Category Archives: Trails & Trains

September 1883 – the Cajon Pass

September 1883 to California Southern Railroad, with Santa Fe backing, completed its line northward from National City ( just south of San Diego)  to San Bernardino. The next step was to build a line to connect with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad’s line  from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Needles, and the California Southern Extension Railroad was formed for this purpose. The A&P was known as the  35th Parallel Route and was a joint venture  by  the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (the AT&SF  railroad became the AT&SF  railway in December 1895)   and the St. Louis in San Francisco Railway (Frisco).

Cajon Canyon

A railroad line across the Mojave desert from Mojave to needles, at the Colorado River,  had been built by the Southern Pacific in 1882- 1883 to thwart the A&P’s  westward advance,  but was later acquired by the A&P  in a trade wherein SP  obtained Santa Fe’s line to Guaymas, Mexico. Prior to this swap,  the A&P  least the  Needles-Mojave  line from the SP beginning October 1, 1884, and its trains make connection with SP trains at Mojave.

The SP plan to build a line overcome would pass to connect its San Joaquin Valley line with its line from Los Angeles to El Paso, and kept a watchful eye for any activity that might indicate that another railroad was intending to build through the Pass.  Thus, when CSRR’s  chief engineer, Fred T Perris, and his survey party settled up their horses and headed eastward from San Bernardino through San Gorgonio Pass  at Beaumont indents to Morongo Valley,   some 40 miles (64km)  east of Cajon Pass,  SP observers were confident that this CSRR  had a different route in mind and would not attempt to build through Cajon.

Then Perris, one certainly was not being followed, headed westward through Lucerne Valley in approach cone pass from the east by a more southerly route,  where the Pass  could be entered at a much lower elevation than the LA&I’s  abandoned, several miles to the northwest. No tunnel would be needed along this route, but extensive cutting and filling would be required in the first few miles below the canyon rim.

by the time the SP realized what Paris was up to, his party had staked a line through the Pass, and the California Southern Extension Railroad was soon being constructed between San Bernardino and Waterman Junction (shortly to be renamed Barstow after William Barstow Strong, president of the Santa Fe)  on the A&P The last spike was driven November 9, 1885, and the city of San Diego now had a rail connection to the east.

More than eight decades would pass before SP rails entered the Cajon Pass.

A network of railroads grew rapidly throughout Southern California, and in 1889  the California Southern Railroad  and two other short lines were merged into Southern California Railway Company.  in 1897, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company took over the A&P  and reorganized it under the name Santa Fe Pacific. In 1902 the  Santa Fe Pacific became just another part of the AT&SF, and in 1906 the Southern California Railway lost its name to the Santa Fe system.

from:
Cajon,  Rail Passage to the Pacific by Chard  L. Walker
Trans-Anglo BooksGlendale, California

An Invitation to Summit

Dear Sir:

When I came over here three months ago, I brought four copies of Desert with me. Needless to say they have become rather dogeared as I have read them from cover to cover several times, and passed them around to my friends who have enjoyed them immensely.

Desert Magazine, Oct. 1942

Desert Magazine, Oct. 1942

The last day I was in sunny Southern California (it rained all the time I was in Frisco waiting to embark), I made one last sojourn to our desert retreat—the summit of Cajon pass. Few people know of this unique retreat, except those who pass by on the trains, and then all they see is a street-car tucked awav on the side of a hill, 200 yards from the tracks.

The street-car is the former Los Angeles railway’s funeral car Descanso. A group of railfans, known as Railroad Boosters, became interested when it was known the car was to be scrapped,and decided something should be done about it. So far as we were able to tell the Descanso was the only funeral car in existence, and to delegate such an ornate car to the junk heap was not a very fitting end. The L. A. railway then told us that if we could find a place to put it we could have it as a sort of museum piece. After several months of scouting around, we decided on summit. On July 4, 1940, the Descanso was hauled up to summit by flatcar on the Santa Fe. Eight of us spent a very strenuous day unloading the car. It weighed 18 tons.

Chard Walker watching trains pass from the terrace beside the Decanso in 1954. From his book, “Railroading in the Pass”

Three weekends were spent in getting the car to its present position, by the tedious process of laying a section of track in front, pulling the car up with a truck by means of block and tackle, then picking up the section in the rear, placing it up front again, etc. Then began the process of scraping off the old paint, removing the seats, and taking out a few of the unnecessary controllers, etc.

Route 66, Cajon Pass

Route 66, Cajon Pass

In the two years that have passed since its arrival at summit, the Descanso has gradually transformed from a dirty looking old streetcar, to that of a newly painted, well furnished cabin. From the exterior it still has the same general appearance of a streetcar as it still is on wheels on a section of rail, the trolley is still up, and still has the stained glass in the upper halves of the windows.

Quite a change has taken place on the interior though. Only two of the original seats are left in place with a folding table in between. A pot bellied stove, and a wheesy old phonograph well stocked with records, dominate the center of the car, while an icebox, a few chairs and another table and a small but complete kitchen take up the rest of the available space. Eventually we may put some folding bunks in one end, but due to material shortage, we content ourselves with sleeping on the floor in our sleeping bags.

Highway 138 entering Horse Thief Canyon - Summit Valley

Highway 138 entering Horse Thief Canyon (Summit Valley)

We find it an ideal spot to go on a weekend, either as a home camp for a small hunting expedition, or for hiking up and down the railroad, the mountains, or just to lie around in the sun and watch the trains go by.

For anyone wishing to visit Summit, just go up Cajon Pass on U. S. 66 to Camp Cajon, and turn east (right if leaving from San Bernardino). This road is known as the back road to Arrowhead. It’s about five miles from 66 to Summit which can’t be missed as the road leaves the twisting mountain road onto the level Summit valley road. Off to the left about a quarter of a mile is the railroad station of Summit with its scattering of section houses and the post office. The Descanso is directly behind the station.

Summit

Summit

In closing I wish to extend a cordial welcome to anyone visiting Summit, and wish I could be there and meet them personally. Until the war ends I’ve got to be content to visit the desert via Desert Magazine.

Robert W. McGrew – Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii

1864 Travel Tip – Hold Hostages

From the diary of Sarah J. Rousseau , 1864:
Regarding traveling with Indians across the Mojave

Sunday, November 6 … The lava that has been thrown out looks like cinders. The mountains, some of them have a grand appearance, some a red color while others have a white appearance. Some of them I think must be 400 feet high. This canyon is called Diamond. at the mouth it takes us into Santa Clara Valley which we traveled through and down a pretty dangerous hill to Santa Clara Creek where we got food and shelter for horses. Here came a number of Paiute Indians. they are a tribe that is very fond of horse flesh to eat, and will steal anything they can lay their hands on. We have came today 20 miles.

Santa Clara/Virgin River divide

Monday, November 7. Started from camp late this morning. It is a cold, windy time. The Dr. had to prescribe and deal out medicine for a little child that belonged to a Mormon Bishop. About breakfast time a number of Indians came to the camp and we gave some their breakfast. When we started four of them started with us, three of them on foot and one on horseback. They are miserable looking creatures. Some of them almost entirely destitute of clothing. I believe it is their intention to go to the Muddy with us. as for me I would rather have their room than their company. I am afraid of them. We have crossed the Santa Clara 15 times this morning, and have now camped. It is cold and windy, a real disagreeable time.

Sarah Jane Rousseau

Sarah Jane Rousseau

Tuesday, November 8. A cold blustering morning, the wind blowing hard all night. Started from our camp rather late with an escort of from 10 to 15 Paiute Indians. Last night two of them stayed with us as prisoners. Our guide, Mr. Hatten, said it would not do to let them leave camp after dark, as they might get some other Indians, come back and do us some mischief. We started from camp with five, which increased to 15 of them. We crossed the Santa Clara this morning 14 times in after going 12 miles made a dry camp at Camp Springs, having filled our kegs the last crossing place. the Indian chief told the guide we must all give them something for traveling through their country, to renumerate them for using water and grass. We all gave them some flour. We intend to let them have the care of our horses tonight, they are going to take the cattle as well. The Chief with four others we kept as prisoners till morning when they bring back the stock. Then they will be free.

Virgin River

Virgin River

Wednesday, November 9. A pretty warm morning. Started from camp about sunup. The Indians brought back the stock safely back. Left camp with our escort, traveled over some rough roads till noon. This afternoon the road’s much better. Passed over the summit between the Clara and Virgin, went 5 miles in the canyon and camped. Some grass for the stock but no water.

Wagon Master Nicholas Earp Wyatt's dad.

Wagon Master Nicholas Earp

Thursday, November 10. A cool but pleasant morning. Last night the Indians were prisoners again. They left the stock go on to the mountains to feed. We fed five among us. All are willing to do so but Mr. Earp. He swears and cuts up about it, although he derives the same benefit as the rest of us. I fear he may cause us some trouble when we get to the Muddy. … “

Trains & Railroads

Victor Valley

Van Dusen Road Notes

Point of Van Dusen Road crossing Mojave River, Hesperia, CA. Looking toward Apple Valley and Marianas Mountains

The Van Dusen Road branched off from John Brown’s toll road heading east along the ridge after reaching the Cajon Summit.   The road  found its way down the Antelope Valley Wash to the Mojave River.  At this point the trail crossed through the soft sand and ascended through a small  canyon  at the base of the mountains, finding its way east then southeast to Rock Springs. From the springs the road then branched to the left heading east to Holcomb Valley becoming what is now known as the Coxey Truck Trail.

Looking west up Antelope Valley Wash from the Mojave River toward Cajon Summit

by Walter Feller – 2017

The Hardy Pioneer

by Jean Goldbranson – 1967

As you whiz down the freeway in a well protected automobile, have you ever wondered what life was like in the good old days as the hardy pioneer planned the trip 50 miles into the desert with wagon and a team of horses?

Excerpts from ‘Water Supply Paper Number 224’  published in 1909 by the US Department of Interior states, “A party leaving a supply station to go 100 miles or more into an uninhabited part of the desert must take along everything needed, even to the most minute detail.”

Cowpokes eating a hearty breakfast on the trail.

” This means if the trip is to last for two weeks enough hay and grain for each animal and enough  provisions to last each man that length of time must be taken.

” For four horses, drawing a wagon that carries for persons and their bedding, provisions, and tools, another team of four horses must also be taken to all sufficient hay and grain to feed the eight horses for two weeks.

”  There are but few places in the desert, away from the railroads, where grain or hay of any kind can be procured. As the teams are rarely able to travel faster than a walk, heavy horses that are good walkers should be selected. The tires should be as wide as can be procured. Desirable widths of tires for freight wagons are 6 to 9 inches; for light wagons 3 inches.”

The average Victor Valley pioneer took a week every six months to travel by horse and wagon to San Bernardino, to do his shopping and come back home.  Leaving the desert and spending the first night in Cajon Pass at one of the campsites close to the junction of State Highway 138 or Interstate Highway 15 further on down  at Cozy Dell Campgrounds. it was another day’s journey to San Bernardino, and after doing shopping and visiting for a couple of days, it was a two-day journey back to the desert Homestead. Now with our sleek automobiles, we whisk down to San Bernardino and 45 minutes, sometimes grumbling because it takes so long.

Cozy Dell, Cajon Pass – 1938

Drinking java from an old tin can was a way of life and not a song in the past century.  Living in the open and eating cowboy beans were part of traveling through the desert before the advent of the  auto.  The trails of yesterday became our freeways of today. Our present freeway route from Victorville to Barstow parallels the one the freighters to quit their mule trains to sell supplies to the minors and Calico in the 1880s. Instead of having a well-built bridge to span the Mojave as we do today, they forded the river even when it was high.

from:
Mohahve IV – Scrapbooks of History (c)1984, 2016
Mohahve Historical Society

Death Valley Scotty Special

Death Valley Scotty Special

In 1905, in an attempt to break the speed record from Los Angeles to Chicago, Walter “Death Valley Scotty” Scott paid the Santa Fe Railroad a purported $5500 to rent a three car train pulled by 19 different steam locomotives. The trip began in Los Angeles on 9 July and arrived in Chicago 44 hours 54 minutes later, a record that stood until 1936  when it was broken by the Super Chief.  The  Barstow to Needles segment of the run took just three hours and 15 minutes. Also known as the Coyote Special.

from:
Mojave Desert Dictionary – Patricia A. Schoffstall
Mojave River Valley Museum
 Barstow, California

Ghost Train: Tall Tale

Bill Sanger was known to have ridden the rods all over the map. In his time he had seen all there was to see. One day he was talking with Jim Craig about  mirages. Mirages are common sites. You see a lot of them, millions of them, in the dry lake bed out there at Amboy.

Bristol Lake - Amboy, CA.

Bristol Lake – Amboy, CA.

“Bill,”  said Jim, “did you ever see the city that  gleams out there on  the lake in hot weather?”
“Yeah,”  Bill replied.
“What you make of it?”  said Jim.
Nothing,”  Bill answered.  “I do not hold with those dude scientists, that try to explain goes by saying the light rays pick up the picture hundreds of miles away and then bend it back and drop that same picture out there on the lake.  It do not make sense. They’re ghosts, that is what they are. Just plain ghosts.
“One time,” Bill went on, “I nearly killed myself trying to hop a ghost train pulling out across Bristol Lake. I was walking out toward the salt works when  along came a freight, not going very fast. I forgot where I was, and made a run for it.  it started to pick up speed, so I gave a leap and grabbed on– nothing!
“I sprawled out flat on that dry lake bed. I looked up and saw the ghost train running in long as nice as you please– 42 cars and one caboose I counted.  they road right smack over me and never even must my shirt. They are ghosts I tell you. Ghosts!”

from :
Pioneer tales of San Bernardino County
WPA Writers Program – 1940

Crossing the Mojave: Kit Carson (1829)

Leaving the headwaters of the Verde River in Arizona the party traveled to the Colorado River to the Mohave villages scattered along the east bank between what is now Topock and Bullhead City in Arizona.  From there they traveled toward the middle of the desert, possibly on the route of either Fr. Garces in 1776, or further north on the trail taken by Jedediah Smith in 1826 and 1827, these converging at the mouth of the Mojave River east of Afton Canyon.  It was two days before they found water after reaching the Mojave River. This may have placed them just east of today’s Barstow, California at a place that was known years later as Fish Ponds.

After four days travel we found water. Before we reached it, the pack mules were strung along the road for several miles. They smelled the water long before we had any hopes of finding any, it made all the best use of the strength left them after their severe sufferings to reach it as soon as they could. We remained here two days. It would have been impracticable  to continue the march without giving the men and animals the rest which they so much required.

Colorado River at Moab

Colorado River at Moab across from Topock, Az.

After remaining in camp two days we resumed our expedition and for four days traveled over a country similar to that which we had traversed before our arrival at the last water. There was no water to be found during this time, and we suffered extremely on the account of it. On the fourth day we arrived on the Colorado of the West, below the great Canyon.

Mojave River fan

Our joy when we discovered the stream can better be imagined than described. We also had suffered greatly for want of food. We met a party of the Mojave Indians and purchase from them a mare, heavy with foal. The mare was killed and eaten by the party with great gusto; even the foal was devoured.  We encamped on the banks of the Colorado three days, recruiting our animals and trading for provisions with the Indians, from home we procured a few beans and some corn. Then we took a southwestern course and in three days march struck the bed of the stream running northeast,  which rises in the Coast Range and its  lost in the sands of the great basin. We proceeded up the stream for six days, and two days after our arrival on it we found water. We then left the stream and traveled in a westerly direction, and in four days arrived at the of Mission San Gabriel.

 

San Gabriel Mission

At the mission there was one priest, 15 soldiers, and about 1000 Indians. They had about 80,000 head of stock, fine fields and vineyards, in fact, it was a paradise on earth. We remained one day at the mission, receiving good treatment from the inhabitants,  and purchasing from them what deep we required. We had nothing but butcher knives to trade, and for four of these they would give us a  beef.

from: The Autobiography of  Kit Carson

Back on the Trail

Photo of a possible trace of the Old Spanish Trail/Mormon Road near Hesperia

“It looked a lot straighter on the map.” – Anonymous

The Mormon Road going south across the Oro Grande Wash would come up and head straight into the Joshua trees and juniper woodland.  The slope was fair, the ground hard and the trail reasonably straight.  There were variations, though.  To the eyes of one, one way around a bush may look easier than it does to another.  Trails evolve.  If one branch is significantly better than another, that branch becomes wider and more popular. These branches and shortcuts may join together later.  These variations due to mankind and weather begin a process I have heard to be called, “braiding.”  It is quite possible for the main alignment, the busiest, the center-most version in the corridor to remain in use providing its continued existence to this very day.