Sacramento Valley Railroad

Charles Lincoln Wilson – The Sacramento Valley Railroad, Part V

Coupon from Placerville Railroad Stock

Coupon from Placerville Railroad Stock

By June, 1865 the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad had only reached Shingle Springs and, although it is now connected to the main road that carried nearly all of the freight and passenger traffic to and from the silver mines in Nevada’s Comstock, it was obvious that the railroad would not reach Virginia City by the 1866 Federal deadline.

The line had progressed only four miles in ten months while the toiling Chinese laborers of the Central Pacific were blasting out a mile a week over the “impassible” route towards Donner Summit.

Even in light of this lack of progress, the owners of the Central Pacific still feared that the rails of the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad could still be extended over the Sierra and become a competing line, so they took steps to completely eliminate this problem.

In a questionable move, the Sacramento Valley Railroad’s President George F. Bragg finally convinced Lester Robinson and the bankers who held most of the railroad’s stock, that their problems were real and insurmountable. Though they were bringing in substantial income, there was no way additional financing could be obtained for construction or payment of their bonds. The railroad was on the verge of bankruptcy, Bragg told them.

On August 1, 1865, President Bragg purchased the entire stock interests of three other directors. Shortly thereafter, and in spite of the protests and claims of corruption in the press, he sold all of his stock to the principal stockholders of the Central Pacific. The Central Pacific took over control of the Sacramento Valley Railroad on August 16, 1865. The sizeable shops of the Sacramento Valley Railroad at Folsom were immediately dismantled and the equipment moved to Sacramento. In a final blow, Leland Stanford ordered the suspension of all passenger traffic to and from Freeport.

The 26.2 mile Placerville &Sacramento Valley Railroad, from Folsom Junction to Shingle Springs, had operated as its own company since 1864. Due to financial problems, on May 21, 1869 the railroad was foreclosed upon and on July 21, 1871 title was conveyed to William Alvord who, on the same day conveyed the title to the Central Pacific.

With the sale of the railroad the $500,000 in bonds that El Dorado County and the City of Placerville had issued passed to the purchasers, and they became a serious financial burden their citizens.

With the rapid loss in freight traffic through the County, due to the completion of the Central Pacific rails as far as Reno and a general reduction in all mining, the County and City were in a life and death struggle just to exist, let alone pay off the bonds which would mature in 1876.

In 1873, the holders of the bonds sued the County of El Dorado and the City of Placerville, to recover the entire amount due in principal and interest. The County defended the suit but lost in lower court. After much negotiation they were able to surrender the existing bonds for the sum of $200,000, which was paid in new bonds running twenty years, but only bearing five percent interest.

The City of Placerville had a simpler solution to the problem. When the telegraphed news of the bondholders winning the suit reached the City Council, they all simply resigned, leaving no one in charge or responsible for the payment.

The pages of the minute books of the City Council of the City of Placerville are empty from that point into the 1900s, when the whole problem had become forgotten history and the City Council thought it safe to return.

The last 11.6 miles of track to Placerville were completed March 29, 1888. The first passenger train arrived on April 9, 1888, while the first freight reached the depot on April 18, 1888.

The occasion of the arrival of the first passenger train brought out nearly all the residents of Placerville and the surrounding towns. With only five days advance notice, the city was cleaned up and preparations for the celebration had been made. As the 500 excursion passengers pulled into the station, they were greeted by the boom of cannon, the blare of brass bands, and the cheers of the thousands assembled there.

A large group of local citizens delivered welcome statements which were followed by an extended oration by Governor Waterman. Festivities continued with a large parade and finally concluded with a huge banquet.

Unfortunately, Colonel Charles Lincoln Wilson, the man whose dream created the Sacramento Valley Railroad, was not a part of the railroad when it finally reached Placerville. Way before the Central Pacific and then Southern Pacific took over the route, he had lost his seat on the Board of Directors of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, along with much of his investment, when in 1855 Lester Robinson attached the railroad through court action.

Charles Lincoln Wilson – The Sacramento Valley Railroad, Part IV

Steamboat Chrysopolis

Steamboat Chrysopolis

The agreement to bring the railroad to Placerville happened just a few months after Leland Stanford, now Governor of California, had lifted the first shovelful of dirt to start the building of the Central Pacific Railroad east from Sacramento. Unfortunately, what he did that day, October 10, 1863, would affect things seriously.

The Central Pacific’s rails were laid along side and crossed the earlier excavation and short trackage of Judah’s California Central near Roseville. The Central Pacific then continued its route on to Rocklin and Auburn.

It became apparent that the “Big Four,” Stanford, Hopkins, Huntington and Crocker, had gained the upper hand in the power play for the Pacific Railway financing, and they would be hard to stop.

By 1864 the rails of what had now become the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad had only reached the small town of Latrobe, in southwestern El Dorado County.

Lester Robinson, now not only the engineer for the railroad but also a board member and major stockholder, along with the people of Placerville, still believed this route was a much better way over the Sierra Nevada than that proposed by the Central Pacific and set out to prove it.

Robinson challenged the owners of the Central Pacific to a contest of speed which they accepted.

On the day of the race, the steamer Chrysopolis would bring two bundles of San Francisco papers up the river to the terminus of each railroad. From there the challenge would be to see who could get them delivered to Virginia City, Nevada in the shortest period of time.
The Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad would pick up its papers in at its new terminus at 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 at 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 Freeport to take their papers to Sacramento and save precious hours.

On August 22, 1864, at 11:15 P.M. the Sacramento Valley Railroad locomotive C. K. Garrison, pulling its normal complement of freight, mail and passengers, left Freeport and an hour and a thirty-seven minutes later arrived in Latrobe, 37 miles away. 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 August 23 and made its 31 mile run to Applegate in only 42 minutes, setting the stage for the remainder of the race.

At one o’clock the next afternoon, the California Stage arrived in Virginia City with a total time of twenty-one 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.

The “Big Four” were known for not leaving things to chance, and the stakes here were too big for them to be defeated.

Viewing this as only a temporary set-back, the optimistic Robinson and his Placerville supporters formed the San Francisco & Washoe Railroad to build eastward to Virginia City, and sought legislation to financially assist them. The Federal Government agreed to give them aid, on the same basis as the Central Pacific received it, provided they could complete the line into Nevada by 1866. The Nevada Constitutional Convention also offered a subsidy to the first railroad to cross the state line.

Robinson argued to no avail before the Nevada Legislature that the Central Pacific did not intend to build a railroad to their State but only a wagon road, since their route was impassible for trains. He referred to their concept as the “Dutch Flat Swindle.” All of his arguing really made no difference, since the young State of Nevada had no money to give anyone, no matter what they promised.


Charles Lincoln Wilson – The Sacramento Valley Railroad, Part III

60 lb. Welsh Pear Rail (1856) uncovered in Folsom.

60 lb. Welsh Pear Rail (1856) uncovered in Folsom.

Though the Sacramento Valley Railroad had reached Folsom on January 1, 1856, it was not yet completed. The original plan was to continue to Marysville, but like always, money was the problem.

Even with the four engines pulling trains loaded with all the passengers and freight they could handle, meeting its construction costs were still proving difficult. The cost of laying the track had been nearly fifty percent more than their surveyor, Theodore Judah, had estimated and there was thirty percent interest to be paid on the floating debt under the trusteeship, along with some ten 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. He ask 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 was not daunted. He had earlier surveyed the line to Marysville and knew it was possible, even though Lester Robinson, the Sacramento Valley Railroad’s engineer believed it was too expensive to construct. Judah was so positive that he leaked the results of his survey to others, which upset Robinson. Judah felt that if the Sacramento Valley Railroad 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 October 13, 1861, 18.5 miles connecting Lincoln, to the north, with the Sacramento Valley Railroad at Folsom Junction was built. 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 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 Southern Pacific 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 now heading over the Sierra to the gold and silver mines in the Comstock Lode of Nevada. They approached the Sacramento Valley Railroad’s new President, George F. Bragg, and 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 delegation from Placerville asked that the railroad be extended to Placerville and, from there, over the Sierra Nevada.

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 ten 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 ten percent bonds which would be used to purchase stock in the new railroad. The City of Placerville also pledged $300,000 in bonds towards this end.

The Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad promptly asked for the money, and construction began in late 1863, from Folsom Junction towards Placerville.


Charles Lincoln Wilson – The Sacramento Valley Railroad, Part II

First Excursion

First Excursion

Showing the ingenuity that helped build California, at a point approximately 20 miles from Sacramento a Mr. Anderson took the subcontract to grade and build the embankment for the new railroad. He had prospected the area before and knew that the dirt contained gold. Through the use of ingenious sluices and other methods, Mr. Anderson was able to recover enough gold to pay for the job and have his payment from the railroad as pure profit.

In spite of Mr. Anderson’s good fortune, as the work progressed financial problems soon arose with the Sacramento Valley Railroad. It had been a dry winter in California and, because of the reduction in mining, many of the financial institutions began to fail. New appeals for investors also failed and, on August 10, the Board of Directors of the Sacramento Valley Railroad met to discuss and remedy the situation.

The Board elected Commodore C. K. Garrison as its president. As Mayor of San Francisco, he had ruled the city with an iron hand and had proved to be a man of action. To the position of Vice-President came William Tecumseh Sherman (who would later leave California to become a General for the Union Army), now returned from the East and the head of the banking house of Lucas & Turner, one of the few institutions that had not failed, thanks to his careful management. The railroad needed strong leadership and a good banker, and it now had both.

On August 11, 1855, a day after the Board meeting, Judah and three others boarded a handcar on the rails, built to five-foot gauge, that were laid down Sacramento’s R Street and pushed their way down the tracks. It was not a long ride, only a mile or so, but it was a remarkable event for them.

A few days later, Judah stood on the levee watching while the small locomotive “Sacramento” was unloaded from the schooner “Two Brothers.” Just a few days later, on August 17, 1855, the little 4-4-0 locomotive was under a full head of steam, and construction engineer Lester Robinson and guests took a small excursion to Seventeenth Street, much to the applause and cheers of many who had gathered to watch.

Garrison and Sherman then invited several potential investors to come to Sacramento to view their now operating railroad and take the trip to the end of rail, followed by a carriage trip to Negro Bar.

The investors included tycoons J. Mora Moss, George F. Bragg, and the bankers Pioche and Bayreque, among others. Unfortunately they were not sufficiently impressed to further invest and, on October 18, 1855, because of lack of compensation to his firm, Lester Robinson attached the railroad through court action, placing it under a deed of trust, and appointing J. Mora Moss as the trustee. Fortunately, work continued under this arrangement.

By now the locomotive “Sacramento” had help on the rails. The engine “Nevada” had arrived from Boston and the locomotive “L. L. Robinson” from New Jersey. To add to these, Commodore Garrison had purchased the first railroad engine in California, the “Elephant”, which he renamed the “C. K. Garrison (it became the “Pioneer” 1868).

Passenger cars were being built by John Robinson (the Railroad’s Superintendent) at the foot of R Street, using wheels and iron work that had come from Boston. With all this rolling stock and the rails finally reaching the growing township of Folsom on January 1, 1856, it was time to celebrate a formal opening in a grand style.

On Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1856, at 11 o’clock in the morning, the locomotive “Sacramento” pulled away from the Sacramento station with its string of passenger and flat cars carrying a large group of the local citizens and politicians. It was shortly followed by the “Nevada” which, in spite of developing mechanical problems, also arrived at the Meredith Hotel, in Folsom, in time for the celebration.
After speeches from Senator Flint and several of the Railroad’s Board Members, the guests were treated to a “Railroad Ball”, which we’re told lasted until 5:00 a.m. of the next day.