California would not have developed along the lines that it did (pun intended) without “Out West,” or maybe more appropriately “Wild West,” railroad development proceeding the way it did.
Railroads were seemingly everywhere. Even Hawaii and Cuba had and still have them.
What’s more, railroad companies, particularly American railroad companies, for the most part had very straightforward names. It seems that with a name like the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe or the Baltimore & Ohio, to name but two, not much was left to the imagination in terms of where these “pikes” either first (or eventually) laid rails, ties and spikes. But even this wasn’t absolute. Originating in the city that’s often referred to as the “Gateway to the West” (St. Louis), Pensacola, Florida being the terminating point for a railroad concern labeling itself as the St. Louis & San Francisco? Not what one would expect.
What essentially was at one time a Fresno railroad, the San Joaquin & Eastern charted an eastward course to the Sierra Nevada from the flatlands of the Valley. The SJ&E was built in record time, 157 days, according to Mary Ann Resendes.
“The SJ&E was built with human and animal labor, using scrapers, picks, and shovels. Construction continued seven days a week, ten hours a day,” Resendes wrote.
True to its name, originating near Clovis at a location very near Willow and Copper avenues, a place called “El Prado” (Spanish for “The Meadow”), “the railroad was built to transport materials, supplies, and workers to the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project,” hence the San Joaquin & Eastern name.
“Although the railroad ran for only 21 years, it played an important role in supplying Southern California with power. It was know (sic) as the ‘crookedest railroad in the world’ because of its 1073 curves; the maximum was 60 degrees. The railroad had 43 wooden trestles, and 255 steep grades; the steepest grade in the world was at Webstone with an average grade of 5.3%,” Resendes wrote.
One other interesting tidbit. In 1912, with construction beginning in February and concluding in December, the end of the line for this rather short-lived transportation enterprise came in 1933. During its heyday, however, the “SJ&E transported people as well as equipment. Passengers included workers and their families, and those traveling to Big Creek for vacations to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. Travelers called the SJ&E the ‘slow, jerky and expensive’ in reference to the five hour trip, and expensive because of the 10 cent per mile fare was about 8 cents higher than normal fares. It was called the ‘millionaires’ limited when workers traveled down the mountain after payday, and the hobo express when they returned up the mountain, pockets empty,” Resendes noted.