Tag Archives: central pacific railroad

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 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 railroad.

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—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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This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Union Pacific trains

History Through Philately — On this day in 1869….

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

History Through Philately

 

Scott #922, Transcontinental Railroad 75th anniversaryOn this day in 1869, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads drove a ceremonial last spike into the tracks at Promontory, Utah, that connected their two railroads, making transcontinental railroad travel possible for the first time. Bye bye wagon trains!

The first mention of a “transcontinental railroad” was in 1832 but Congress did not provide funding to survey possible routes until 1853. A nation divided over slavery, though, could not come up with a route that made every happy.

Scott #993, Railroad Engineers of AmericaIn 1862, during the Civil War, Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act, choosing Union Pacific and Central Pacific to build the transcontinental line. The Act would also guarantee public land grants and loans to the two railroads. Construction began in 1866 with Union Pacific building west from Omaha, Nebraska, and Central Pacific building east from Sacramento, California. The construction pace was furious due to the public land grant guarantees. The Central Pacific brought in thousands of Chinese laborers, resulting in several derogatory terms entering the public lexicon.

Scott #2265, Railroad Mail CarThe Union Pacific crews, main Civil War veterans of Irish descent, suffered through harsh winters, hot summers, and Indian raids. Central Pacific crews worked 12-hour days, sometimes 15, to get through the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains, losing whole crews to avalanches or explosive mishaps.

Interesting, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific workers finished laying nearly 2,000 miles of track ahead of schedule and under budget. Trips that took months by wagon train and weeks by boat now took just days by train.

The completion of the transcontinental railroad is given significant credit for the rapid growth and expansion of the United States in the ensuing years.

The ceremonial golden spike was driven into place by California Governor Leland Stanford. He is the same Leland Stanford that founded Stanford University, naming it after his son, Leland Stanford Junior, who died of typhoid at age 16. The official name of the University is Leland Stanford Junior University, providing fodder over the years to Stanford’s arch-rival, the University of California at Berkeley, whose students commonly refer to it as the “Junior University.”

My dad and granddad worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad in Texas, but I became a Union Pacific fan while living in northern Utah from 1961-1965. I even had twin beagle pups one time that I named Union and Pacific.

Union Pacific trains

 

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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