by Rex L. Britt
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
In the battle between Henry Huntington and the Southern Pacific Railroad for control of passenger and rail freight service in southern California, the street railways of Redlands became part of the settlement between them in 1910. Run by mule power in the late 1800's, Henry Fisher purchased and added electric power to the lines in 1901 and then connected Redlands to San Bernardino. Henry Huntington purchased the entire San Bernardino - Riverside County electric rail system and then traded it to the Southern Pacific Railroad in the settlement of 1910.
From that time until the last street cars ran in July of 1936, the Pacific Electric provided local and longer distance street car service for Redlands. The street car lines helped shape the city in the first decades of the 20th century influencing the locations, for business, homes and churches.
Most of the years of their existence, the street car lines in Redlands lost money for their owners. This was the primary reason local passenger rail service was discontinued in 1936 and service to San Bernardino and Redlands replaced by buses. However, the years when Pacific Electrics Big Red Cars came to Redlands gave easy access to the Los Angeles area and made Redlands a tourist destination.
RIDE THE BIG RED CARS
To understand Pacific Electrics entrance into the electric street railway business in Redlands, we need to know a little about Henry Fisher and Henry Huntington. To understand how Henry Huntington became involved in Redlands, we have to start with his uncle, Collis P. Huntington. Collis or C.P. was born into a poor farming family near Hartford, Connecticut in 1822. At the age of 16 he became an itinerant peddler, selling clocks and inexpensive tableware from a wagon. At age 21 he went to work for his older brother, Solon who had established a successful store in Oneonta, New York. Two years after joining him, Collis was made a full partner in the business. The Huntington brothers prospered and had a good reputation with farmers, factory owners and wholesalers all the way to New York City
In December 1848 Collis Huntington heard about the California goldfields and answered the call to go west for gold, but he had not intention getting his feet wet in a frigid Sierra streambed. Collis went to open the West Coast Branch of S. & C. P. Huntington, selling miners shovels, socks, pans and picks and anything else they needed.. Bankrolled by the brothers savings and some loans, in March of 1849 he set out on a steamer for Panama with crates of woolen socks, patent medicine and rifles. Following his always frugal ways, Collis traveled steerage.
At the Panama isthmus he saved the stagecoach fare by walking the 24 miles to the Pacific side. He found there would be few weeks wait before he could obtain passage on a ship north to California. While others sat about drinking, gambling or becoming depressed, Collis began tramping back and forth across the isthmus buying supplies from the locals and selling them at a profit to those headed to California. He later boasted that in six weeks he made $3,000.
By early 1850, Huntington and some partners had opened a hardware store on K street in Sacramento. His mercantile savvy seemed uncanny, letters to his brother in Oneonta requested specific items of hardware, clothing, canned and dried food which seemed to arrive in Sacramento at the peak of demand for those items. He sent for his wife and began to put down roots. By 1856 he was the sole owner of a prosperous hardware business when he joined forces with the wholesale grocery merchant next door, a penny-wise former upstate New Yorker named Mark Hopkins.
In November 1860, out of curiosity, Huntington attended a meeting at the St. Charles Hotel where he met Theodore Judah, a railroad engineer who claimed he had laid out a route by which a railroad could be built across the Sierra Nevada and on to the east. Judah was looking for financial backers but finding none. Judahs next meeting with Huntington was in Huntingtons apartment above the hardware store at 54 K Street. Mark Hopkins joined him and they soon found two other partners, Leland Stanford, an attorney who had ended up in the retail grocery business on L Street and Charles Crocker who owned a dry-goods business on J Street. To make a long story short, with an investment of $1,500 each, these four merchants from the same neighborhood in Sacramento ended up building and owning the Central Pacific Railroad which later became the Southern Pacific. Ted Judah died before the railroad was completed but his plans were good. His wife inherited 25 shares of Central Pacific stock. When the Central Pacific Railroad was organized, Collis Huntington was 39 years old.
In 1869, Collis Huntington invited his 19 year old nephew to come to work for him. So Henry Edwards Huntington left his fathers general store in Oneonta and came to California. For the next 31 years, Henry worked with and learned from his uncle. In 1900, having outlived his original three partners, C. P. was the president of the Southern Pacific Railroad when he died at the age of 78. The S.P. had become a vast and growing rail network which had tremendous influence in the state of California His estate was divided three ways, 2/3 went to his second wife, Arbabella and her son by a previous marriage whom C.P. had adopted. One third went to his nephew Henry.
Henry Huntington was regarded by himself and some others to be the logical successor to his uncle as president of the S.P. To his great disappointment, a group of large stockholders blocked his ambitions. His response was to sell his immense Southern Pacific holdings for $50 million. The buyer was E. H. Herriman who was on the S.P. board of directors and it turned out, had plans to build his own railroad empire.
With much bitterness toward the management of the S.P., Henry Huntington moved to southern California with his millions looking for ways to take some revenge on the S.P. and of course, make more money. Real estate and railroads seemed to offer the best opportunities to succeed at both. Huntington began his own railroad empire by buying controlling interest in the street railways in the city of Los Angeles and a new line that went from Los Angeles to Pasadena.
Going into direct competition with the Southern Pacific, Henry Huntington and a group of associates incorporated the Pacific Electric Railway Company on November 10, 1901. While the entire route had electric power, unlike most street railways, the Pacific Electric laid standard gauge track and the trackage between population centers was laid on private rights of way rather than in the streets and roads. This made it possible for an electric interurban passenger railway to also provide freight service. All of the narrow gauge (36") lines that Huntington purchased were quickly relaid in standard gauge track (4'8½). The exception was the Los Angeles Railway which ran on the streets of Los Angeles, which was left narrow gauge. What did Huntington have in mind?
The first new line built under the P.E. name was from Los Angeles to Long Beach, then a village of 2,200 residents. The line opened July 4, 1902. On that first day, running less than five minutes apart with people standing in the aisles, the Red Cars brought 15,000 visitors to the little village with the nice beach by the ocean. A new age for transportation in southern California had begun. The tracks of the P.E. were soon reaching out toward every potential seaport, farming and industrial center in the Los Angeles area including the new oil refineries.
New P.E. tracks often paralleled existing S.P. routes. Steam trains soon lost most of their local passenger business to the fast, clean, frequently running electric cars. In addition, using electric locomotives pulling regular freight cars, P.E. offered freight connections to A.T.& S.F. and the Los Angeles & Salt Lake (later Union Pacific) railroads. In this way, Pacific Electric was taking business away from the S.P. and giving it to that lines major competitors for southern California transcontinental freight business.
The Southern Pacific (and Harriman) fought back. During 1903 the S.P. bought up the approximately 45% interest in Pacific Electric not held by Huntington. By the end of 1903 he gained the S.P. (Harriman) as an unwelcome partner and had lost several business friends. Huntington responded by forming the Los Angeles Inter-Urban Railway Company and the Pacific Electric Land Company. He personally bought virtually all of the stock in both new companies. Using these companies he laid new rail lines from Los Angeles into Orange County and purchased existing streetcar companies in what seemed like far away places not yet linked by electric rail to the Los Angeles area. Among these new purchases were the streetcar lines of the Riverside, San Bernardino and Redlands areas.
A second major area of interest for Huntington was real estate. With his millions of dollars, it was easy to quietly buy up vast acreage of undeveloped land, and with the arrival of the new electric railway, sell the land to developers for a good profit. This happened in the areas that still bear Huntingtons name as well as many that do not. An example would be the city of Redondo Beach. First Huntington purchased all of the land that would make up the beachfront city and then established a rail line with passenger and freight service into the heart of the new city. The resulting real estate boom made headlines throughout southern California and a lot of profit for Huntington.
When Huntington moved to southern California after the death of his uncle Collis in 1900, his wife, Mary, refused to leave their mansion in San Francisco. In 1906, she petitioned for divorce. The divorce created nationwide interest when in open court Mary Huntington agreed to a financial settlement amounting to one million dollars, the largest divorce settlement in the history of the United States. The hearing began at 9:30 AM on March 22, 1906 and lasted for only seven minutes. By 1:00 PM that same day she was onboard a steamship in San Francisco harbor, headed for Korea and other Asian ports, thereby missing the 1906 San Francisco earthquake by a few weeks.
Scandalous suspicions were confirmed when Henry promptly married his uncles widow with whom it was rumored he had been having an affair for some time. Arabella was 32 years younger than Collis and three years younger than Henry. He and his new wife began to devote much time to collecting rare books and paintings. These were housed in their mansion and other buildings on the spacious grounds of their estate in San Marino. A private spur track came onto the estate grounds from a nearby P.E. line so it was a short walk from the house to Huntingtons private rail transportation. The entire estate and its collections are now the Huntington Library.
Henry Fisher was born in Pittsburgh on December 18, 1843, the son of immigrants from Germany. As a young man he moved to Oil City, Pennsylvania and after some difficult times, founded Fisher Oil Company which produced oil from the oil fields of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. In 1891, Henry Fisher and his wife began spending the winter months at the Terracina Hotel in Redlands for the benefit of his wifes health. She died in 1893. After spending a few more winters in Redlands with his son John Fritz Fisher, Henry made Redlands his permanent residence in 1898. He built a mansion on Highland Avenue, just east of San Mateo and lived there for 25 years.
During his first of second winter in Redlands, Henry Fisher met Harry H. Sinclair, an electrical engineer, who had also moved to Redlands for his health. Sinclair was promoting the idea of placing a hydroelectric plant on Mill Creek above Redlands but was not succeeding in raising enough financial backing. Fisher liked the idea and provided the needed funds. The result was the first powerhouse for what eventually became the Southern California Edison Company. Because of his investment, Henry Fisher was a major owner.
Seeing the possibility for using some of the now available electric power to replace the slow mule and horse drawn Redlands street cars, in 1896-97, Henry Fisher began quietly buying up interest in the street railways of Redlands. By 1901 he had controlling interest in the companies and proceeded to string the necessary wires and purchase electric powered cars. By the time he finished adding to the routes, Henry Fishers electric powered street cars were going up Cajon and Garden to the Country Club, east on Citrus Ave to Wabash and west on Brookside to San Mateo. Plans to run the Brookside line all the way to Bryn Mawr were never completed. A third route went southwest on Olive Avenue, eventually reaching the Terracina Hotel. The fourth, and oldest Redlands route came up Cajon Street from down town, turned southwest on Cypress, turned up hill on Center to Cedar then southwest on Cedar to the base of the Smiley property. From there the tracks wound generally downhill where Serpentine Street is today, eventually meeting the line that came out Olive Avenue.
With the completion of a second hydroelectric power plant in the Santa Ana River, supplied by water from Big Bear Lake, Henry Fisher and some other investors created the San Bernardino Valley Traction Company which bought up the local street lines in San Bernardino and then laid new track connected the cities of Redlands and Riverside with San Bernardino. This meant that by 1903 there was another option for travel to most of the population centers of what is today called the Inland Empire. Both the Southern Pacific and the AT & SF provided local passenger service on their steam powered trains but San Bernardino Valley Traction offered more convenient, faster and more frequent service. Southern Pacific was still the most direct route to downtown Los Angeles but for Pasadena, Orange County or San Diego, AT & SF was the only possibility. That would not change until 1914.
Henry E. Huntington in the Orange Empire
In the meantime, Henry Huntington had been quietly buying up stock in San Bernardino Valley Traction and reached a controlling interest in April of 1903. He appointed his son, Howard Huntington as president of his newly controlled railway, thus replacing Fritz Fisher, the son of Henry Fisher who had appointed his son as president when he and others had formed San Bernardino Valley Traction.
Henry Fisher continued to own Redlands Central Railway. This was the Citrus Avenue - Brookside route with the car barn on Citrus just west of Church Street which is still standing and in use as an auto repair facility. Fisher sold this last railway holding to Henry Huntington in 1908.
Huntington now owned controlling interest in all of the streetcar and interurban lines of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. They were controlled solely by him, were not part of Pacific Electric. Although the San Bernardino and Riverside County lines did not connect to any cities outside the two counties, Huntington was still giving the major railroads some competition.
The AT & SF began rail service to Redlands in 1888. Three months later, the San Bernardino and Redlands Railroad began service. This was a steam powered, narrow gauge passenger line than ran from San Bernardino through Bryn Mawr to near the corner of Orange Street and Redlands Blvd. In 1891 this line was purchased by the Southern Pacific, a third rail was added allowing for dual gage use. Now S.P. trains could come into down town Redlands from the continental main line in Bryn Mawr which allowed S.P. to compete in Redlands with arch rival, AT & SF for both passenger service and the lucrative shipping of fresh oranges to the east. With the arrival of the SP in 1891, downtown Redlands had service from three steam railroads providing passenger service. The S.P. tracks were soon extended to the Crafton area above Mentone and across Mill Creek into East Highlands. The 1903 electric line came into town along San Bernardino Avenue, turned south on Orange and joined the other streetcar lines at Citrus and Cajon. By 1906, S.P.s narrow gauge passenger service had been virtually been driven out of business by what were now Huntingtons electric cars.
The competition was not only for local passenger service but for freight. Citrus packing houses came into existence along the electric routes. For example, the Marigold, Crown Jewel and Sunkist packing houses along San Bernardino Avenue in north Redlands had sidings which allowed the loading of boxed oranges directly into refrigerator cars which would then be taken by an electric locomotive to an ice house in Colton or San Bernardino. The packing houses were also passenger stops provided easy transportation for workers. San Bernardino Valley traction had connections with all three of the major railroads to the east, offering shippers more options for out of state shipments. Packing houses were often distribution centers for bunker oil used in smudge pots which would be delivered in railroad tank cars pulled by electric locomotives.
The Pacific Electric Railway in the Orange Empire
As if he had inherited his uncles ability to anticipate the right thing at the right time, Henry Huntington made a big move. The news came on November 10, 1910. Huntington had sold all of his southern California interurban interest to the Southern Pacific. While the details were never made known, time revealed that S.P. ended up with full ownership of all the standard gauge railways formerly owned by Huntington in addition to all of his interest in P.E. In return, Huntington received full ownership of the narrow gauge Los Angeles Railway which provided local service on the streets of Los Angeles. In the earlier scrambles for control, Huntington and S.P. had each ended up with equal interest in L.A. Railways (the Yellow Cars). Huntington continued as president of LA Railways until his death in 1927.
Another part of the settlement was that Huntington also gained full control of Pacific Light and Power, an electric company that had been controlled by Pacific Electric. Financial reports later indicated that in the year after the exchanges of properties, Huntingtons Los Angeles Railway serving the denser population of Los Angeles showed a profit of about two million dollars while Harrimans new Pacific Electric showed a loss of a little over five hundred thousand dollars. It was several years before passenger service on PE showed a profit and this happened for only a few years of PEs existence. Huntington went out of the interurban rail business and into the electric power business as the automobile was beginning to be a favorite mode of transportation and the need for electric power was increasing daily. But the Southern Pacific and Harriman probably felt reassured by the fact that Huntington no longer owned any standard gauge track on which he could move freight cars.
The Southern Pacific immediately took over management of the eight trolley companies it now fully owned. This included a variety of equipment ranging from the newest large closed cars running between Los Angeles and Long Beach to tiny open wooden cars like the ones used on the Redlands line that went to the County Club. The names of the eight companies that were part of the Southern Pacific acquisition were abandoned in favor of Pacific Electric and all of the trolley cars, regardless of size or style, were painted red. This was the Great Merger which took place over much of the year 1911.
With complete ownership by S.P., the freight carrying abilities of P.E. became an asset. In addition to P.E. serving orange packing houses in the Redlands area, both the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads used Pacific Electric to distribute much of their less than car load freight and all of their Railway Express business in the San Bernardino area. Every day small loads of freight, Railway Express parcels, bundles of newspapers for daily delivery and the US Mail were carried in combination passenger and freight cars or in box motors which were like a freight car with its own power and looked like a street car without windows. The distribution center for the region was next to the P.E. depot on 3rd Street near E Street in San Bernardino.
The trolley had come to be accepted as the most efficient means for commuting as well as for casual travel and great plans for expansion were soon announced. These included lines that had been projected by Huntington. If all their plans had been carried out, the Pacific Electric would have expanded from Santa Ana into San Diego and up the coast from Santa Monica to Ventura. Plans were even considered to continue the track from the Arrowhead Springs Hotel up the mountain to Lake Arrowhead but were abandoned as being too expensive. On March 14, 1912, The San Bernardino Daily Sun reported that in anticipation of the tracks connecting Los Angeles to San Bernardino, Pacific Electric planed to electricize the SP track from Redlands to Crafton and extend to Yucaipa. That never happened.
But the P.E was laying tracks east from Los Angeles. On August 31, 1912, the line reached Pomona and connected with the local lines there. P.E. tracks reached Colton in 1914 which connected all of the former San Bernardino Valley Traction lines with the rest of the vast Pacific Electric system. This meant that beginning June 11, 1914, Redlands with a population of about 10,000 was connected to the largest interurban electric railway in the world. By 1916 there were 7 round trips a day covering the 67 miles from Citrus and Orange in Redlands to 6th and Main in Los Angeles in about 2 ½ hours.
Local service into and out of Redlands improved under the management and ownership of the Pacific Electric. In 1912, a Red Car left downtown Redlands for 3rd and E Street in San Bernardino every 40 minutes with 29 round trips a day. Travel time was about 30 minutes. Seven times a day the cars to San Bernardino continued on to Riverside by way of Colton and there were an equal number of return trips each day. The Riverside line extended on to Corona. There were plans to reach Corona from the west with a line running east from the city of Brea paralleling the AT & SF through Santa Ana Canyon. However, the tracks were never completed east of Placentia.
Shaped by Rails Now Gone
As part of the Pacific Electric system, the quality of equipment and service in Redlands improved, for a while. Larger, closed cars were brought for use on the local routes through the streets of Redlands. An article in the Redlands Review in 1911 praised P.E. for getting rid of the lousy little dinky cars that had been used on the street routes of Redlands since electrification in 1901.
With the completion of the 1914 line from Los Angeles, Redlands was well connected to the four counties of southern California that contained the majority of the population, commerce, farming and recreational opportunities in the area. The Pacific Electric grew to 1,000 miles of track with over 2,700 scheduled trains each day at its peak in the mid 1920's, the largest interurban railway in the world at that time. Until the freeway system was in place a half century later, nothing matched the speed and convenience of The Big Red Cars for travel into and out Redlands. And today, when the freeways are crowded, it still takes longer than it did from 1914 through 1936 to arrive in downtown Los Angeles from Redlands. All of this helped made Redlands a desirable place to live. I know a couple who purchased a home in Redlands near Colton Avenue and Church Street in 1929. The husband worked as an accountant in San Bernardino. From that time until service was discontinued in 1936, he commuted to work every day on The Big Red Cars.
But there was a problem. As one historian put it, The Redlands lines were a losing proposition as far back as 1909. Redlands was a rather affluent town and people purchased automobiles as quickly as they appeared in showrooms. In spite of the fact that most of the Redlands lines were losing money when P.E. acquired them in the Great Merger of 1911, the company stayed with them for several years, but it was putting off the inevitable. The Brookside line was abandoned June 26, 1916. Trees were planted in the right of way down the middle of the street. The line extending west from Cajon on Olive Avenue was abandoned December 20, 1921. The line extending from Cypress up Cajon and Garden to the Country Club was abandoned May 26, 1923.
Henry Fisher held on to the Citrus Avenue line for 5 more years after selling the rest to Henry Huntington. It turned out that was the line that made the most money. This was probably because it served the High School. It and the Smiley Heights line continued to carry passengers until all Pacific Electric passenger service to Redlands was converted to buses.
The last day for the street cars in Redlands was July 20, 1936. There are photographs of crowds of people riding the Big Red Cars on that last day, many with cameras to record the end of what had once been a way of life in the town. The core of the residential area before 1920 was within walking distance of the street cars. While many of the people up the hill were among the first to have automobiles, their servants and no doubt their children used the street cars that came into the south side from downtown. Businesses, churches, the YMCA, the Fox Theater and city government were all located on the streetcar routes. To the north the town developed along Orange Street which provided streetcar access to both downtown Redlands and San Bernardino. Even though the rails have been gone a long time, the way they shaped the city is still with us.
Through the 1920's and 1930's P.E. ran special excursion car to the areas of special interest on their vast route. Perhaps the most famous was to Mt. Lowe above Pasadena. Excursions to the beaches were very popular. The special excursion that covered the most miles was the trip into the Orange Empire. The trip took all day, coming east through the citrus grove of the San Gabriel Valley to La Verne (Lordsberg) and on through the vineyards east of Ontario to Colton, Riverside, San Bernardino and to a featured highlight of the trip, Smiley Heights. The conductors wore special uniforms and were really rour guides. In the 1920's the fare this special trip was $3.50. During the depression years, all fares were reduced by half. In the early 1930's, a Sunday pass could be purchased for $1.00 that provided unlimited travel on the entire P.E. system throughout the day.
Pacific Electrics participation in the promotion of land sales continued even after Huntington no longer had any control over P.E. This writer grew up in Lynwood, California where in 1940 the oldest building in town was the P.E. depot. For many years there existed near the depot a short spur track that was originally used to park special cars that came out from Los Angeles bringing potential buyers to a large tent where they would be served a free lunch while being told of the advantages of buying a lot and building a home in Lynwood. The land where the tent once stood was given to the city as a site for the first Lynwood city hall. The tracks were there for many years. Not many city halls had their own rail siding.
Of course, the main advantage of moving to a place like Lynwood was that it was possible to live in a quiet suburban town and still be at work or shopping in down town Los Angeles in less than 30 minutes on the P.E. cars. I made this trip many times. Starting at the age 9, I was allowed to ride the Red Car into L.A. by myself to shop or go on to visit my grandparents in Pomona or relatives in Santa Monica. This continued to be possible until passenger service was discontinued in the late 1950's. Today the former P.E. right of way through Lynwood is the location of the 105 freeway.
Beginning in 1931, the passenger service provided by P.E. continued to lose money for S.P. every year except for the years of WWII which were the most profitable of the railways existence. Following the WWII, the number of daily passengers dropped dramatically. Although some attempts had been made over the years to obtain governmental help, none were successful. Deeply in debt, in 1953, Pacific Electric passenger service was sold to Metropolitan Coach lines. The new owners accelerated the conversion to buses and then sold the former P.E. passenger holdings to the newly formed Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority. All of the Big Red Cars and even the smaller Yellow Cars of Huntingtons Los Angeles Railway were painted the same two shades of green. It was a sign of the beginning of the end which came in 1961 when the Long Beach line was discontinued.
All of the tracks that were in city streets were taken up and the streets paved but my guess is that if one were to dig up some streets in the right place, old railroad ties could still be found. Portions of the line to San Bernardino from Los Angeles were abandoned but other parts of the P.E. system now carry Union Pacific freight trains and Metrolink trains. Some examples are the Blue, Yellow and Red lines in the Los Angeles area and the track in the middle of I-10 through the San Gabriel Valley. Those rails in the middle of the freeway are on part of the line that used to come to Redlands. East of La Verne, I-210 follows close to that same old P.E. route. The S.P. and P.E. rails are gone. Only the AT & SF rails remain. Will Redlands ever again have direct passenger connections to the rest of the world by rail?
Ibid. p 88
Donald Duke, Pacific Electric Railway, Vol. Two, the Eastern Division, Golden West Books, 2002, p 168
The Rev. Rex L. Britt retired July 1, 1998 after serving in the ministry of the United Methodist Church for 43 years. He met his wife Jenell while he was a student at the University of Redlands. She is a graduate of Redlands High School. Rex has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Redlands and a Master of Theology degree from the Claremont School of Theology. He served as pastor of Redlands First United Methodist Church from 1983 to 1991. Immediately before retirement Rex was Superintendent of the Hawaii District of the United Methodist Church
Born in Pomona California, at the age of 3 Rexs family moved next door to the Pacific Electric line serving Pomona. At the age of 7, Rex moved to Lynwood with his family, growing up in the family home 3 blocks from the Santa Ana line of the Pacific Electric. For the next 10 years, the Red Cars were a major source of transportation for the family. Starting at the age of 9, Rex rode the P.E. by himself, or with his younger sister to visit grandparents in Pomona or aunts and uncles in Santa Monica and Santa Ana.
The names Southern Pacific Railroad and Pacific Electric Railway now live only in the history books but both still live in HO scale on Rexs model railroad in his garage, next to his restored 1929 Model A Ford.