific built the Contra Costa (II). Both boats carried on until 1930, when a railroad bridge from Benicia to
Martinez opened.




                                            Late boat with train
Notice the warp in the deck behind the engine. Over time the equipment grew bigger and heavier. Despite
the tremendous shifting weight on her decks, Solano did quite well. But after 50 years the strain was
showing.




                                          Early boat with engine in back
                                      Solano (L) & Contra Costa (R)




                                        Short lived dock (east of PC)
This entire 2nd dock was build, then dismantled shortly thereafter in favor of the tandem double dock
arrangement. This is the only picture of this short lived dock we have run across.
                                        Early Port Costa dock




                                               Solano from side
The Solano (1879-1930) was about 412 ft long, 110 ft wide, and made entirely of wood. She was designed
and built by the Central Pacific RR and later operated by the Southern Pacific RR.




                                 Old – New Solano Size Comparison

				
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