Chapter 5

THE SAN FRANCISCO & GREAT SALT LAKE RAILROAD

Page 2

Messrs. Hayward, Meyer, Babcock, Steele and Preston, who fathered the enterprise in California, were all men of means and public spirit. They announced that they could raise all the money for the building of the line among themselves and their California capitalists who would willingly help the enterprise. The members of the company decided when the scheme was first under consideration, to build the line themselves and not to invite any trust company to lend them aid. Subscriptions had already been paid in to the amount of $500,000 and the money was on deposit at Donohoe, Kelly & Co.'s bank.

There would be three corporations in the deal, one in San Francisco, one in Nevada, and a third in Utah. It was understood that the Nevada subsidy would be $1,500,000 and that Utah would give $1,510,000. The capital was to be increased to $10,000,000 as soon as the road was built far enough to warrant the increase.

The $30,000 that had been expended in surveys was considered a wise investment, for the engineers had demonstrated that the new line could be built at a far less cost than was expected. The first survey entered Nevada via Beckwith Pass, but two others had been made, and the route had not been definitely decided upon. The Union Pacific had five surveys from its terminus at Ogden to San Francisco, and all of those routes had been carefully looked over by A. C. Cleveland. They were all shorter than the Southern Pacific line, which was 895 miles from San Francisco to Ogden, having lost nearly 100 miles in following the old emigrant trail. This distance would be saved by the new line whichever route it would take, and the grades would also be much easier, making it possible to get to Ogden in about six hours' less time.

It was hoped by the supporters of the new road that the State of Nevada would lend substantial aid to the company. The Legislature had a year earlier offered a big bonus to any corporation that would build a railroad through certain named counties. While the plans of this company would not allow them to take in those southern counties, they hoped to obtain the favor of the state in some other way that would aid them just as well.

The announcement that the San Francisco and Great Salt Lake Railway was likely to come to Oakland and connect with San Francisco by ferry stirred up the Board of Trade, which was then formulating plans to use its influence in bringing about the desired competition to the Southern Pacific. When interviewed M. J. Keller, president of the board, together with other prominent members, all expressed enthusiasm at the project.

A local committee was appointed to urge the matter of having the terminus established in Oakland, with its other purpose to ask leading citizens and property owners to lend aid, and an agreement would be circulated among that class of men, whose influence would be most valuable to the enterprise. The board had already asked the cooperation and advice of several men of prominence in the east. When John L. Davie of Oakland was asked whether or not it was the purpose to use the strip of land over which he and the Water Front Company have been fighting for a ferry termination of the new railroad line, Mr. Davie replied that his agreement was such that he could not answer. He would not say what company intended to use the ground for a ferry. Had it not been for the raid of the Southern Pacific men the fact would not have been made known at all that the place was to be so used.

Sentiment in Oakland was unanimous in favor of a competing road with the terminus there, and prompt action on the part of the Board of Trade was generally regarded as the first step necessary to bring it about. The news concerning the proposed road inspired F. R. Porter, the editor of a weekly, to circulate a paper for subscribers to a Chamber of Commerce with the avowed object to aid the road and also to consolidate the city and county.

Shortly after the incorporation it was concluded to survey the valleys of the north fork of the Feather River. Former Union Pacific assistant chief engineer, W. K. Kennedy, was hired to make the surveys for locating the road. Kennedy was familiar with the surveys made by Union Pacific in the Feather River region but believed he might find an even better line.

Prior to beginning this reconnaissance Kennedy had happened upon a copy of a large map of Plumas County that had been prepared by Arthur Keddie and printed in a San Francisco lithographer’s studio. Kennedy stopped at the Plumas County Surveyor’s Office and after discussing his business Keddie quickly became his confidant. Kennedy entered into a contract with Keddie to survey a line over the route preliminarily surveyed by the Sierra Valley and Mohawk Railway. This line would pass through the Sierra and American valleys, but leave the town of Oroville out. It would leave the North Fork of the Feather River just below Big Bar, and by an easy grade wind through the hills to Chico. Keddie then advised him of the low pass he had found near Spring Garden Ranch between the Middle Fork of the Feather River and Spanish Creek. As the Middle Fork Canyon became impossibly steep below this point and the North Fork almost as bad above, this low divide offered a means of utilizing the best parts of both canyons. Kennedy immediately placed survey crews in the area.

By July 1892 there had been several changes in the survey, and a more careful reconnaissance of the route from Chat to Wadsworth was to be made before anything like a permanent survey could be determined upon at that point. Oroville was to be a station on the new road after all, and Chico, Red Bluff and other points in the upper Sacramento Valley would be approached with a branch line from Oroville, to be constructed after the road across California and Nevada was completed. This was, of course, dependent upon the present plans of the company being carried out in that direction, because there had been some talk of a lower route. A more southerly pass though was not likely to be selected, however, though it had been spoken of.

The survey by way of Chico was found to be impracticable for a broad gauge road, as a range of hills, through which it would be impossible to tunnel, would have to be climbed gradually. A narrow-gauge line could do this, but a broad gauge could not. As it was, some expensive grading would be necessary. It had been found feasible to build down the canyon of the Middle Fork of the Feather, but so much heavy grading and cutting through solid rock would be necessary that the North Fork route would be taken, the great difficulty being the grade. The line now would leave Nelson Point going west or northwest, Nelson Point being 3,859 feet high. If the line were to drop down the canyon of the Middle Fork it would fall from Bidwell's Bar from 3,859 feet to 342 feet, a fall of over 100 feet to the mile. By going from Nelson Point through Quincy, and thence to the North Fork, it was found that an easier grade was encountered, and about thirty miles was added to the distance from Nelson Point to Bidwell's Bar. The question of compensation of curves and all the other problems that engineers must consider were so much simplified by the North Fork route that that would undoubtedly be selected.

As the descending grade nears Oroville the route would strike Big Bend, where years before a tunnel was built at a cost of millions of dollars and the Feather River was diverted through the tunnel to the point where it would have flowed had the hills not been in the way. The bed of the Feather was left bare all around Big Bend, and it was a veritable bonanza of gold. The new line would not save that distance, however, and, as proposed, would follow the bend in order to lessen the grade. To Oroville there was an easy grade, and a few miles below Oroville the Sacramento Valley stretched away for miles as level as a billiard table. The Feather River would have to be bridged several times and there would be considerable bridge building south to Stockton, thence to the terminus on San Francisco Bay. Up until now the preliminary survey had been kept a carefully guarded secret.

Also in July the company was to make its financial program public as soon as a few more reports were received. Mr. Cleveland's Nevada and Utah corporations had already been chartered and he would personally superintend the work in Nevada and Utah, while the work of construction would go forward in California under the supervision of the Board of Trustees. W. H. Martin, who was a newly elected Trustee, was particularly well qualified for this work, as he had had great experience as a successful railway builder. Construction was to begin at three different points, though those points were not identified.

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