Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Southern Pacific History - plan circa 1903 to electrify the San Francisco - San Jose line?

From: "Ron Swenson"

In the early '70s I was "living in the big city" and decided one morning to take the Del Monte Special (SF to Monterey) from San Francisco to Palo Alto(?) and I paid a few bucks extra to go First Class. There was an extra seat in the Parlor Car at the very back of the train (yes, we could see where we'd been) in a big cushy swivel arm chair. The guy in the other fancy seat next to me was a true train buff, decked out in train buff classic: three piece suit, including the vest with the big watch on a gold chain, a top hat and shoes with spats. Hollywood couldn't have created a more authentic character.

That much is for sure.

He told me a fascinating story: the President of Southern Pacific at the turn of the century had a futuristic vision and had mobilized the company to electrify the SF-SJ line with complete grade-separation when he met an untimely death in 1903. Even though this was a big setback, the company regrouped and began laying plans again, when the earthquake hit. That was just too much, and the plans were set aside.

That story may not have been quite right ...

These days, fact-checking is a whole lot easier; that's how I came across your website and history.

And of course there's Presidents of the Southern Pacific Company ... which reveals that no President of SP met an untimely death around that time.

As you know a great deal about the history of SP, I wonder if you can help me discern what actually transpired back 100+ years ago. Was the visionary leader actually the chief engineer and not the president of SP, for example? Or did the guy just make up the story?

I did notice from Erle Heath's history that electric train lines were actually fairly common in the Bay Area ... and in LA for that matter. So the story is plausible. It's the cast of characters that doesn't quite add up.

Any help in sorting this out would be greatly appreciated. ...

—Ron Swenson, Santa Cruz