Thursday, February 25, 2010

Southern Pacific Railway, Orange County CA lines

From: "Von Bitner, Theodore"

I am very interested in the history of the Southern Pacific Railroad through what is now Huntington Beach, Orange County, California. In particular ... about the Smeltzer Branch along the Pacific Ocean coastline. I am very curious about the physical structure of the railroad between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach with respect to any bridges that my have been built along that stretch of the railway. This particular stretch of the coastline appears to have been a sand spit and I interested to find out how the railroad was essentially built on the beach. ...

Ted von Bitner
Chief of Monitoring Programs
County of Orange - OC Watersheds Program


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grading along that line appears to have been relatively light and sand drifts appear to have been a problem from time to time, as the rails occaisonally became buried. A section of rails remain on the ground just northwest of the pier in Huntington Beach. Occasionally, the rails are exposed and you can get a pretty good idea of what the roadbed conditions were like...pretty much non-existant. I believe that there was a pile trestle across the Santa River.

I first saw the Smeltzer branch in the late 1970s. It still extended pretty far south at that time; not too far from the beach. Like other PE and SP branch lines in Orange County, the roadbed wasn't too pronounced. Ballast was light. As a kid I pulled most of the date nails out of the ties on the Los Alamitos and Smeltzer lines. Many of the nails dated to the 1920s, so it appears that that's about when they gave up on doing any major track work. It's not like the Smeltzer was ever a highspeed affair...just an Orange County branch line that serviced sugar beet refineries and the petroleum industry. The rural-like character of the south end of the Smeltzer line remained largely intact into the early 1980s then changed quickly in the late 80s and 90s as developers built subdivisions and industrial parks along the right of way. Like most of Southern California, there isn't much left in the way of historic vestiges along the Smeltzer or the PE Newport line. The tracks on the Smeltzer line now end at Ellis Ave. A lumber yard just south of Talbert is the last customer at the south end of the line.

4/23/2010 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have posted complete treatise direct to Ted, and will forward to any others interested, but Google sez 'too big', so here is thumbnail: SA&N Ry Iintended to build branch thru S.A. to Westminster district in early 1890s, but 2nd Street property owners objected so chose instead to build from Newport, laying track in 1897 directly on beachfront to future Huntington Beach, thence north over lightly graded tangent'til stopped by boggy peatlands which 'ate' track until piles driven along r-o-w, terminating on celery pioneer D.E.Smeltzer's ranch. S.P. acquired branch with rest of SA&N in 1899, extending it on thru Wstr. to Stanton in 1907. P.E. built parallel line H.B.-N.B. in 1905, on uncut beach(River then emptying into Newport Bay). Natural and engineered breaches in sandspit subsequently lead to trestles at two places, shared by both railroads, one now filled by H.B. all using special procedures for joint use. Many fun tales pertaining....... SP abd 1933, P.E. 1950ish.

6/09/2010 9:41 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Here is the complete message in two parts:

Subject: O.C. Coastal Railroads

SA&N Ry originally intended to built branch thru Santa Ana to Westminster and adjacent celery farming district, but when 2nd Street property owners objected, chose instead to reach destination from Newport Beach ... built original Smeltzer Branch from Newport in 1897, laying track directly on the sand spit along the beach, to "Shell Beach"/Pacific City (not "Huntington" until later, then turning due north toward Westminster, but denied completion to that point by boggy peatlands intervening, which swallowed new track overnight until piles driven along r-o-w. Line terminated on ranch of D.E. Smeltzer who introduced and promoted celery cultivation in area. S.P acquired branch with all of SA&N in 1899, extending it on thru Westminster [depot misnamed "Westminister"] to Benedict [later Stanton] on Los Alamitos Branch, opening up "Merry-Go-Round' branch line circuit in O.C. When P.E. built alongside S.P. between Newport and Huntington Beach in 1905, the beach and roadbeds were continuous and uncut by any waterway(the Santa Ana River emptied directly into the west end of Newport Bay near Arches, behind the sand spit upon which the rail lines were constructed). In several years of late Teens, both railroads were washed out by winter storms, the S.P. suspending service until summer when roadbeds could be restored (more or less). In 1915-16, the S.A. River broke thru the beach near H.B., severing operations by both companies for more than a month. P.E. built a substantial trestle at the break and resumed service in the Spring. S.P. had access to H.B via its Peatlands route from Anaheim thru Smeltzer-Westminster so was under no great pressure to restore its coastal trackage, but when it did fix its coastal trackage that summer, it chose to share P.E.'s trestle over the main washout and storm-cut river channel (near Gamewell station). This joint use included the single track on the bridge and caused the need for two hand thrown switches and signals on opposing ends of the joint trestle, imposing a six minute delay for all thirty P.E. trains that used the structure at that time. Not very long later, this first trestle was filled in by the State as it undertook to secure the roadbed of its adjacent Coast Highway, but except for brief intervals when the practice was suspended, the two roads shared the buried bridge and sustained the imposition of pausing to secure safety of passage of their respective trains (S.P. traffic here had dwindled and its branch would become "freight only" by early Twenties, so was the least impacted).

(continued below)

6/09/2010 3:33 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

During the 1920s another series of storms did damage elsewhere along the beach. Early in that decade the County undertook to create a permanent improved route for the S.A. River to prevent it from silting up Newport Bay via its old channel to that estuary. The new outlet to the sea was to be closer to Newport than the old storm cut opening near Huntington Beach described above, and required routing under both railroads at the new location. Originally both railroads settled for a large culvert beneath their tracks to guide the river seaward (rather than individual trestles suggested in artwork accompanying a newspaper article about river jetties at the time. Shortly thereafter, though, P.E. opted to build a trestle to replace culvert, but S.P. kept its culvert in place. After a Spring, 1921 storm washed out the S.P. culvert and nearby trackage, the two railroads resolved to repeat the solution that had served them nearer H.B. and once again installed turnouts bringing the tracks of both lines together at each end of the newer P.E. trestle, so the companies once again enjoyed joint track and bridge across the official river mouth, with safety stops required by trains of both lines before passing over. Through the next few years, employee [always spelled just "employe" by S.P.] timetables, carried the admonition "Light system between Gamewell and Newport Beach over two sections of P.E. track". By the end of the decade,a different procedure of manual flagging the whole distance was implemented. There were more washouts of the beach tracks in the later Twenties which disrupted coastal operations despite the presence of the two bridges, the most severe (1927) actually finishing the filling in around the Gamewell bridge begun by California a few years before. BTW, these were not the only tracks along this beach, as a n.g. industrial tram was put down temporarily in 1924 to distribute concrete aggregate along the length of PCH from a so-called "Macklin" spur where the aggregate was delivered from O.C. Rock Co. The jetty contractor also employed two spurs which crossed the standard gauge railroad to access its work using a predecessor of today's modern Brandt m-o-w trucks to convey rock to project. P.E. officially filled and abandoned the Gamewell trestle in 1953.

6/09/2010 3:33 PM  

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