First Through Scheduled Passenger Train Over the Western Pacific

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EASTBOUND August 17-19, 1910 Oakland to Salt Lake City

That first Western Pacific through passenger train pulled out of the W.P.’s Oakland Mole at 9 p.m. on the evening of August 17, 1910. Its passengers comprised representatives of the newspapers of San Francisco and other California cities along with passenger officials of the road. The train would go as far as Salt Lake City as the “Press Representatives Special”, then would become the first scheduled regular westbound passenger train at Salt Lake City when it started back towards Oakland.

The first through passenger train eastbound over Chandler Creek.
Frank Brehm Collection.

The trip to Salt Lake City was to be made in record time, although the special had no hard and fast schedule with the exception of arriving in Salt Lake City by the evening of the 19th. Stopping anywhere to please anybody was the order of the eastward journey. Photographers were endlessly busy snapping photographs of everything and everybody. It was for the guests a 2,000 mile picnic, perfectly planned and carried out.

A few stops were to be made enroute, but only to take on newspaper correspondents, with one notable exception. The equipment of the train included a buffet car, library car, two standard sleepers, a diner, an observation compartment car and a baggage car. Other cars would be added at Salt Lake City in order to accommodate correspondents of eastern newspapers and press associations. A force of stenographers and clerks were on hand to assist the representatives of the press on the trip. Lomax, now in his new job as passenger traffic manager of the Western Pacific for less than two months had charge of the complete party and had made arrangements for entertainment all along the line.


Great Western Power Company's new power plant at Big Bend on Feather River.
Western Pacific Railroad Corporate Archives-Kenneth J. Meeker Collection/Courtesy of Feather River Rail Society/Arthur Walter Keddie Library, Portola, CA.

Early the next morning the train having passed through Oroville and entered the Feather River Canyon slowed as it passed through Big Bend allowing the newspapermen a chance to view the new power generating plant being built there on the rugged banks of the North Fork of the Feather River. After passing through Big Bend the train arrived at Intake, the station of the Great Western Power company, where a short stop was made in order that the tourists might inspect the new dam that was in the process of being constructed upstream of the power plant.

Many members of the party made the trip across the canyon in a suspension car which was run back and forth with groups of five or six occupants. After crossing the canyon, the visitors were lowered by similar means a distance of 200 feet to the surface of the river, where the work on the dam was in progress.

The entire trip through the Feather river canyon proved ideal, showcasing the great towering rocks, steep precipices, and rugged hills offering scenery unequaled in other parts of the country. From time to time the train was stopped to allow the passengers an opportunity to view the scenery in detail.

Upstream of the Big Bend powerhouse was the new dam at Intake shown under construction.
Western Pacific Railroad Corporate Archives-Kenneth J. Meeker Collection/Courtesy of Feather River Rail Society/Arthur Walter Keddie Library, Portola, CA.


The one notable exception to the eastbound schedule turned out to be the most significant and touching event as on August 18th there was a gathering at Quincy in Plumas County in celebration of this historic occasion. For 50 years the pretty little town had been kept back because of a lack of transportation facilities, that was now ending.

Hartwell was reached about 10 a.m. and a more enthusiastic and typical mountaineer welcome was never afforded any tourists than was given by the citizens of the picturesque town. Hundreds of citizens headed by their special committee and a brass band met the tourists and gaily decorated cars took the visitors the distance of five miles on the Quincy Western railroad to the town of Quincy.

On arrival of the train in Quincy, it seemed the remainder of the citizens of the whole town were out to greet the visitors. Hundreds of women had also gathered at the depot, waving flags, and while the band played martial airs, scores of school children presented each visitor with a beautiful bouquet of flowers as he alighted from the train.

Only half an hour was allowed at Quincy so as soon as the newspapermen and railroad officials arrived they assembled in front of the courthouse.

H. C. Flournoy, chairman of the reception committee of Quincy then welcomed the visitors and then, although well known to the citizens of Quincy and the surrounding area, introduced Arthur W, Keddie as “the father of the Western Pacific in Plumas county,” whose life work had been for a railroad through the Feather River Canyon. Flournoy explaining his introduction by saying that after establishing a preliminary service through Beckworth Pass, the railroad was about to change its route when Keddie got busy and gathered statistics showing the advantage of the railroad remaining in the location and route which it now follows. Keddie was now one of the few survivors of the generation building the first transcontinental line, and, as an old man with gray hair and a long gray beard, he stood on the steps of the City Hall and made the welcoming speech to the first passenger train to run through the famous Feather River canyon on the new Western Pacific.

H. C. Flournoy, chairman of the reception committee of Quincy introducing Arthur W. Keddie to the gathered guests.
Western Pacific Railroad Corporate Archives-Kenneth J. Meeker Collection/Courtesy of Feather River Rail Society/Arthur Walter Keddie Library, Portola, CA.

Keddie began by relating how C. P. Huntington, builder of the Central Pacific, had turned away from him in disgust 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—and how his heart was crushed upon hearing the rebuke. It had been after a year's arduous and dangerous work that Keddie had succeeded in finding a way through the Sierras in that gold-strewn canyon. 'No man will ever be fool enough to try to build a railroad through that canyon,' declared Huntington, thereby ending the interview.

Now Keddie’s dream of a half century ago had come true, and the old engineer's voice broke as he told of the ignominious rejection of his plans by the builders of that first railroad constructed across the precipitous and forbidding Sierra Nevada, he then continued with his welcoming comments;

"It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Quincy upon this occasion. This is a red letter day for Plumas County. We have been isolated, you might say, from the outside world for want of means of transportation, but we are at last with the balance of the world, and we feel that Quincy and Plumas county with the building of the Western Pacific and the addition of our little Quincy and Western railroad have been placed on the map, and we are there to stay.

The building of the Western Pacific Railway means much to Plumas County. It makes it possible for us to develop our many gold and copper mines. It makes available the timber in our forests for the markets of the world.

It puts us in a position to advertise our pleasant and delightful summer resorts, and Plumas County will undoubtedly become a Mecca for the sportsmen. He will have to seek no farther than Plumas County and its sparking streams and mountain lakes, where trout abound.

We are a little egotistical here in Quincy. We are proud of our little town and we are proud of our citizens. We believe in the name given to our little town years ago by a representative of the press, 'the gem of the Sierras.' It is well deserved, and now that we are in better touch with the outside world, we will endeavor to deserve more than ever that title.

We wish you could stay with us a little while and view the scenic beauty of this valley. I assure you that you will always receive a hearty welcome at any time you may favor us with a visit. I and the citizens of Quincy wish you a safe and successful journey to Salt Lake City and back to San Francisco.”

E. L. Lomax addresses the citizens of Quincy from the steps of the Courthose.
Western Pacific Railroad Corporate Archives-Kenneth J. Meeker Collection/Courtesy of Feather River Rail Society/Arthur Walter Keddie Library, Portola, CA.

This address by Keddie on the steps of the courthouse has been erroneously reported to have been made on either August 21st or 22nd, depending on where you look, but in fact did occur during the eastbound trip on August 18th as verified by newspaper reports at that time.

Superintendent E. L. Lomax of the Western Pacific was then introduced by Flourney and responded ably to the welcome extended by Keddie with his remarks as follows;

"I cannot say how much the officers of the Western Pacific appreciate the cordial reception that you have tendered them here today and the sentiments expressed by Mr. Keddie. All l want to say is this, that I most heartily appreciate and that we feel as you do, a common interest, and as Quincy grows so will the Western Pacific railway We hope to make for you and your town here all that you desire. On the part of the Western Pacific, it is our earnest desire to do for you everything that will tend to your growth and to further your business interests and connections as the years go by and to help to make this town as you help to make the road. You understand, of course, that the road is a new proposition and it is now just being opened up but you are on a great transcontinental line over which we expect to take the people and commerce of foreign nations as well as our own country, therefore Quincy is no longer off the highway and it is the desire of us all that Quincy will continue to grow.”

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