The Sacramento Valley Railroad: Part 3 – Progress, then Competition

Charles Lincoln Wilson

Charles Lincoln Wilson

On Towards Placerville, But Then the Central Pacific Begins Construction

Though the Sacramento Valley Railroad was not yet completed, the four engines were pulling trains loaded with all the passengers and freight they could handle. But, even with this success, meeting its construction costs were still proving difficult. The cost of laying the track had been nearly 50 percent more than Judah had estimated and there was 30 percent interest to be paid on the floating debt under the trusteeship, along with some 10 percent bonds. They were generating income, but if they were to expand, the fully privately financed railroad would need government help.

The railroad’s vice president, William T. Sherman, contacted his brother John, who had recently been elected to Congress, for help. He asked John to try and obtain federal land grants for the railroad and a wagon road to Council Bluffs, Iowa. He was not at all successful.

Theodore Judah, though, was not daunted. He had earlier surveyed the line to Marysville and knew it was possible. He was so positive that he leaked the results of his survey to others, which upset Lester Robinson, the Sacramento Valley’s engineer. Judah felt that if the SVRR was not interested in building to Marysville, he would form another railroad, the California Central.

He did so, incorporating the company on April 21, 1857. Ground was broken for the California Central on June 1, 1858, and between then and Oct. 13, 1861, 18.5 miles connecting Lincoln, to the north, with the Sacramento Valley Railroad at Folsom Junction. In the meantime Judah had proceeded to Auburn to survey his route over the Sierra. The citizens of Auburn, irritated with his action, as they wished to be connected to the Sacramento Valley Railroad, formed their own railroad, the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad, which they built and by 1862 connected Auburn with Folsom.

The city of Sacramento, meanwhile, was experiencing a drastic loss of revenue. Folsom had become the new center for freight heading into El Dorado and Placer counties, and to retaliate, Sacramento placed a tax on all passengers and freight goods that crossed the levee from river boats to the trains at its docks.

Upset, but again not defeated, the ingenious Lester Robinson contracted with the Placerville and Sacramento Railroad (soon to become the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad), surveyed a new route to a place called Newport, on the river just south of Sacramento, and named the townsite Freeport. In 1859, he extended a Sacramento Valley Railroad branch from its Perkin’s Station southwesterly 12 miles to the new townsite. (This was known as the Freeport Railroad and was abandoned by the Central Pacific in 1865, possibly the earliest railroad abandonment in the SP records) The city of Sacramento countered by tearing up the original tracks of the Sacramento Valley Railroad along Front Street.

During the same period, the people of Placerville were demanding that rail service be extended beyond Folsom to their town to carry the heavy freight that was heading over the Sierra to the silver mines in the Comstock Lode of Nevada. They approached the SVRR’s new president, George F. Bragg, and construction engineer Lester Robinson, now the company’s major stockholder, to see what could be worked out. Garrison and Sherman had by this time left California.

The Placerville citizens had heard that Judah had discussed his ideas with two Sacramento hardware men, Collis P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins, a grocer named Leland Stanford, and a drygoods dealer named Charles Crocker. They also knew that President Lincoln on July 1, 1862, had signed the new Pacific Railway Act, authorizing construction of the Central Pacific and specifically showing the route of the California Central and the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada as the Western terminus. They were concerned that a railroad would not pass through Placerville and extend on along the wagon road through “Johnson’s Pass” to Nevada as they desired.

The owners of the Sacramento Valley Railroad informed the delegation from Placerville that, if El Dorado County would grade the route from Folsom and furnish ties, they would supply the rails for 10 percent county bonds. For this, a new company, the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad was incorporated June 12, 1862.

At the general election on Sept. 2, 1863, the people of El Dorado County approved the issuance of $200,000 in 10 percent bonds that would be used to purchase stock in the new railroad. Placerville also pledged $300,000 in bonds towards this end. The P&SV Railroad promptly asked for the money, and construction began in late 1863, from Folsom Junction towards Placerville.

This was just a few months after Leland Stanford, now governor of California, had lifted the first shovelful of dirt on Oct. 10, 1863, to start the building of the Central Pacific Railroad east from Sacramento. The Central Pacific was the company he, Crocker, Huntington and Hopkins had formed June 28, 1861.

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