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The Southern Pacific Railroad

The story of the foundation and development of the Southern Pacific system


MODERN 4-8-2 LOCOMOTIVE hauling the Golden State Limited, Southern Pacific Railroad

THE MOST MODERN PASSENGER LOCOMOTIVE (4-8-2 type) hauling the “Golden State Limited” of the Southern Pacific Railroad. This giant locomotive is nearly 100 feet in length, and is equipped with auxiliary booster engine, feed-water heater, superheater, and other appliances of the latest type. No “helper” is required on the through run, without any change of engine, of 815 miles between Los Angeles, California, and El Paso, Texas - a performance which constitutes a record for this class of locomotive.

THE first iron-way in California, the Sacramento Valley Railroad, was built in the early 1850s from the state capital to Folsom, a distance of 22 miles. It was a “one-hoss road” with only a single locomotive, brought round by way of Cape Horn, but it was opened with wild enthusiasm. That short line was a brilliant triumph for the young engineer, Theodore D. Judah, but he had no intention of leaving the end of steel at Folsom: he would pick it up, lift it over the mountain barrier, and carry it across the continent to materialize the vision that had haunted him for many years, and to prove that in the railway sense East is West. One or two others had also been reflecting upon the selfsame scheme. Among these was Dr. D. W. Strong, residing at a “roaring camp” known as Dutch Flat. He sought out the engineer, and the two discussed the project from every angle.

The conversations revealed one great difficulty: it would never be possible for the Californians to carry out the project with their own resources. Why should not the Government co-operate? Judah hurried to Washington to lay the scheme for the “Pacific Railroad” before Congress, and to invoke financial support for the great project. His mission does not appear to have been productive of material results, beyond furnishing the members of the legislature with a new topic for academic debate.

Shortly after his return to the Pacific coast Dr. Strong and Judah came to the conclusion that the hands of the Government could be more satisfactorily forced by the Californians taking their courage in their own hands to launch the scheme. Dr. Strong thereupon introduced the young engineer to the four big men of California, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker and Collis P. Huntington. They became so profoundly impressed as to incorporate, on January 28, 1861, the Central Pacific Railroad, with a capital of ,£1,700,000; of this sum, however, only a bagatelle of £29,000 was subscribed, and that for the most part by the enthusiasts themselves.

Judah again went to Washington to importune the Government, and so convincingly demonstrated the imperative necessity for government financial aid as to influence the passing of the historic Act of 1862, authorizing the construction of the first transcontinental railway. Although the Act defined the constructional limits of the Californian company to a point approximately half-way, and stated that the eastern division was to be built from the Missouri River by another company, Judah was satisfied. He had gained his objective.

The Californian pioneers, once official co-operation was secured, went ahead energetically. On January 16, 1862, amid the blare of a brass band, tumultuous cheers and general holiday-making, the fashioning of the grade was commenced by Leland Stanford, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of California. On May 10, 1869, the two arms, advancing from the east and west, met near Promontory in the state of Utah, were connected up, and the first train, waiting for the purpose, passed from the east to proceed to Sacramento.

The subjugation of the formidable mountain range within this period testifies to the energy with which the work was pursued. It had to be executed wholly by shovel and pickaxe, with gunpowder as the agent for shattering the rock, dynamite not then being known, though nitro-glycerine, colloquially known as “blasting oil”, was available. Labour had to be recruited from the Chinese who had flocked to the “Golden Coast” in the world-stampede after the yellow metal.

TYPICAL SCENE DURING THE CONSTRUCTION of the Central Pacific (now Southern Pacific) line

TYPICAL SCENE DURING THE CONSTRUCTION of the Central Pacific (now Southern Pacific) line across the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Unfortunately, the pathfinder, whose efforts had been mainly responsible in rousing the Government, was denied the glory of seeing his life-dream fulfilled. In 1863, long before the route had been pegged out to the top of the wall, he was stricken down with Panama fever, to which he succumbed at the early age of 37 years. His successor picked up his incomplete plans, and from the last peg driven into the ground fought his way to the summit. One or two revisions in Judah’s definite location were made, but for the most part his path was followed as far as completed.

In the first instance it was suggested that the trans-continental should be picked up at Folsom, the rail-head of the Sacramento Valley line, for continuation through the mountains, the pioneer company being submerged by the new undertaking, but upon Judah’s recommendation a new iron trail was blazed by way of Roseville, Auburn and Colfaz to the summit at Truckee. In 1865 the end of steel of the Sacramento Valley Railroad was moved on to Latrobe, which had developed into an important mining town, whence, twenty years later, it was advanced to the centre having the sinister name “Hangtown”, since changed to Placerville, where the end of this pioneer Californian line still rests.

Although the forces behind the enterprise did not release the driving pressure advance was sternly disputed: gunpowder did not prove a serviceable weapon with which to wage war against the rock. The first forty miles led to the climax. In Bloomer Cut, the gunpowder was completely defied; the advance slowed down to such a degree that the shareholders’ enthusiasm sank to zero, and the public grew mirthful over “The Dutch Flat Swindle”.

As the granite laughed at gunpowder it was decided to ascertain what “blasting oil” could do. But nitro-glycerine had already achieved such a terrible reputation as to compel caution. Supplies of this agent “ready for use” were not sought; transport was far too hazardous except over short distances. When this was unavoidable the mules engaged in the service, and laden up with nitro-glycerine, were turned on the trail and allowed to “gang their own gait”. No packer would volunteer to accompany them.

The Chinese, to whom was given the honour of mixing the chemicals, were provided with a special shanty for the purpose, and the mixing shack was generally set at a comfortable distance away. On one occasion the nitro-glycerine suddenly asserted itself and resolved the whole gang of Chinese in the immediate vicinity into a gaseous condition. All the available stock of chemicals went up in this roar to the serious delay of the tunnel-driving then in progress. Work had to be suspended for practically a whole week. But the “blasting oil ” solved the difficulty of Bloomer Cut and opened the way to Dutch Flat.

The winter of 1867 was a nightmare to the constructional gangs at the rail-head. The camps were strung out over several miles at the summit which has the dubious reputation of being the centre of the heaviest snow-fall south of the Klondike.

The season proved abnormally severe with intense cold. Two camps of Chinese, engaged in driving two tunnels, and another gang occupied in building culverts, were accommodated in Strong’s Canyon. The snow-fall proved to be too heavy for the adjacent peak: it started on its downward roll to develop into a devastating slide. It entirely obliterated the camps. An adjacent camp, within easy walking distance, was as completely isolated by the snow as if a thousand miles away. Under a covering of several feet, 200 men with horses and mules were lost to sight. The men had to dig themselves out, cutting steps in the snow to the surface.

To the east, between Blue Canyon and Cisco, where the line makes its sinuous way through deep cuttings, worse troubles were being encountered; all constructional work, except in the tunnels, had to be abandoned. The snow was in constant movement, bringing down rock, trees, and detritus in huge streams, filling the deep cuts. As steam shovels were unknown, these cuttings had to be cleared by hand.

To this day snow ranks as the railway’s greatest dread during the winter. When the rails were laid across the summit, the engineer turned to the devising of ways and means to keep the narrow steel channel open while Arctic weather reigned. Investigation and experience have provided only one feasible solution: to encase the steel highway in a wooden shed throughout the whole length of the affected zone.


DOUBLE-HEADING OVER THE SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS. Two powerful Southern Pacific “Mallets”, of the running-backwards-to-forwards type, hauling a long train of automobiles into California.

The snow-shed protection of the Central Pacific is one of its many engineering wonders. The idea was conceived by S. S. Montague, and he laid the foundations of the longest length of railway snow-sheds in the world, colloquially known as “The House without End”. It is 156,259 feet — 29.6 miles — in length, and holds the railway against the enemy of winter across the roof of California between Blue Canyon and Truckee. Approximately 100,000,000 feet, board measurement, of timber went in its construction.

A few years ago the exigencies of increasing traffic necessitated doubling the line through the mountains, with the exception of the stretch over the summit. On the Pacific slope the second road is carried only as far as Blue Canyon, at an elevation of 4,693 feet. At Blue Canyon, the western entrance to “the longest house in the world”, the station is set on a curve of such sharp radius that a train of 45 vehicles completely encircles it. At this point the waiting mammoth Mallet helper, weighing 437,000 lb., is picked up to give the passing train a lift over the vertical rise of 2,324 feet through the snow-sheds, the maximum climb being 1 in 45 to the summit, which is at 7,017 feet above sea-level. The helping effort completed, the Mallet drops clear to return to Blue Canyon, and the train continues on its way to Truckee over a 1 in 50 descent, where the double-tracking is resumed. Thus the top of the wall is still traversed for the greater part of the way by the original line laid in 1867.

As the result of absorption the Central Pacific Railroad, as such, disappeared in its corporate capacity, to become the Sacramento Division, one of the ten sections into which the huge network forming the Southern Pacific is divided. The other divisions are respectively the San Joaquin, Los Angeles, Coast, Western, Stockton, Atlantic, Mount Shasta, Portland, and Tucson. Each might be described as a complete railway in itself, serving a specific territory, comparable with the components of the four groups into which the railways of Great Britain have been compressed, yet interconnected and with free running. With the exception of the Central Pacific, however, the other divisions represent new construction, except in so far as various sections of privately owned, independent lines were leased or purchased to complete the great scheme conceived to criss-cross the Golden West, and for which purpose the Southern Pacific was especially created.

Flushed with the success of the first venture in big scale railway-building operations, Collis P. Huntington and his colleagues naturally sought new worlds to conquer. The first transcontinental closed the breach between the Missouri River and the Pacific seaboard, but had no outlet to the Atlantic seaboard except through various other lines gridironing the eastern states.

Furthermore, it spanned the continent far to the north. Huntington aspired to connect San Francisco direct with the Atlantic coast, and he realized that the most attractive way across the continent would be well to the south, practically paralleling the United States-Mexican frontier, and tapping the eastern ocean on the Gulf of Mexico. The decision to bear to the south provided the enterprise with its distinctive title, the foundation being really the Tucson Division from the Colorado River to El Paso — the “Sunset Route”, as it is more popularly and picturesquely called.

At the time this enterprise was assumed — the “70’s” — it represented an even more daring railway-building adventure than had the first road over the sierras. It was proposed to traverse the desert stretches and the bold Bad Lands of Arizona and New Mexico, at that time the haunts of mail-robbers, marauding Indians, and outlaws.

Huntington, Crocker and their colleagues were weighing the advantages and disadvantages of two possible routes, the one from Mojave via Needles and the other from Mojave by way of Los Angeles, when two prominent leaders of the latter city secured audience of Huntington, then president of the Central Pacific, and succeeded in persuading him to embrace the second route, thus bringing their city and its surrounding fertile valleys into touch with Sacramento and the transcontinental. The alternative route via Mojave and Needles was subsequently embraced by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe to carry its metals to the Pacific coast.

Development of the Southern Pacific

The Los Angeles territory was certainly full of promise. Its railway subjugation had been commenced through the initiative of an energetic pioneer, Captain Banning, who, in 1868, had commenced the building of the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railway, the material for which had been brought into the country by way of Cape Horn. Huntington acquired this line for consolidation with the newly created Southern Pacific.

While the main line was being built southwards to Los Angeles, the short line commenced by Banning was extended to meet it, junction being somewhat delayed by the driving of the big tunnel at San Fernando. The latter, however, was not permitted to retard the advance towards the Atlantic seaboard, for the railway builders swung their line round towards the Colorado River which they reached in 1877. The breadth of the waterway at this point held up the rail-head for several months, but the massive steel bridge at Yuma being completed in 1879, the conquest of the -uninviting country directly ahead was launched in grim earnest.

As this country gave no promise of becoming revenue-producing for many years to come, the pioneer principle of construction was adopted. The engineers followed the line of least resistance, despite heavy grades and sharp curvature, the intention being to improve the road as business developed. As a matter of fact, improvement in many places was forced to assume the calibre of relocation, notably through the Gila River Valley where, some years later, through the collapse of a dam upon the waterway, the original line was obliterated.

Heavy climbing commenced when Gila was passed and continued for 18 miles, to be followed by a drop to what was then the flourishing town of Heaton, but whose glory has completely departed. At this point the engineers introduced what was, and probably still ranks as, the longest curve in the world — 5 miles in length — advancing the line to Maricopa, and, to enter a tangent, 47 miles in length, the longest stretch of straight line upon the whole system.

FREIGHT LOCOMOTIVE used on the coastal section of the Southern Pacific Railroad

TYPE OF FREIGHT LOCOMOTIVE used on the coastal section of the Southern Pacific Railroad between San Francisco and Los Angeles, in 1922.

In 1880 the metals reached Tucson, a hive of prosperity buried in the heart of the desert. On a steadily rising grade the rail continues from Tucson to Vail, 20 miles to the east, where it penetrates the Cienega Canyon, through which for quick, cheap construction, the metals were laid on the flat low-lying ground beside the river. Unfortunately this district is subject to torrential downpours of rain which often assume the calibre of cloudbursts, with the result that sections of the track were repeatedly obliterated. It was by no means unusual for trains to be held up for a week by a washout. As traffic grew the ensuing congestion of business precipitated an intolerable state of affairs, demanding the relocation of the line, with heavier construction, on higher ground.

In fact, for some distance through this bad country the recurring wash-outs compelled new surveying and construction, including 20 miles rising at 1 in 100 to Benson. In carrying out this work the opportunity was taken to straighten many of the severe curves incidental to the original line. On this stretch the rails reach their highest elevation between the Colorado River and the Rio Grande —4,613 feet — at Dragoon, the summit of the mountains of the same name, which is gained over a ruling grade of 1 in 71.

Swinging down from the summit the railway traverses the country which, since the Apaches roved North America, had been regarded by the Apaches to be their undisputed domain. After many years of incessant warfare the government succeeded in concluding a peace treaty with this warlike tribe in 1872, which was faithfully honoured by the chief until his death in 1876. His successor, the notorious Geronimo, declaring the compact to be terminated by the death of the Apache signatory, rallied the tribe which, breaking out of the reservation, went on the war-path.

The Southern Pacific cut across the centre of the valley to which the Indians laid claim, and it was war to the knife between the railway-builders and the red man, Geronimo being particularly truculent from embitterment against what he construed to be invasion of Apache territory. For ten years he was a constant source of trouble, swooping down, waylaying and trapping the graders at every opportunity. The Indian menace was not removed until his surrender in 1886, when he was incarcerated at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, until his death in 1909.

Leaving the Indian country the line overcomes the succeeding mountain range at “Raso” — “Railroad Pass” — to run downhill to Bowie. Then commences the uphill pull at 1 in 75 to Steins, the railway summit of the Peloncillo Mountains, at 4,378 feet.

Dropping down the eastern slope the railway cuts across the Playas Valley to Lordsburg, whence commences the long pull, with a ruling grade of 1 in 100, to the summit-level of the Continental Divide which is crossed at an elevation of 4,557 feet. In one respect the Southern Pacific

holds a unique distinction. It crosses the backbone of the United States at a lower elevation than any other transcontinental railway, while the approaching grades are appreciably easier, and in striking contrast to those of the great lines farther to the north. Through the succeeding 90 miles the line steadily falls, except for one short rise with a ruling gradient of 1 in 100, to El Paso, at 3,777 feet above sea-level, where the Tucson division effects physical junction with the Atlantic division of the system, extending to the ports on the Gulf of Mexico.

The Tucson Division comprises 704.88 miles, of which 560.65 miles represent main line. At five places on the eastward run, and four on the westward journey, helper locomotives have to be used to assist the passing trains over the humps; the longest section is that encountered when going east — 70.6 miles between Tucson and Dragoon — to overcome the 2,226 feet difference in elevation between these two points.

At the western end of the Tucson Division junction is made with the San Joaquin Division, which may be described as the link between the northern and southern sections of the system, although it is an impressive connexion of 245 miles of main line.

It was in 1876 that the San Joaquin Division, the continuation of the desert section through southern California, was opened for traffic. Construction did not present any great difficulty until the engineer drew towards the Tehachapi mountain range, where he was brought to a full stop. The problem was to find a working grade overcoming the 4,000 feet difference in altitude with reasonable development work. When the pathfinder first tramped the range he was perplexed by the maze of heavy cuttings and high embankments required to assure adhesion working; the cost of these he calculated would be at least £200,000.

Little wonder the engineer paused to profit from the axiom, “make haste slowly”.


FIRE-FIGHTING TRAIN OF THE SOUTHERN PACIFIC RAILWAY. To combat the risk of forest fires in summer among the mountains, a fast locomotive, water-tank cars and a crew is maintained for service day and night. The train carries 300 feet of hose, with ladders, pump, and other equipment. The special scoop-plough fitted to the engine serves to force fallen trees and other burning debris from the track.

It was Chief Engineer Hood, the doyen of American railway-plotters, who enlisting under the banner of the Huntington forces as axe-man in the climb over the Sierras with the Central Pacific, rose to the highest technical position on the system, and during his fifty-four years’ service was responsible for all the big works on the Southern Pacific Railway, who finally solved the problem.

This he accomplished by what is now known as the “Tehachapi Loop”. If one draws two large circles upon a sheet of paper, one inside the other, but connected so as to form a spiral, and with the periphery of the inner shooting out to one side, one has the plan of this ingenious development. The line comes up the mountain side, and, upon reaching the top, describes practically a complete circle, and then sets out to describe another and smaller circle within, finally swinging off to enter a ravine to descend the western slope of the range. In this manner the engineer overcame the task of scaling 4,000 feet in 46 miles, although it compelled him to introduce a climb of 1 in 45.

In making the distance the line runs through 18 tunnels, totalling 8,240 feet in length, doubles and redoubles across the Tehachapi Creek seven times, and negotiates 8,300 degrees of curvature. To move a train of 56 vehicles round the loop requires the combined effort of three 175-ton locomotives, while the train itself forms a complete circle, with the leading locomotive standing on the upper level immediately over the last car on the track below. In crossing the summit it is possible to see the tracks above and below from five different points, the lower line disappearing from view in its sinuous traverse of the yawning canyons.

The mountains have been surveyed time after time in the effort to obtain an easier road but without avail. The circumstance that no other economic method of overcoming the difficulty is possible was proved by the fact that the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, upon approaching the Pacific coast, were unable to discover the alternative and so completed an arrangement with the Southern Pacific Railway for running rights over this loop into Lower California.

The “Tehachapi Loop”, alternatively known as “Hood’s Spiral”, is probably the hardest worked single track mountain line in the world. As many as 1,287 ponderous American freight cars have been moved, in both directions, over the loop in the course of the twenty-four hours by the two transcontinental railways serving the Pacific coast.

In 1901 the Southern Pacific opened a new line of about 300 miles following the coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The forging of this link occupied no less than 38 years; its foundation was the little line known as the San Francisco and San Jose Railway, which crept out from the city by the Golden Gate in 1863 a few miles to the south. This, in due course, was absorbed by the Southern Pacific, to be prolonged by fits and starts to the southern city. The spasmodic construction was due to the somewhat difficult character of the country traversed, varying from stretches of marsh to wastes of sand, yawning ravine, towering mountain and wild seashore.

While the outstanding engineering achievements upon this road are of a vastly different character from those encountered among the mountains, they are impressive and arresting from their variety. At one point, to cut out 1.6 miles of distance, the engineer planned the Bayshore cut-off, with five masonry lined tunnels totalling 9,938 feet in length, and the Islais Creek trestle, 4,110 feet long, with the piling at places 128 feet below the rail-level; the deck alone of the latter absorbed about 1,160,000 feet of lumber.

The Los Angeles line winds through the gloomy depths of the Pajaro Canyon and climbs to the heights of the Santa Lucia Mountains, forcing the barrier by way of the Cuesta Pass. For mile after mile it passes through scorched drifting sand, and to prevent this moving upon and burying the track, over 800 acres of bent grass and acacia trees have been planted; at the point where the track swings to the seashore it was necessary to throw up a massive seawall for 8,200 feet to protect the line, the cost of this work alone being £16 per lineal foot.

The weaving of a steel network through central and southern California naturally prompted the scheming of a similar fabric through the northern reaches of the state, particularly as there arose the demand for more direct communication between Portland and San Francisco than was offered by the sea-route between the ports of Oregon and California. The north country is served by two divisions, the Shasta and Portland respectively; in the physical sense they are really one, and form a continuous road, but they are distinct for operating purposes. From the sight-seeing point of view the Shasta Division is the scenic line, for the reason that it penetrates the heart of the coastal range to the foot of white-hooded Mount Shasta.

The end of steel was picked up at Gerber, to be carried north 220 miles to Ashland, in Oregon, but it took sixteen years to forge this link, which suffices to reveal something of the prodigious difficulties encountered. The road was practically pushed on in easy stages; the first was completed in 1871; and the last section of the main line in 1887, the branch line of 126 miles from Weed to Kirk being completed in 1905.

From the engineer’s view-point the outstanding obstacle was the crossing of the Siskiyous, which Mr. William Hood achieved by what is known as the famous “S” line, because, in plan, it is really a string of “S’s” piled on top of one another. The road-bed, excavated out of the mountain-side, follows for the most part the sinuosities of the gulches, with tunnels through the projecting spurs —a mere shelf of just sufficient width to receive the single pair of rails. In the course of this northward run the line crosses the Sacramento River eighteen times, and swings through sixteen tunnels, one 3,000 feet from end to end. To overcome the crest of the barrier, running athwart the line, the train has to climb a long drawn-out bank rising steadily at 1 in 33 — one of the heaviest grades upon any main line in the world to be worked by straight adhesion.

The toll of the grade upon locomotive power is heavy. Five locomotives merely represent the motive power required to handle an average freighter from Ashland, the junction of the Shasta and Portland divisions, en route to San Francisco. If a more than usually heavy train comes down from the north, the locomotive department has to provide seven or eight giants, three for the head of the train, two or three in the middle, and two as pushers.

The Contra Costa train ferry carries the Southern Pacific trains between Oakland and San Francisco

THE LARGEST TRAIN FERRY IN THE WORLD. The Contra Costa carries the Southern Pacific trains between Oakland and San Francisco. It transports in one trip, 2 locomotives, 18 passenger coaches, and 32 freight cars.

When Siskiyou is reached, three of the locomotives are dropped, to return to Ashland to give assistance to the next train, but the double-header, continuing its journey, has to pick up a pusher at Hornbrook to make the climb to Snowden. In the course of a few miles another two locomotives have to be added, making the five-locomotive train once more, to gain Dunsmuir, 107 miles from Ashland, in covering which distance the services of at least eight locomotives are demanded. Once Dunsmuir is reached, however, the upward toil of the train is over. It is practically downhill to Gerber, the end of the division, and so the train can be handled by the one locomotive. The northward run from Gerber is virtually a duplicate to that described, except that from the south the grade is a trifle more in favour of the train, which, even on the steepest banks, can be handled by four locomotives.

That the Shasta Division is composed of a chain of “S’s” is obvious from the fact that there are 100 miles of curved main line out of the 220 miles forming the division. There are more than 820 curves ranging from 5,730 to 409 feet in radius, and 27,470 degrees of curvature in all. As there are 360 degrees to the circle, it will be seen that in making the run between Gerber and Ashland the train turns round completely no fewer than 76 times ! And over this amazing stretch, with its twists, tunnels and toil the whole way, the locomotives move more than 350,000 tons a month.

From Ashland the railway continues its way through the length of Oregon to Portland, the great port of the state upon the Columbia River, traversing country rich in romantic stories of the long ago, when the hardy pioneers from the East made their way with difficulty, suffering, and privation over what has become known as the “Oregon Trail”.

At Portland the railway tracks are only a few feet above sea-level. The first lap is over a descending grade of about 1 in 100, followed by a similar climb until approaching the first transverse range, which demands a rise of 1 in' 50. This eases off to a maximum of 1 in 57, only to give way to the resumption of 1 in 50 in order to overcome the next ridge, the summit of which is crossed by a tunnel at an elevation of 1,619 feet. Then comes a downhill run at 1 in 50, followed by another uphill pull with reaches of 1 in 50, succeeded by a stiff ascent at 1 in 45 to cross the third barrier at 1,548 feet above sea-level, which is descended at 1 in 50 into Merlin. The last climb is now made to Grant’s Pass at 1 in 67, which, negotiated, gives a coast at 1 in 50 through the Rogue River Valley; the crossing of the latter brings the line to the foot of its arduous toil over the Siskiyous, the first stage of which is at 1 in 100, to the divisional point at Ashland.

So far as the Oregon Division is concerned, the most spectacular engineering achievements are to be found off the main line, notably on the road to Tillamook, which crosses the coast range at right angles. Although the summit-level is relatively low, 1,830 feet, the approach from both sides is extremely severe. Westbound traffic is faced with a steady pull of 20 miles, 13 of which are at 1 in 45, while the other 7 miles are about 1 in 33. Eastbound traffic has to face 11 miles of 1 in 33, so that powerful locomotive effort is required for the movement of both passenger and freight trains.

The Portland Division is notable for having more timber trestles than any other section of the system; the total length of such structures amounts to 46 miles, one of which, crossing Baldwin Creek, is the highest in the United States — 186 feet. But the fire hazard is so pronounced that it has led to the conversion of all timber work into solid embankments, the trestling being buried in the process of discharging the spoil from rail level. On this division is another interesting piece of work —a bridge with the longest wooden draw-span — 240 feet — in the world.

A vital link in the smooth rhythmic working of this huge railway network is the ferry system across San Francisco Bay, between Oakland and San Francisco. The Southern Pacific maintains the largest system of this character in the world, moving 75,000 people to and fro every day throughout the year. The fleet comprises thirteen craft, to man which requires 600 employees, including 36 captains and 130 firemen.

Pride of place is occupied by the Contra Costa built at the company’s yards at a cost of about £100,000 for the transport across the straits of complete trains, including locomotives. It is of sufficient dimensions to handle, in one trip, two locomotives, 18 passenger coaches, and 32 freight cars, and shares this duty with its sister, the Solano, of only slightly less carrying capacity. From their duty these craft have become colloquially, yet aptly, known as “The Water Trains”. During the year they make about 14,000 trans-bay trips, moving a round 90,000 freight cars, 97,000 passenger coaches, and more than 27,000 locomotives.

The system is still growing. Even during the years of the Great War an important new road, the San Diego and Arizona Railway, 148 miles in length, was built as the joint enterprise of J. D. and A. B. Spreckels, the well known American financiers, and the Southern Pacific, by whom it is equally owned, though the last-named is responsible for operation.

The railway, starting from San Diego, bears due south, crosses the frontier at Tia Juana, and traverses Mexican territory approximately parallel with the boundary, never venturing more than 10 miles from the latter, as far as Lindero. Here it re-enters United States territory, the frontier being recrossed in a tunnel. The line is not without its distinctive engineering features. There are twenty-two tunnels, of which eleven are in the Carriso Gorge, the boring of which involved the expenditure of £352,040. The train in traversing the 148 miles notches 3,660 feet above the Pacific at Hipass, and 49 feet below the level of the sea at El Centro.

The heaviest engineering work was encountered in the Carriso Gorge, which is threaded for 11 miles, the cost of which totalled £787,820, or approximately one-fifth of the whole expenditure upon the 148 miles. Side-hill excavation and tunnelling were responsible for this heavy outlay. The rails are laid on a gallery, hewn out of the solid rock, 900 feet above the floor of the ravine. At Redondo, a few miles east of Lindero, there is an arresting piece of work in the Horseshoe Curve where the track may be seen at three different levels.

The growth of the Southern Pacific, during less than half a century, from the little 22 miles “one-hoss road” connecting Sacramento with Folsom into a gigantic system of 11,000 miles, reveals the complete railway conquest of the Golden West. It is a system of extremes, reaching from the roof of the Sierras amid perpetual snow at 7,000 feet above the sea to the rainless desert floor 50 feet below the ocean’s level.


THE FIRST AND LATEST LOCOMOTIVES ON THE SOUTHERN PACIFIC SYSTEM. The giant “fourteen-wheeler” (2-10-2) is equipped with “booster.” The feed-water heater pumps water from the tender and heats it before it enters the boiler ; the exhaust steam is also condensed and the water returned to the boiler for further use.

You can read more on “America’s First Trains”, “Giant American Locomotives” and “Southern Paxific Locomotive Development on this website.