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Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad Latrobe Breakfast Special 11/30/2014

by Chris Guenzler

After heavy rain overnight, Chris Parker and I arose at 6:00 AM and I worked on yesterday's story until just before 8:00 AM when I checked out and met Chris at the car. We drove around the east end of the hotel and parked across the street from our train trip departure point.

Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad History

In the 1850's, California was in the midst of the Gold Rush. Getting mail and supplies to the population was a major undertaking. Everything had to take the several month long journey through deserts and over the Sierras, or it had to go south by sea through the Isthmus of Panama. Both propositions were long and dangerous.

A group of businessmen saw the opportunity to build fast, reliable transportation from Sacramento to the mining communities. They incorporated the Sacramento, Auburn and Nevada Railroad, but plans fell apart when the first section of track they were planning to lay was going to cost more than $2 million dollars.

A man named Charles Lincoln Wilson also saw the opportunity for a railroad to service the area. He reorganized the abandoned railroad company and formed the Sacramento Valley Railroad in August 1852 then left for New York to gather talent and build the railroad.

There he met Theodore Judah, who came to California in 1854 and surveyed the railroad. Theodore Judah designed a route that ran down R street in Sacramento, along present-day Folsom Boulevard, and across the river to Negro Bar. The plan was to run the line all the way to Marysville. Wilson also lobbied the State Legislature to change the laws so the railroad could be built. In late 1854, contracts were signed and in February 1855, construction began on the Sacramento Valley Railroad.

At this point, Captain Joseph Libbey Folsom became president of the railroad. He had Theodore Judah lay out the town through which the railroad would run, called "Granite City". When Captain Folsom died in July 1855, his executors renamed the town to "Folsom".

The SVRR fell into receivership in October 1855, but because of a San Francisco banker named J. Mora Moss, the line was completed to Folsom in January 1856.

The inaugural run of the SVRR on February 22nd, 1856 was quite an event, with a breakdown of the locomotive just short of Folsom. Despite this, passengers arrived and were treated to a party that lasted into the next morning.

The SVRR was the first railroad west of the Mississippi River. Its original planned route was cut short because the actual construction costs in the end were 50 percent more than originally anticipated.

Theodore Judah, interested in continuing the line, formed the California Central which connected Folsom to Lincoln. His dream was to build a railroad all the way over the Sierra. While he never realized his dream, he had a significant influence on the SVRR, the town of Folsom and the Transcontinental Railroad.

At the same time, the people of Placerville wanted rail service to carry the heavy freight that was destined for the silver mines in the Comstock Lode. The Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad was formed in June 1862. After commitments from the people of El Dorado County and Placerville, construction from Folsom Junction towards Placerville began in late 1863.

Opposition came from locals and from the Central Pacific, which was working hard to be the main route for the Transcontinental Railroad. Due to the Civil War, much of the rail ordered for the P&SVRR was sent to the bottom of the sea by Confederate privateers. Despite these hurdles, the P&SVRR extended the line to the town of Latrobe, where the first trains arrived in 1864.

For a time, it was hoped that the P&SVRR was a contender in the Transcontinental Railroad race. Lester Robinson believed the route through Placerville and over the Sierras was the best route. But the Big Four (Stanford, Crocker, Huntington and Hopkins) of the Central Pacific were determined to win. There was actually a race in August 1864 where both lines competed to deliver the San Francisco papers up to Virginia City. While stories indicate that the race was not exactly fair on a number of levels, the CP finished the race in 21 hours and the SVRR and P&SVRR group delivered the papers nine hours later.

As history would tell, the Central Pacific became the famous route over the Sierras. The 'Big Four' would eventually own both the SVRR and P&SVRR.

In June 1865, the P&SVRR reached Shingle Springs. Despite the fact it connected to the main road that carried almost all the freight and passengers to and from the Comstock, it became apparent that the line would not reach Virginia City by the 1866 federal deadline. Then SVRR president George Bragg convinced the P&SVRR that there was no way financing could be secured to pay their bonds. He then purchased the stock interests of three other directors and sold all the interests to Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific. This brought an end to the SVRR as an independent railroad.

This also led to financial problems for owners of the P&SVRR. They continued to operate, but in 1869 the line was foreclosed on, and in 1871 title was transferred to Huntington, Stanford and Hopkins. In 1877, the P&SVRR was turned into the Sacramento and Placerville Rail Road.

The railroad bridge spanning the American River in Folsom was completed in 1866. In 1888, the line was finally completed to Placerville. Despite the high cost to taxpayers, the first passenger train was welcomed with huge fanfare. The arduous journey from Sacramento to Placerville would be changed forever.

The SVRR and P&SVRR had their mark on history. These railroads forged roads that led to building the Transcontinental Railroad. Without these railroads and the men who built them, bridging east and west in the United States could have taken many more years.

The Railroad Mission

The Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad's mission is to protect, preserve and develop the Folsom-Placerville railroad right-of-way, celebrating its legacy through the creation and operation of a sustainable community heritage railroad for the benefit, use, education and enjoyment of the general public.

Our Trip

The Hampton Station sign is where our train would leave from.

Weyerhaeuser Skagit motor car 30 built by the Skagit Steel and Iron Works in 1936. It serviced the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company and was used to haul work crews, track materials, and equipment on their 26-mile logging line in Vail, Washington. In 1960, the original Waukesha 6-cylinder 110 HP motor was replaced by a 6-cylinder GMC engine. In 1994, Skagit 30 was in private ownership in Mineral, Washington then two years later, was owned by the Royal Slope Railroad in Royal City, Washington.

The Folsom, El Dorado & Sacramento Historical Railroad Association acquired Skagit 30 in 1999 and performed a full restoration and by 2002, it was operational. Today, Skagit 30 is one of the main passenger motorcars on the P&SVRR line! One unique feature it has is a built-in firefighting system. The center compartment covers a 200 gallon tank which is normally filled with water, and there is a firehose attached to the front of the engine. When the pump is on, the Skagit can send water dozens of feet towards a fire. The Skagit 30 has a sound all its own; not from the engine, but the unique squeaks it makes as it rides down the tracks. When you hear that sound, you know the Weyerhaeuser Skagit 30 is in service!

Weyerhaeuser Skagit 30.

Weyerhaeuser Skagit trailer 32 used in conjunction with 30.

Sacramento Valley Railroad A6 speeder 5712 built by the Fairmont Railway Motors of Fairmont, Minnesota. It has a 6-person capacity and as much horsepower as the Skagit 30. The A6 speeder was a general rail service vehicle, built for maintenance-of-way purposes and carried railroad maintenance workers and light equipment. Today, it serves as an open-air motorcar, taking passengers for an intimate, fun ride on the P&SVRR.

We exchanged our Internet tickets for a regular ticket then were allowed the board the train, with me taking the left front seat and Chris Parker the right front seat.

The view from my seat before we started the trip.

Chris Parker was seated across from me.

This lady is from the west coast of Florida here visiting her son from Latrobe, who was also aboard the train.

The operator is ready to go just waiting the "All aboard!" that we would all say when told.

We started the trip by running under US Highway 50 and headed out of Folsom en route to Latrobe.

You can see a puddle from the rain last night.

The cows did not like our train running by their fields.

Heading into the first curve and cut of our trip today.

Running down a piece of straight track.

Another curve leads to another piece of straight track.

A pile of ties stacked up along our route.

More cows along our route.

Heading to our next cut.

Approaching our next curve.

We arrived at Whiterocks.

The Whiterocks signpost.

We came to White Rock Road. The searchlight signals are indicators for the grade crossing. They turn red when a train enters the approach circuit, yellow when the gates are deploying, and finally green when down and flashing. When running speeders, the gates must be deployed manually, hence the conductor stepping off. The full size excursion train turns the gates on automatically when it enters the approach track circuit.

Our conductor activated the crossing gates.

White Rock Road.

Leaving Whiterocks.

As we took the curve, I wondered if the rain might hold off until after we leave Latrobe? We will see if I am right.

We rolled up a long piece of straight track on this section of the railroad.

Taking another of the curves on this railroad.

A large ranch off to the southwest.

The train is heading for the hills.

We went by the Aero Drome.

Dunlap Ranch Road. Here we entered El Dorado County.

Euer Ranch to the northeast.

The train crossed Carson Creek.

One of the green pastures along our route.

Our train took this curve.

We took this curve to reach an old industry that once had rail service.

The switch into an old siding.

The trip down a long piece of straight track on this railroad.

We ran through another low cut.

This curve has a 5 sign on a post.

Heading into the next curve.

More cows out in their pasture.

The trees ahead of us are along Deer Creek.

Another of the many curves.

View from our train.

Passing a small trestle.

We ran by this very large oak tree.

More trees along Deer Creek.

Rolling east through the next cut on our route this morning.

Trees along Deer Creek.

We went through this cut to reach our crossing of Deer Creek.

The train crossed Deer Creek and we continued onward to Latrobe.

Click here for Part 2 of this story!