Friday, November 8, 2019

Curiosities: Sunset Magazine

Santa Cruz County may have been a relatively minor cog in the Southern Pacific Company's massive railroad empire, but its appeal as a tourist destination meant that it had increased visibility among the parts of the machine. In its inaugural May 1898 issue, Sunset magazine featured a seven-page illustrated section promoting Summer Holidays Among the Hills: Santa Cruz Mountains and Shasta Resorts. It was not the last time that the merits of Santa Cruz County would be highlighted.

Cover of a c. 1905 issue of Sunset. Caption reads: "A mother walks her baby boy
up off the beach; in the background, happy bathers cavort in the surf. The boy is
carrying a nice stalk of dead kelp." Art by Maynard Dixon.
By 1898, the Southern Pacific Railroad had embedded itself as a facet of everyday life in the American Southwest. For thirty years, the company had built railroad lines, purchased and developed properties, and invested in massive resort and industrial projects. But the age of the subscription magazine had finally reached the West Coast and Southern Pacific realized its potential as a way to promote itself and its services.

The cover of the first issue of Sunset, May 1898. The view is from Oakland
looking West through the Golden Gate. This cover was reused for the first
two years of the publication. [Stanford University Libraries]
The Passenger Department of the Southern Pacific Company led the charge through its new illustrated magazine Sunset, an obvious reference to the railroad's primary and much-touted Sunset Route between Los Angeles and New Orleans. The magazine was published from San Francisco at a cost of 5¢ per issue, or 50¢ for an annual subscription. In its first year, the publication included no outside advertisements under the assumption and hope that subscriptions and self-promotion would cover all costs. The magazine's creed read: "Publicity for the attractions and advantages of the Western Empire."

Advertisement in the March 1899 issue of Sunset promoting the Hotel Del Monte.
[Stanford University Libraries]
The purpose, scale, and scope of the magazine evolved rather drastically during its years under Southern Pacific control. Its inaugural issue outlined the initial plans for the magazine:
Its aim is the presentation, in a convenient form, of information concerning the great states of California, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Louisiana, and the territories of Arizona and New Mexico—a rich and inexhaustible field over which the dawn of future commercial and industrial importance is just breaking.
The pioneers in this field have laid a foundation strong and deep for the superstructure to be erected in the coming years, and, whether you share in its building or witness its growth from afar, it is a factor of the future which must be reckoned with--therefore we expect to interest you.
The resources of this great western empire for the husbandman, stockman, and miner, and for the tourist and health seeker, will be treated in these pages as fully as space will admit, as concisely as the subjects will warrant, and at all times—truthfully.
These words hid a rather obvious meaning: this magazine will promote the activities of the Southern Pacific Railroad in developing the American Southwest. The fact that the railroad company owned or was heavily invested in many of the businesses was not as blatantly emphasized.

From a 1903 issue of Sunset. The caption reads: "Trainload of eighteen cars of apples leaving Watsonville for the East, October 12." Photo by E. L. Clark.

In actuality, the magazine did precisely what it needed to do when it needed to do it. When there were public complaints about freight rates, the magazine would advertise the wide range of industries connected to the network. When politicians or authors, such as Frank Norris in The Octopus, criticized Southern Pacific's West Coast monopoly, the magazine promoted the interconnectedness of Southern Pacific with its local rivals and East Coast partners. It helped that the magazine circulated widely on the East Coast, where political decisions were made by people that did not interact with Southern Pacific services on a daily basis.

From a 1903 issue of Sunset. The caption reads: "A typical Santa Cruz landscape."

The content of the magazine was primarily visual and literary in its content. The first issue included artwork of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra accompanied by poetry and descriptive prose. This was followed by a short story by Paul Shoup and then a collection of news items, anecdotes, and company announcements and advertisements, all concluded with a poem by Fred Emerson Brooks appropriately entitled "Sunset." Featured sections focused on the natural environments of the Southwest and were accompanied by beautiful photographs and artworks, some colorized, all in order to attract potential property investors, settlers, and businesses. It cannot be forgotten that the railroad had received from the government and Western states over 25 million acres of land throughout the area and needed to sell or develop it.

A panoramic photograph of the Casa del Rey Hotel and Boardwalk Casino included in the August 1911 issue of Sunset. The caption reads: "It looms ahead like a long battleship, painted for times of peace. This is the Casa Del Rey, at Santa Cruz, California, the house of double garden. A triple-arched bridge leads from the hotel to its adjunct, the Casino, set in a blaze of color at the edge of a golden bathing beach." 
Southern Pacific offered space in each issue to local government bodies so that they, too, could promote their towns and resources to eager investors, settlers, and tourists. At one point or another, nearly every substantial town or city along Southern Pacific-owned track took the opportunity to promote itself, with some describing potential uses for the nearby land, some highlighting the people, and some explaining specific facets of the community. Both San José and Pajaro, for example, took the opportunity to clarify how to pronounce their names.

“The Old Witch tree, among the ancient cypress along the famous
Seventeen Mile Drive, at Monterey, is the symbol of the
enchantment that holds this region of surpassing beauty.”
From the February 1914 issue of Sunset.
[Stanford University Libraries]
It is interesting to note that the arrival of Sunset occurred just when the first automobiles were appearing on American streets. Initially, Southern Pacific promoted the motorcar as the perfect way to visit the hard-to-reach places, especially along the California coast. And as car ownership increased, so too did Sunset's promotion of viable road trips, even far afield of Southern Pacific tracks. The goal was to sell the Southwest, and while the railroad was important in the long-term, Southern Pacific figured the automobile was not an immediate threat.

June 1918 issue of Sunset, with art by Matto Sandona. The caption reads:
"We miss you but we're, oh, so proud of you."
To attract female readers, Sunset included special sections focused on modern living and society. There were also not-so-subtle hints that women out West had more freedoms and opportunities. More generally, the magazine showcased museums, theatres, and expositions on the West Coast in the hope of proving that life in California was on par with the East Coast elite. To further pull in women and educated men, the magazine featured literature and poetry from some of the best Western writers including Jack London and Bret Harte.  Accompanying these writings were beautiful artworks that emphasized the glory of the Wild West. Such art also took a prominent place on the covers of each issue beginning at the turn of the century.

The cover of the December 1909 issue of The Pacific Monthly.
[MagazineArt.org]
Sunset's evolution from a corporate promotion tool to a popular, wide-reaching illustrated magazine was relatively fast but still occurred in stages. For the first sixteen years, the magazine focused primarily on railroad matters, even if such was not always obvious. But in 1912, Southern Pacific purchased the Portland-based Pacific Monthly and rebranded the magazine as Sunset: The Pacific Monthly. With this merger, the magazine reached a truly nation-wide audience but also became more than it was originally intended. As a result, Southern Pacific sold it to a group of its employees, who pledged to continue to use it to promote the railroad's services, albeit less obviously.

April 1914 cover of Sunset, one of the first after the takeover
by Woodhead, Field & Company. Art by Jules Guerin.
[Stanford University Libraries]
The primary reason for the sale in 1914 was the fact that the Southwest and West had changed dramatically over the past sixteen years. It was no longer the Wild West of old but had become a settled place, due in a large part by Southern Pacific promotion. And with war on the horizon, Southern Pacific had other priorities so needed to move on. Woodhead, Field & Company took over the magazine on behalf of the railroad and immediately began shifting its reach to attract a truly national readership. One of its first moves was to abandon the former digest format of the periodical and adopt the standard size of other illustrated magazines. It also abandoned the Wild West tropes to focus instead on the "Pacific Coast," in the hope of making the West appear more tame to Eastern tastes. Alongside this change, a news section was added to each issue that discussed West Coast items and included editorials, and commentaries.

December 1923 cover of Sunset. [Philsp.com]

The changes that occurred to Sunset in the late 1910s and 1920s were drastic in scale but flowed naturally from the earlier Southern Pacific magazine. New and upcoming authors were brought in to write literary pieces. A new push was made to draw national authors to the magazine in the hope of making the West Coast appear more American rather than some untamed, distant wilderness. Meanwhile, political articles became more commonplace and featured more prominently in the 1920s. Perhaps the most famous contributor to the magazine throughout the Southern Pacific and Woodhead/Field era was David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University, who wrote exposés about Asian-American relations and the rights of Asians living on the West Coast.

Cover to the March 1928 issue of Sunset, showing a cowboy receiving a bowler
hat in the mail, signalling a change taking over the old West.
By the time the Great Depression set in, Sunset was in many ways the magazine for the Southwest and West Coast. It reflected the identity of people who had settled and lived there. It touched on topics that were important to them. And, especially in the 1920s, it advertised to them directly rather than to East Coast investors. It was undeniably the high point of the magazine as a Western promotional periodical and the height of Southern Pacific's reach, even if its sales were not always spectacular and struggled to keep up with similar East Coast magazines.

The Grand Canyon as depicted in Sunset issue September 1934.
Art by Maynard Dixon. [Stanford University Libraries]
The magazine's sale to Laurence W. Lane in September 1928 permanently shifted its direction away from its Southern Pacific days. Lane had worked for Meredith Publishing Company for fifteen years helping produce Better Homes & Gardens. He saw the potential in Sunset to become another lifestyle magazine, albeit one focused more on Western living. His editorial and content changes first appeared in the February 1929 issue and included the abandonment of The Pacific Monthly tagline, which was soon replaced with The Magazine of Western Living, as well as the change to an art deco style on the covers. Inside, the magazine very quickly came to resemble so many similar magazines across the country, with the focus shifted toward a balance of interviews with celebrities, content written by celebrities, and lifestyle advice. Some political items were retained and the central articles still often focused on Western travel, but the audience for the magazine had changed and, with it, the element that made Sunset unique.

The Lane family on horseback at Quail Hollow Ranch, c. 1940s. [Friends of Quail Hollow]
The Lane family continued to control the magazine until 1990, when it sold the monthly to Time Warner. In 1937, the Lanes purchased a rural ranch north of Felton along Zayante Creek which they named Quail Hollow Ranch. They used the property to entertain guests and vacation in the summer months. It was sold to Santa Cruz County in 1986 for use as a county park. Today, Sunset continues to exist as a Western lifestyle magazine, now based in Oakland and run by Regent, L.P., which bought the magazine in November 2017. However, since 1990, the magazine has struggled for readership and is now only published bimonthly.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, November 1, 2019

Railroads: Southern Pacific Railroad

There are two points that all histories of the Southern Pacific Railroad will make sure to inform anyone interested: first, that there were actually several Southern Pacific Railroads; and second, that legally Southern Pacific took over Union Pacific in 1996. And while both of these facts are technically correct, they do not actually clarify anything. For the Southern Pacific Railroad was not just a company, it was a movement that began in the dark years before the Civil War and continues to today. In many ways, the history of the railroad is a history of the United States itself.

Replica art deco-style Southern Pacific advertisement promoting the Coast Daylight by H. L. Scott.
In the 1850s, railroads were spreading across the East Coast of the United States like ivy along a brick wall. Vines stretched in every direction, but they were quickly reaching the unsettled frontiers of western Missouri and Texas. Several railroads were operating in Texas by the start of the Civil War including the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos & Colorado Railway (incorporated 1850, operating from 1853), Galveston & Red River Railway (incorporated in 1848, operating from 1856 as the Houston & Texas Central Railway), and the Texas & New Orleans Railroad (operating from 1858).

Map showing the existing railroad routes in the United States in 1860. [Gayle Olson-Raymer]
At the same time, talk in Congress increasingly touched upon the idea of a transcontinental railroad to link the gold-rich West Coast, including the new states of California and Oregon, to the East Coast. From 1853 to 1855, several surveys were conducted to find the best possible path for such a route across the Rocky Mountains, Great Basin, and Sierra Nevada. It was the duty of future Confederate president Jefferson Davis, then acting as Secretary of War for the United States, to determine the best route.

Routes mapped by surveyors between 1853 and 1855. [The Map Archive]
Four eventual paths were determined to reach the West Coast. The Northern Pacific path ran just south of the Canadian border along the 47th parallel, from St. Paul, Minnesota to near the future site of Seattle, Washington. The Central Pacific route ran from St. Louis, Missouri to Oakland, cutting through some of the harshest terrain in the unsettled territories along the 38th parallel. Jefferson, being a Southerner, surveyed two paths that would benefit southern states. The first ran from Indiana Territory (Oklahoma) to San Gabriel (Los Angeles) following the 35th parallel. The second ran along the Mexican border between El Paso, Texas and San Diego, California, a predicted move that had prompted the United States to purchase land from the Mexican government in 1854.

Central Pacific Railroad-ferry transhipping point at Oakland, 1868. [Library of Congress]
When the Pacific Railway Act was finally passed in 1862 by Congress, it determined that the Central Pacific route was the most viable and least political of the three. With the country embroiled in civil war with the rebellious southern states, there was no compelling reason to build a railroad that would benefit them. Meanwhile, it was agreed that a northern route would not cater to enough clientele, although a survey between Seattle and San Diego had been conducted in case such a route was agreed upon. Thus, the Central Pacific project was begun, with the Central Pacific Railroad building from the west and the Union Pacific Railroad constructing the route from the east. After several delays due to the war, financing, and other issues, it would finally be completed on May 10, 1869, linking the nation together for the first time at Promontory Summit, Utah.

San Francisco & San Jose Railroad locomotive #5, San Mateo, at Belmont Station, 1866.
[Tom Gray – San Francisco & San Jose Railroad Facebook page]
The construction of one transcontinental line, however, did not necessarily negate the need or desire for a second line. And with the Civil War effectively ending at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, plans to build a Southern Pacific route could finally resume in earnest. Timothy Guy Phelps felt that he was in just such a position to complete this route. A career politician, Phelps was very active in the San Francisco South Bay and fought hard for the people of the Central Coast. He was one of the chief promotors for the creation of San Mateo County in 1857 when he was serving as a state senator. He also ran for California governor in 1861 but was defeated in the primaries by Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific Railroad. He did, however, get elected to the House of Representatives that year and served one term. At the same time, Phelps was promoting a local railroad.

San Francisco & San Jose Railroad locomotive #11, Menlo Park, 1870.
[San Francisco & San Jose Railroad Facebook page]
Plans to built a railroad from San Francisco to San José and beyond had been discussed since the incorporation of the Pacific & Atlantic Railroad in 1851. Despite several surveys and reincorporations, no progress was made and the San Francisco & San Jose Railroad was incorporated in 1859 in an attempt to build the initial part of the route. This company dissolved the next year due to lack of funds, but was reincorporated on August 18, 1860 with new financial backers that were less likely to pull out. Despite war in the west, the railroad succeeded in opening to Menlo Park in October 1863. On January 16, 1864, the full route to San José was opened, signalling the start of what would become one of the most important railroad lines in California.

Newspaper illustration showing the Big Four of Central Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads, c. 1875.
Phelps was not content to let this relatively short-line railroad remain isolated. On December 2, 1865, Phelps and several of his associates incorporated the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. Its goal was not the construct a route to the East, but to build down to Southern California—initially Los Angeles and eventually San Diego—with the hope that this line could one day connect to the East via a transcontinental route. And perhaps this really was all the potential he saw in the line, but the Big Four of the Central Pacific—Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker—heard the name and immediately thought that they could use the line to bypass their own transcontinental line, which they shared with the Union Pacific Railroad, and reach the East Coast themselves. They promptly bought a controlling interest in the Southern Pacific at the end of 1867 and put their plans into action.

Gilroy Depot, c. 1880s. [Gilroy Museum]
The Big Four were not entirely certain what they wanted to do when they first took over. Their initial plan saw them build an extension of the existing railroad line south to Gilroy via the Santa Clara & Pajaro Valley Railroad Company, incorporated on January 2, 1868. This route being completed in March 1869, the California Southern Railroad was incorporated to purchase a right-of-way south through Hollister and across the Diablo Range into the San Joaquin Valley. But the Big Four had a change of heart and never built anything beyond Tres Pinos south of Hollister. Instead, they reincorporated all of these railroads into...the Southern Pacific Railroad Company on October 12, 1870. It was not the last consolidation that would occur with Southern Pacific.

The original Los Angeles & San Pedro Railroad depot in Los Angeles, c. 1870s. [KCET Los Angeles]
Shortly after the consolidation, work began on a railroad line from Gilroy to Salinas via Pajaro Gap. It reached Salinas on November 1, 1872. By this point, though, the railroad was reconsidering its options. On December 23, it established a short-line railroad to reach Soledad but the company then reincorporated again on August 19, 1873 and shifted its focus inland through a new route down the San Joaquin Valley. To facilitate its eventual dominance of the San Gabriel Valley, it began buying every pioneering railroad line that was operating—or attempting to operate—anywhere in central or southern California, including the Los Angeles & San Pedro Railroad and the Stockton & Copperopolis Railroad. And as more railroads were purchased by the Big Four, Southern Pacific reincorporated repeatedly to consolidate all of its acquisitions. This happened in December 1874, May 1888, April 1898, March 1902, and October 1955. As the years went on, though, the need to consolidate decreased since Southern Pacific shifted from a policy of buying out its competition to simply signing long-term leases with them. And when the railroad did buy out a rival, it simply folded the newly-acquired company into an existing entity. The end result was that Southern Pacific came to dominate most of California railroading.

A colorized postcard of the Sante Fe Station in Los Angeles, c. 1890s. [Loyola Marymount University]
The only real rival to ever permanently break into the California railroading scene was the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, which through strong-arming and a lot of luck managed to forge a route from Atchison, Kansas to the Southern Pacific line at Deming, New Mexico in 1881, thereby establishing the second transcontinental route, albeit one that did not match any of the surveys. This arrangement did not satisfy either railroad, so as the Southern Pacific continued east toward Texas, the ATSF Railway purchased the failed Atlantic & Pacific Railroad's right-of-way and began constructing a new route to Needles, California, where it again met with the Southern Pacific. Again it fought off its competition and managed to forge a route, largely through acquiring several struggling independent lines such as the California Central Railway in 1888, to Barstow, San Diego, and Los Angeles, crossing several Southern Pacific lines in the process. Similar moves were made elsewhere along the network granting the railroad access to several locations in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. Its final coup was when it purchased and upgraded the San Francisco & San Joaquin Valley Railway in 1898, which finally gave the railroad access to the San Francisco Bay, a region considered the heart of the Southern Pacific empire.

The silver spike ceremony over the Pecos River outside Langtry, Texas, January 12, 1883. [Public domain]
The Southern Pacific's chief goal throughout the 1880s remained connecting its trackage together in such a way as to form a new transcontinental route that cut out the competition. Several engineering feats had to be overcome south of Bakersfield to break out of the San Joaquin Valley and access the Mojave Desert. The Tehachapi Loop was the solution, which was completed in August 1876. This also allowed access into Los Angeles, providing the first link between Northern and Southern California. While initial plans were for the Southern Pacific to stop at the Colorado River at Yuma, where another route from the east would meet it, the railroad decided to forge on in 1877 and continue east. As part of this plan, they purchased the Houston & Texas Central Railway, making the route significantly shorter. Over the next two years, the Chinese railroad crews graded and laid track across the sands of the Sonora Desert through Tucson and El Paso. To further speed its effort, the railroad also purchased the Texas & New Orleans Railroad in 1881, further expanding its empire in the South. On January 12, 1883, Southern Pacific met the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway near Langtry, Texas, establishing the third transcontinental railroad and the first to run completely along a southern route. Within a few years, the railroad purchased and built its own line directly into New Orleans, bypassing the need to use a third-party to reach an East Coast port.

Advertisement for Santa Cruz by Southern Pacific Railroad, 1930. [Foxglove Prints]
The Southern Pacific corporate logo, showcasing
the famous Sunset Route setting sun iconography.
The completion of the southern route was the most important milestone in Southern Pacific history but it was not the only major coup. In 1887, the company bought the Oregon & California Railroad, which expanded trackage through Oregon to Portland. In that same year, it also leased its narrow-gauge rival in the Bay Area, the South Pacific Coast Railroad, which operated a direct line through the Santa Cruz Mountains to Santa Cruz. Six years earlier, it had purchased the bankrupt Santa Cruz Railroad to grant the company access to Santa Cruz, but this new line proved more popular and direct. Meanwhile, south of Soledad construction continued in fits and starts over the next twenty years in the hope of eventually forging a route from Salinas to Los Angeles along the coast. Like other routes undertaken by Southern Pacific, several engineering feats were required including a substantial loop outside of San Luis Obispo and several tunnels. The long-sought Coast Line was finally completed on March 20, 1904.

E. H. Harriman stepping outside an automobile, c. 1900s. [George Grantham Bain – Library of Congress]
One fact that is often overlooked or ignored is that Union Pacific wholly acquired Southern Pacific in 1901 after Henry E. Huntington sold his controlling interest in the company to Edward H. Harriman. As the decade rolled on, Southern Pacific increasingly began to operate and act like its one-time rival and the two firms became a monolith in American life. But this merger also prompted harsh criticism by many competitors and the United States government, which ruled in 1913 that Southern Pacific had to be sold off to avoid a monopoly on western railroading. However, Southern Pacific was allowed to retain control of the Central Pacific Railroad, which owned much of the Central California and Great Basin trackage.

Southern Pacific Railroad lines and subsidiaries in 1918, following the separation from Union Pacific.
Even as Southern Pacific came to be seen as a monopoly, it doubled down on these claims by expanding north and south. In 1909, Southern Pacific Railroad of Mexico was founded after acquiring several Mexican railroad lines. Its routs south eventually reached from Nogales to Guadalajara. Southern Pacific finally sold the company to the Mexican government in 1851. Meanwhile in 1907, Southern Pacific partnered with its rival the ATSF Railway to create the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, which came to dominate the railroading scene in northern California. ATSF sold its interest in this line to Southern Pacific in 1929. Similar acquisitions in Texas and Louisiana solidified the railroad's control over most aspects of the Southwest's railroad networks.

Northwestern Pacific Railroad locomotive #144 at Camp Meeker in Sonoma County, 1907.
[Sonoma County Historical Society]
On February 20, 1969, the railroad was incorporated as the Southern Pacific Transportation Company, a reflection of the company's evolution from just railroads to trucking, busing, telecommunications, and many other industries. But this year also marked the peak for the railroad, although many of its passenger lines had already shut down and several older lines had been bypassed or abandoned. Most of its remaining passenger routes were taken over by Amtrak in 1971. In 1972, notably, much of its telecommunications was sold for use as by private companies, once of which was SPRINT (Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony), which eventually became the cellular provider.  Throughout the 1980s, Southern Pacific began selling off unprofitable portions of railroad lines to third parties, thereby streamlining its core network and saving money. But the end for the company was in sight.

Southern Pacific locomotives #4449 and 3208 at Bray, California, April 26, 1981. [Drew Jacksich]
In 1984, Santa Fe Industries, which was formed as a parent company for the ATSF Railway, acquired Southern Pacific to form the Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corporation. The Interstate Commerce Commission refused to accept the merger of the railroads so Santa Fe retained all of the company's non-railroad assets and then divested itself of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Another rival line, Rio Grande Industries, purchased the railroad in 1988 but then turned its own Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad into a subsidiary of Southern Pacific, in effect combining the two railroads into one company called the Southern Pacific Rail Corporation.  Over the next eight years, Southern Pacific consolidated most of its remaining subsidiaries and reached its geographically furthest reach, finally connecting to Chicago in the northeast.

A mixed Southern Pacific-Union Pacific train after the merger, c. 1998. Note the Union Pacific number (UP 1996)
 on the cab of the lead locomotive. [Jake Miille]
Southern Pacific finally ceased to exist, at least publicly, on September 11, 1996, although it took two years for the paperwork to be finalized and some rolling stock under the old branding is still in circulation. The confusion regarding the merger is in the details. Union Pacific purchased the Southern Pacific Rail Corporation, which included the Southern Pacific Transportation Company, the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, and the St. Louis Southwestern Railway. However, as Rio Grande had done before, Union Pacific decided that the Southern Pacific Transportation Company was the senior railroad in this agreement and therefore merged all the other companies and then made itself a subsidiary of Southern Pacific. Once the legalities of this agreement were finalized, the new entity was reincorporated in 1998 as the Union Pacific Railroad Company, officially the direct successor in a long line of purchases, acquisitions, and mergers of the Southern Pacific Railroad founded by Timothy Phelps in 1865. The last obvert vestige of the former company, the Southern Pacific Rail Corporation, finally ceased to exist in 2015 when it was merged into Union Pacific.

Citations & Credits:
  • Robertson, Donald B. Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History, Volume IV: California. Caldwell, ID: Caxton Printers, 1998.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Coast. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, pending publication.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, pending publication.

Friday, October 25, 2019

People: The Big Four

The Southern Pacific Railroad was not founded by the Big Four, nor was it even envisioned by them initially. But once they purchased a controlling interest in the line from Timothy Phelps in 1868, it became more closely linked to them than their original company, the Central Pacific Railroad. Indeed, the Big Four were neither visionary nor excessively ambitious. They were opportunists who saw the potential in a few failing railroading ventures and decided to become involved.

Idealized depiction of the last spike being hammered into the tracks at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869. Included at the center of this painting is Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Theodore Judah, and several other men associated with the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad. Painting by Thomas Hill, 1881. [California State Railroad Museum]
Collis Potter Huntington was a Connecticut native who travelled to California in 1849 and wisely determined that there was more profit in selling mining equipment than in actually mining. In 1851, Mark Hopkins arrived in California and spent a year prospecting before giving up and opening a grocery store in Placerville. Shortly afterwards, though, he relocated to Sacramento, where he met Huntington. The two joined together in 1855 to form Huntington, Hopkins & Company, which sold hardware to miners and settlers in Sacramento.

Portrait of Mark Hopkins by Stephen William Shaw, c. 1872.
[Crocker Museum of Art]
Amasa Leland Stanford also came to California for similar purposes in 1852. Stanford was a lawyer from New York but had moved to Wisconsin in 1848, where he also entered politics. A disastrous fire in 1852 motivated him to seek his fortune in the Gold Country, where he, like Huntington and Hopkins, opened a store catering to miners in Michigan Bluff, California. He stayed in the state for three years but returned in 1856 with his family, at which time he relocated to Sacramento and opened a new general store.

Portrait of Charles Crocker by Stephen William Shaw, c. 1872.
[Crocker Museum of Art]
The last member of this quartet, Charles Crocker, was the last to enter the mercantile business. He was a native of New York but grew up in Indiana. Unlike his colleagues, we was more hands-on, having worked on farms, sawmills, smithies, and foundries in his early years. In 1850, he moved to California with two brothers and tried to make it rich hunting for gold, but gave up in 1852 and soon opened a general store in Sacramento. By 1854, his store was one of the most successful in town and he was well-known in the area. He was elected to the city council in 1855 and became a state assemblyman in 1860.

The Sacramento Valley Railroad freight shed and station in Sacramento, c. 1860s.
[California State Library]
By 1861, all four men lived in Sacramento, were becoming increasingly wealthy, and were competing for customers. But things were moving in the nation that would shift their focus away from petty rivalries and toward a greater goal. In 1854, Theodore D. Judah had helped construct the Sacramento Valley Railroad between Sacramento and Folsom. While the railroad was nothing spectacular, it proved the viability of a railroad on the West Coast. On July 1, 1862, the Pacific Railroad Act was passed into law authorizing the creation of a transcontinental railroad from the Mississippi River to California. The Civil War delayed implementation of this act, but its creation prompted a movement in California.

Theodore D. Judah, c. 1860. Photograph by D. B. Taylor.
[Sacramento History Online]
Even before 1862, Judah was convinced of the merits of a transcontinental line and began recruiting investors. In 1861, he held a pitch meeting in Sacramento and convinced Huntington, Hopkins, Stanford, and Crocker to invest and form the Central Pacific Railroad Company on June 28. It was an exceedingly ambitious plan, but it succeeded when Congress accepted the bid by the railroad to construct the western portion of the transcontinental line the next year. Stanford, as the most politically experienced member of the group, was elected president; Huntington was made vice president and placed in charge of acquisitions; Hopkins as the most experienced merchant became treasurer; and Crocker was placed in charge of actual construction of the line. Judah, meanwhile, died of Yellow Fever in 1863 while travelling to New York in a bid to undermine the Big Four's control of his company. With his death, the Big Four became both the chief financiers and the business leaders of Central Pacific.

Chinese work crews at the end-of-track of the Central Pacific Railroad in Nevada, c. 1868.
Stereograph by Alfred A. Hart. [Huntington Library]
From 1863 until 1869, Crocker and Huntington oversaw construction of the line while Stanford and Hopkins stayed behind the scenes and managed political and fiscal affairs. Stanford even served as governor of California from 1861 to 1863. In 1865, the first of thousands of Chinese workers were brought on to build the line and construction continued at a fairly steady pace until the meeting point with the Union Pacific Railroad was reached at Promontory, Utah and the line officially opened to through traffic on May 10, 1869. The railroad spent several more years cleaning up its route, which had been built quickly to receive more government land and money than of a high quality. But by this point, the Big Four already had moved on to other plans.

A Central Pacific train in Elko, Nevada. The Pacific Union Express Company had an intimate relationship with the railroad, as did Wells Fargo after the two merged. Express agencies were located at most mid-sized or larger stations across the Western United States. Stereograph by Alfred A. Hart. [California State Library]
As the transcontinental line was being built, the Big Four were busy investing in other businesses. They helped formed the Pacific Union Express Company in 1868, which merged with Wells Fargo in 1870. Stanford also became president of Pacific Mutual Life Insurance in 1868 and of the Occidental & Oriental Steamship Company in 1874. Huntington was invited to help finance the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway in 1871 and became involved with several other railroads in the Chesapeake Bay area. Crocker, meanwhile, became involved in banking, eventually owning Woolworth National Bank, which eventually became the Crocker Bank, which was absorbed by Wells Fargo in 1986.

Portrait of Timothy G. Phelps, founder of the Southern Pacific Railroad, c. 1870.
[Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco]
But the legacy of the Big Four is their acquisition in 1868 of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Founded in 1865 by Timothy Phelps, among others, it was originally established as a subsidiary company tasked with constructing a railroad line between San Francisco and San Diego, using the trackage of the San Francisco & San Jose Railroad, which Phelps had helped to build and finance in 1863. In 1868, the Big Four, thinking to subvert Union Pacific, which was Central Pacific's partner in the transcontinental line, bought a controlling interest in Southern Pacific and planned to use the company to build a second transcontinental line via a southern route. As with Judah five years earlier, the Big Four pushed Phelps aside and lost all control over his railroad. He entered politics but never had any success and died in 1899.

Portrait of Leland Stanford by Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier, 1881.
[Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts]
Stanford was the president and primary motivator of the Southern Pacific Railroad, although all of the Big Four were initially involved. As a politician, Stanford negotiated many of the contracts and acquisitions needed to gain rights-of-way for the route. Importantly for Santa Cruz County, he oversaw the redirection of the route from its originally-intended path through Hollister to a revised route through Salinas via Pajaro Gap. He also, after several feints, negotiated the acquisition of the bankrupt Santa Cruz Railroad in 1881, although it was Hopkins' adopted son, Timothy Nolan Hopkins, who profited the most from this purchase through his acquisition of rich redwood timberland within the Soquel Augmentation Rancho, which prompted the creation of the subsidiary Loma Prieta Railroad in 1883. Hopkins himself had died in 1878.

Colorized postcard of the Southern Pacific depot in Yuma, c. 1890s. [Mitchell Jewell]
Construction of the second transcontinental route came in fits and starts and the three remaining members of the Big Four were more interested in their side projects than the railroad itself, although it remained to all of them. After pursuing a route down the Salinas Valley, that route was halted and primary focus shifted to the San Joaquin Valley, which finally reached Los Angeles in 1876. The railroad reached the Arizona border in 1877 and Stanford negotiated the purchase of the Houston & Texas Central Railway at this time to control more of the route to New Orleans. Two more acquisitions in 1881 solidified this control while construction crews beat the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway to El Paso that same year. On January 12, 1883, the Southern Pacific officially linked San Francisco with the East Coast at a point near Langtry, Texas. Unlike the Central Pacific line, which Crocker consolidated into Southern Pacific on February 17, 1885, the Southern Pacific did not have to coordinate operations with rival lines. Furthermore, its route could operate year-round, since it did not have to overcome the Sierra Nevada or cross the floodplains of the Mississippi.

The Union Ferry Depot in San Francisco, which brought together all of the Southern Pacific-controlled ferry companies in one place on Market Street, c. 1910. [Public domain]
Meanwhile, Stanford and Huntington continued to negotiate the purchase of railroad lines, real estate, and related industries across the West Coast. In 1887, Stanford, who was serving as a senator in Congress at the time, convinced fellow senator James G. Fair, who controlled the South Pacific Coast Railroad, to lease the line to Southern Pacific. Many similar acquisitions occurred throughout the state, resulting in Southern Pacific holding a near-complete monopoly of West Coast and Southwest railroading.

The spectacular Crocker Mansion in San Francisco, which was completed shortly after his death. [Public Domain]
The surviving Big Four members remained active after the completion of their two transcontinental lines. Crocker was injured in in New York City in 1886 and died in 1888 from his injuries. His family has remained prominent in politics, although his legacy is perhaps the least of all the group. His mansion in San Francisco burned down after the 1906 earthquake but he left his heirs approximately $40 million.

Leland, Jane, and Leland Jr. posing for a family portrait in Paris, c. 1882.
Photograph by the Walery Studio. [Stanford University]
Huntington and Stanford began to fight for control of the company after the death of Crocker, with Huntington eventually gaining full ownership in 1890. Nonetheless, Stanford retained the presidency of the subsidiary Central Pacific and remained chairman of Southern Pacific for the rest of his life. Like Crocker, Stanford built a mansion on Nob Hill in San Francisco, which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. Stanford's greatest legacy is, of course, the university he and his wife, Jane, founded in Palo Alto in honor of his son, Leland Stanford Jr., who died as a teenager in Italy in 1884. Stanford himself died in 1893 from heart failure related to locomotor ataxia.

Portrait of Collis Huntington, c. 1880s. [Huntington Library]
The last of the Big Four, Huntington, outlived all of his rivals to see the new century dawn, but his focus primarily turned to the East in later years. In 1881, he became heavily involved in the revival and growth of the city of Newport News, Virginia. He expanded the railroad into the city and then oversaw the conversion of the city into a massive port and shipyard. He also worked in Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist, often bribing or otherwise convincing politicians to favor the interests of Southern Pacific over potential rivals. Unlike his former partners, Huntington had a large family of children and siblings that married into many important families and left their own impact on the United States. A nephew, Henry E. Huntington, is the namesake of Huntington Beach, California and the Huntington Library in San Marino. Collis Huntington, however, also has several places across the country named after him, including the Scarlet Huntington Hotel in San Francisco; the towns of Huntington in West Virginia, Texas, and British Columbia; and Mount Huntington outside Fresno. Like his peers, his mansion on Nob Hill was also destroyed in the earthquake. Huntington died on August 13, 1900, and his nephew Henry quickly sold his controlling share of Southern Pacific to Edward H. Harriman, a director of the Union Pacific Railroad, who became president of the company in 1903.

Political cartoon criticising Southern Pacific's monopoly on its railroading activity
in California. Note Stanford and Crocker in the eyes of the octopus.
Drawn by George F. Keller for The Wasp, August 19, 1882.
The Big Four certainly left their impact on California, from their railroading ventures to the foundations and businesses they established to the repercussions of their actions. Their activities helped link California and the Southwest to the East Coast, led to the development of the southern Bay Area, Los Angeles, and the San Joaquin Valley, and converted San Francisco from a collection of huts to a thriving city. It was their public perception as "nobs"—conspicuously wealthy men—that led to the founding of Nob Hill and the public perception of San Francisco as a high-class city. That being said, they were certainly robber barons and perfect representations of the Gilded Age, lampooned and criticized by such individuals as Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, and Frank Norris. But they also represented the ideal America, as portrayed so graphically in Sunset Magazine and other Southern Pacific corporate propaganda. The Big Four were the ideal Americans—self-made rugged individualists who set goals and achieved great things. And their impact is still felt everyday across the United States and beyond.

Citations & Credits:
  • Encyclopœdia Britannica Online.
  • Raynor, Richard. The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Coast. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, publication pending.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, publication pending.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Railroads: South Pacific Coast Railroad

With the completion of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States in May 1869, railroading schemes within California reached a fever pitch. Everyone with a little spare money was becoming interested in investing in a railroad line, from tiny short-line routes like the eight-mile Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad to grand transcontinental schemes such as the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. The people of Oakland especially were excited since the Central Pacific Railroad decided upon their seaside town to be the terminus for the line. But with the head of the Central Pacific-Union Pacific megalith peaking into the Bay Area, others sought ways to both exploit and bypass this new connection to the outside world.

The South Pacific Coast-owned Alameda to San Francisco ferryboat Newark, c. 1890s. [Bancroft Library]
The most significant pioneering local railroad was the San Francisco & San Jose Railroad, which began through operations in 1863. In 1865, the company established a subsidiary, the Southern Pacific Railroad, which was part of an ambitious plan to reach Southern California. But financial troubles in 1867 imperilled both companies and the Central Pacific Railroad's owners, the Big Five, bought them out in 1868. The two were consolidated in 1870 and linked to the Central Pacific line at San José via an extension of the track that ran through Niles Canyon. With this link, the Big Four gained a near-monopoly on South Bay Area railroading.

The combined Central Pacific-South Pacific Coast San Francisco ferry terminal at the end of Market Street, c. 1882. Stereograph by William E. James. [John Hall]
At the same time, a succession of rival narrow-gauge railroads had arisen on the East Bay only to collapse in short order due to funding and bad luck. The California Narrow Gauge Railroad & Transportation Company lasted all of six months before it crashed in the summer of 1875, having done little more than buying some real estate. In its wake, the Santa Clara Valley Railroad was incorporated on October 4 to build a railroad route between Dumbarton Point and the New Almaden quicksilver mines. But winter storms in late 1875 and early 1876 washed out most of the grade work that had been done and the company was on the brink of collapse again. Enter Alfred E. Davis. One of several East Bay rural farmers, Davis had a vision for a great railroad that could rival the Southern Pacific's regional monopoly. He recruited Comstock Lode millionaire James G. Fair, who in turn recruited his friend James C. Flood, and together the three men incorporated the South Pacific Coast Railroad on March 24, 1876. The name was chosen to mirror the recently-founded and similarly narrow-gauge North Pacific Coast Railroad in Marin and Sonoma Counties.

South Pacific Coast locomotive No. 1 on the Telegraph Avenue Branch (technically the Oakland Railroad) at the city limits, late 1880s. From here, horses would take rolling stock through Oakland since the city forbade steam locomotives within its limits. [John Hall]
Davis planned for the railroad to run from Alameda Point near Oakland almost directly south through San José and through the Santa Cruz Mountains to Santa Cruz. At this time, Santa Cruz still sat outside Southern Pacific's control, although that would not remain the case for long. Davis also had a greater vision to extend the line further down the coast and north through Oakland and into the San Joaquin Valley, where it would meet up with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. The firm even incorporated a subsidiary in 1883, the San Francisco & Colorado River Railroad, to achieve this goal, but it proved to be one ambition too far. Still, the goals of the railroad were public and achievable. In addition to their direct route between Alameda and Santa Cruz, the firm planned to build branches up the San Lorenzo River to reach the rich old growth redwood strands located there, up the New Almaden valley to reach the mercury mines, and maintain a ferry service across the bay in order to function as a direct rival to Southern Pacific, which at the time had a monopoly on railroad access to San Francisco.

The former South Pacific Coast Railroad station at Santa Clara serving as the new Union Depot for Southern Pacific, 1898. [Santa Clara City Libraries]
The northern three-quarters of the primary route consisted of a fairly gentle grade that smoothly wrapped around the East Bay from Oakland down to San José, where the route turned southwest and paralleled Los Gatos Creek until it reached the foothills. Surveying for the route had begun even before incorporation and grading began right afterwards. Through the second half of 1876 and the first half of 1877, Chinese work crews graded and laid track at a fevered pace, encountering few obstacles that Fair or Flood couldn't overcome with some money or Davis through aggressive negotiating. By June 1, 1877, the track to Los Gatos was opened and the railroad, for all intents and purposes, was open for business.

Andrus Company of the Juvenile Zouaves at Los Gatos Station, 1885. [Museums of Los Gatos]
As regular freight and passenger movement began along the installed track, negotiations began with the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad to buy or lease their line to serve as the final section of the route. The short-line railroad hedged heavily, briefly incorporating a rival railroad that, if actually built, would have undermined much of what the South Pacific Coast was trying to accomplish. Charles Silent, president of the smaller railroad, also was aware of the larger firm's potential and likely paved the way for the eventual leasing of the smaller line to the larger in 1879.

Postcard showing the rugged terrain along Los Gatos Creek in the foothills, c. 1895. [Ken Lorenzen]
Meanwhile, as the railroad graded its way to Felton, it encountered several predicted obstacles, namely several mountains that needed tunnelling and a few creeks and rivers that needed bridging. The bridges were by far the easier challenge. A total of eight bridges were required to cross Los Gatos Creek, not counting a bridge just north of Los Gatos that was to serve the mainline until the route was rerouted through town due to unstable terrain on the east bank of the creek. This remained in place for use by the local flour mill and for a lime quarry. More bridges, including several half-trestles, were needed along Burns and Bean Creek, while Zayante Creek near Felton had to be crossed twice, as well. Lastly, a substantial composite bridge was required to cross the San Lorenzo River over an especially wide floodplain before the line could connect to the existing Santa Cruz & Felton trackage at Felton Junction. All of the bridges were completed by the end of 1879, including repairs and upgrades to the Santa Cruz & Felton bridges, some of which were filled at the time to provide better support.

South Pacific Coast Railroad train stopped for a photograph along Coon Gulch in San Lorenzo Gorge, c. 1880s.
[Public domain]
More problematic was the need for tunnels through the mountains. Only three of the tunnels were built without difficulty: those between Highland (Laurel) and Glenwood, under Mountain Charley Road, and along Zayante Creek. In Los Gatos Canyon, two tunnels were planned but the first, just south of Los Gatos, collapsed during construction and was subsequently daylighted. The other was completed but its location directly under the Los Gatos flume meant that its construction had to be done with the utmost care, slowing the boring down significantly. In San Lorenzo Gorge, a new tunnel was required to cut through an especially sharp turn beneath Inspiration Point. Because of the unstable land, though, this tunnel was built longer than anticipated and was lengthened even more in the following years to keep debris from falling onto the tracks. An existing tunnel under the Hogsback about two miles to the south had to be widened and the height lifted slightly to support the larger South Pacific Coast locomotives. This also destabilized the tunnel, eventually leading to its daylighting several years later.

Construction crews finishing work on the Summit Tunnel at Wright's Station, early 1880. [Public domain]
Without a doubt, the biggest difficulty was the Summit Tunnel, which cut directly through the San Andreas Fault in its 1.25 mile journey between Wright's Station and Highland. It took two and a half years to build and cost the lives of at least forty-six Chinese workers in total. The reason for the deaths was that the tunnel had a methane leak that was never entirely resolved, and construction tools, lamps, and machinery unexpectedly set off the gas on two disastrous occasions on February 14 and November 17, 1879. When it finally was bored through in March 1880, many people breathed a sigh of relief. The airflow in the tunnel kept it from exploding again, but various remedies were applied over the years to ensure its continued safety.

South Pacific Coast Railroad passenger cars with conductors, 1880s. [John Hall]
The routes of the South Pacific Coast Railroad
and its subsidiary lines, 1887.
The route to Santa Cruz opened on May 10, 1880 and it thrived for the entire seven years that it was under the control of Davis. It became a popular tourist train in the summer, with families from San Francisco and Oakland going on day picnic trips to the redwoods and the beach, or longer summer vacations to the same. Local fruit growers appreciated the easy access to the Bay Area markets the railroad provided, while larger timber, lime, gunpowder, and other industrial patrons enjoyed direct access to San Francisco and beyond.

With an eye toward expansion, the South Pacific Coast established several subsidiary railroads that ran as branches off its main line. The first substantial route was the Felton & Pescadero Railroad in 1883, which in the short term terminated at Boulder Creek, but had plans to hop over to Pescadero Creek and run down to the coast before turning south and wrapping back to Santa Cruz. Had this been completed, the route would have tapped the Pescadero, Butano, Scott Creek, and San Vicente basins, all areas rich in old growth redwoods that would not be fully logged for decades afterwards. Other smaller routes brought the railroad directly into downtown Oakland as well as out to Dumbarton Point and Centerville. The last substantial subsidiary expanded a track out from Campbell and terminated at the bottom of the Almaden Valley, finally achieving the long-sought goal of the original California Narrow Gauge Railroad of connecting Dumbarton with the quicksilver mines in July 1886.

A horse-drawn boxcar and passenger car on the Centerville Branch of the South Pacific Coast Railway, c. 1890s.
[PacificNG]
By this point, however, the local railroading scene was changing fast. Southern Pacific was expanding in all directions and playing dirty with the South Pacific Coast. In Santa Cruz, Southern Pacific purchased the bankrupt Santa Cruz Railroad in 1881 and standard gauged its trackage in 1883. While this didn't significantly compete with the South Pacific Coast—they still had different routes with different freight patrons—it meant that passengers could now choose between crammed narrow-gauge cars or spacious standard gauge cars to get to Santa Cruz. Meanwhile, before the South Pacific Coast line to New Almaden was even completed, Southern Pacific began building a rival line from downtown San José that would equally benefit from being standard gauged. And throughout all this time, the two railroads vied for passengers and freight patronage along the East Bay, especially within Almaden County where the trackage was sometimes so close that train crews could see each other.

Although the South Pacific Coast Railroad was certainly a profitable business, revenues were not as high as anticipated and they were looking to continue to fall over the coming years. Flood wanted out, Fair was tired of his railroading project, and Davis didn't really have much say in the matter. Fair opened negotiations with Leland Stanford and Collis Huntington of Southern Pacific in 1886 and the two companies finally agreed to a long-term lease early the next year. On May 23, 1887, all of the subsidiaries were consolidated into the South Pacific Coast Railway. This was then leased to Southern Pacific on July 1. It remained a separate corporate entity for fifty years, only amalgamating into Southern Pacific on December 3, 1937, but Fair sold out his share in the company by the early 1890s.

Company logo after leasing
the line to the Southern Pacific
Railroad in 1887.
In many ways, nothing changed for two decades. Portions of the route, especially around Oakland, were standard-gauged but the bulk of the network remained narrow-gauge into the late 1890s. Southern Pacific continued to operate it as its own subdivision and it had its own fleet of rolling stock to cater to the tighter track width. But by the time of the April 18, 1906 earthquake, the route between Alameda Point and Wright had been dual-gauged with plans to throw off the center rail imminent. The earthquake delayed plans for the rest of the line by three years but also allowed the railroad to finish widening tunnels and replacing bridges, as needed. The route reopened as entirely standard gauge in Spring 1909 and the last real vestige of the South Pacific Coast was gone. Its name ceased to appear in any marketing and the fires in San Francisco after the earthquake had destroyed much of the company's records and history. South Pacific Coast was little more than a paper railroad after 1909, representing nothing except a long-forgotten lease between long dead dead men.

Citations & Credits: