Category Archives: Halls of History

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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A short history of (my) pets

Halls of History

I grew up with animals of every kind—ponies, donkeys, dogs, cats, a monkey, snakes, rats, skunks, opossums, raccoons, birds, mice, rats, fish, bugs. If it moved, it interested me.

I always considered myself a dog person, though, simply because my dogs would follow me around, roll over on command, sit, shake, and lie at my feet wherever I was. It was obvious that my dogs loved me. The other animals, no so much.

My first dog was a mutt named Bosco. I don’t have a picture of him. He was an alley dog, roaming wherever he wanted to go. One day he didn’t come home. I’m pretty sure he simply died; he was an old dog at that time.

I didn’t have another dog until I graduated from Texas A&M University and moved to Houston. I got two dogs, both purebred Beagles from the same litter. I named them “Union” and “Pacific” after the Union Pacific Railroad. Yes, I was weird even then. One day I came home from work and my apartment was open with fire, police, and apartment personnel rushing in an out. Union and Pacific had pooped in the bathtub (just like I had taught them to) but then had managed to turn the water on. The dog poop clogged the drain and the apartment flooded. I was upstairs, so water was leaking into the apartment below me and the roof in their unit collapsed. Fortunately everyone had insurance which covered us, but I either had to give up Union and Pacific, or move. I couldn’t afford to move at that point.

Finally, three years later, I did move. My Houston rent had gotten to a dollar a square foot, so I picked up and moved back to College Station where I was hoping to get a job with Texas A&M University so I could get that awesome state-supplied health insurance. I did. That was when I bought a duplex and got two dogs, Penney, a Long-haired Dachsund, and Sugar, a Chow Chow/Besenji mix. The only Chow Chow part of Sugar was her purple tongue.

Penney and Sugar

One day when I was preparing to leave on my motorcycle, Sugar jumped up on the seat. I took a few minutes and left her on the back seat and drove around the neighborhood fully expecting her to jump off and run home. Nope. She stayed. Happiest dog in the world.

Sugar the motorcycle riding dog

Since she was so happy, I took time out each day to take her for longer, and faster, motorcycle rides. Eventually she rode with me on the highway at 65 mph from College Station to Waco, a distance of about 90 miles. She was the best backseat rider ever, keeping her head pinned to my side and watching the road to determine which way she should lean into the upcoming curve.

On April 15, 1993, I left College Station on a suicide journey (see my unsuccessful suicide journey post here). I gave Sugar and Penney to a friend and never saw them again. I also lost contact with the friend, so I don’t know what happened to Sugar and Penney, or how long they lived.

From 1993 to 2007 I was too mobile and too into work to have a pet, although I did have several aquariums, even a 300-gallon aquarium full of African cichlids. Then, on Thanksgiving Day 2007, a black cat came to visit. Jim and I gave it food and water. It ate and drank, and left. Didn’t even bother saying “Thank you!” or “Goodbye!”

On Christmas Eve, it came back. Imagine that, a cat that knows human holidays!Sophie the Black Cat

Jim and I gave it food and water again, it ate and drank, and stayed. We named her Sophie.

We moved 8 months later and took her with us, all the while trying to make her into an indoor cat. Didn’t work. When darkness came, she would howl like a coyote until we let her out. She always came home, though, until the morning of September 20, 2007. No Sophie. A phone call at 7:30 a.m. No one calls me at 7:30 a.m. It was the worst phone call ever. A neighbor a couple of blocks over had found a black cat that had been hit and killed by a car. She had moved the cat out of the road, saw the collar tag, and called me. I went to retrieve the body and give it a proper burial, out near the house we had just sold, her old neighborhood.

Sophie grave

I was so devastated with the loss of Sophie, and how she died, that Jim and I immediately went to the El Cajon Animal Shelter to get another cat. We wanted an older cat that was an indoor cat, but I also wanted a cat that would let me hold it and pet it. We found Zoey, but she wouldn’t be ready to adopt until the next day. We were there 10 minutes before they opened, signed the adoption papers and paid the adoption fee, and brought Zoey home. Three hours after she arrived in our home, I captured this picture:

Zoey the Cool Cat

That was when I renamed Zoey, adding “the Cool Cat” so that she became Zoey the Cool Cat.

At first, having a 100% indoor cat was difficult. One of the reasons why I never considered myself a cat person was because cats like to jump up on things, climb on things, climb up things, and study gravy by knocking anything and everything to the floor. About the same time that I was getting really frustrated, a new show made its debut on cable: “My Cat From Hell” featuring Jackson Galaxy. I will admit that I judged a book by its cover and as soon as I saw Jackson, I said, “No way!” Yes way.

I learned from Jackson that cats are vertical animals. They like to climb. Once I was able to accept that and help Zoey the Cool Cat (ZCC), she and I became much better friends. I catified my house so that ZCC has vertical places she can go with no questions asked. I even have a special cat shelf in front of a window in each room. She loves them.

Zoey the Cool Cat on her window shelf

I also found out through Jackson Galaxy and “Pets Rule” at SeaWorld San Diego that you can train cats. I had never believed that. ZCC can go anywhere she wants except the top of the railing on the balcony (don’t want her falling off), the grand piano (just no), the leather sofa (don’t want cat claw holes in the leather), the kitchen counters (that’s where I prepare food), and the top of the refrigerator. Actually, she can go to the top of the refrigerator if she can figure out how to get there without making an intermediate stop on the kitchen counters.

Cats will react to a loud clap and a loud NO, usually by jumping down and hiding. Jackson taught me to wait about a minute and then give them a treat to let them know that I still love them, but it’s far enough away from the clap/NO so they won’t connect being bad with getting a treat.

Also, when you find cats somewhere you don’t want them to be, pick them up and put them someplace where it is okay to be, along with some loving words, a soothing voice, some petting or head butts, and a treat. You can get them to go where you want them to go by leaving treats there. Just don’t leave too many; otherwise, they’ll think that’s their eating spot.

Make it easy to get up and down. It’s more easy for cats to go up and not so easy for them to come down. I have catified my home so that it’s just short jumps from here to there, both up and down. In the window shelf picture, it’s a short jump up to my desk and then another short jump to get to her window shelf. She comes down the same way because they are short jumps. ZCC prefers those spots where she has to make a short jump. So, floor or bed? Bed. Floor or chair? Chair. Chair seat or chair back?

Zoey the Cool Cat

One thing it took me a little while to discover is that ZCC, and most cats, prefer the old and smelly to the new, so I never have spent money on a cat tree or cat toys. If I want to spice up ZCC’s life, a box or sack from the store is all she needs, and her favorite cat toy are the red rings from the gallon milk jugs. She’s easy.

Red Rings

Zoey the Cool Cat and her red ring

Zoey the Cool Cat and her red ring

Zoey the Cool Cat in her new sack

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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