Chapter 3

THE OROVILLE & VIRGINA CITY RAILROAD COMPANY

Page 2

The level of American Valley is not much below Beckwourth's Pass. The grade through American Valley, Long Valley, Mohawk Valley and Beckwourth Valley to the Pass, a distance of 49¾ miles, was estimated not to exceed 45 feet per mile, but the actual survey had not yet been made between American Valley and the Pass. The whole distance from Oroville to Beckwourth's Pass of the Sierra Nevada Mountains was 127½ miles. The route from the west branch of the Feather River to the Summit was represented as abounding in the finest of timber, and having a system of valleys suited to agriculture and a climate adapted to the comforts of life all the year round. The grades on the suggested route were nowhere more abrupt or greater to the mile than on the Bay end of the Vallejo and Marysville road with which it was intended to connect. There were at the time, indeed, few roads in the United States east of the Alleghany Mountains built on such an easy average grade as this route would run. The ascent to the Pass would be almost imperceptible for some miles westward, and there was hardly any declination of the ground eastward. The Humboldt River was little over 4,000 feet above sea level, while that of the Pass was but 4,150 feet, according to the intial report. The curves of the new road would be less than ten degrees, and by old residents reports along the route, it was in ordinary winters almost entirely clear of snow, and that the greatest depth of snow that had ever been known to accumulate on that part of the route since the white settlements were made was not enough to impede travel on horseback from American Valley to Nevada. "During the worst snow storms of the winter just past," said President Bolinger, "we sent out one of our surveyors to the worst point for snow on the route, being on the low divide between American and Long Valleys, and the depth of snow was only two and seven-twelfths feet that being a remarkable deposit for that place and there has not been one day in the last ten years that a train of cars could not have passed over the road without hindrance from snow." This was also the testimony of old residents and of the engineer corps who had been constantly in the field surveying the route during a year and a half in all seasons.

The company stated they would not ask for State aid and expected no county aid, as the road would only pass through Butte and Plumas counties, neither of which had any means to bestow. The incorporaters expected that when capitalists would come to comprehend the advantages of this route which was about 30 miles shorter between the Big Bend of the Humboldt and San Francisco than the Central Pacific, and at the same time so much cheaper of construction and so much preferable for its exemption from winter obstructions, they would come to its aid. For way support in freighting they would rely upon the inexhaustible quantities of valuable and precious ores, timber and lumber for the Virginia and Sacramento Valley markets, and a very large share of the summer merchandise traffic, with a monopoly of it in the winter.

A statement accompanying the map stated that the company was making arrangements to begin grading in June 1868, and that they would push forward the work with all possible dispatch. It was said that this new route, could be constructed at half the cost per mile of the Central Pacific from Auburn eastward to the Truckee, and that it would become the great northern thoroughfare between the East and San Francisco. When the road reached Oroville it would traverse to Sacramento, through a rich agricultural valley for over seventy miles, and from Sacramento to Vallejo, on San Pablo Bay, the richest farming country in the state north of the Sacramento River, saving between Oroville and San Francisco forty miles over the Central Pacific route thence to San Francisco, through Stockton, the the Diablo Range of mountains and Oakland.

On March 20, 1868, M. Tranor and Creed Haymond, each subscribed 364 shares to the capital stock of the company and J. D. Goodwin 100 shares, all three thereby became shareholders in the corporation. Afterwards, on March 23, 1868, C. T. Kaulback, Samuel Goodwin and F. B. Whiting resigned their positions as directors of the company and Creed Haymond, John D. Goodwin and M. Tranor were elected in their place, and immediately entered upon the discharge of their duties. Goodwin was elected President, Haymond, Treasurer and Chambers, Secretary. Keddie at the time was also trying to convince Ashbury Harpending and General William S. Rosecrans to join the company. Keddie indicated later that year to some that if Rosecrans joined in the venture that he, Haymond and Roscrans would be going east on business connected with the company.

Some of the investors were sincerely interested in railroad building. Harpending, for one, was convinced that the Central Pacific had chosen a most inferior route over the mountains because of the steeper grade and heavy snows of the 7,017-foot Donner Pass so 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. Shortly thereafter a concurrent resolution was passed in the California Legislature;

Resolved by the Assembly, the Senate concurring, That our Senators in Congress be instructed, and our Representatives requested, to use their influence to secure the passage of a law through Congress granting aid to the Oroville and Virginia City Railroad Company, in the building and completion of its road from Oroville, in the County of Butte, up Feather River, by the way of Beckwourth's Pass, to Virginia City, in the State of Nevada.

Resolved, That His Excellency the Governor be requested to forward a copy of this resolution to the President of the United States and to each of our Senators and Representatives in Congress. This Concurrent Resolution was approved on March 26, 1868 by the Governor of California and the United States Congress was asked to help with a land grant of 641,200 acres.

The builders of the Central Pacific were adept at “pressure” and they put plenty of it on Harpending to ditch the scheme. Collis P. Huntington, builder of the Central Pacific, supposedly laughed Keddie out of his office after telling him that his dream of a railroad through the wild and tortuous Feather River Canyon was worse than a dream—that it was a furious nightmare. “No man will ever be fool enough to try to build a railroad through that canyon,” said Huntington, ending the interview.

Plans to reach San Francisco via the California Northern Railroad, which was completed into Oroville in 1864, were thwarted when the Central Pacific gained control of it in 1868. Other bad news followed when Congress rejected the Oroville & Virginia City’s request for a land grant, apparently by pressure exerted by none other than C. P. Huntington himself.

Although capital stock sales were authorized up to five million dollars, a negligible amount was sold, where upon some of Keddie’s new associates exercised their political influence and pushed a most amazing bill through the California Legislature and persuaded Governor Haight to sign it.

The bill now before state lawmakers was;
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, and to provide for the payment thereof.

The People of the State of California, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:

SECTION 1. The Board of Supervisors of Plumas County, California, are hereby directed to meet at the county seat of said county on the second Monday in April, eighteen hundred and sixty-eight, and then and there are authorized and directed to take and subscribe to the capital stock of the Oroville and Virginia City Railroad Company the sum of two hundred and thirty thousand dollars.

SEC. 2. Said subscription shall be made substantially in the following form: "The County of Plumas does hereby take and subscribe two hundred and thirty thousand dollars to the capital stock of the Oroville and Virginia City Railroad Company, this subscription to be paid in the bonds of said County of Plumas, bearing interest at the rate of ten per cent per annum, payable annually—principal payable in twenty years from date of issuance—both principal and interest in United States gold coin." Which said subscription shall be entered on the records of the said Board of Supervisors and on the books of said company, and shall be signed by the acting Chairman of said Board of Supervisors.

SEC. 3. Eighty thousand dollars of said subscription shall be at once paid in bonds of said county to the Secretary and paid in bonds of said county t the Secretary and Treasurer of said railroad company, who shall then and there receipt to the said Board of Supervisors of said county for the same, and shall also issue and deliver to the said Board of Supervisors of said county certificates of paid up stock in said company for the amount of said bonds.

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