Category Archives: Halls of History

Out & About—Maybe I can buy a wheel spoke instead of a brick

Out & About

When I arrived in San Diego in April 1993, I passed a huge military installation, the Naval Training Center (NTC), on my way to the beaches each day. The NTC was founded in 1923 and eventually grew from an initial 200 acres to 550 acres. The 1993 Base Realignment and Closure Commission put NTC on the to-be-closed list, and that is exactly what happened, although it took until 1997 to get everyone out of there.

NTC now is the site of Liberty Station, a very cool mixed-use community—homes, businesses, a high school, many arts organizations, restaurants, a 9-hole golf course, grocery stores, parks, the historic North Chapel….

Many of the old buildings have been retrofitted for earthquakes and re-purposed. When I was visiting a couple of the waterfront parks a few days ago, I discovered Building 191, perhaps the only building that still exists but which has not been re-purposed yet. Looks like this:

Building 191, Naval Training Center San Diego

Building 191, Naval Training Center San Diego

Building 191, Naval Training Center San Diego

Building 191, Naval Training Center San Diego

Building 191, measuring 20’x80′, was built in 1942 as a maintenance building according to some sources or as a recreation building according to other sources. I’m going to go with a recreation building; it just seems way too big to be a maintenance building.

The area where Building 191 sits was planned to be a 46-acre park. However, the flight path for San Diego International Airport is directly over Building 191, so the Runway Protection Zone use and restrictions prevent it from being converted to any use which would result in large numbers of people using it. Thus the City of San Diego was going to use it for storage and not as a building that would have public access; so maybe it was a maintenance building after all………

Building 191 also was found to have asbestos-containing materials (ACM) and lead-based paint present. Before transferring Building 191 to the City, the Navy abated the building so that it did not contain friable, accessible, or damaged ACM. Those of us in real estate with ACM experience know that “abatement” could have several meanings other than removal, usually encapsulation. Encapsulation could include painting; it would be quite ironic if the Navy’s abatement included encapsulation painting with lead-based paint even though there currently are no requirements for the
abatement of lead-based paint. In any event, any rehabilitation to Building 191 would have to have an asbestos survey completed to determine locations and condition of any remaining ACM.

In researching Building 191, I found a document March 1, 2017, about the San Diego County Bike Coalition (SDCBC) desiring to acquire Building 191 and creating a new bicycling center for Liberty Station. SDCBC, a non-profit, is interested in the building because it straddles a major spur on the San Diego bike path system and could connect Harbor Drive with the Bayshore Parkway, providing a save means for cyclists to get to downtown and points farther south.

According to an SDCBC spokesperson, Building 191 is an old maintenance shed that the City wants to demolish because it doesn’t have the funds to do all that is required to re-purpose it. SDCBC’s vision includes adding porticos and decks around the outside to help make the building usable without moving interior hallways. Building 191 could be a meeting place for the Challenged Athletes Foundation and other cycling organizations, both for profit and not for profit. Even a cycling museum about the history of cycling is in the vision.

Historic bicycle

Well, when they start fundraising, I think I’ll contribute. Most fundraising enterprises in which I have participated allowed me to buy a brick. Maybe I can buy a wheel spoke instead of a brick this time….

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

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Out & About—It’s all in the pronunciation

Out & About

In my research for my book on the history of railroads in San Diego County, I kept coming across a station called “Hipass.” I couldn’t find any information about it, possibly because I kept pronouncing it “hip ass.” Once I discovered it was “hi pass” it was easy to find it. Here’s a picture of its current name:

Tecate Divide—"hipass"

Divides are the highest point on a mountain range, often being marked with a sign and a pullout or parking area to admire the view.

Although Tecate Divide, or “Hipass,” is only 3,890 feet high, it’s at mile marker 25, which means it’s basically 25 miles from downtown San Diego, which is at 0 feet elevation. So those poor trains had to struggle up 3,890 feet in only 25 miles, quite a task when you’re hauling many thousands of tons of freight and passenger cars. Most steam locomotives of the era produced around 2,000 horsepower and weighed 100 tons. Imagine 2,000 horses pulling just the locomotive itself for 25 miles up to 3,890 feet. Poor horses.

Tecate Divide is the point where rivers on the western side drain to the Pacific Ocean and rivers on the eastern side drain to the Salton Sea, the Colorado River, and the Gulf of California.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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Out & About—Cruise historic Highway 80

Out & About

More sights from my driving tour of Old Highway 80 through East San Diego County.

Cruise Highway 80

The Alpine Town Hall (two pictures below) was built in 1899 and served through 1999. Alpine began in the 1870s as a local center for ranching. The building currently is owned by the Alpine Woman’s Club which pretty much has to missions: to preserve the town hall and to provide scholarships to Alpine graduating seniors heading to college.

Alpine town hall in Alpine CA

Alpine town hall in Alpine CA

The Descanso Junction Restaurant is quite popular. I was there around 8:00 a.m., and it was packed. Descanso Junction’s original name was Bohemia Grove, and the original name of the restaurant was El Nido. That’s my car at the left parked next to the truck.

Descanso Junction Restaurant

The Descanso Town Hall was built in 1898. It still is a popular venue for local events and is one of the few community halls still operating in the mountains.

Descanso Town Hall

The Perkins Store has been in operation since 1875. The store in the picture below was built in 1939 after the original store burned.

Perkins Store

The old Guatay Service Station dates from the 1920s but is now just a shell of its former self. The round metal shed was the service bay.

Ruins of the Guatay Service Station

Behind the service station ruins sits a cool stone house, also built in the 1920s and still being used as a private residence.

Stone house

The immensely popular Frosty Burger in Pine Valley occupies another 1920s-era service station. I can highly recommend Frosty Burger. It can get cold in the high desert mountains, and Frosty Burger has only outdoor seating, so take a jacket or plan on eating in your warm car.

Frosty Burger in Pine Valley

The Pine Valley Inn was the main business in Pine Valley for many years. The main dining hall (right in the picture below) is still used as a restaurant, and the rental cabins, although remodeled and updated, still are in use. One of the rental cabins can be seen at the left.

Pine Valley Inn

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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Trains—A short history of the Colton Crossing

Halls of History

If you look back at the rich people in history, they pretty much were land barons, newspaper publishers, or railroad tycoons. In some cases, they were all three because many state and federal governments gave free land to people who were willing to build railroads on that land. The only people who could afford to build a railroad were newspaper publishers, so they became land barons and railroad tycoons.

Many of the railroad tycoons, like Leland Stanford (Stanford University) and Cornelius Vanderbilt (Vanderbilt University), are considered now to have been robber barons, a derogatory metaphor of social criticism originally applied to certain late 19th-century American businessmen who used unscrupulous methods to get rich. The robber baron list is long and includes many names familiar to us today from many industries, such as Andrew Carnegie of Carnegie Library fame, Marshall Field of Marshall Field’s, J.P. Morgan of J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil, Charles M. Schwab of Bethlehem Steel.

In San Diego history we have our own personality who made the robber baron list:
John D. Spreckels, making his claim via the water transport, sugar, and railroad businesses. He built the San Diego & Arizona Railway (SD&A) from San Diego to Yuma. It was during my early research into the SD&A for a railroad book that I’m writing that I discovered the Colton Crossing.Union Pacific on the flyover at Colton (CA) Crossing

The SD&A’s construction costs were said to be underwritten by Spreckels but in actuality were underwritten by the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP). After the transcontinental railroad was completed with the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory UT in 1869 by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, focus shifted to a southern transcontinental route, either from Los Angeles or San Diego to points east. SP was first to market and pretty much dominated Southern California railroad interests until 1883 when the Colton Crossing was built.

Colton Crossing is a railway crossing in Colton CA and the site of one of the most intense frog wars in railroad construction history. A frog is where two railroad lines cross each other, and a frog war often occurred when those two railroad lines belonged to different railroads. In the case of Colton Crossing, the two lines belonged to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF), trying to gain a foothold in Southern California, and the California Southern Railroad, a subsidiary of the SP.

California Southern’s construction crew was ready to install the frog tracks when an SP locomotive arrived pulling a single freight car, and stopped. The SP engineer drove the train back and forth slowly at the crossing point in order to prevent the California Southern crew from installing the crossing. SP had hired Virgil Earp to guard its tracks in Colton, and he rode in the cab of the SP locomotive.

Colton Crossing mapThe citizens of Colton supported SP, but SP had bypassed nearby San Bernardino, leaving its residents upset. Railroads at that time could make or break a community. San Bernardino hoped that the California Southern line would put their city back on the map.

Ultimately, California Southern obtained a court order on August 11, 1883, in its favor but it still took California Governor Robert Waterman’s involvement in ordering the county sheriff to enforce the court order.

On the morning of September 13, events reached a head in a confrontation known as the “Battle of the Crossing.” Citizens from Colton and San Bernardino gathered on either side of the tracks with the SP locomotive between them. Men on both sides carried picks and shovels, as well as revolvers and shotguns. Virgil Earp stood in the gangway between the locomotive cab and tender facing the San Bernardino citizens, revolver in hand. It was believed that the freight car, a gondola, held SP men with rifles and other weapons, crouching below the walls of the car so as not to be seen.

The Colton Crossing in today’s world is very busy with trains from Union Pacific (east-west), BNSF (north-south), Amtrak (Southwest Chief on BNSF tracks and Sunset Limited on UP tracks), and Metrolink (BNSF tracks). In the 2000’s, Colton Crossing got so busy that Union Pacific decided to build a flyover, a bridge over BNSF’s tracks, to alleviate delays for both railroads.

Colton Crossing and the West Colton railroad yard, within a mile of each other, are great places to watch railroad action, and that’s what I did on February 5. Here are some videos of the action I saw just in the three hours I was hanging out.

BNSF southbound on the lower tracks
There are two “helper” engines on the rear,
one of which is a Norfolk Southern engine.

Union Pacific westbound on the upper flyover tracks

Metrolink southbound on the lower tracks

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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Out & About—Who wants to drink brown water?

Out & About

My wise old grandmother told me that if I didn’t study history, I’d be doomed to repeat it. That seems to imply that all history is bad which, of course, it’s not. But since she was born during World War II, got married during the Great Depression, lived through World War II, had her oldest son serve in the Air Force during the Korean War, had her youngest son serve in the Army during the Vietnam War, I think I know what she was getting at.

I do love history, especially war history. It just boggles my mind how easily people on one side of an imaginary line are only too happy to kill people on the other side of an imaginary line.

My other favorite history specialty is ruins. For some reason I love old ruins. Makes me wonder what happened that caused something that was built to fall into neglect.

The mountains and desert of East San Diego County are full of ruins. Many of the old homesteads, resorts, and service buildings fell out of favor when they were bypassed by modern roads and highways.

On my January 2017 foray into East San Diego County, I found the ruins of Buckman Springs, known as Indian Springs during the 1870s and Emery Soda Springs during the 1880s. It was a small settlement on the road east from San Diego to Yuma AZ, and the mineral springs were well known throughout Southern California and were a common stop for mountain travelers.

From the 1870s to the late 1910s, it was home to the Buckman Springs Lithia Water bottling plant. Lithia Water was marketed as a table soda but was never successful because the water was discolored. I mean, who wants to drink brown water?

Ruins found in January 2017:

The Buckman House
Amos Buckman house

Amos Buckman house

Amos Buckman house

The 1880s bottling plant
Buckman Springs bottling plant

Spring-fed water tank
Buckman Springs spring-fed water tank

The 1912 bottling plant
1912 Buckman Springs bottling plant

1912 Buckman Springs bottling plant

1912 Buckman Springs bottling plant

1912 Buckman Springs bottling plant

1912 Buckman Springs bottling plant

1912 Buckman Springs bottling plant

Best graffiti on the 1912 building
“Drinking brew and having fun
Cause we’re the Class of ’81”
1912 Buckman Springs bottling plant

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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Out & About—The San Diego & Arizona Railway

Out & About The World

On January 1, 2017, I decided to write a book that combined my love of writing, history, trains, and photography. With a tentative title of “On Time: A Timeline of Railroads in San Diego County,” I’m finding that it keeps me busy and I don’t seem to get bored.

New San Diego Central Library on February 2, 2013Right now it’s just a lot of reading and research. I started in the San Diego Central Library (left) because I found that they have microfilm of the new San Diego newspapers—Herald, Union, Tribune, Union-Tribune—all the way back to 1851, which was 18 years before the completion of the Union Pacific/Central Pacific transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah.

Those 18 years in the San Diego newspapers indicate that San Diego was hoping to be what San Francisco became. It never happened because, basically, no one could agree on a good route through the Santa Rosa Mountains and the Colorado Desert from Yuma AZ to San Diego.

Not that people weren’t trying. San Diego & Arizona RailwayEven after the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, people kept trying to build a southern competitor. It looked like it might happen when John D. Spreckels, the owner of the San Diego Union, said that he would build it. And he did. The San Diego & Arizona Railway (SD&A). Also known as “The Impossible Railroad.”

The SD&A’s history is so convoluted (which is why I’m writing this book) that the only thing I can determine for sure at this point is that the SD&A was chartered on December 14, 1906; groundbreaking ceremonies were held on September 7, 1907; and construction was completed on November 15, 1919. Final construction cost was $18 million, three times the original estimate of $6 million.

There are 129 miles. The 11-mile segment through Carrizo Gorge included 17 tunnels stretching 13,385 feet, and 2½ miles of bridges and trestles.

The SD&A was never profitable, mainly because tunnels kept collapsing and trestles were washed away from winter rains. Although there is, to this day, hope for re-opening the line, there are two main problems: First, the cost to repair the damaged tunnels and trestles is estimated at $5.5 million. Second, there are 44 miles of track in Mexico. Yep. Mexico. A hundred years ago there was no border wall and people easily moved back and forth between the two countries.

In today’s world with Twitler as the United States president, I think there is no way anyone anywhere is going to approve a train leaving San Diego, entering Mexico at Tijuana and re-entering the United States at Tecate, 44 miles away. Nope. Ain’t gonna happen. That’s based on my early youth when I was hopping trains between Brigham City and Ogden UT, and Kingsville and Bishop TX.

So, while we’re waiting for Twitler to be impeached, we have to content ourselves with tourist rides on a 5-mile section of the old line courtesy of the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum.

Early in January 2017, I took a driving tour of the SD&A tracks all the way out to Plaster City, a distance of about 90 miles. A month later, a friend who owns a helicopter service took me on a 3-hour flight out to the Santa Rosa Mountains to check out the SD&A railroad from the air. Following are some pictures from both my adventures.

This first picture is near Jacumba Hot Springs and shows the SD&A tracks going under a bridge built in 1932 for old U.S. Highway 80.

SD&A tracks under Old Highway 80

The border wall with Mexico is about one hundred feet away, with a maintenance gate:

Border wall with gate

I walked over to the gate and had about a million Border Patrol and Homeland Security agents descend on me. After talking with me for a few minutes and looking at pictures on my camera, one officer said into his walkie talkie: “Stand down. Local tourist.” Another officer informed me that with a new car with “paper plates” (temporary plates), I’d probably be stopped several times. I was. Six times in 90 miles.

Note that San Diego County already has built its border wall with Mexico, and we had no help from anyone else, not even Mexico. Thus, we’re not going to help other counties build their walls.

This next picture is of a switch engine marked as Carrizo Gorge Railway 1465:

Carrizo Gorge Railway operated the SD&A tracks between Tecate and Plaster City from 1997 to 2012. This locomotive is tied up in court between Carrizo Gorge Railway and the engine’s owners, the East County Dirt Works. It sits at the old depot in downtown Jacumba where a lot of other rolling stock also sits, deteriorating in the hot desert sun.

Tierra Madre Railway

My goal on my driving tour was to make it to Plaster City CA, which is nothing but a gypsum plant for USG. However, USG operates that last remaining commercial narrow gauge railroad in the United States. Standard gauge tracks like you see every day are 4’8½” between the rails. Narrow gauge tracks can be anything narrower than that; the USG narrow gauge tracks are a mere 3′, making the rolling stock somewhat small compared to the big boys. As we flew over Plaster City in the helicopter, I got a picture of USG 112, a narrow gauge locomotive:

USG 112 at Plaster City CA

And the narrow gauge tracks leading from the gypsum quarry to Plaster City in the upper right:

Plaster City narrow gauge tracks

The flight over the Carrizo Gorge where all the tunnels and trestles are was pretty cool. The main sight in Carrizo Gorge is the Goat Canyon Trestle:

At about 180′ high and 630′ long, the Goat Canyon Trestle is the largest wooden trestle in the world. The trestle was built in 1932 when the tunnel, directly in the center behind the trestle, collapsed. At the left is an abandoned hopper car.

It’s pretty neat to see all the trestles from the air, indicating just how desolate and isolated this area is, and how difficult it is to maintain the tracks.

All along the route are abandoned railroad cars. In some cases it’s obvious why they are abandoned:

The Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum in Campo CA uses the old Campo Depot as its headquarters and has a lot of rolling stock that it is restoring. They offer rides on historic trains over about 5 miles of track, although the rains we have had this winter have, again, washed out some tracks, so those train rides are on hold. Here’s Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum from the air:

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum

Map of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad:

Map of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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