The Fallbrook Line

By Richard V. Dodge

As printed in DISPATCHER, April 10, 1958 Issue 17


It is difficult, for you, today to understand how vital it was in the middle of the 19th Century to ambitious communities to have railroad facilities.

Residents of the village of Old San Diego began efforts in the 1850 's, later in including those of New San Diego and National City, to obtain rail transportation and repeated attempts were made over a period of nearly 30 years, each ending in failure and frustration.

In 1879 the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Rail road was set to build west and, due to the indefatigable energy of Frank Kimball of National City, a deal was carried to a conclusion with the backers of the Santa Fe, investment bankers and capitalists of Boston, Massachusetts. For a large consideration, known as a subsidy, these railroad builders agreed to construct a railway from San Diego to Yuma, Territory of Arizona, and the Santa Fe would be extended south-westerly from Albuquerque to connect with it.

Before grading began, the contract was abruptly cancelled. In the meantime the Santa Fe had formed a partnership with the St Louis & San Francisco Railway, more commonly known as Frisco. The latter had acquired the concessions with land grants covering the building of a line, to be known as the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad, on the 35th parallel of latitude. Now, together, they would build from Albuquerque to the Colorado River and enter California.

After the initial shock had subsided, negotiations by Kimball were renewed and another contract was executed. In 1880, the California Southern Rail Road was formed to build from National City north and eastward to San Bernardino, then on to a connection with the Atlantic & Pacific in California. No one knew where that point would be. Do not let anyone or the Santa Fe literature convince you that the line was built down from San Bernardino.

With National City as the initial terminus, all equipment and materials had to be brought into San Diego Bay by ships. Ties came down the coast. Rails and fastenings were shipped in sailing vessels around Cape Horn from Belgium and Germany, The locomotives and some of the rolling stock came from eastern states either around the Horn or overland to San Francisco and transferred to a boat there.

By January 1881, surveyors, locating and staking the line, had advanced up the coast to what is now Fallbrook Junction, then headed in a generally north-easterly direction up the Santa Margarita River, reaching Hayden's in April of that year. The name was soon changed to Fallbrook for the depot but the Post Office there was known as Howe. Fallbrook Post Office was on the mesa two miles south, where the present town of that name is located.

Temecula Canyon presented formidable difficulties, both to railroad construction and operation. There were seven miles in the upper canyon through rock with almost perpendicular cliffs. A grade of ever 140 feet per mile was required for three miles, the summit being at 970 feet elevation. Many low bridges had to be constructed, the line crossing and recrossing the river many times. Hundreds of Chinamen, Chinese coolies or laborers, were brought in to work on the preparation of the roadbed. It was hot, dusty and the wind would blow a gale. One of the Chinese commented: All the same Hellee, you bet.

Trains were running from National City to San Luis Rey, renamed Oceanside a couple of years later, by January 1882. When the bridge across San Luis Rey River was completed, track laying advanced rapidly. In the first week of February, rails were in place to Fallbrook station, 19.7 miles from Oceanside and 66.7 miles from National City. A wooden turntable was being built in the National City Shops for installation at Fallbrook, By the 10th the rail front was reported as being 70 miles from National City or 3.3 miles farther up the canyon.

Ranchita station was established 4.0 miles up and Temecula station was to be 11.5 miles from Fallbrook.

On Wednesday, April 26, 1882, the Odd Fellows put on a big excursion to and picnic at Fallbrook. The train left National City at 6:30 a.m. and the consist was four coaches and four flat cars. The fare was a low $2.00 for the round trip.

The road was pushed north to Big Laguna (Elsinore), up San Jacinto (Railroad) Canyon to Pinacate (moved and name changed to Perris when the branch to San Jacinto was constructed). Rail laying continued over the mesa to a point 16 miles south of East Riverside (Highgrove) where they ran out of steel. Train service was begun in May, the one-way fare being $6.10.

On August 15, Colton was reached, meeting the Southern Pacific Railroad and San Diego was joined by rail with all parts of the country. The fares were reduced to $6.00 one-way and $9.00 for the round trip.

One passenger reported his version of a trip over the new railroad. Evidently he was a reporter for a hostile Los Angeles newspaper. He wrote; There is "a short strip of railroad called the California Southern, which begins nowhere and ends nowhere." It is... "one of the many skeins in the network of roads thrown out all over the country by the powerful Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe combination. It's termini are Colton and San Diego (error. Should be National City.) The former is a junction with the Southern Pacific Railroad.

"The little Boston engine puffs and pants in an agonized and agonizing manner. The train consists of the infantile engine trying to draw two small box cars and one passenger coach and smoking car combined. The mail and the express messengers are in one box car . . . It (Temecula Canyon) surely was the last place touched by the Maker's hand and, as one of the passengers aptly observed 'He left before the job was finished' . . .

"Fallbrook is a little Eden planted in the midst of Inferno."

Others were more favorably impressed. The National City Record opined: "The person who would begrudge $9 for a round trip ticket . . . might be compared with the Southern Pacific Railroad Company - without a soul. The scenery through Temecula Canyon alone is well worth the price of the trip."

And tourists acclaimed that "the best and most cheerful railroad eating house is the celebrated tent at Fallbrook, a delightful nook in Temecula Canyon."

But the Southern Pacific in those days was not a friendly railroad. Drastic measures were taken to prevent the Atlantic & Pacific from entering California and the California Southern from crossing its tracks at Colton, in order to reach San Bernardino. After much litigation, the California Southern won the right to cross and San Bernardino was entered triumphantly by a passenger train on September 13, 1883.

The most startling event occurred when the Southern Pacific hastily built a railway from Mojave across the desert to The Needles and got there before the Atlantic & Pacific reached the Colorado River. The latter was temporarily stopped and so was the California Southern.

But, in February 1884, it rained and rained. Floods poured down Temecula Canyon and dozens of other susceptible places. R. V. (Dick) Dodge was the engineer on the last passenger train out of National City. A point just down the stream from Fallbrook was reached when a bridge went out. An attempt was made to back the train to Oceanside, but the track had become impassible. The train was stranded. Six days later one passenger got back to San Diego, having walked most of the way. He reported that the railroad had made no effort to rescue the passengers or the mails. The crew remained with the train several days, subsisting, according to Victor Westfal of Fallbrook, on gophers and the like, then walked back. Much of the California Southern's roadbed was a shamble, eight of the twelve miles through the canyon were completely washed out. Ties and bridge timbers were found floating out in the Pacific Ocean. The railroad, as a separate corporation, was bankrupt.

Assessments were levied on the stockholders and bondholders had to exchange their First Liens for Income bonds. Then the tracks were rebuilt and trains were running again to San Bernardino on January 6, 1885.

During this period, the Southern Pacific had been forced to enter into a joint track agreement with the Atlantic & Pacific covering the division from The Needles to Barstow and Mojave. Work then began extending the California Southern from San Bernardino through Cajon Pass and the building of a road south from Barstow. The last spike was driven in the Pass on November 9. The Santa Fe's first passenger trains through to and from the Pacific Coast left Barstow and National City on Nov. 15, 1885. Fallbrook was then a station on a transcontinental main line.

It was too good to last. In 1888, the Surf Line was completed from Los Angeles Junction (now Fallbrook Jct.) to Los Angeles and the California Central's line from Los Angeles to San Bernardino was established. Then the first class passenger trains were transferred and soon only mixed and freight trains were operated through Fallbrook.

A Consolidation of lines took place in 1889 and the California Southern was merged into the Southern California Railway.

Trains continued to run through Temecula Canyon until February 1891, another very wet month. All railroads in Southern California were washed out. The estimated expense of rebuilding the Temecula "Branch" was tremendous. There was a pretense of finding a route via the San Luis Rey River but no train ever ran again between Fallbrook and Temecula, After the lower reaches were reconstructed, a mixed train operated from Fallbrook to Oceanside.

In 1893, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad was declared bankrupt and a receivership followed. Out of it emerged the present corporation, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company. After the turn of the century, the Santa Fe took over the Southern California Railway.

The mixed trains rambled back and forth between Fallbrook and Oceanside over so-called "floating" bridges until another fateful day in January 1916. Again the rains poured and the roadbed was so badly washed at and below Fallbrook Station that it was considered to be more practical to abandon that part of the line and to build a new section up the hill to Fallbrook proper. This was accomplished early in 1917.

But 80 ton locomotive number 721, a 2-8-0 or consolidation type, 2 coaches, 4 reefers, 1 box car, 1 tank car and 2 flat cars plus a steel turntable were marooned down by the river. The value of all this equipment was too much to lose, so means of salvaging it were sought. This resulted in a house moving firm obtaining a contract to drag the rolling stock up the steep slopes from the river to the mesa and delivering the train, including one load - the turntable on a flat car, to the new line in Fallbrook. The task was accomplished by brains and brawn, the latter of four horses, by using short sections of track and capstans or vertical winches.

This bizarre train was facetiously called "The Fallbrook Flyer". It left Fallbrook Station, in the canyon, on March 14 and arrived at the junction in the town of Fallbrook on June 10, 1917.

Thus ended the railroad history of Temecula Canyon, except for the activities of a few fans collecting spikes, artifacts and other souvenirs.

Richard V. Dodge, Jr.
August 6. 1957

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