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San Diego, Arizona and Eastern Tijuana and Tecate 4/30/1988

by Chris Guenzler

I had bought Robert M. Hanft's book titled "San Diego and Arizona, The Impossible Railroad" when I saw it in the stores for the first time and dreamed of riding it. With Tropical Storm Kathleen destroying the east end of it, the Southern Pacific sold it to the Metropolitan Transit Development who used the San Diego to San Ysidro portion for their popular trolley service. The line through Carrizo Gorge was reopened and Kyle Railways operated it until a bridge and tunnel fire in the gorge closed the line again. San Diego found a new operator, the San Diego and Imperial Valley to handle the limited freight operations. In 1983, the Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum moved their collection to Campo and established a museum site there. Most of their collection was moved in a movement called the "Great Freight." I was hearing rumors of another Puerto Penasco trip and a Campo to San Diego trip for a Railfair to be put on by the museum. I joined the Museum and a week later I received a flyer in the mail about the trip. I called Jeff about it and he wanted to go, told my parents about it and now I had a group of four wanting to take the trip. On April 30th, 1988 we drove down to San Diego and parked at the Santa Fe Depot. We all took a bus out to Campo to board the train back to San Diego. I was about to ride the entire length of the Tijuana and Tecate in Mexico which is a division of the Sonora Baja California Railroad, so this will give me the entire mileage of the SBC.

Our Train was made up of six former Lackawanna ex electric coaches, a 1942 US Army Kitchen Car with portable bathrooms in the middle of the consist. At the front end of the consist was the Robert Perry, a 1926 Pullman Business Car being used by a private party and on the rear, a Santa Fe Cafe Observation Car with an open platform open to all. On the point was the San Diego Imperial Valley's GP-9 and the museum's MRS-1. We left Campo right on time with Jeff and I exploring the train. We entered a narrow canyon to the west of Campo and then crossed Campo Creek. We entered the first of four tunnels today and the first took us under the International border with Mexico and burst out into Mexican daylight.

We passed the former station of Lindero before we entered tunnel three and three and a half where the center of the tunnel collapsed in 1933 by fire making two tunnels. We now have kilometer posts having left the milepost back in the USA. We entered the valley of Tecate Creek and followed it down to Tecate with its famous brewery. We pulled into Tecate making our only scheduled stop so that the mayor could have his picture taken on the front of the train. Maybe he was up for reelection and wanted a memorable picture. Tecate still had a nice looking train station standing with the Tecate Beer Plant standing behind it. People on this train can only look at the brewery because there is no beer or liquor allowed on our train. The smell from the plant though makes me feel like having a cold one. We left Tecate following the creek west before we crossed it at a place called The Door {the narrows} then passed the former station site of La Puerta. It was funny as I looked out at the scenery there is no clue that we are in Mexico as it could be anyplace in California but is not Baja part of California.

As we crossed the main Tijuana-Tecate Highway that idea was shattered as a group in a car had pulled along the tracks and were shouting at us in Spanish with a car having Baja Norte plates. I wondered if they were just excited at seeing a passenger train or just plain crazy. We had come to the point where we were about to come off of the mountains and to do that we must negotiate two balloon curves. The first one an eight degree curve with a 255 degree center angle. Looking out you could easily see both ends of the train and many pictures were being taken as we rounded it.

This balloon curve has only twice had a SD&AE long enough to see its caboose. I must say I was very impressed by it and just imagined how when they built this railroad they came up with this idea. We were now on the middle level descending northeast passing the former station site of Loma before coming to the six degree, 180 degree center angle that brings us to the valley with San Ysidro Creek in it. I looked back at the mountain we came down to see where we had been and felt amazed by the whole trip down it.

We passed through Redondo located in a very nice valley, passed the former Eduardo station and by the ranch of Former Mexican President Cardinez. We continued west going by the Matanuca spur before the valley narrows into a steep canyon and we entered tunnel two. We then crossed San Ysidro Creek.

We then crossed San Ysidro Creek.

Off to the left was Rodriquez Dam, a very impressive structure blocking off the flow of the Tijuana River. We proceed on a ledge high above the river before we crossed it on a very high bridge and passed Garcia. This was the beginning of the greater Tijuana area and a variety of homes could be seen from real nice Hacienda style to anything in between to squatter shacks. By the way this is my first trip ever to Tijuana and how else would I do it but by train. We passed by the few industries that still ship by rail, mainly a cement plant. We went by the former station site of Arguello then passed through Aqua Caliente where the Greyhounds once raced. We passed through Tijuana proper where all of the locals were out waving at us or flipping us peace signs. Tijuana is everything I thought it would be and one word can be said to describe what I saw and that word was trash. We crossed the Tijuana River on a new bridge that replaced the one Kathleen washed out. As we approached the US border more squatter shacks were seen all over the hillside. We passed the former Tijuana station and proceeded through the border gate bringing to an end the Tijuana and Tecate kilometer posts.

Once back inside the United States, the gate was closed behind us and the train stopped. After a few minutes a US Custom agent boarded and ordered everyone off of the train but to leave everything you brought on board behind. We all detrained and stood in a large dirt area surrounded by US Custom agents. We watched as some illegal aliens tried to run for freedom but were caught to be taken back where they will only try again. After about five minutes a van pulled up and out came the drug sniffing dogs who were taken inside our train. Was this all for show or what. I mean if we would have stopped and all gotten off of the train in Tecate I could see the need for all this but stopping just so the Mayor of Tecate could have his picture taken and trying up all of these agents. Who were they trying to impress? As we reboarded we were asked what our nationality was and the line moved really fast putting us all back on the train. With this done, our train headed north towards San Diego.

We proceeded through the San Ysidro freight yards and down to the junction with the trolley line. We waited for a northbound trolley to pass by before we entered the trolley line with our eleven car passenger train. I bet the ex Lackawanna cars felt right at home under the overhead wire. The looks we got from people waiting for the trolley and seeing our train was unbelievable. When their shock wore off everyone was waving at our train with smiles on their faces as we were bringing a lot of joy to these people. The trip under the wire was quick and all too soon we arrived at the junction to switch off the trolley route and into the SD&IV yard which we proceeded through, passed by the Trolley's maintenance buildings and shops before coming to a stop in the Gaslamp District of San Diego ending a great day of train riding across the International border twice. Now that I had ridden the west end of the line from Campo, I still dream of riding the east end from Campo through the Carrizo Gorge. Maybe in the future this impossible railroad will make what now seems as impossible happen