Chapter 6

ALAMEDA & SAN JOAQUIN RAILROAD

Page 2

M. J. Keller, president of the Oakland Board of Trade, made an inspection of the Livermore and San Joaquin valleys in September 1895 for the purpose of gaining some idea of the most feasible route for a projected railroad in Alameda and San Joaquin counties. In a letter received from him at the Board of Trade office, he asserted that every part of the route could be made to pay, the letter concluding:
“We continued our journey toward the San Joaquin Valley and traveled down some eight miles along the bed of the Buenos Ayres Creek. Here we encountered surveying parties of the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad Company, who told us they were finishing the surveys up to the mines from Stockton.

Now it seems that a party of eastern capitalists is going to build a railroad from Merced to Yosemite. They and the Corral Hollow people suggest that a line be commenced at Oakland to connect with the mine's road and continue to Merced, thus securing the coal traffic and part of the San Joaquin business by a connection with the Valley road and diverting the Yosemite travel this way. At first thought this seems feasible and it may be so in reality. Another party claims that this might be a good start for an overland road, say by the line of the old surveys of the United States Central Railway, which proposed to build to Grand Junction, Colorado, with a line of 550 miles. This suggestion offers a third possible line for overland connections; the other two, as you know, being to Rogers, California, and to Butte, Montana.

In favor of the United States Central line it is claimed that it would afford the very shortest route and best grades from East to West; that it would parallel no other line and that it would have a paying business along the entire route.

As for the line from Oakland to Merced, there are three routes from which to select. If to Stockton, first an easier grade could be had than that to Corral Hollow, and many miles shorter than any present line. Every mile would be productive. From the mines two routes are available, viz.: by continuing along the Buenos Ayres Creek and northeast, or by striking almost due east from the mines through a pass in the hills toward Merced. Each would have its special advantages. The Stockton line might be a continuation of the Valley road, the line via the creek would tap the mines and a good section of the San Joaquin Valley. The short line would be economical in cost, distance and time, besides tapping the mines and traversing other profitable territory.”
M. J. Keller.

Rumors then began circulating in November 1895 that a syndicate was in the process of formation in San Francisco for the purpose of further developing the region in the vicinity of Corral Hollow. The prospective syndicate, it was stated, would have a capital of $10,000,000 and had already negotiated for 5000 acres of land only a comparative stone's throw from the coal mines of the San Francisco and San Joaquin Coal Company. It was said that John Rosenfeld, the metropolitan coal dealer, was at the head of the movement.

With this land purchased, it was stated that a railroad would be built direct to Oakland for the transportation of the coal. The opening up of the vast beds of coal at Corral Hollow by the corporation of which John Treadwell and John W. Coleman were prominent members had created much excitement among the big handlers of coal. A large amount of the coal used in San Francisco had previously been imported from the north and from Australia and sold at good figures.

A coal such as the Corral Hollow mines would furnish, sent down at the low figures to be made by the company, meant much to these large dealers. It would mean more to those engaged in the sale of steam coal. That being the case it was apparent that an action on the part of such a syndicate was plausible. Such was at least the opinion of some prominent local citizens, and they attached ex-Surveyor General Willey's name to the enterprise.

Work continued on the Alameda and San Joaquin railroad, or as it was commonly known, the Corral Hollow road, at a good pace though and by December 1895 six miles of line had been completed out from Stockton and track was being laid at the rate of a mile a day. The road had all been graded to the mouth of the Corral Hollow canyon, through which for a distance of six miles there was some heavy grading, but it was expected that the road would be completed to the coal mines and be ready for operation by the first of March 1896.

The first construction train over the road pulled out from Stockton at 2 o'clock on the 3rd of December 1895, and consisted of two cars of rails, three of ties, and two flats devoted to invited guests, some 200 in number, among them the mayor and city council of Stockton. The train remained two hours, during which time a large force of men were at work and over a quarter of a mile of track was laid. The road was now within eight miles of the San Joaquin River which would be reached in a little over a week. A temporary trestle-work bridge crossed the river, but would soon be replaced by a steel drawbridge. The work on the road was of the highest standard and intended for permanent business. The ties were close, and the rails 56-pound Bessemer steel.

Come April 1896 there was a movement on foot to secure the consent of the property owners in blocks G, L and P, and west of Center street in Stockton, to bring suit against the Valley Railway and the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad Company for damages sustained by reason of the high embankments which had been thrown up directly in front of their lots.

Just who was behind this movement was not definitely known, but there were rumors to the effect that the Southern Pacific was back of the plan. This belief had been caused by the efforts of the law firm of Dudley & Buck, who were the legal representatives of the Southern Pacific Company in Stockton, to get the property-owners to come to some sort of an agreement whereby they may be empowered to bring such suit.

Representatives of Messrs. Dudley & Buck, according to the statements made by property owners on Harrison Street, visited them and asked them to authorize such a suit, to be brought. The stipulation was that the other owners of property in the district affected would join in the suit. No agreement had yet been reached with the property owners on the blocks in question, and the efforts of the representatives of the Southern Pacific Company did not result in any action being brought.

The largest real estate transaction reported for a long time in Stockton was consummated on June 5, 1896, when $42,500 was paid to the Farmers' Union and Milling Company for 6.34 acres of waterfront property on the south side of Stockton Channel. The purchaser was the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad Company. A portion of the property would be used to accommodate the coalbunkers of the new railway, and the rest of the land to be used for some purpose not yet disclosed, but it was believed that a freight depot may be built there. The company already owned a splendid site in another part of town for a passenger depot station.

It was announced on January 9, 1897 that the Corral Hollow coal mines, with all the railroad property and other appurtenances, had been sold, or contracted to be sold to the London Exploration Company, an immensely rich concern, which owned mines in all quarters of the globe. The report had the price to be paid at $5,000,000.

Among representatives in the country of the London company at the time were Henry Butters and Captain Thomas Mein, two returned "Africanders." They were the parties who turned the attention of the exploration company to the Pacific coast.

Butters and Captain Mein had investigated the Corral Hollow property, and Captain Mein reported that there were unlimited quantities of good coal, and that on account of the accessibility of the market, as well as by reason of the railroad already constructed to Stockton, the property was very valuable.

Thereupon, it was said, a contract was made to sell the whole property, including not only the railroad already built, but certain rights of way for the railroad to Oakland and property for terminals already acquired in Oakland, the contract for the erection of a great electric power plant near the mines and everything else which had been acquired by Treadwell’s and their associates in the Corral Hollow enterprise.

John Treadwell, managing director of the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad as well as the Corral Hollow mines, quickly made an emphatic denial later that evening of the report that all the property of the company, both mines and railroad, had been sold to the London Exploration Company. He said the report sent out from Oakland was a fake, without a solitary fact.

"We shall have coal in these bunkers by the 1st of February, a week from next Monday," remarked Hiram Barber, manager of the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad, on January 22, 1897, at the big structure just completed, near the foot of Weber Avenue in Stockton, California, in which the coal from Corral Hollow mines was to be stored while awaiting shipment. The bunkers were ready for use, although there was still a little finishing-up work to be done. Mr. Barber believed that house coal would be sold to dealers here at such a price that they could afford to sell it to the consumer for $5 a ton. Steam coal would be sold much cheaper than Mount Diablo coal, when the relative heat-giving qualities of the two were considered, though not any cheaper in volume.

The company, according to the agent, had twenty coal cars for use between Stockton and the mines, each provided with apparatus for dumping the coal, and in addition it had eighty flat cars with four-foot high side boards. The cars of the latter type were to be used in distributing the output of the mines to the various towns throughout the valley, while the former cars were for use exclusively in handling coal between the bunkers. Each car had a capacity to hold thirty tons.

On February 20, 1897 the San Francisco and San Joaquin Coal Company was deeded to the California Safe Deposit and Trust Company and placed on record at Stockton. It included all of the lands, coal deposits and plant of the coal company, as well as the entire stock of the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad, running from the mines at Corral Hollow to Stockton, owned by the coal company.

President R. D. Fry and D. A. Bender, assistant general manager of the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad, appeared before the State Board of Equalization on July 22, 1897. The Assessor of San Joaquin County placed a valuation of $4000 a mile upon the road, but the officials stated that the enterprise was not a paying investment as yet. They had not appeared in the light of asking charity, as the future prospects of the road were excellent, but as it was as yet a non-producer they thought that an assessment of $3000 per mile would be fair both to the state and themselves. This would give a valuation for assessment of $105,000. They also stated that the company had issued $500,000 worth of bonds, of which few had been placed.

Disaster struck on the night of September 15, 1902 when the Stockton briquette plant, for the making of fuel from coal dust, was destroyed by fire. The loss, which was more than $100,000, was fully covered by insurance and would be rebuilt at once, together with the coal bunkers. James Treadwell, president of the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad Company, to which corporation the plant belonged, telegraphed H. H. Griffiths, the local representative of the company, to put a force of men to work clearing away the debris as soon as the insurance adjusters had finished.

Although it had been rumored for some that an extension of the Tesla broad gauge road from Tesla, thirty miles south of Stockton, to Oakland, where the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad Company would connect with a bay ferry service was planned it seemed assured when rails were purchased for the extension in October 1902.

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