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Mileposts Golden Anniversary March 1953 issue

In March 1953 Western Pacific's company magazine, Mileposts, published its Golden Anniversary Issue commemorating the fiftieth year of Western Pacific's corporate existence (cover shown at left). The lead article of that issue titled "Fifty Candles for Western Pacific", written by the late Gilbert H. Kneiss, chronicled the history of The Western Pacific Railroad Company, from the original organizing meeting of March 3, 1903 down through the subsequent fifty years.

The final issue of Mileposts (March 1983 issue shown to the right) carried a reprint of Gil Kneiss' article, "Fifty Candles for Western Pacific" as well as R.W. "Dick" Bridges article "Eighty Candles on the Final Cake" chronicling the final 30 years before the merger with the Union Pacific. These two articles provide an accurate and fascinating account of the Western Pacific from 1903 through the end in 1982, nearly 80 years of WP history!




candles_25_vintage_inverted Fifty Candles for Western Pacific candles_25_vintage_inverted

by G.H. Kneiss

Tuesday, March 3, 1903, was just another rainy day to most San Franciscans. There wasn't much excitement. Carrie Nation, armed with axe and Bible, smashed some bottled goods and glassware in a Montgomery Street saloon and was hustled off to jail. To jail likewise went Miss Flo Russell, a young lady whose crime lay in exposing an ankle and bit of petticoat while lifting her skirts high enough to clear the muddy pavement, and to jail in Marin County, across the Bay, went one George Gow, who illegally failed to bring his automobile to a dead stop when a horse-drawn vehicle approached within 300 feet.

Over in Corea (as it then was spelled), San Franciscans learned from their newspapers, fighting went on along the Yalu River between the Russians and the Japanese, and at Harvard Professor Hollis, chairman of the Athletic Committee, said that football aroused only the worst impulses and should be abolished. Up in Sacramento Governor Pardee signed a bill making the Golden Poppy the state flower of California.


First meeting announcement
Preliminary meeting announcement
of the Western Pacific

No, not too much excitement, but even so readers of the San Francisco Chronicle next day reached page 14 before they learned that eleven men had sat down around a table in the Safe Deposit Building on California Street and organized a new transcontinental railroad to be named the Western Pacific.

It was to run from the city of San Francisco eastward through the canyons of the Feather River and Beckwourth Pass and on to Salt Lake City. By branch lines it was also to serve San Jose, Alameda, Berkeley, Richmond, Fresno, Chico and Prattville. Walter J. Bartnett, San Francisco, lawyer and promoter, had subscribed to 14,900 of the 15,000 shares of capital stock but behind him, speculation went, were probably the Goulds, the Vanderbilts, Jim Hill or David Moffat.

Perhaps the reason that the Chronicle put its writeup back on page 14 along with the truss ads and the electric belts was that the story was not exactly new, Men had talked about a railroad through the Feather River Canyon for a long time, particularly one named Arthur W. Keddie.

KEDDIE'S DREAM line_brk_spire_rt_inverted.gif
Arthur W. Keddie
Arthur W. Keddie

Keddie had come to California in the early sixties - a young Scottish lad, trained as a surveyor. By that time the gold diggers that had briefly overrun the Feather River country following Bidwell's celebrated discovery on July 4, 1848, had departed with their pokes and six-shooters. Barkeeps and dance hall gals had followed them. The many-pronged turbulent river which Arguello had named Rio de las Plumas because of countless floating feathers from moulting wild pigeons, flowed in solitude through its deep gorges.

James P. Beckwourth
James P. Beckwourth

One of the first professional jobs that came Keddie's way after he had hung out his shingle at Quincy, county seat of Plumas County, was that of exploring the North Fork of the Feather for the newly-organized OroviIIe and Beckwourth Pass Wagon Road Company. Beckwourth Pass, for unknown ages a great Indian thoroughfare, had been discovered to civilization by Jim Beckwourth, a mulatto scout, in 1850. A Sierra crossing more than 2,000 feet below the elevation of Donner Pass, it had become popular for covered wagon trains.

Keddie made his canyon reconnaissance in the dead of winter but the snows he encountered were surprisingly light. Furthermore, he found a route with grades too easy to waste on a wagon road. Back to Quincy he went with a thrill and a dream in his heart - the thrill of having discovered what he felt sure would prove to be the best route for a transcontinental railway and the dream of having part in building it.

Early Survey Team
Early Survey Team

The young surveyor managed to interest several important men in his idea: Asbury Harpending of diamond hoax fame, Civil War General William Rosecrans, Creed Hammond and others. Some of them were sincerely interested in railroad building. Harpending, for one, was convinced that the Central Pacific had chosen a most inferior route over the mountains and would be easy competition. As the Quincy Union put it: "The Central Pacific have long since understood they must content themselves with the summer trade of Virginia City and Carson. The Feather River Railroad will be the road across the continent." But others of the associates were looking only at the speculative possibilities when coupled with their own political influence.

The Oroville and Virginia City Railroad Company was formed in April, 1867. Capital stock sales were authorized up to five million dollars, but a negligible amount was sold. Where upon some of Keddie's new associates railroaded a most amazing bill through the California Legislature and induced Governor Haight to sign it.

This new law was entitled "An Act Authorizing the Board of Supervisors of Plumas County to take and Subscribe to the Capital Stock of the Oroville and Virginia City Railroad Company." Actually, it not only authorized them, it specified that said Supervisors could be fined, removed from office, and sued for damages if they didn't do so! This may have been good politics but it was deplorable public relations. Enthusiasm for the railroad in Plumas County cooled while indignation boiled and the Supervisors resigned en masse. A legal battle finally repealed the obnoxious statute.

Frenville M. Dodge
Grenville M. Dodge

General Rosecrans tried to induce the Union Pacific to take over the O. & V. C. project as its California connection and thus by-pass the Central Pacific with its already critical snow problems. His old comrade in arms, General G. M. Dodge, actually left his U. P. construction camp and came out to consider the offer. He liked what he saw but the Central Pacific end-of-track was miles into the Nevada sagebrush by then and, although the Union Pacific was authorized by congress to build to the California line, it had to stop wherever it met the C. P.

Keddie started construction on the O. & V. C. near Oroville in the spring of '69. A gang of thirty Chinese men was put to grading between Thompson Flat and Morris Ravine. Shortly afterward Congress was asked to help with a land grant of 641,200 acres. But the whole thing blew up. The builders of the Central Pacific were adept at "pressure" and they put plenty of it on Harpending to ditch the scheme. And one of them, C.P. Huntington, laughed Keddie out of his office with the remark "no man will ever be fool enough to build a railroad through the Feather River Canyon." Arthur Keddie had to put his dream in mothballs but he did not forget it. The seventies and the eighties passed. The close of the latter decade found the Union Pacific, less than entirely happy with its western connection, again considering its own line to San Francisco. Out in the field was Virgil G. Bogue, U. P. chief engineer, running trial surveys over the Sierra. One was down the Pit River, one through Susanville and along Deer Creek, several through Beckwourth Pass and down the Feather. Bogue rather favored the Deer Creek route despite some 80 miles of 4 per cent grade, but Jay Gould gained control of the Union Pacific about that time, and the plans for a San Francisco extension were abandoned.

THE SAN FRANCISCO & GREAT SALT LAKE line_brk_spire_rt_inverted.gif

This was bad news to California shippers and merchants who had hoped for some relief from the Central Pacific monopoly which skillfully adjusted rates to the maximum figures which would allow its customers to remain in business. A group of them got together and determined to build the Union Pacific connection themselves. They incorporated the San Francisco and Great Salt Lake Railroad Company and hired Bogue's assistant, W. H. Kennedy. If he could locate a practicable route, one which was not too expensive, they felt it should be possible to find Eastern capitalists who would finance the undertaking.

Kennedy was, of course, familiar with the surveys made by Union Pacific but believed he might find an even better line. In Quincy he called at the County Surveyor's office for a map of Plumas Country; the County Surveyor was Arthur Keddie, and the two men found a lot to talk about. Keddie told the engineer of the low pass he had found near Spring Garden Ranch between the Middle Fork of the Feather and Spanish Creek, a tributary of the North Fork. As the Middle Fork Canyon became impossibly steep below this point and the North Fork was almost as bad above it, this low divide offered a means of utilizing the best parts of both canyons.

Crossing the Sierra summit at Beckwourth Pass, thence descending the upper reaches of the Middle Fork and cutting over to the North Fork at Spring Garden, as Keddie had suggested, to reach the Sacramento Valley at Oroville, Kennedy completed his survey late in 1892. It was a good line, with a ruling grade of 1 1/3 per cent, and as he filed his maps in the various county court houses, they established under the existing laws, a five-year option on the route in the name of the San Francisco and Great Salt Lake Railroad Company.

Collis P. Huntington
Collis Potter Huntington

With these rights and Kennedy's estimate of $35 million to build the railroad, the San Franciscans journeyed to New York City, the lair of capital. But everywhere the S.F.&G.S.L. promoters called, they found Collis P. Huntington had been before them. Why spend $35 million to compete with him, the wily old man had asked each likely angel, he'd be glad to let them have the Central Pacific, monopoly and all, for a good deal less and be glad to get it off his hands. No one called his bluff and the San Francisco and Great Salt Lake Railroad Company joined the other punctured bubbles.

George J. Gould
George J. Gould

When Jay Gould had acquired control of the Denver and Rio Grande properties, he had seriously considered extending them to the Pacific Coast. The Union Pacific, however, control of which he no longer owned, had induced him not to. Both systems interchanged their westbound traffic with the Central Pacific at Ogden and in return the latter divided its eastbound loads equitably between them.

Edward H. Harriman
Edward H. Harriman

But when E. H. Harriman and his supporters, after acquiring the Union Pacific, picked up control of the Southern Pacific System after C. P. Huntington died in 1900, they closed the Overland Gateway to the rival Rio Grande. George Gould, Jay's eldest son, had succeeded to the 11,000-mile rail empire by then. It was his ambition to have his own rails from coast to coast.They already stretched from Buffalo to Ogden, he had definite plans to reach Baltimore, and he had hoped to acquire the Central Pacific himself. Now, bottled up in Utah by Harriman, he decided to build a new road to San Francisco.

Virgil Bogue had become George Gould's consulting engineer and recalling his surveys for the Union Pacific in the '80's, recommended Beckwourth Pass and the Feather River route. Remembering also an unhappy experience he had once had in locating any other road, only to find the whole route plastered with mining claims of dubious mineral value but through which rights of way must be negotiated, he advised Gould to form a "mining company" first. Accordingly the North California Mining Company was organized and soon nearly 600 placer claims were staked out, blanketing the entire proposed route across the mountains.

Edward T. Jeffery
E. T. Jeffery

Gould turned the job over to the Denver and Rio Grande and its president, E. T. Jeffery, sent a field party under H. H. Yard west to locate the line. It was all top secret. The transit men and stake artists were forbidden even to let their wives know where they were. Letters could only be exchanged through the Denver office of the railroad. Two California corporations, the Butte and Plumas Railway and the Indian Valley Railway, were set up to be the figureheads.

It was, however, more than a bit difficult to keep anything concerned with a railroad through the Feather River Canyon secret from Arthur Keddie. That was a subject he kept up with. Furthermore, he had another railroad scheme on the fire himself. He had formed an alliance with one Walter J. Bartnett who, with his associates, had built a short line, the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad only a few years before from Stockton southwest to the Tesla coal mines. The mines had not come up to expectations and Bartnett, who was an exceedingly high powered promoter, had conceived the ambitious plan of extending his 36-mile railroad east to Salt Lake City and west to San Francisco and then selling it to the Goulds.

Bartnett and Keddie incorporated the Stockton and Beckwith (sic) Pass Railroad on December 1, 1902. Location was amazingly fast and simple. For Keddie merely put some stooge "survey parties" out in the canyon and as they haphazardly staked out each ten miles of "line," he made a copy of the corresponding map Kennedy had filed in 1892 and, by registering these in the county seats, won an incontestable five-year franchise.

Walter Bartnett then journeyed to New York with Keddie's franchise in his pocket, convinced George Gould that it could not be ignored. Bartnett and Gould signed an agreement on February 6, 1903, which provided for the formation of a new company to take over the various corporations which each had previously organized and to build and equip the railroad. Less than a month later and pursuant to this pact, the meeting in the Safe Deposit Building was called to order.


Early 1900s WP logo

The Western Pacific Railway Company was thus organized on March 3, 1903. Articles of Incorporation were filed with the County Clerk the same day. But when Bartnett's clerk appeared next day at the Secretary of State's office in Sacramento, the first of many roadblocks thrown up by the Southern Pacific became apparent. For the pioneer railroad between Sacramento and Oakland, completed way back in 1869, had also been named Western Pacific and the S.P., which had taken it over, still claimed all rights to the name. Bartnett threatened mandamus proceedings and the S.P. withdrew its objections. The Western Pacific Railway Company was thereupon incorporated, on March 6, 1903.

George Gould still remained completely out of the picture and denied all connection with the project. Although he financed the new surveying parties that were immediately sent out to make the final location, he was forced, in the interests of this secrecy, to keep the Rio Grande engineers in the field as well. The absurd result was two hostile groups struggling to outwit each other and often on the point of exchanging pot shots, though both were actually on the same payroll.

Virgil Bogue
Virgil Bogue

Virgil Bogue was finally dispatched by Gould to choose the best of the routes surveyed. One night, as he sat in his field tent pondering the old Kennedy line with its grade of 1 1/3 per cent which the Western Pacific engineers had accepted from Keddie, he noted from the profiles that between Oroville and Beckwourth Pass there was only a difference in elevation of 50 feet per mile. This suggested to him the idea of a uniform one percent grade.

Rapid investigation proved this feasible, and without climbing too high above the river. Elated, Bogue wired E. T. Jeffery and with equal enthusiasm the D&RG president answered that if a one per cent grade railroad between San Francisco and Utah could be located, money to build it was available regardless of the cost.

Shortly thereafter General G. M. Dodge wrote to one of Bogue's associates as follows:

I am glad to see that you are out there on the Western Pacific. That line is almost exactly the line I run (sic) south of Salt Lake, thence down the Humboldt, across the Beckwourth Pass, and down the Feather, but you have a better grade than I got. That is the line the Union Pacific would have built if it had not been for the progress of the Central Pacific east.

Rumors were still thick as to who was behind the Western Pacific. Some thought the Burlington interests. Others picked "Jim" Hill of the Great Northern or David Moffat, the Colorado capitalist. Most felt positive that Gould was behind the road despite his still positive denials. There was a story current that Harriman and Ripley (of the Santa Fe) had together offered him two million plus all he had spent so far to give up the project. It was not until the spring of 1905 that Gould publicly announced his paternity of the Western Pacific and appointed President Jeffery of the Rio Grande to head the new road as well. Bartnett, who had been president, became vice-president.

Contracts for construction were signed late the same year, although the line was not completely located nor the rights of way all secured. The Southern Pacific naturally interposed every possible legal and physical obstacle, but although it possessed immense political power and a formidable bag of tricks, the Western Pacific promoters usually managed to come out on top. 

Horace Carpentier
Horace Carpentier

The biggest row was that involving the WP ferry terminal on San Francisco Bay. A little historical background is necessary here. Oakland was an unnamed part of the Peralta rancho in 1851, when lawyer Horace Carpentier and two associates made themselves at home on the oak-studded meadows around what is now lower Broadway and started selling lots. Don Vicente Peralta rode around with the sheriff when his cattle began to disappear, but Carpentier glibly talked him into a lease of the land on which he had squatted and then proceeded to incorporate it as the City of Oakland. His hand-picked trustees gladly "sold" him the entire 10,000 acre waterfront between high tide and the ship channel for five dollars plus two per cent of any wharfage fees he might collect. Carpentier then took office as mayor.

In 1868 when Central Pacific interests sought a terminal on the Bay at Oakland, Carpentier made a nice deal with its management. The Oakland Waterfront Company was incorporated for $5,000,000 by both parties. Carpentier became its President and conveyed "all the waterfront of the City of Oakland" to the new corporation. Through this succession of events the Southern Pacific had maintained a stranglehold on the Oakland waterfront for half a century, although the city had several times attempted to invalidate the title.

Obviously the S.P. was fully confident that it would have but little difficulty in isolating the Western Pacific from a practical outlet on the Bay. The Santa Fe, only a few years before, had built its ferry slip way up at Point Richmond rather than attempt to crack the S.P. stronghold. Bartnett, after a hard struggle against the older railroad's influence, did secure a small site on the mudflats of the Oakland Estuary. It would have made a miserably cramped ferry terminal but, from all appearances, the WP promoters had concluded it was the best they could do. Harriman's forces sneered and relaxed. Gould's were just beginning. Every move was carefully rehearsed and logistics figured to the last detail.

As the Oakland tidelands had gradually been filled in, the Government had extended the banks of San Antonio Estuary with rock quays called "training walls" in order to prevent silt from washing into the Oakland inner harbor channel. A dredger was often necessary to prevent the formation of a bar at the entrance of the channel. This dredger became the Trojan horse of the Gould attack.

Western Pacific's "army"
Remembered only as Dick and Andy, these two dangerous looking men were part of the "army" which held the Western Pacific positions during the fight for an outlet on San Francisco Bay.

On the night of January 5, 1906, the Western Pacific forces under Bartnett struck.

With 200 workmen and 30 guards armed with carbines and sawed-off shotguns, he used the dredging company as a front, and seizing the north training wall, began feverishly to lay a rough track. Most of the guards took up positions at the shore end of the U. S. training wall and maintained them night and day. Laborers snatched their sleep in shelter tents on the wave-washed rocks and the WP commissary department fed them. Scows rushed more rails and ties across the Bay to the end of the wall. Soon there was a mile of track on top of the rock wall.

Of course the Southern Pacific did not quietly accept this outrageous trespassing on domains it had held undisputed for more than half a century. Its legal department, fairly in convulsions, was whipping out the necessary papers for immediate appeal to the law. This was exactly what Bartnett had told Gould would happen and exactly what they both desired. For the courts, as Bartnett had felt sure they would, held that the Southern Pacific title to the waterfronts had not progressed westward with the shoreline as the tidelands and marshes had been filled in, but was valid only to the low tide line of 1852. The S.P.'s "waterfront" therefore was by now well inland, and the new marginal land surrounding it was the property of the city. Years later, when the first WP passenger train reached Oakland, Mayor Frank K. Mott in his speech of welcome said:

The advent of the Western Pacific Railway is epochal. It is of peculiar interest to Oakland, for this system's coming made it possible for Oakland to recover control and possession of its magnificent waterfront. This may well be placed first in the order of benefits which will accrue to the city, as well as to the Bay region and the entire state.

Steam Shovel in Oroville
Steam shovel working in the cut just east of Oroville

Construction camps had been established by the contractors at points all along the line under supervision of Company division engineers. Some were accessible by rail and most of the others by wagon road. But, for much of the distance through the rugged Feather River Canyon, not even a foot path was handy to the route. Indeed the surveyors had often hung suspended by cables over cliffs in order to set their line stakes. So it was necessary first to blaze a trail and set up small camps supplied by pack mules,then use these as bases for building a wagon road over which supplies and equipment for building the railroad could be hauled. It was slow, and often dangerous.

Milepost 59
A "merry-go-round" was used in constructing large fills such as this one at milepost 59

At Cromberg it was necessary to cross the swirling river on a jittery rope bridge and here eleven men were lost working on the cliffs or trying to cross the stream. They were tough men too, mostly lumberjacks and hard-rock miners. Where Grizzly Creek drops into the Feather, the field parties were forced to resort to rafts in order to by-pass the sheer granite cliffs. Over at the Utah end crossing the salt beds was a nightmare due to excessive temperature extremes and the killing glare which often blinded men after a few hours work.

It was difficult to hold men under such conditions while more pleasant work was plentiful and turnover was terrific. Bogue actually had detectives infiltrated through some of the gangs under the suspicion that some outside agency must be stirring up trouble and inducing the men to quit, but no evidence of this was ever found. On the other hand the S.P. superintendent at Ogden wrote plaintively that the Western Pacific was stealing all his track men and that it wasn't very neighborly. T. J. Wyche, the WP engineer, replied that all his assistants had positive instructions on this point and wouldn't think of taking S.P. men. A few days later a Greek labor agent reported that the next batch of track men he would deliver would have to wait until they could get their time checks from the S.P.! Drunkenness was a problem too, one which Bogue finally solved by buying up all the saloon licenses handy to the job.

Harris Track-Layer at Hartwell
"Improved Harris Track-Layer" putting down rail near Hartwell (today's Quincy Junction)

After the depression of 1907 set in, there were plenty of men available - and at lower wages. Had it not been for this unexpected break all of the contractors would probably have gone bankrupt, since the work proved considerably more costly than they had figured.

In particular, the long tunnels at Spring Garden between the canyons of the North and Middle Forks, Chilcoot at Beckwourth Pass, and at Niles Canyon not far east of Oakland, ran into unexpected delays and costs. Original plans had called for Western Pacific to be ready for business by September 1, 1908, and when it became more and more evident that this date could not be met, President Jeffery felt mounting concern.

Feather River Flood 1907
The magnitude of the Feather River Flood of March 1907 is shown in the construction photos of bridge No. 216.36, the Middle Fork crossing 7 1/2 miles east of Oroville. The first photo shows the bridge piers barely clearing the crest; the lower photo taken the following November shows the river at its normal flow.

"It is really a very serious situation to contemplate", he wrote Bogue in January 1907, "and the key is the completion of the long tunnels. The rest of the road we can build and get in running order, and we can have our terminal facilities at San Francisco and Oakland and our floating plant in San Francisco Bay all ready by or before September 1 (1908).

It was in March, 1907, when one of the worst storms in the history of California struck and the resulting floods completely tied up construction. Little damage was done to the half-finished Western Pacific - in fact the storm effectively demonstrated the wisdom of its location and Bogue wrote Jeffery that if they had been building the 1 1/3 per cent grade originally chosen, their prospects would have been grim. But it was impossible to deliver materials to the job. Flood conditions were so bad that S.P. trains from Sacramento to Oakland were operating by way of Fresno. With these and other delays it was not surprising for Jeffery to write, "I long for the day when we can have the railroad in operation and I can see the fruition of my hopes and plans since 1892. Sixteen years is a long time to contemplate, lay plans for and patiently work toward the accomplishment of an enterprise; but this is what I have endured to date, and must endure for fifteen or sixteen months more."

Foreman Leonardo di Tomasso in 1909
Foreman Leonardo di Tomasso prepares to drive the golden spike at Spanish Creek Bridge in 1909


Telegram from Keddie to Bogue
November 1, 1909 telegram from Arthur W. Keddie to Virgil Bogue congratulating him on the completion of the Feather River Route.


But the rail laying which had started with the driving of the first spike at 3rd and Union streets in Oakland on January 2, 1906, proceeded eventually to the driving of the last.

On November 1, 1909, the track gangs from east and west met on the steel bridge across Spanish Creek near Keddie and foreman Leonardo di Tomasso drove the final spike. In contrast to the gold spike ceremonies on the first overland railway just forty years before, no decorated engines met head to head before a cheering crowd; no magnums of champagne were broached. The only spectators were a pair of local women and their little girls.

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WP Steam Locomtive 34
WP 1909 built 2-8-0 Consolidation No. 34

Surprisingly enough, President Jeffery had first favored equipping the Western Pacific with small locomotives of the vintage of 1888. These had given good service on the Rio Grande and were more economical than the heavier engines it had since acquired. The engines Jeffery favored were the D&RG class 106, a ten-wheel passenger locomotive with a tractive effort of 18,000 pounds, and Class 113 for freight, a consolidation with 25,000 pounds tractive effort.

Bogue at first appeared to fall in with Jeffery's ideas, but raised one doubt after another as to the wisdom of ordering these little old-fashioned engines. Finally he secured blue prints of the motive power used by the Southern Pacific on the Ogden Route and sent them on to Jeffery in New York with his final comment on the 106 and 113 class: "To place these locomotives on the road, hauling trains in competition with the Southern Pacific, would probably prove to be a mistake."

WP Steam Locomotive 93
WP 4-6-0 Passenger Ten-Wheeler No. 93 built in 1909

Jeffery was convinced and comparable motive power was ordered: 65 consolidation freight engines with 43,300 pounds tractive effort, 35 ten-wheel passenger locomotives with a tractive effort of 29,100 pounds and 12 switchers. The first twenty freight engines were built by Baldwin, the rest by the American Locomotive Company. They were a lot bigger than the 1888 models although they would appear tiny in comparison with those which would follow while they were still in service. The work horses of the Western Pacific for several decades, they were excellent machines.

Yards and terminals for the new railroad had been most carefully designed. Traffic estimates had been prepared from local statistics, S.P. annual reports, etc., and diagrams prepared of expected east and westbound tonnage of various classes. Train mile costs were estimated, on the basis of 1,000-ton 30-car trains without helper service, at $2.25 on the 1 per cent grade as against 1500-ton 45-car trains with helpers at $3.58 plus 36 cents a mile to return light engines.

Wendover 1909
Wendover, Utah from the west, March 3, 1909

On the basis of such studies Wendover had been selected as the first subdivision point west of Salt Lake City although it was without water. Shafter, 40 miles further east, had plenty of water, better living conditions and was an interchange point with the Nevada Northern. However, Wendover sat at the foot of 33 miles of 1 per cent grade and the selection of Shafter as a subdivision point would have sacrificed tonnage for speed in order to avoid overtime, as well as failure to utilize the 100 miles of nearly level track east of Wendover for maximum tonnage. Bogue estimated annual savings of $100,000 by picking Wendover against Shafter.

Each division point had been made the subject of a similar careful study as to location and design. At Oroville, the old gold workings governed the layout and at Portola mountains and river were important factors. Winnemucca was the dividing terminal between coal and oil burning engines and here the Humboldt River influenced its site. Oakland, in particular, had required painstaking analysis as the engine terminal property was constricted and lay between two S.P. grade crossings. Bogue and his assistants had done their work well.

Rates of pay at the opening shed light on the passage of time. Locomotive engineers drew $4.25 per ten- hour day; firemen, $2.75. Conductors were paid by the month, $125 and no overtime. Brakemen got $86.25. In the office, a chief clerk found eleven twenty-dollar gold pieces and a five in his pay envelope; the stenographers $60 or even $75 if they were extra competent.

Gould Rail System 1909
George Gould's rail system after completion of the Western Pacific in 1909

The Western Pacific was now, operative but far from finished. From San Francisco to Salt Lake City it stretched 927 miles, 150 miles longer than the competitive route to Ogden; but against the latter's steep grades, sharp curves, and heavy snows at a 7,017-foot elevation, the new railroad had maintained Bogue's one per cent compensated grade with a maximum curvature of 10°, and crossed the Sierra at 5,002-foot elevation. On the basis of "adjusted mileage" in terms of operating costs, it was rated shorter than the other road. Throughout the line there were 41 steel bridges and 44 tunnels. Everything had been designed and built according to the best contemporary standards but there was much need for further ballasting and other finishing touches.

Furthermore, the Western Pacific was an integral part of a 13,708-mile nationwide railway system that now reached from San Francisco to Baltimore, with the exception of a short gap between Wheeling, West Virginia, and Connellsville, Pennsylvania. It looked as if George Gould would be successful with his dream of owning coast to coast rails, for work on a missing link, the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal, was being rushed. 


Through freight service on the WP was inaugurated on December 1, 1909. Prior to that there had been local freight service, largely between Salt Lake City and Shafter for the Nevada Northern connection to the flourishing mines of Ely. Traffic was disappointingly slim. The daily lading wires to Jeffery were disheartening. During three days in December, for example, 28,140 pounds of merchandise and one car of lumber for Oakland was the total business received at San Francisco, nothing whatever at Oakland, and similar results at other points. Then came a small windfall, a solid fifty-car trainload of wire and nails from the American Steel and Wire Company at Joliet, Illinois, reached Salt Lake City on December 25 and brought Christmas cheer to all connected with the new railway as it rolled west on WP rails.

The cheerful mood did not last long. During the latter part of February, 1910, Old Man Winter hit California hard. Except for the Southern Pacific route through Arizona the entire Pacific Slope was isolated from communication with the East by landslides, snow banks and floods. Night and day extra gangs wrestled with slides in the Feather River Canyon and at Altamont Pass; there were four big washouts in the desert between Gerlach and Winnemucca, and serious damage through Palisade Canyon. And to make matters desperate along the whole railroad, the waters of Great Salt Lake began to rise, ate away at the earth fill, and seriously threatened eight miles of line carried on fill and trestles. Consideration was even given to abandoning this track, obtaining trackage rights over the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake route farther south, and building a ten-mile connection west of the Lake. It was not until the latter part of May that operation was returned to normal.

First WP passenger train Oakland 1910
Seldon, if ever, has a train met a more enthusiastic welcome than Oakland put on for the first through passenger train on August 22, 1910

Passenger service was not begun until August. On the 22nd of that month, the fine new Oakland station, impressively corniced with eight immense concrete eagles, saw an immense throng gather to greet the first through train, a press special. Promptly on time at 4:15, amid the shrieking of factory whistles from Berkeley to Hayward, engineer Michael Boyle eased her through an Arch of Triumph at Broadway and stopped before the depot.

The trip had seen one amazing welcome after another. Crowds had turned out all along the line, towns were decorated, salutes fired, parades and brass bands were everywhere. Children decked out in their Sunday Buster Brown suits or starched eyelet-embroidered dresses had waved flags and tossed flower garlands, while their elders pressed local gifts of grapes or watermelons upon the astounded passengers.

In Quincy, 68-year old Arthur Keddie had almost wept as he spoke in welcome from the court house steps.

Keddie addressing the crowd at Quincy
Arthur Keddie addressing a crowd from the steps of the Quincy courthouse

And in Oakland itself, the crowd that surged in Third Street or lined roof-tops and climbed telephone poles for a better view as the train pulled up to the reviewing stand before the station, was as exuberant as it was immense. A parade of welcome four miles long escorted the passengers and railroad officers to a banquet at the Claremont Country Club. In the flowery language of the day, the San Francisco Call proclaimed: "The great heart of the State throbs at the triumphal entry ... through canyons to the waters of the West, the Western Pacific led its iron stallions down to drink."

George Gould was not present to hear the nice words of welcome to his new railroad. But soon thereafter his cushy business car Atalanta (white tie and tails customary at dinner) came West on the rear end of the Overland Express. Gould, with his pretty ex-actress wife and children, was aboard on a tour of inspection. The multi-millionaire railroad magnate made a hit with the "rails" when he took part in an impromptu baseball game at Portola.


Gould had not divided the financial responsibility for the Western Pacific among his other railroads, but had placed it all squarely upon the Denver and Rio Grande. By the terms of a mortgage arranged with the Bowling Green Trust Company of New York in 1905, the Rio Grande had underwritten $50 million in WP bonds, and in addition, had agreed to advance any additional funds necessary to complete the line.

But building and equipping the Western Pacific had cost almost twice the $39 million estimate and the D&RG had been called on to advance $16 million in cash. The correspondence of Edward T. Jeffery, president of both companies, shows he was greatly worried at these mounting figures and well he might have been for they were to pull both railways into bankruptcy within a few years.


Gould and Jeffery had, however, enabled the Western Pacific to embark on its career with a top-flight staff of officers. C. H. Schlacks, first vice-president, had 30 years of successful railroad experience behind him; he had been general manager of the Colorado Midland and later operating vice-president of the D&RG. Charles M. Levey, second vice-president and general manager had been general superintendent of the Burlington, general manager of its Missouri lines, and third vice-president of the Northern Pacific. T. M. Schumacher, vice-president in charge of traffic of both WP and D&RG, had been general traffic manager of the El Paso and Southwestern, while Edward L. Lomax and Harry M.Adams, passenger and freight traffic managers respectively, were also capable men of wide experience. Such were officers at the helm of the infant railroad. Two of them, Levey and Adams, were destined to become its presidents.

But not even supermen could have put the road immediately in the black. The high cost of its construction had already nearly ruined the Rio Grande's credit. This and the terms of the mortgage which forbade any moneys to be spent on branches until the main line had been completed, had prevented the construction of the numerous feeder lines which had originally been contemplated. A worse deficiency was the lack of online industries. In San Francisco the road opened with only one industry spur, that of Dunham, Carrigan and Hayden. Most of the plants and warehouses in Northern California were already served by Southern Pacific and Santa Fe.

Toyo Kisen Kaisha brochure
Brochure describing the joint route between the Gould System and the Orient

However, they did their best. Almost at once, they succeeded in signing advantageous traffic agreements with the Santa Fe and the Pacific Coast Steamship Company. They pioneered steam road interchange with the new electric interurbans. A secret agreement, made March 26, 1906, by Jeffery with Toyo Kisen Kaisha, now became operative and public knowledge. By its terms this Japanese steamship company which had previously interchanged with the Harriman lines would form a through route with the Gould System. The first sailing direct from the Western Pacific Mole took place February 8, 1911, when the Nippon Maru pulled away with a load of cotton for the mills of Japan. Eastbound the steamers brought in Oriental fabrics that rolled as million-dollar silk specials on faster than passenger schedules. Fast fruit trains made Chicago from Sacramento over the Gould System in 106 hours, and coast-to-coast package merchandise cars ran over WP, Rio Grande, Missouri Pacific, Wabash and Lackawanna.

Atlantic Coast Mail ad
Advertisement for the Atlantic Coast Mail train in the San Francisco Bulletin, June 27, 1911

In the passenger department Lomax was just as active in promoting the beauties and opportunities for sport in the "Grand Canyon of the Feather"; the luxury of the electrically lighted and fanned six-car Atlantic Coast Mail. On - toes solicitation garnered special movements for organizations ranging from the Bartenders Union to the International Purity Congress. A Votes-for-Women Special paused at all stations for observation platform speeches by the Suffragettes in the manner later adopted by presidential candidates.

But as the earnest efforts of both traffic branches fell far short of profitable operation the Rio Grande became increasingly concerned at the growing deficits. In 1911 it was forced to suspend dividends on its preferred stock in order to meet the interest coupons on the WP first mortgage bonds. By 1914 it was trying to get the terms of the mortgage altered so as to eliminate this crushing burden. Meeting with no success, its directors decided to default on the coupons due March 1, 1915. As a result Western Pacific was forced into receivership.

It was a tragic decision for the Rio Grande and made in the belief that under the contract it was liable only for the interest and not the principal of the WP bonds. The Rio Grande could, at some sacrifice, have met the interest for years, but its directors felt that by precipitating foreclosure and the sale of Western Pacific at auction, their liability would be ended. As it developed the courts held otherwise.

The Gould empire was crumbling. In the East the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal project had bankrupted the Wabash in similar fashion to the Rio Grande's downfall. George Gould had been forced out of active control of the great railway system. And, whatever the future of the Western Pacific, it would now be on its own.

With the San Francisco Exposition in 1915, slides closing the Panama Canal, growing involvement of the United States in the European War and, particularly, the results of its own development program, WP traffic zoomed. But the property was sold at auction on the steps of the Oakland station on June 28, 1916, by a Special Master in Chancery. Three bank clerks, representatives of a bondholders' committee, bid it in. It was quite a contrast to the gala triumph at the same spot a short six years before.


"Eighty Candles on the Final Cake"

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