The Sacramento Valley Railroad: Part 4 – A Contest Between Rivals

Sacramento Valley Railroad Locomotive, L..L Robinson

Sacramento Valley Railroad Locomotive, L..L Robinson

A Contest of Speed

The Central Pacific’s rails were laid alongside and crossed the earlier excavation and short trackage of Judah’s California Central near Roseville. The CP then continued its route on to Rocklin and Auburn. It became apparent that the four Sacramento merchants had gained the upper hand in the power play for the Pacific Railway financing, and they were not to be stopped.

The tracks of the California Central and the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada railroads became useless. The California Central was sold by foreclosure Feb. 28, 1868, and conveyed to C.P. Huntington. The 8.2 miles of CC rail between Roseville and Folsom were removed by the Central Pacific that same year. (The California Central had five locomotives, one became Central Pacific No. 93, the “Oronoco.” Its trackage from Roseville to Lincoln was sold to the California and Oregon Railroad.)

Because much of the rail that the P&SVRR had ordered from the East lay in the holds of ships sunk by the Confederate privateers, Lester Robinson bought the property of the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad. In spite of local opposition and legal roadblocks from the Central Pacific, he removed the rails and ties (sometimes in the dark of night) and used them to extend the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad to the El Dorado County town of Latrobe, where the trains arrived in August of 1864. (The P&SVRR never owned any rolling stock and used engines and cars of the SVRR. The SVRR would lease the new trackage of the P&SVR for its own use.)

Problems for the P&SVRR, however, were not over. Robinson, still fighting the Central Pacific, and believing that the route through Placerville was the best over the Sierra, challenged the owners of the Central Pacific, now known as the “Big Four”, to a contest of speed. The steamer “Chrysopolis” would bring two bundles of San Francisco papers up the river to the terminus of each railroad, and there would be a race to see who could get them delivered to Virginia City, Nevada the fastest. The Challenge was accepted by the CP.

The Sacramento Valley Railroad would pick up its papers in Freeport and carry them by rail to Latrobe, there transferring them to the Pioneer Stage for the rest of the journey. The Central Pacific would collect its papers in Sacramento, carry them to its end of track, Applegate, where they would be tossed onto the California Stage. The owners of the Central Pacific knew that there was a possibility that the Chrysopolis might not be able to steam into the port at Sacramento, since the river was too shallow, except at high tide which would not occur at the correct time. In an openly dishonest move, the Central Pacific had a horseman waiting at the Freeport Dock to take their papers to Sacramento and save precious hours.

On Aug. 22, 1864, at 11:15 p.m. the SVRR locomotive “C.K. Garrison” pulling its normal complement of freight, mail and passengers, left Freeport and an hour and 37 minutes later arrived in Latrobe, a 37-mile distance. The Central Pacific’s locomotive “Atlantic,” bare except for its tender, crew and a Pony Express rider, left Sacramento at 12:04 a.m. on Aug. 23 and made its 31-mile run to Applegate in only 42 minutes, setting the stage for the remainder of the race. At 1 o’clock the next afternoon, the California Stage arrived in Virginia City with a total time of 21 hours for the papers from San Francisco. There was a very strong rumor that the Pony Express rider had carried the papers nearly to Virginia City and, at the last moment, hooked up with the California Stage. Nine hours later the challenging Pioneer Stage arrived at the same point, the exhausted driver explaining that the road from Latrobe had never been so crowded and that at every curve the road had been blocked by at least one big freight wagon. Again, the “Big Four” were known for not leaving things to chance, and the stakes here were too big for them to be defeated!

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