The anniversary of the earthquake lead me to look for it again... and now, here it is...
In April 1906 San Francisco and the Bay Area were rocked by a major earthquake.
Damage extended from Moss Landing, San Jose and Santa Cruz on the south, north to Santa Rosa. In San Francisco fires started by the quake destroyed much of the city.
In the East Bay, damage was more limited, but the previously independent narrow gauge South Pacific Coast railroad, running along the edge of the bay was changed forever. When the dust cleared some years later, the narrow gauge was gone, in its place was a new modern standard gauge railroad, now a part of the Southern Pacific system.
In this special edition of the Carter Chronicles (or maybe Too Many Hats) we will explore this long coming but sudden end of the SPC, along impacts on the people of the area and railroad car building industry in San Francisco.
In retrospect, the 1906 earthquake should not have been a great surprise to any San Franciscan. In 1868 Hayward had been badly shaken, with damage reported as far away as San Francisco, where both Kimball’s and Casebolt’s works were damaged.
Smaller earthquakes hit in the 1890’s, but nothing had prepared the City for what would come at 5:13, April 18 1906.
Prelude - Planning for the end of the narrow gauge.
The South Pacific Coast had been leased to the standard gauge Southern Pacific in 1887. Previously, when the SP purchased narrow gauge railroads, such as the Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad, or the Santa Cruz Railroad, they had been quickly standard gauged.
On the SPC, things were different. The SP initially changed little on the SPC, and later when changes did come they were less significant. In 1893 SP introduced the Sunset logo on freight cars which had been built not in Newark, by the Carter Brothers, but in Sacramento, in the Central Pacific shops. Soon afterward a third rail appeared in the SPC yards in San Jose, allowing the use of standard gauge cars, but preserving the narrow gauge. By 1895 the line between San Jose and Los Gatos had a third rail, and was seeing standard gauge freight service, but regular passenger service would not start until 1900.. By August of 1897 management had ordered that henceforth all new bridges constructed and all ties replaced will be done so as to accommodate broad gauge trains. Throughout the Alameda and Oakland local lines and out to the Alameda pier, track was dual gauged as well, allowing local service with broad gauge cars. By April 1903 tunnel No. 1, located between Los Gatos and Wrights had been day- lighted, allowing broad gauge excursion trains to run all the way to Wright’s and its picnic grounds. In December it was noted that 35 broad gauge cars of fruit had been shipped from Wright’ this season.
As the new century began pressure rapidly built to broad gauge the entire SPC line. In March 1900 the Southern Pacific had purchased the Carson & Colorado, a sleepy narrow gauge line connecting Mound House Nevada (near Carson City) to Keeler California in the Owens Valley. By May things had changed, and gold had been discovered nearby at Tonopah. As the line’s traffic rapidly grew, more cars were needed, and by 1903 as many as 250 of SPC’s freight cars were leased to the C&C, creating car shortages in the Bay area. On November 30, 1902, the Alameda pier caught fire, burning nearly 60 passenger cars, 32 of which were narrow gauge, the others being standard gauge cars for Oakland and Alameda local service. With these two events, the line no longer had enough narrow gauge equipment to operate the railroad.
By mid-December 1903 work had begun to add a third rail to tracks from first from San Jose to Alameda, then from Santa Cruz to Boulder Creek. The line between Felton and Wright’s would be the last to be dual gauged, and was expected to take some time as there were nearly 2 and a half miles of tunnels to be widened.
As the track was changed, more and more service on the SPC was provided by standard gauge equipment. By March 1st, 1906 the only through narrow gauge service on the line was the three daily passenger trains. Narrow gauge also survived on the Centerville line and other secondary branches.
In the weeks before the event, the newspapers carried articles on the impending change to standard gauge, and with it the closing of the Newark shops and new train schedules for Alameda local service. On the eve of the disaster the San Francisco.
April 18th 1906 The End of the Narrow Gauge
On the narrow gauge South Pacific Coast, the Events of April 1906 would prove to be the unexpected climax of changes long in coming.
Well after midnight on the morning of April 18, 1906, trains and extra gangs were stirring all over the system. Strings of narrow gauge ballast cars, laden with gravel and stacked shovels, stood on the sidings at San Jose. Engines were under steam at the Los Gatos shed and in Alameda. In one day of intensive rebuilding, the inside third rail would be removed between Los Gatos and Alameda and narrow gauge equipment spotted at stations on the route would be set aside for eventual sale to the Owens Valley or the North Pacific Coast out of Sausalito. At the same time, the last segments of unfinished standard gauge installation, loading spurs and passing tracks, would be completed and by the 19th of the month, broad gauge trains would restore service along the entire length of the original narrow gauge route. There would be minimal delays in shipping. S".P. ten-wheeler 2033, lettered for the South Pacific Coast, would handle the equivalent of the Santa Cruz Passenger on a new and somewhat faster schedule between the Alameda Mole and Los Gatos depot.
The cleanup train, dispatched from San Jose to remove narrow gauge equipment from sidetracks at Newark, Alvarado and San Leandro, rolled double headed into the darkness with locomotives 12 and 25 leading a long string of empty flats and boxcars. Behind the train, work gangs closed in at Santa Clara and Drawbridge and began unbolting the inside rails, pulling spikes and salvaging the iron in great heaps on flatcars. Ballast was shoveled between the ties and tamped down. By this time, every third tie was of standard gauge "length, ample support for construction trains that would follow later in the day to pick up rails and parts.
Shortly before 5 a.m. the cleanup train had worked its way 17 miles north, slowly advancing from siding to siding until it reached Newark with a long, heavy string of cars. John May was firing on No. 12, the lead engine, Billy Jones was at the Baldwin's throttle while in the cab of the 25, narrow gauge veterans Henry Coyle and Bob Elliot set their brakes and dropped to the ground. Both engines were nearly out of water. May uncoupled the 12, climbed onto her tender and rode the engine a few yards ahead to the new steel water tank that had been erected that year for the inauguration of broad gauge service. He wrestled with the spout and hung on the halyard until the tender was full. Jones reversed the engine and the 12 chuffed back toward its train. It was twelve past five. The sun hadn't quite broken over the line of the horizon.
5:13 am, April 18, 1906
A sound like thunder grew in the distance and got closer. It mounted to the boom of drums and then cannonading. Suddenly the ground heaved, the earth rippled in a visible wave and on its crest, the ground cracked into gaping clefts. At the peak of the vibration, ten seconds after it began, the new water tank's timber supports splintered and collapsed, dropping the tank onto the tracks where its steel plates buckled on impact. Thousands of gallons of water roared into the ground. No. 12 had cleared the tank by just yards before the shudder and was jarred off the rails. Freight cars lay on their sides. The air was dusty but strangely still.
At Drawbridge, hotel proprietor George Sprung was sound asleep in bed while outside, extra gangs were already at work a few hundred yards from the building. A few seconds past 5:04 a.m., Sprung's Hotel sat down on its foundations with a bang and when its owner dug himself out of the debris, he grabbed for his bird gun, raced outside and leveled it at the first section man in sight. "What's the meaning of wrecking my building?" were his sentiments. Sprung was in the mood to open fire and had to be subdued by three or four crewmen before someone calmly explained that an earthquake had done the damage and had unequivocally knocked the Mud Slough bridge out of line. Sprung was inconsolable.
Under steam at the Los Gatos engine house, the narrow gauge locomotive scheduled to handle a work train over the line to San Jose was just minutes from departure time. Its hostler had pulled wooden wheel blocks from under the front drivers only to have the quake's vibration skid the locked wheels ten feet. Another work engine, steaming on the roundhouse lead at San Jose, was tipped into the pit. The long San Leandro Bay bridge was massively damaged and against an ominous backdrop of smoke looming up from the direction of San Francisco, indicative of more terrible consequences of the shake that would come to attention of the world as the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, the South Pacific Coast was dismembered from one end to the other. Its tracks in the mountains were found to coincide closely with the line of the San Andreas Fault that had been the geologic root of the chaos, and rails in Los Gatos Canyon were sheared and twisted into steel pretzels. The trestle at Wrights was skewed into an impassibly tight comer. Mountains of earth thundered down into cuts and the tunnels were choked with cave-ins.
The station agent at Laurel had come through the mile-and-a-half-long summit tunnel on a handcar the evening before to attend a dance at the Wrights Hotel, where he ate and made merry until the hour grew very late. At nearly four the next morning, the agent was pumping back through the tunnel and cleared its southern end less than an hour before the great quake brought the roof down and sealed the bore with rock in such quantity that it would only be reopened 18 months later. Concrete portals were fractured and reduced to piles of rubble. The Laurel agent always figured it was his closest call.
In less than 2 minutes, the narrow gauge South Pacific Coast was gone.
The South Pacific Coast was not the only narrow gauge affected. To the North, the North Shore railroad had tracks displaced, and at least one locomotive knocked over. To the South, the Pajaro Valley Consolidate Railroad suffered significant damage at both its Moss Landing facility and at the new sugar beat plant at Spreckles. The Standard gauge SP suffered as well, with a train derailed south of San Jose, and one of the tunnels on the Bayshore cutoff, then being built, collapsed.
It was a bad day all around...