Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Railroad western terminus

From: "Mark Merry"

I've always wondered why the railroad stopped in Alameda and was not continued directly to San Francisco? Was this to keep the ferries in business? It seems like it would've been much simpler to extend the railroad to San Jose and up the peninsula. I'm a tour guide in SF and would love to find more information about this. ...

—Mark Merry


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"

Yours is one of those questions that is best answered by reading one of the two better books on the formative years of the Central Pacific Railroad, specifically David Lavender's extremely well-researched and well-documented The Great Pursuader, the life and work of Collis Potter Huntington of the so-called "Big Four."

In a nutshell it went like this – and it's terribly complicated due to politics and entrenched independent landowners' or influencer's power in San Francisco at that time.

1) In 1868-69 as the CPRR was nearing its completion and meeting with the Union Pacific's rails at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory it had its established western terminus at Sacramento.

2) Leland Stanford with Charles Crocker wasn't happy with the Sacramento terminus and wanted direct access to the Bay and set about a tangled series of steps that got the CPRR closer. Here he and Crocker fought with partners C.P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins, both of whom recognized that the partners were terrifically cash-strapped and could not justify expansion. Stanford ignored them and went ahead with a takeover of the stock of the Western Pacific Rail Road, a line being built toward Sacramento from San Jose by way of Niles Canyon, Altamont Pass and Stockton. This was folded into the CPRR and the CP completed the WP but altered the original plans to send its stronger trunk up the East Bay shore through "Hayward's" to a meeting point with the San Francisco & Alameda Railroad which the CP also gobbled up. Stanford was after a direct line to the West Oakland shore having already been kept from getting access to Emeryville.

3) Stanford now moved to try and lock down rights to place a long pier track from the East Bay shore to Goat Island (Yerba Buena) and there he hoped to put in a ferry steamer terminal. This was blocked by everyone no matter how hard he and Crocker tried. Therefore the Central Pacific retrenched to West Oakland and eventually built the massive terminal rail yard and ferry slips known as "Oakland Pier" or "Oakland Mole" depending on who you talk to or what you read.

4) The rest of the WPRR was built on into San Jose as a link to the San Francisco & San Jose Railroad which Stanford arranged to buy up as part of the Central Pacific. However, they also bought the corporate name and controlling stock of the as-yet unbuilt Southern Pacific Railroad, recapitalized it and had the SPRR buy control of the SF&SJRR. Now they had a more-or-less direct line to the City, but it was (and remains) very roundabout. The Oakland-SF ferries offered much faster passenger connections – 20 minutes, tops) than any train working around from Niles to the Peninsula could do.

[continued below]

12/15/2010 2:11 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

5) Now it gets really interesting: In the 1870's Leland Stanford also began quietly buying up stock in the California Pacific Railroad – a line built by Peter Donahue who also was involved with the San Francisco & San Jose Railroad and also the nascent San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad which was trying to build a line north from Marin County to upper Sonoma County. Stanford also snagged control of the SF&NP and pulled a shady deal with the then-owner of the "Cal-P" (Milton S. Latham, another ex-CA governor and US senator). Latham was laundering Cal-P "roadbed repair" bond sales money from foreign and unsuspecting local stockholders and was allowing the Cal-P to more or less fall apart (it had been a very well built and equipped railroad until he got involved with it). Stanford wanted to own the Cal-P to keep it from getting direct access to Sacramento. The Central Pacific had temporarily legally blocked it from crossing the Sacramento River but this was eventually thrown out of court. The Cal P then put in a track on an existing wagon and foot bridge from Washington Township in Yolo County directly onto land formerly owned by the Central Pacific Railroad. This didn't sit well with any of the Big Four.

If the Central Pacific could control the California Pacific it could have an even more direct route to the East Bay than it had in the Western Pacific.

The bottom line: the Central Pacific used the Western Pacific from 1870 to about 1872-73 as its Bay Area mainline. It then took over the bankrupted California Pacific and rebuilt and improved the tracks and began running express passenger and mail trains from Sacramento to Vallejo and Benicia. At Benicia the existing express ferry steamers took express cargo, mail and passengers across the Bay to San Francisco and the Davis Street Wharf. A few local long-distance trains were still using the Western Pacific route as well.

[continued below]

12/15/2010 2:12 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

So ... the Big Four then incorporated the Northern Railway and succeeded in buying up land along the Contra Costa shore to put in a track from West Oakland to Port Costa. In 1878-79 they had the railroad's Sacramento Shops build the engines and machinery for the largest-ever train carrying steam ferry Solano which began running short route across the straits between Port Costa and Benicia/South Vallejo. This ferry and a similar running mate named "Contra Costa" ran until the 1931 when the present steel railroad lift bridge was built north of Martinez. Those two big ferries took on board whole freight or passenger trains with their locomotives (the decks were three tracks wide) and thereby allowed direct service to the West Oakland Ferry.

Last but not least the Southern Pacific grew up to be the dominant force in all this. The Big Four set up the "Southern Pacific Company" as a separate holding company under which all their railroads were tucked and operated under lease. Their reasoning for this was critically important: though they had juggled their personal wealth since the 1860's to build the Central Pacific and buy up or expand its "branches" they were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Only C.P. Huntington's marvelous ability to juggle stocks and manipulate the stocks by means of telegraphing everything from his New York offices kept the partnership and their projects from falling completely apart. In fact, the Big Four would have – at least until after the death of Hopkins and Stanford – have sold off the Central Pacific's original "Overland Route" from Sacramento to Utah. It never paid off in their lifetimes and helped spur a tremendous economic recession that began in 1870.
They hoped it would be a cash cow but instead a flood of Eastern goods came rushing in over their tracks and the Central Pacific got the least profit from carrying it. The bulk of the revenue went to the originating railroad and to the Union Pacific Railroad. Huntington was the last of the Big Four alive until he succumbed in the late summer of 1900 to a heart attack. This left the door open to a hostile takeover of the Southern Pacific Company. That came with E.H. Harriman who already controlled the Union Pacific. After buying up all outstanding CP and SP stock Harriman gained control and had the UP take over. This doesn't get us to how the present Union Pacific Railroad owns everything but that would just mess things up further in trying to explain. The above should answer your original question.

Needless to say, before people decided cars were more important the Southern Pacific and its Oakland-SF ferries provided fast and efficient service every 15 to 20 minutes night and day, 7 days per week. Once the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge was built, everything changed. There was at last a bridge line complete with electric interurban trains running on the bottom deck (these too, were owned by the SP though the rails also hosted electric interurban trains of the "Key System" and the Sacramento Northern Railway) but automobiles won out. The electric trains disappeared off the Bay Bridge in 1941.

Happy Holidays and good luck trying to explain any of this (coherently) in walking tours!

—Kevin Bunker, an ex-Sacramentan happily living in Portland, OR

12/15/2010 2:12 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Eventually It was possible to take a train from Alameda or Niles Canyon to San Jose to San Francisco. Just much slower than taking a ferry boat.

—Charlie Siebenthal

12/15/2010 2:40 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Adding to Kevin’s excellent response…

The Central Pacific charter called for a railroad from "The Pacific" westward. Central Pacific management was comfortable with calling Sacramento "The Pacific" as there was good water based transportation from there.

The City of San Francisco business interests were very uncomfortable Sacramento as the western terminal. Up until then San Francisco had controlled all trade entering California, as the goods were generally unloaded from the ocean going ships and transferred to river craft at San Francisco. They saw a potential world where goods entered the state via the railroad, were unloaded in Sacramento for the river trip to San Francisco.

By 1860, a group of San Franciscan business men were building the railroad between San Francisco and San Jose. This line was completed in 1864. In late 1862, a group of San Francisco business men persuaded Huntington and Judah to release the rights to build the section of the Pacific Railway between Sacramento and San Francisco. A new company, the Western Pacific was charted in December 1862. The new company had a number of directors in common with the San Francisco and San Jose but was a separate company.

The route chosen by the Western Pacific was north from San Jose, though Alameda (aka Niles) canyon, across the Amador (now Livermore) Valley, across Altamont Pass, then north up the east side of the San Joaquin Valley to a connection with the Central Pacific at Sacramento (in reality at Brighton, east of Sacramento).

Construction did not start until early 1865, after the SF&SJ was complete. Work started in San Jose. The first 20 mile long section into Niles canyon was inspected in October 1866, then all work stopped.

By 1867 the Associates had agreed (Huntington very reluctantly) to purchase the line, mostly for the 10 locomotives and roughly 50 miles of unlaid American rolled iron rail, but also to control the eventual connection to the bay.

The locomotives were shipped to Sacramento, along with all loose rail (there were reports that they pulled up part of the line, but they did not).

In April 1869 work was restarted on the line, this time under the control of the Associates. One crew rehabilitated the first 20 miles, then extended this east. A second crew worked south from Brighton. The two crews met at the San Joaquin River bridge at Mossberg (just south of Lathrup).

A third crew extended the line northward from junction near Vallejo Mills (now Niles) northward towards Oakland, initially connecting with the San Francisco and Alameda railroad (Alameda to Hayward's) at Simpson's (several miles north of Hayward’s leaving Hayward’s on a branch line).

They then continued building north to connect with the San Francisco and Oakland railroad. The San Francisco and Oakland terminal would eventually be developed as the SP Oakland Mole. A railroad very much under the control of the Associates.

The trip from Niles to San Francisco via San Jose would have taken something like 4 hours … the trip from Niles to Oakland was less than an hour, with a 30 minute ferry crossing. This was a significant time savings at a time when the California Pacific Railroad, Western Pacific Railroad, and river boats were all competing between Sacramento and SF. Ultimately, the Dumbarton Bridge and cut-off would be built as a short cut for freight trains traveling from San Francisco to Sacramento and points east, allowing trains to avoid San Jose and its street running.

Kevin did a great job on the Cal-P story, with one correction … the Niles line was still primary until about 1878 … they tried earlier, but floods damaged the Cal-P so mainline service returned to Niles Canyon.

—Randy Hees

12/16/2010 12:12 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


I'll add a bit more. James Strobridge, fresh off his success on the line to Promontory, headed the 1869 Western Pacific construction crew building from Niles to Alameda and Oakland.

I'll expand more on the California Pacific (Cal P).

The Cal P completed their line from Vallejo to the Sacramento River on the Yolo county side (today's West Sacramento) in 1869. The existing wagon bridge across the Sacramento River (completed in 1858) wasn't suitable for trains, so the Cal P purchased its rights and built a new parallel combination train and wagon bridge immediately down stream from the wagon bridge (and removed the old wagon bridge), forced a diamond crossing of the Central Pacific mainline and establishing a station just east of the Central Pacific track – roughly 2-3 blocks from the Central Pacific station on Front street between I and J streets. The new bridge was completed and placed in service in January 1870. The Central Pacific tried to block the Cal P in court, but ultimately lost the litigation.

I don't believe Peter Donahue was involved in the Cal P, except in the negative way described below. He was deeply involved in the San Francisco & San Jose, and founded the San Francisco & North Pacific (SF&NP) in 1869. He was also on cooperative terms with the Central Pacific owners. The Cal P crowd (including Milton Latham) forced Donahue to sell the SF&NP to the Cal P in 1871 by threatening to build a parallel competing line. The intent was to built the Cal P to a ferry terminal in Marin County – much closer to San Francisco than Vallejo. Separately the Cal P had also purchased control of California Steam Navigation Company, which controlled the vast majority of steam river boat traffic on the Sacramento River and up from San Francisco. Further the Cal P largely obtained control of the Stockton & Copperopolis running east from Stockton.

But the Cal P, with all their expansions, became overextended with their investors and creditors (although never actually bankrupt), and the Central Pacific succeeded in purchasing control of the Cal P from the nervous money people (including Milton Latham) in mid 1872 – over the opposition of the core Cal P operators. With the Cal P purchase the Central Pacific also found themselves owners of the SF&NP, the Stockton & Copperopolis and the California Steam Navigation. The Central Pacific considered moving their own terminal to Marin County but ultimately decided not to. Part of the reason may well have been that the Central Pacific was itself in a precarious financial position from all their own expansions. In any case, the Central Pacific sold the SF&NP back to Peter Donahue in 1873 (perhaps the only time in the 19th century that the CP and SP let lose of a railroad they had acquired control of). The Central Pacific retained the Stockton & Copperopolis and the California Steam Navigation, and remained the dominant steam river boat operator well into the 20th century.

The old Cal P line was served by a ferry run – not a car ferry – between Vallejo and San Francisco, which many passengers found faster and more convenient than the Western Pacific via Altamont and Niles Canyon, but did not lend itself to heavy freight traffic. In 1870-71 the (then independent) Cal P aggressively and successfully competed with the Central Pacific in carrying passenger between Sacramento and San Francisco via the Vallejo ferry run. After the CP acquired the Cal P in 1872, they diverted many passenger train runs over the Cal P and the Vallejo ferry – including the Lightning Express that served Virginia City via a connection over the Virginia & Truckee RR (including a Silver Palace sleeping car as far as Carson City).

[continued below]

12/16/2010 12:25 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The redirection of freight via the Cal P related to the new connection via the car ferry Solano, completed in 1879, which carried full trains across Suisun Bay and allowed direct train service to Oakland via the Northern Railway (as described by Kevin). Some years later as freight trains got longer and heavier (not sure exactly when, maybe ca. turn of the century?) SP redirected most freight trains between Sacramento and the Bay Area again via Altamont Pass and Niles Canyon, while passenger trains continued to use the Cal P and the car ferry crossing. This continued until the construction of the bridge in 1931 allowed elimination of the car ferry, and the return of the freight trains.

In describing the results for the Central Pacific of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Kevin is correct that it turned out not to be the bonanza that had been anticipated. But the Central Pacific did fare much better than the Union Pacific, since the CP actually had a good deal of local traffic. (The Union Pacific served mostly undeveloped land so relied more heavily on the sparse overland traffic, and went effectively bankrupt in the early 1870's.) Between the CP's local traffic and Huntington's masterful efforts in the East, the CP managed to get through the dire financial times intact and was on more solid footing financially by the late 1870's. By the end of the 1870's, instead of looking to sell off the Central Pacific (as they had wanted to do earlier) they were now committed to building a second transcontinental line, the Southern Pacific, across Arizona and New Mexico, and on through Texas.

The Harriman acquisition of the Southern Pacific was still another story. By the late 1890s CP Huntington had succeeded in gaining control of most of the SP stock owned by the descendants of the original families – Stanford, Crocker and Hopkins – through a combination of purchases and proxies. He had brought in his nephew, Henry Huntington, and groomed him as his successor. But in getting through the 1890's Huntington had become deeply obliged to his financial backers. CP Huntington had the prestige to remain fairly independent of action, but when he died Henry Huntington did not have that political "heft." Henry expected to be elected President of SP to succeed CP Huntington, but the SP Board, now effectively controlled by the financial backers, passed over Henry and elected an outsider. Henry left in a huff.

Meanwhile, back in 1893 the Union Pacific (and about half the other US railroads) fell into bankruptcy during that major depression. (Through CP Huntingtons efforts the SP avoided bankruptcy, although CP Huntington did lose control of the Chesapeake & Ohio, which he had controlled in the East.) In 1897 EH Harriman outmaneuvered JP Morgan and gained control of the Union Pacific when it left receivership. In late 1900, after Henry left the SP in a huff, his friend Edwin Hawley (a former SP official in New York under CP Huntington, and later a power in his own right with several mid-western railroads) introduced Henry Huntington to Harriman. Through Henry Huntington, Harriman arranged to acquire control of all the Huntington-controlled SP stock, plus he acquired more separately through Union Pacific purchase of more stock. In 1901 he was able to take over control of the Southern Pacific, replacing the financier's installed SP president. Harriman died in 1909, and ultimately the UP and SP railroads lost an anti-trust suit and were forced to separate in 1913.

A final note about the Bay Bridge and the track across them. The bridge railway was owned by the Bridge Authority (not by SP), with SP, Sacramento Northern and Key System all operating over the bridge to the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco. SP and Sacramento Northern ceased rail operations over the bridge in 1941, but Key System continued crossing the bridge until 1958.

Hope that helps.

—Kyle Wyatt

12/16/2010 12:25 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Larry Mullaly"

In answer to your very good question:

The following complements Randy, Kevin, and Wyatt's fine answers.

San Francisco was always the goal of the transcontinental railroad. It was the largest city in the Far West, and the hub of water transport within the state and across the Pacific.

To access the city by rail, the Sacramento associates (Huntington, Stanford, Hopkins and the Crocker brothers) acquired rights to a Sacramento to San Jose entity, known as the Western Pacific, in the summer of 1867. The Western Pacific route crossed the Diablo Range by way of Livermore Pass and Niles Canyon, emerging at San Francisco Bay near present-day Fremont.

In early 1868, the five associates also obtained properties from the California legislature that allowed them bayside-access to the tidelands south of Market Street known as Mission Bay. To avoid the circuitous route through San Jose, the railroad’s Mission Bay project assumed that a bridge crossing would be built east of today’s Palo Alto at Ravenswood. The plan also assumed a water-level entry along the bay’s shoreline (since the 1860's all direct rail traffic into the city passed over the shoulder of Mt. San Bruno on the line roughly followed by modern-day BART).

When the transcontinental was completed in May 1869, the company opted for a shorter, less expensive route to the city by way of Alameda and soon thereafter Oakland. From Point Oakland an existing ferry pier was extended to within 2/3rds of a mile of Yerba Buena Island at the end of which an enormous deep-water wharf that provided passenger and freight car ferriage into the city. The use of the Oakland Wharf combined with ferry service was judged more efficient and less costly than building the Ravenswood Bridge and infilling Mission Bay.

The Mission Bay project, however, was not dead.

In 1872, Stanford and Huntington spent most of the year in seeking twin terminals to serve the city: the Central Pacific’s would be anchored at Goat (Yerba Buena Island), the Southern Pacific (a much smaller, and corporately separate company) would terminate at Mission Bay. At the time, they were seeking to separate the two interests from one another, possibly selling off one or both railroads.

[continued below]

12/16/2010 12:56 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The associates (now reduced to Stanford, Huntington and Hopkins) pursued the objectives of dual terminals through June of 1872. Because of the protest over Goat Island raised by elements in the city, they then reluctantly accepted a plan, known as “the Ravenswood Compromise. ” By terms of the agreement some Central Pacific and Southern Pacific traffic would cross the Bay at Ravenswood near modern day East Palo Alto. The railroad to forever abandon its plans to build at Goat Island. The City for its part agreed to provide the railroad with $2.5 in bond support for the project – in effect, a long-term loan. The same compromise, as originally drafted, implicitly allowed the Central Pacific to maintain activities at the Oakland Long Wharf.

The railroad by this time had already made a major earthen cut through the Potrero to bring the tracks into Mission Bay and was in the process of completing an expensive earthen seawall across the face of the bay.

Most observers expected the hard-bargained compromise to pass. In a last minute effort to exclude railroad activity from the East Bay, however, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors altered the language of the agreement. The railroad balked. Rather than renounce its Oakland facility (a key shipping point for the important grain crops from the Central Valley) and faced with financial problems, the associates rejected the modifications made by the City Supervisors. The measure never came before the voters. By the end of fall 1872, all work on Mission Bay project was terminated.

Not until the early 1900’s was a water level route completed into the city. During the same period 1900-1910, the SP’s roundhouse and yards were finally built at Mission Bay, and the Dumbarton Bridge completed across the bay to Palo Alto, to a point that had once born the name of village called Ravenswood.

The driving force for much of this was economics. The better routes in and out of the city for passenger service were by ferry to Oakland based terminals. Until the Dumbarton Bridge was built, it also more cost effective to ferry freight cars into the Central Pacific yards along Townsend Street from the east bay, than run them around the bay and over Mt. San Bruno.

Good luck, in saying this in a simple way on your tours!

—Larry Mullaly

12/16/2010 12:56 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Mark Merry"

Wow! Thanks for your answer – I've wondered about this for years, its complicated but it makes sense. It also makes sense why the big four were referred to as the Robber Barons – all kinds of funny business went on in the building of the TCRR. ...

—Mark Merry

12/16/2010 1:08 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"

The only thing is, the term "Robber Barons" was a national hyper-Populist reaction to the rise of the Industrial Age. Never before had the public seen the successes (in the public view excesses) of the industrial and banking capitalists since these rose as fast as Industrialization and related stock speculation did. Frankly, we still see echoes of that angry attitude now, but I'll equate the use of "Robber Barons" terminology as akin to middle class angst that "I didn't get any but they did" jealousy. Sadly, not everybody can be filthy rich...

The "Big Four" (in reality there were at least five of them if you count Charles Crocker's brother E.B. Crocker) were no more "Robber Barons" than Carnegie, Fish, the Vanderbilts, Rockefeller... They were all just extremely adept at what they did with their interests. Ostentatious, yes. That hardly helped their public reputations, but "robber" is still extreme.

—Kevin Bunker

12/17/2010 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your defense of the 19th century capitalists against the false "robber baron" label. Your argument is exactly right, but actually can be taken several steps further. The anti-capitalistic mentality, repackaged as Marxism, probably is a holdover from the pre-industrialist age when despots actually did get rich only by stealing from the poor through taxes, etc. (What the "progressives" fundamentally misunderstand is that under free markets, economic transactions only occur voluntarily when buyer and seller disagree because the buyer prefers a product or service more than their money while the seller prefers the money over the product or service with the result that both benefit from the exchange, which otherwise would not happen.)

As the U.S. Supreme Court explained, it is necessary for rewards to capitalists to be huge to provide motivation when the risks are so enormous, as they were with the transcontinental railroad. Furthermore, despite being so clearly explained by Adam Smith, to this day almost nobody seems to understand that the massive amounts of property accumulated by the extremely wealthy (being far more than they could ever consume), by the nature of wealth, benefits primarily the public, not the rich person.

The wonderful news is that it is actually not true (in three ways) that "Sadly, not everybody can be filthy rich.":
First, consider that automobiles, airplanes, computers, televisions, movies, air conditioning, cleanliness, medical care, longevity, etc. that are available to everyone to day make us each more wealthy than the royalty of past centuries. (So "filthy rich" is an ironically inappropriate pejorative because accumulating wealth/capital to the contrary is what allows a society to achieve greater personal and environmental cleanliness.)
Second, by following the example of the Chinese CPRR workers, and saving and investing a portion of wages over time (accelerated by using the idea compound interest), every working American who wishes can easily and automatically become among the richest 1% of the people in today's world.
Third, the misguided "progressive" idea of big government that regulates, taxes, and spends is enormously wasteful compared to a free market economy. If that waste (due to the mistaken policies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson) which went into high gear by about 1913 with the 16th amendment can be quantified as a drag of only a few percent reduction in growth of the national economy, then it follows that absent the anti-capitalistic mentality and its results we would all be many times more wealthy today. So whatever poverty still persists today is entirely caused by the progressives, making their claim to help the common man entirely ridiculous. There would be no poor in America today but for the misguided wealth destroying "progressive" economic policies.

12/19/2010 1:56 AM  

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