Apr 08

Southern Pacific Daylight Cuesta Grade


 July 3, 1937

The northbound Southern Pacific Daylight, one of the top luxury passenger trains of the Pacific coast, is pictured here as it swings up the Cuesta Grade from the San Luis Obispo side. (Division of Highways photo.)

Southern Pacific changed the economy of the area when it came through in the late 1800′s. Until the then the north-south travel choices were jolting wagon roads over passes at Cuesta Grade or through Gaviota or you could take a ship out of port. Rail ushered in affordable luxury travel.

If you want to see a video of what appears to be a similar engine check this out.

A collection of Southern Pacific still photos are here.

Boom and bust real estate cycles are not unique to our time.

Here is an excerpt of a column historian and Tribune columnist Dan Krieger wrote in December 8, 2002.

“That durn railroad just won’t a’come!”

That was the common complaint throughout the south of Cuesta Grade region. The Southern Pacific Railroad was deliberately delaying its arrival in San Luis Obispo.

The “Coast Route” trains had reached Goleta in the south and Paso Robles in the north by 1886. Good times became “boom times” as the local economy overheated.

Real estate promoter Chauncey Hatch Phillips and his West Coast Land Company boosted new towns from Templeton to Los Alamos and Los Olivos. Fortunes were to be made for investors who took advantage of the opportunities at hand.

Once the SP came to a town, real estate values would skyrocket. The trick was to buy just prior to the arrival of the railroad.

Well, values did in fact escalate in Paso Robles and Templeton. But the 1890′s brought the fallout of a national depression and a series of California-wide droughts.

Annie and Hamilton Morrison invested $3,000 in a Templeton home on eight acres of land in 1887. By 1899, it was only worth $700.00. But that was with the railroad.

The rail lines didn’t reach San Luis Obispo from the north until May of 1894. And the connection from the south didn’t come until early 1901.

Real estate subdivisions between Cuesta Grade and Los Olivos withered and died. Meanwhile, the Southern Pacific’s Collis Huntington dickered for a better deal from towns like San Luis Obispo and “Central City” (later Santa Maria). Local merchants and farmers were living on borrowed time. Banks began to fail. Panicking lenders began to call in their loans. Hundreds of farms and ranches suffered foreclosure sales.

Dozens of storefronts had “To Let” signs in San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande and Santa Maria.

When Santa Maria failed to match San Luis Obispo’s costly offer to Huntington, he ordered the surveyors to stake out a line ten miles to the west, through the old Guadalupe ranch. Santa Maria was left high and dry.

And still, San Luis Obispo waited and waited.

Do you worry over getting your children into a decent school?

Well, in 1892, if you lived south of the Grade, you worried about just getting them to school.

In the meantime, if you wanted to send your sons and daughters to Cal or Stanford, they usually had to go by ship or take an exciting stage coach ride up over the old county road to the railhead at Santa Margarita.

In those days, few children ever left the county. Imagine the excitement of taking the narrow gage Pacific Coast Railway to Port San Luis. You could escort your college-bound progeny on board one of the rusting hulks of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company.

Perhaps it was the Santa Rosa or the ill-fated “Queen of the Pacific.”

Parents and grandparents might look very proud of their offspring at this “rite of passage.” But they might also be caught wiping tears from their eyes. With a glazed-over look of pure terror, they’d watch as “Junior” or “Missy” would be offered a tray with fried pork by the ship’s steward.

In an age before Dramamine, the fried pork was considered the best antidote for mal de mer.

Two hundred and fifty miles is a long distance. But the sea voyage over the treacherous Pacific waters made it ever more so.

Yet that’s how seventeen year old Grace Barneberg traveled to enroll at Stanford in 1892. Soon Grace would become one of Stanford President David Starr Jordan’s favorite students. Later in life she went on to chair statewide commissions on women’s prisons. She led dozens of community efforts, including the founding of the Monday Club in 1933.

For some, the seaborne break with home and family was a good preparation for life’s greater horizons. But for many local people in the nineteenth century, even a trip to Santa Barbara could be exhausting.

Business in Santa Barbara has always been an inconvenience.

The trip is a tad too long for comfort.

But in 1892, it took two days by a combination of narrow gage rails and stage coach over the treacherous San Marcos Pass.

You traveled in the relative comfort of the hard-bouncing Pacific Coast Railway to Los Olivos.

Leaving the PCR station at South and Higuera Street at 2:45 p.m. on the single daily run, you would reach Los Olivos at 6:50 p.m. The late arrival necessitated an overnight stay at Mattei’s or the Los Olivos Hotel. After breakfast, you would board the “mud stage” for Santa Barbara and points south.

The “Concord” style stage coach was called a “mud coach” because of its low-slung suspension for stability on the narrow roads over the pass. This necessitated oil cloth and leather coverings to “protect” the passengers during inclement weather.

But if you did make it as far as Cold Springs Tavern for a good lunch, you still had “Slippery Rock” to look forward to.

The rock was at the south end of Dr. Samuel Brinkerhoff’s turnpike. The large, bare, sloping sandstone outcropping is located just east of the end of North Patterson Avenue in Goleta. There next to the Rancho del Ciervo tract reservoir, you can see the rock with a number of wagon wheel grooves deeply imbedded in it.

In 1868, Dr. Brinkerhoff, a Santa Barbara physician, commissioned Chinese labor contractors to construct a toll road up to the San Marcos summit. No amount of blasting powder, the only explosive available to the road crews, could remove the rock. And so it remained.

Gradually, the iron rimmed wheels of the mud coaches wore into the rocks surface. Just like a bad, “wheel grabbing” groove in a modern road, the old grooves could produce tragic results for the stages as they descended the hill.

An Irish born veteran of the American Civil War, Patrick Kinevan, was in charge of the road during the 1870′s and 80′s. The toll gate was his home at the Summit House. After two bad “turnovers” in wet weather, Kinevan decided to do something about the ruts.

His solution was to chisel out two rather wide, permanent channels in the rock to act as “guides” for the stage wheels. This actually made a bad situation worse. The axles of several stage snapped as the teams of horses pulled the stage too far to one side.

Soon drivers drove their coaches to the far sides of the rock, away from Kinevan’s “grooves.” They put in a whole new set of corrugations that were the plague of future coachmen.

But that was life in 1892.

By 1901, San Luis Obispo had a through connection on the SP.

Related posts:

  1. 1894 First Southern Pacific train service to San Luis Obispo
  2. 1890 Cuesta Grade Tunnel
  3. Cuesta Grade Accident 1963
  4. Pacific Telephone & Telegraph operators
  5. What They Don't Want You to Know About Daylight Saving Time