- Rail transport in California
The establishment of America's transcontinental rail lines securely linked
Californiato the rest of the country, and the far-reaching transportation systems that grew out of them during the century that followed contributed to the state’s social, political, and economic development. When California was admitted as a state to the United States in 1850, and for nearly two decades thereafter, it was in many ways isolated, an outpost on the Pacific.
The early Forty-Niners of the
California Gold Rushwishing to come to California were faced with limited options. From the East Coast, for example, a sailing voyage around the tip of South America would take five to eight months,cite book |last=Brands|first=H.W. |title=The age of gold: the California Gold Rush and the new American dream |location=New York |publisher=Anchor (reprint ed.) |date=2003 |pages=pp. 103-121] and cover some 18,000 nautical miles (33,000 km). An alternative route was to sail to the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Panama, to take canoes and mules for a week through the jungle, and then on the Pacificside, to wait for a ship sailing for San Francisco.Brands, H.W. (2003), pp. 75-85. Another route across Nicaraguawas developed in 1851; it was not as popular as the Panama option. ("see cite book |author=Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) |title=A golden state: mining and economic development in Gold Rush California (California History Sesquicentennial Series, 2) |date=1999 |location=Berkeley and Los Angeles|publisher=Univ. of California Press |pages=pp. 252-253) ] Eventually, most gold-seekers took the overland route across the continental United States, particularly along the California Trail. Rawls and Orsi, (1999) p. 5. ] Each of these routes had its own deadly hazards, from shipwreck to typhoid feverto choleraor Indian attack. cite book |last=Holliday |first=J. S. |title=Rush for riches; gold fever and the making of California |publisher=Oakland Museum of California and University of California Press |date=1999 |location=Oakland, California, Berkeley and Los Angeles |pages=pp. 101, 107 ] [Duke and Kistler, p. 9]
The very first "inter-oceanic" railroad which affected California was built in 1855 across the Isthmus of Panama, the
Panama Railway. [ [http://www.cprr.org/Museum/Ephemera/Panama_Railroad_Stock_1868.html The Panama Railroad: 1865, 1868 & 1871 Certificates of Stock; an 1855 Newspaper Report of its Opening; 1861 & 1913 Maps; Early Harper's Engravings; and 1861 Schedule of Regular, Special and "Steamer" Trains.] ] The Panama Railway reduced the time needed to cross the Isthmus from a week of difficult and dangerous travel to a day of relative comfort. The building of the Panama Railroad, in combination with the increasing use of steamships (instead of sailing ships) meant that travel to and from California via Panamawas the primary method used by people who could afford to do so, and was used for valuable cargo, such as the gold being shipped from California to the East Coast. [One ill-fated journey, that of the S.S. "Central America", ended in disaster as the ship sank in a hurricaneoff the coast of the Carolinasin 1857, with an estimated three tons of California gold aboard.("see" cite book |last=Hill |first=Mary |title=Gold: the California story |publisher=Univ. of California Press |date=1999 |location=Berkeley and Los Angeles|pages=pp. 192-196) Another notable ship wreck was the steamship "Winfield Scott", bound to Panama from San Francisco, which crashed into Anacapa Islandoff the Southern California coast in December 1853. All hands and passengers were saved, along with the cargo of gold, but the ship was a total loss.]
California's symbolic and tangible connection to the rest of the country was fused at Promontory Summit, Utah, as the last spike was driven to join the tracks of the Central Pacific and
Union Pacific Railroads, thereby completing the First Transcontinental Railroadon May 10, 1869 (before that time, only a few local rail lines operated in the State, the first being the Sacramento Valley Railroad). [Daniels, p. 53] The 1,600 mile (2,575-kilometer) trip cross-country would now take mere days. The Wild West was quickly transformed from a lawless, agrarianfrontier to what would become an urbanized, industrialized economic and political powerhouse. Of perhaps greater significance is the unbridled economic growth that was spurred on by the sheer diversity of opportunities available in the region.
The four years following the
Golden Spikeceremony saw the length of track in the U.S. double to over 70,000 miles (nearly 113,000 kilometers). [Daniels, p. 54] By the turn of the century, the completion of four subsequent transcontinental routes in the United States and one in Canada would provide not only additional pathways to the Pacific Ocean, but would forge ties to all of the economically-important areas between the coasts as well. Virtually the entire country was accessible by rail, making a national economy possible for the first time. And while federal financial assistance (in the form of land grants and guaranteed low-interest loans, a well-established government policy) was vital to the railroads’ expansion across North America, this support accounted for less than eight percent (8%) of the total length of rails laid; private investment was responsible for the vast majority of railroad construction. [Daniels, p. 55]
As rail lines pushed further and further into the wilderness, they opened up huge areas which would have otherwise lain fallow. The railroads helped establish countless towns and settlements, paved the way to abundant
mineraldeposits and fertile tracts of pastures and farmland, and created new markets for eastern goods. It is estimated that by the end of World War II, rail companies nationwide remunerated to the government over $1 billion dollars, more than eight times the original value of the lands granted. [Robinson, p. 157] The principal commodity transported across the rails to California was people: by reducing the cross-country travel time to as little as six days, men with westward ambitions were no longer forced to leave their families behind. The railroads would, in time, provide equally-important linkages to move the inhabitants throughout the state, interconnecting its blossoming communities.
"Transportation determines the flow of population," declared J. D. Spreckels, one of California's early railroad entrepreneurs, just after the dawn of the twentieth century. "Before you can hope to get people to live anywhere...you must first of all show them that they can get there quickly, comfortably and, above all, cheaply." [Dodge, p. 18] Among Spreckels' many accomplishments was the formation of the
San Diego Electric Railwayin 1892, which radiated out from downtown to points north, south, and east and helped urbanize what was previously a sleepy fishing village ( Henry Huntington, the nephew of Central Pacific founder Collis P. Huntington, would develop his Pacific Electric Railwayin Los Angeles and Orange Counties with much the same result). Spreckels' greatest challenge would be to provide San Diego with its own direct transcontinental rail link in the form of the San Diego & Arizona Railway (completed in November 1919), a feat that nearly cost the sugar heir his life. [Hanft, p. 77] The Central Pacific Railroad, in effect, initiated the trend by offering settlement incentives in the form of low fares, and by placing sections of its government-granted lands up for sale to pioneers.
Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroadcharted its own solo course across the continent in 1885 it chose Los Angeles as its western terminus, and in doing so fractured the Southern Pacific Railroad's near total monopolyon rail transportation within the state. The original purpose of this new line was to augment the route to San Diego, established three years prior as part of a joint venture with the California Southern Railroad, but the Santa Fe would subsequently be forced to all but abandon these inland tracks through the Temecula Canyon (due to constant washouts) and construct its Surf Linealong the coast to maintain its exclusive ties to San Diego. [Duke, p. 43] Santa Fe's entry into Southern California resulted in widespread economic growth and ignited a fervent rate war with the Southern Pacific, or "Espee" as the road was often referred to; it also led to Los Angeles' well-documented real estate "Boom of the Eighties." [Donaldson and Myers, p. 58] The Santa Fe Route led the way in passenger rate reductions (often referred to as "colonist fares") by, within a period of five months, lowering the price of a ticket from Kansas City, Missourito Los Angeles from $125 to $15, and, on March 6, 1887 to a dollar! [Duke and Kistler, p. 32] The Southern Pacific soon followed suit and the level of real estate speculation reached a new high, with "boom towns" springing up literally overnight. Free, daily railroad-sponsored excursions (complete with lunch and live entertainment) enticed overeager potential buyers to visit the many undeveloped properties firsthand and (hopefully) invest in the potential of the land.
Unfortunately, as with the Comstock mining securities boom of the 1870s, Los Angeles' land boom attracted an unscrupulous element that often sold interest in properties whose titles were not properly recorded, or in tracts that did not even exist. [Beebe, p. 240] Major advertising campaigns by the SP, Santa Fe, Union Pacific, and other major carriers of the day not only helped transform southern California into a major tourist attraction but generated intense interest in exploiting the area's agricultural potential. [Rawls and Bean, p. 207] Word of the abundant work opportunities, high wages, and the temperate and healthful California climate spread throughout the
Midwestern United States, and led to an exodus from such states as Iowa, Indiana, and Kansas; although the real estate bubble "burst" in 1889 and most investors lost their all, the Southern Californialandscape was forever transformed by the many towns, farms, and citrusgroves left in the wake of this event. [Duke and Kistler, p. 32] Historians James Rawls and Walton Bean have speculated that were it not for the discovery of gold in 1848, Oregonmight have been granted statehood ahead of California, and therefore the first Pacific Railroad might have been built to that state, or at least been born to a more benevolentgroup of founding fathers. [Rawls and Bean, p. 112] This speculation lacks support, however, when one considers that a significant hide and tallowtrade between California and the eastern seaports was already well-established, that the federal government had long planned for the acquisition of San Francisco Bayas a western port, and that suspicions regarding England's intentions towards potentially extending their holdings in the region southward into California would almost certainly have forced the government to embark on the same course of action.
While the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad would rightfully be remembered as a major milestone in America's history, it would also foster the birth of a railroad empire that would have a dominant influence over California's evolution for years to come. Despite all of the shortcomings, in the end the State reaped innumerable and unprecedented benefits from its associations with the railroad companies, which helped put California "on the map."
Even today, California is well-known for the abundance and many varieties of fruit trees that are cultivated throughout the state. The only fruits indigenous to the region, however, consisted of wild berries or grew on small bushes. Spanish missionaries brought fruit seeds over from Europe, many of which had been introduced to the
Old Worldfrom Asia following earlier expeditions to the continent; orange, grape, apple, peach, pear, and figseeds were among the most prolific of the imports. Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, fourth in the Alta Californiachain, was founded in 1771 near what would one day be the City of Los Angeles. [Wright, p. 25] Thirty-three years later the mission would unknowingly witness the origin of the California citrusindustry with the planting of the region's first significant orchard, though the commercial potential of citrus would not be realized until 1841. [Thompson, p. 341] Several small carloads of California crops were shipped eastward via the new transcontinental route almost immediately after its completion, using a special type of ventilated boxcarmodified specifically for this purpose. The advent of the iced refrigerator caror "reefer" led to increases in both the amount of product carried and in the distances traveled.
For years, the overall scarcity of oranges in particular led to the general perception that they were suitable only for holiday table decoration or as indulgences for the affluent. During the 1870s, however, hybridization of California oranges led to the creation of several flavorful strains, chief among these the Navel and Valencia varieties, whose development allowed for year-round cultivation of the fruit. Substantial foreign (out-of-state) markets for California citrus would come into full stature by 1890, initiating a period referred to as the Orange Era. [Thompson, p. 342]
As the market for agricultural goods outside the state’s boundaries increased, the Santa Fe developed a massive fleet of refrigerator dispatch cars, and in 1906 the Southern Pacific joined with the Union Pacific Railroad to create the
Pacific Fruit Express. [Daniels, p. 94] Fully half the farm products produced in California could now be exported throughout the country, with western railroads carrying virtually all of the perishable fruit traffic. [Duke, p. 403] The western states of California, Arizona, and Oregonwould dominate U.S. agricultural production by the coming of the Great Depression; once such diverse and high-demand crops as wheat, sugar beets, olives, and lettucewere cultivated, California would become known as the nation's "produce basket." [Thompson, p. 343]
With the expansion of agriculture interests throughout the state (along with new rail lines to carry the goods to faraway markets), new communities were founded and existing towns expanded. Agrarian successes led to the establishment of post offices, schools, churches, mercantile outlets, and ancillary industries such as packing houses. The discovery of "brea", more commonly referred to as
tar, in Southern California would lead to an oil boom in the early twentieth century. Railroad companies soon discovered that shipping wooden barrels loaded with oil via boxcars was not cost-effective, and developed steel cylindrical tank cars capable of transporting bulk liquidsvirtually anywhere. By 1915, the transportation of petroleum products had become a lucrative endeavor for western railroads. [Duke, p. 404]
Most oil tank cars would remain in revenue service for decades until the "Black Bonanza" had run its course. The Southern Pacific is credited with being the first western railroad to experiment in 1879 with the use of oil in its
locomotives as a fuel source in lieu of coal(with substantial technical assistance from the Union Oil Company, one of the SP’s biggest accounts). [Duke, p. 432] By 1895, oil-burning locomotives were in operation on a number of Southern Pacific routes, and on the competing California Southern and Great Northern Railway as well. [Yenne, p. 53] This innovation not only allowed the SP (and other railroads that soon followed their example) to benefit from the use of this abundant and economically-viable fuel source, but to create new markets by capitalizing on the burgeoning petroleumindustry. The conversion from coal to oil also help solved the Southern Pacific's problem of intense smoke in the tunnels of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Thanks to the railroads, California was once again thrust into the limelight.
As has been previously discussed, the railroads were among the first to promote California tourism as early as the 1870s, both as a means to increase ridership and to create new markets for the freight hauling business in the areas they served. [Duke and Kistler, p. 60] Some sixty years later, the Santa Fe would lead a resurgence in leisure travel to and along the west coast aboard such "name" trains as the "Chief" and later the "
Super Chief"; the Southern Pacific would soon follow suit with their "Golden State" and " Overland Flyer" trains, and the Union Pacific with its " City of Los Angeles" and " City of San Francisco". The immense popularity of Helen Hunt Jackson's 1884 novel " Ramona" in particular fueled a surge in tourism which happened to coincide with the opening of SP's Southern California lines. [cite web |url=http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/camulos-nrhp3.htm |title=Rancho Camulos: National Register of Historic Places Nomination |first=Judith P. |last=Triem |coauthors=Stone, Mitch |publisher=San Buenaventura Research Associates |format=significance |accessdate=2007-04-13]
But it can be said that only the Santa Fé embraced the aura of the American Southwest so completely in its advertising campaigns as well as its operations. The AT&SF routes and the extraordinary level of service provided thereon became particularly popular with stars of the film industry in the thirties, forties and fifties, both building on and adding to the Hollywood mystique. The "golden age" of railroading would eventually end as travel by automobile and airplane became more cost-effective, and popular.
Corruption and scandal
Frank Norrisvilified the Southern Pacific for its monopolistic practices in his acclaimed novel ""; John Moody’s 1919 work "The Railroad Builders: A Chronicle of the Welding of the States referred" to "the American railroad problem" wherein the men who rode the iron horse were characterized as "monsters" that too often suppressed government reform and economic growth through political chicanery and corrupt business practices. [Moody, p. 237]
While it is true that much of the traveling public would have been unable to make the trip to California's sunny clime were it not for the fleet, relatively safe, and affordable trains of the western railroads, it is also true that those companies in effect preyed on those same settlers once they arrived at the end of the line. For instance, while the railroads provided much-needed transportation routes to out-of-state markets for locally-produced raw materials and avenues of the import for eastern goods, there were numerous instances of rate fixing schemes among the various carriers, the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific included. [Lewis, p. 366] Opposition to the railroads began early in Southern California's history due to the questionable practices of
The Big Fourin conducting the business of the Central (later Southern) Pacific. The Central Pacific Railroad(and later the Southern Pacific) maintained and operated whole fleets of ferry boats that connected Oakland with San Francisco by water. Early on, the Central Pacific gained control of the existing ferry lines for the purpose of linking the northern rail lines with those from the south and east; during the late 1860s the company purchased nearly every bayside plot in Oakland, creating what author and historian Oscar Lewisdescribed as a "wall around the waterfront" that put the town’s fate squarely in the hands of the corporation. [Lewis, p. 371] Competitors for ferry passengers or dock space were ruthlessly run out of business, and not even stage coach lines could escape the group's notice, or wrath.
Competition between carriers for rail routes was fierce as well, and unscrupulous means were often used to gain any advantage over one another. Santa Fe work crews engaged in sabotage to slow the progress of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad through the Sierra Nevada as the two fought their way toward the Coast; the Santa Fe (in conjunction with the California Southern) would win the race in establishing its connection to Bakersfield in 1883. Some eleven years earlier, the Southern Pacific essentially blackmailed the then-fledgling City of Los Angeles into paying a hefty subsidy to ensure that the railroad’s north-south line would pass through town; in 1878, the company would be rebuffed in its attempts to extend its Anaheim branch southward to San Diego through Orange County's Irvine Ranch without securing the permission of James Irvine, Sr., a longtime rival of Collis Huntington. [Donaldson and Myers, p. 14] The Southern Pacific would similarly block the westward progress of the Santa Fe (known to some as the People's Railroad) until September 1882, when a group of enraged citizens ultimately forced the railroad's management to relent. [Donaldson and Myers, p. 43] Numerous accounts of similar "
frog wars" and other such tactics have been recorded throughout California's railroad history.
Perhaps the most notorious examples of impropriety on the part of the railroads surround the process of land acquisition and sales. Since the federal government granted to the companies alternate tracks of land that ran along the tracks they had laid, it was generally assumed that the land would in turn be sold at its fair market value at the time the land was subdivided; circulars distributed by the SP (which was at the time a holding company formed by the Central Pacific Railroad) certainly implied as much. However, at least some of the tracts were put on the market only after considerable time had passed, and the land improved well beyond its raw state. [Yenne, p. 31]
Families faced with asking prices of ten times or more of the initial value more often than not had no choice but to vacate their homes and farms, in the process losing everything they worked for; often it turned out to be a railroad employee who had purchased the property in question. A group of immigrant
San Joaquin Valleyfarmers formed the Settlers' League in order to challenge the Southern Pacific's actions in court, but after all of the lawsuits were decided in the favor of the railroads, one group decided to take matters into their own hands. What resulted was the infamous Battle at Mussel Slough, in which armed settlers clashed with railroad employees and law enforcement officers engaged in eviction proceedings. Six people were killed in the ensuing gunfight. [Daniels, p. 59] The Southern Pacific would emerge from the tragedy as the prime target of journalists such as William Randolph Hearst, ambitious politicians, and crusade groups for decades to follow. [Yenne, p. 74] Leland Stanford's term as Governor of California(while still serving on the SP's board of directors) enhanced the corporation's political clout, but simultaneously further increased its notoriety as well.
Public response to the corruption that arose from California's economic "explosion" led to the enactment of numerous reform and regulation measures, many of which coincided with the ascendancy of the Populist and Progressive movements. Early examples of railroad regulation include Granger case decisions in the 1870s, and the creation of the first (albeit ineffective) Railroad Commission via amendment of the State's Constitution of 1879, forerunner of today's
California Public Utilities Commission. In 1886, the U.S. Supreme Courtruled against Santa Clara County in " Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad." The documents of the Court decision included a statement that a corporation henceforth could be considered an American citizen, with all the associated immunities and privileges (except the right to vote). The document phrasing has long made it difficult for states to pass legislation that could make corporations accountable to the people. The Stetson-Eshelman Actof 1911 provided for the fixing of shipping rates by state legislatures. In 1911, California's new Progressive government established the second Railroad Commission, more effective and less corrupted than the first one. [cite web |url=http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/PUC/aboutus/puhistory.htm |title=PUC History & Structure |publisher=California Public Utilities Commission |accessdate=2007-12-28]
Southern Pacific was purchased by Union Pacific and acquisition was finalized in 1996. With the ATSF-BN merger, the two major railroads in
Californiaare now Union Pacificand the BNSF. Amtrakserves California with the Coast Starlight, the California Zephyr, the Southwest Chief, and the Sunset Limited. Amtrak Californiaruns the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins and the Pacific Surfliner. Also, Caltrain, Altamont Commuter Express, COASTERand Metrolink all provide commuter rail service.
California State Railroad Museum
List of California railroads
* [http://www.californiahistory.net/text_only/7index.htm The Impact of the Railroad: The Iron Horse and the Octopus]
* [http://tigger.uic.edu/~rjensen/railroad.htm "Guide to Railroad History"] web links to primary and scholarly sources
* "Harper's New Monthly Magazine" March 1855, Volume 10, Issue 58 [http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/pageviewer?frames=1&coll=moa&view=50&root=%2Fmoa%2Fharp%2Fharp0010%2F&tif=00553.TIF&cite=http%3A%2F%2Fcdl.library.cornell.edu%2Fcgi-bin%2Fmoa%2Fmoa-cgi%3Fnotisid%3DABK4014-0010-69 complete text online]
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