by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As Los Angeles moved towards the peak of its first significant and sustained growth boom, which began in the late 1860s, one of the many projects that heralded the potential for the Angel City to become a major hub in the American Southwest was the expansion of its railroad system.
The town’s first railroad was the Los Angeles and San Pedro, a home-grown line that connected it to the fledgling harbor at Wilmington and San Pedro and which was completed in 1869, the year the transcontinental railroad crossing the country was finished. Though the local line was modest in length and scale, it was symbolically very important for local capitalists and boosters determined to see Los Angeles develop into a metropolis.
When the Southern Pacific, California’s dominant railroad company, sought to bypass Los Angeles as it built a line from the Bay Area to the Colorado River at Yuma, locals were able to harness enough political muscle and lobbying power to convince Congress to pass a bill in 1871 requiring the SP to build through the Angel City in order to get the charter it wanted.
The following year, when negotiations were undertaken with the Southern Pacific concerning the conditions by which the company would construct local as well the connecting line from the north, one of the key representatives from Los Angeles was F.P.F. Temple, called a “city-maker” by historian Remi Nadeau, whose late 1940s study of the era bore that title.
The main line from the north was then tied to another heading east through the San Gabriel Valley including through the Rancho La Puente with the SP route built parallel to what is now called Valley Boulevard and just north of the house, El Campo Cemetery, outbuildings and more of William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste. In April 1874, the railroad came to the Puente station and inaugurated a new era in the area.
Los Angeles capitalists, however, were far from satisfied with the monopoly the SP held in the region, especially as one of the conditions for that company’s presence here was its absorption of the Los Angeles and San Pedro line. Consequently, when a silver boom continued in Inyo County in eastern California, including at the town of Cerro Gordo, perched in the mountains east of the Owens Valley (which Los Angeles later tapped for its massive aqueduct project in the early 20th century), prominent Angel City people pounced on an opportunity for a new local rail project.
It required legislation in Sacramento, but a group of interested parties secured a bill in late March 1874 that allowed them to, within five years, construct the line to Independence, the Inyo County seat, but which was principally designed to transport silver bullion from Cerro Gordo and other mining towns instead of the reliance of the slow teams of oxen (most owned by Nadeau’s namesake grandfather) that handled the shipments.
Among the Angelenos mentioned in the bill were Temple, former governor John G. Downey, Benjamin D. Wilson, Victor Beaudry and Leonard J. Rose along with nine others, including several with extensive mining interests in Inyo County. When the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad Company was incorporated, however, only Temple and Downey were among the trustees.
On 18 April, a meeting was held at Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank of Los Angeles, of which Downey was president (its manager was Isaias W. Hellman, former partner of Temple and Workman before he dissolved that partnership to team up with Downey), to elect officers. Charles E. Beane, a former officer in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and also the editor of the defunct Los Angeles News, was chosen to be secretary, while Downey was elected treasurer and Temple was handed the presidency.
Almost exactly a month later, on 19 May, Joseph U. Crawford, an experienced railroad engineer and surveyor, set out to work on a preliminary survey to determine the best route from the Angel City to Independence. The following day, the first advertisement, under Temple’s signature as president, for stock in the L.A.& I.R.R. was published. By the first of July, he completed and submitted a 19-page report outlining two possible routes and associated costs for both as well as the rolling stock and other aspects of the project.
The first would begin at San Fernando, where the Southern Pacific was to have a station on its northern line at the newly established town (today one of the few in the expansive valley not part of the City of Los Angeles) and then go through Soledad Pass and then the Antelope Valley to head up towards Inyo.
The second was to start at Spadra, a town created in 1867 on the Rancho San Jose just east of La Puente and now part of Pomona. The reason for beginning there was that the Southern Pacific’s eastern line then terminated at that point pending continuing work into what we now call the Inland Empire. A diagonal would run through the Rancho Cucamonga and into Cajon Pass near San Bernardino before heading out to Inyo.
While the Spadra route was about 13 miles longer and involved more elevation gain because of the work needed at Cajon Pass, it was determined that it would be some $50,000 cheaper to grade because the topography through San Fernando was overall more challenging. Importantly, Crawford noted that the standard gauge, at 4 feet 8 inches width, was about 10% more expensive than the narrow gauge at 3 feet.
Another decision to be made was whether the track should be all wood or have iron rails with the former determined to cost $2,500 a mile or $550,000 for 222 miles, though no figure was given for track with iron rails. As for rolling stock, Crawford projected costs for eight 6-ton engines, a half-dozen passenger coaches, 40 platform cars, half as many box cars, and baggage, mail, express and hand-cars to be $63,000. In all, the total estimated cost was about $940,000.
With respect to operating costs, the engineer estimated that there would be a 10% figure for grading and superstructure work and double that for equipment. The entire trackage would need to be replaced in eight years and with maintenance and transportation labor, fuel and the work agents, supervision, printing and other costs, Crawford pegged the annual operation bill to be about $229,000.
It was believed that the line would annually haul more than 12,000 tons of ore and bullion and 9,000 tons of other freight at almost $11 per ton “and thus earn ten per cent. on the investment, besides paying largely for repairs on [the] roadway and machinery.” Crawford added that, because of the wooden rails and the lighter, lower-power engines needed to run on them, the speed of the trains would not exceed 12 miles per hour and he added:
My object in so estimating has been to submit an estimate of cost which would place the improvement within the reach of the residents upon the line. As business increases and the country settles up, this road can readily be laid with a T rail [iron], the stringers being cut and placed as ties.
Meanwhile, there was concern about the Southern Pacific building its southern extension from Bakersfield to Tehachapi Pass and diverting the Inyo silver transport along that route and not through Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Herald of 4 July urged readers that “the Inyo county freighting business is likely to slip from their grasp” unless there was “immediate and decisive action on the proposition to build the Los Angeles and Independence wooden railroad.” It concluded that “with that road we would secure all this trade; without the road we shall most certainly lose it.”
Two days prior, the Los Angeles Express echoed the need to build the line quickly and not just guarantee the Inyo trade for the Angel City, but also espoused the idea that the L.A.& I.R.R. would “be the first link of a system of internal railroads which will not only make Los Angeles the natural outlet of Inyo, Mono, Southern Nevada and Northern Arizona; but also the terminal point on the Pacific Ocean of an overland railroad which will be independent of all other roads [that is, the Southern Pacific] on this coast in its connections.”
It even averred that, while the L.A.& I.R.R. managers might not be convinced, there was every necessity to extend the line to the Southern Utah Railroad and, therefore, a link to the transcontinental. There were, moreover, planned southern transcontinental lines along the 32nd and 35th parallels, which were actually the preferred routes by survey crews for the 1869 route when reports were made in the 1850s, but the Civil War guaranteed that the northern route was to be built.
Later in July, the Herald, which just happened to be own by a company that included Temple as one of its directors, published a “Map of Our Back Country” which showed railroads emanating from Los Angeles, but which depicted the L.A.& I.R.R. as being built on the San Fernando route. Moreover, it showed a wide-open gap north of the Angel City as if such a line, as well as that of the Southern Pacific, would be a breeze to build!
It also asserted that there were “important places in the county” that were left off the map and including Anaheim, San Gabriel, El Monte, Santa Ana, San Fernando, Tustin and others that totaled all of 2,250 people! Still, Los Angeles was designated “the emporium” of the region and “centrally located in the best valley on the Globe,” that is, Planet Earth.
Yet, subscriptions by locals could not move fast enough for the impatient promoters in the press with the Herald of 16 July lamenting “General Apathy Around” and offering that
If talk would build railroads Los Angeles would be the point from which would diverge all the railroads in the world. If home-made eloquence could charm the coin from other people’s pockets we should become the money market of civilization.
It castigated those who promised to give liberally to purchase stock in the L.A.& I.R.R. and pleaded that “we shall never build Los Angeles to the dimensions of a great city at this rate” and “we shall never develop the resources and avail ourselves of the natural advantages of this great country, unless we arouse ourselves to action and do something besides talk.”
The paper, however, reported that United States Senator from Nevada John P. Jones, owner of large mining interests in the Panamint District not far south from Cerro Gordo, was expected in Los Angeles shortly to arrange for transport for his bullion and other freight. If Jones was to find, instead of a city filled with Wilkins Micawbers (David Copperfield, anyone?), a group “actively at work on their new railroad scheme” and “found us with two or three hundred thousand dollars [of] stock subscribed to the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad . . . he would, no doubt, take a large amount of stock himself.” But, the piece concluded, “if we would receive help” from the likes of Jones, “we must show a disposition to help ourselves.”
A public meeting was held at San Bernardino on 25 July to drum up support in that namesake county seat for the project with Beane speaking about the L.A.& I.R.R. and adding that it had been decided to use T-rails, after all, on the narrow-gauge line. He was followed by Crawford “who gave a brief description of the topographical features of the route via Cajon Pass, grades, distances and elevations; exhibited the map and answered numerous questions propounded by parties familiar with the country traversed.”
As a roster of locals mounted the rostrum, the Express reported that “the universal sentiment breathed by all was opposition to monopoly, and favorable to any connection which would bind them to the mining regions of Panamint and Cerro Gordo, and ensure them an outlet to the sea, and reduction of the present grievously heavy freight rates.” After these statements, including attacks on the SP, a committee of five was appointed to help raise stock subscriptions for the project.
By early August, the Express and the Herald were bitterly denouncing a Bakersfield paper for its insistence that the L.A.& I.R.R. would never be built as it, naturally, defended its interests in tapping into the trade of its eastern neighbor. It was claimed, however, that there was virtually no material difference in distance or difficulty whether Inyo silver bullion and other products went through Bakersfield as opposed to Los Angeles.
The Express of the 1st, for example, insisted that this project was necessary in conjunction with the Southern Pacific’s lines for competitive reasons alone. The edition issued on the 5th by the Herald mocked the Kern County Courier as not being a prophet, though it allowed that it was natural that the paper should be a booster for its region.
Yet, by prognosticating that the L.A.& I.R.R. would not be constructed, that sheet “is placing itself in a position which may lead to its conviction and cremation as a witch or a false prophet.” The paper proclaimed that the only practical project was that that went to the Pacific and, with the Cajon Pass as the best way, “it is by that route that a road will pay, and it is by that route the road will be built.”
The same day’s Express also fired back at the San Francisco Bulletin and its statements that a planned railroad line from Los Angeles to Truxton, a town on the Pacific directly west of the Angel City planned by Edward F. Beale of Rancho Tejon fame, was “hanging fire” and that it would likely make a deal with the SP for building that route and buying the proposed hamlet. The paper noted that there was no reason why a new line couldn’t be constructed to Wilmington even if that meant a battle royale with the Southern Pacific should it be aggressive in protecting its Los Angeles and San Pedro subsidiary.
Moreover, the Bulletin claimed that the L.A.& I.R.R. “has languished, and its early dissolution is threatened” and it quoted the Express as suggesting the decision to use all-wood track was the reason for the lack of recent action, but the latter strongly rebutted this by saying that there was, as noted above, a remedy for that error and added “there is now more animation in the project.” While the L.A.&I.R.R. incorporators “have made some minor mistakes, they achieved three notable successes: a viable route, the leaving of Los Angeles several routes to the ocean, and had “harmonized the interests” of those to benefit “with the fortunes of the enterprise.”
This is the context of the featured artifact donated recently by the Josette Temple Estate to the Museum’s holdings for this post: an order, dated 4 August 1874, signed by Temple and written by Beane to Downey to pay Crawford $75.00 “on account of [the] preliminary survey of [the] route of [the] road.” There is a paid stamp from Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank from the same date and on the back is Temple’s notation concerning the payment to the engineer.
As to the story of the L.A.&I.R.R. from here, we’re going to return to that at a later date with a drawing of Crawford’s survey of the Cajon Pass section of the route as the highlighted object from the collection for that post. So, be sure to look for that in the not-too-distant future. specifically on or about 9 January, the anniversary of what Nadeau called the Battle of Cajon Pass between the two railroad lines as the SP sought to make its own claim to that vital entry point into greater Los Angeles.