San Diego & Arizona Railway:

The Impossible Railroad


Reena Deutsch







Each time a slide show covering the overall history of the Impossible Railroad (Presentation #1) is presented to a group or organization, a unique interesting fact, supplemental photographs or stories, an historic tidbit, or an intriguing morsel of gossip (“trivia”) related directly or indirectly to the Impossible Railroad or Spreckels story but not included in the book or mentioned or shown to any other audience at previous presentations is interspersed into the formal presentation.  See the list below for those introduced already and check back later at this site as “trivia” from new programs are added.  Or, better still, attend one of the upcoming programs or organize one yourself.  Sorry; while photographs often accompany the Trivia segment, they are not posted here.


If you have any such “trivia” to share, please email it to

            Info  [[at]]  ImpossibleRailroad  [[dot]]  com

If it is used in a future presentation, you will be credited. Thank you.


If you would like to invite author Reena Deutsch to appear at a booksigning, present a slide show and/or lecture, or participate in other book-related events, please see Presentations.


1/28/2011 ABDNHA’s 39th Annual Desert Lecture Series, Borrego Springs, CA

The city of San Ysidro at San Diego County’s southern border with Mexico used to be called “Tia Juana” (translated as “Aunt Jane”). Note that the name has two words, as opposed to Baja California’s coastal Mexican border city to its north, Tijuana, which is just one word.


3/19/2011 Montesoro Naturalist Club, Canebrake, CA

In 1899, Edward H. Harriman, President of Southern Pacific Railroad and many other rail lines, planned, financed, and executed an unparalleled expedition to Alaska. The purpose was to survey and catalog the plants, animals, marine critters, glaciers, and geological formations of the Alaskan coast. He assembled botanists, zoologists, foresters, geologists, photographers, and nature artists, including the leader of the American conservation movement, John Muir. This philanthropic side of Harriman was in deep contrast to his reputation of being in monopolistic control of most of the country’s railroads causing public fear and mistrust and leading to why his arrangement with John Spreckels to build the SD&A required secrecy about Harriman’s funding for its construction.


3/25/2011 San Diego Model Railroad Association Awards Dinner, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA

Llewellyn Iron Works, an open (non-union) company, was a steel supplier during the original construction of the SD&A. On Christmas morning in 1910, its factory in Los Angeles was dynamited and heavily damaged. John J McNamara, an officer in the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers union, was tried for the bombing. His defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, came to realize that his client was guilty but worked hard to have him acquitted. Eventually McNamara pleaded guilty to avoid the possibility of getting sentenced to death if found guilty by the jury.


During the trial, the defense team’s chief investigator was arrested for bribing a juror, and Darrow was accused of and later indicted and tried on two counts of jury tampering! He was acquitted at his trial on the first charge, and he defended himself and had a hung jury for the second trial. Upon agreeing to no longer practice law in California, the decision was made to not retry the second case. Darrow was essentially blacklisted as a labor lawyer and he switched to civil and criminal law. He went on to become well known for defending teenagers Leopold and Loeb in a highly publicized murder case in 1924 and was the lead attorney in the headline-making evolution vs. creationism Scopes Monkey Trial a year later, arguing against the politically active plaintiff’s attorney William Jennings Bryan. Bryan died five days after the Scopes trial ended. Darrow became known as one of the greatest criminal lawyers in American history.


4/29/2011 Universidad Autónama de Baja California; Course: Globalization in Mexico and its impact on society and business; Tijuana, Mexico

Adolph Spreckels owned and bred horses. He offered various prizes for many horse races (silver cup at the San Francisco Horse Show of 1895, silver trophy for winning the A.B. Spreckels Cup at Ingleside race track in San Francisco). He owned the very first California-bred horse that ever won the Kentucky Derby (Morvich in 1922). For a period of time, Adolph Spreckels also owned the Tijuana racetrack. Adolph donated prizes for other competitive sports: SF Kennel Club Show, greyhounds, boxing, polo, yacht races, and for large touring cars.


5/14/2011 San Diego Electric Railway Association monthly meeting; National City Depot, National City, CA

The Panama-California Exposition of 1915 was planned to take place in San Diego’s Balboa Park to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. It was to last for two years and be on the equivalent scale as a “World’s Fair.” John Spreckels was the exposition’s Vice-President. He donated large sums of money and promised to provide funding of the exposition if financial difficulty was encountered. John, with his brother Adolph, offered to donate a large outdoor organ and pavilion, plus the extended services of an organ tuner and an organist as well.


As co-owner with Adolph of the San Diego Electric Railway, John and his fellow businessmen and real estate investors wanted to put a rail connection through the center of Balboa Park to allow access to the Panama-California Exposition, in the short term, and, in the long term, to allow commuter traffic from downtown San Diego to the opposite side of Balboa Park then being developed. This would require the location of the expedition to be moved from its original planned site. Spreckels is alleged to have held back the offer of the Organ Pavilion and the fulfillment of his pledges to the Exposition fund until he was assured the expedition site would be relocated and the railway would be built. The Park Commission approved the railway in October 1913, leading to the resignation of the expedition’s landscape architect John C. Olmsted.


5/25/2011 Julian Historical Society monthly meeting, Julian, CA

Adolph Bernard Spreckels (1857-1924) became President of Spreckels Sugar Company in 1908 after dad Claus’s death. He served as San Francisco’s Park Commissioner and was heavily involved with the development of Golden Gate Park. In 1884 he shot Michael de Young, the editor and co-founder of the San Francisco Chronicle, supposedly because of a newspaper article that claimed the Spreckels family had a monopoly on the sugar business and was profiting from improper influence with federal officials and the Hawaiian royal family. Spreckels pleaded temporary insanity to attempted murder and was found insane and acquitted.


10/9/2011 San Diego Electric Railway Association Street Faire/Get Together!, National City, CA

Elisha Babcock, Jr. and Hampton Story broke ground for Hotel Del Coronado in 1887, followed by a financial bust. Investors left town. John Spreckels, at age 34 and a multimillionaire, took over the Hotel Del project and construction took only 11 months to complete. It was reported that Spreckels imported china from Paris, linen from Scotland, glassware from Belgium, and toilet seats from England. Since then, President Benjamin Harrison stayed at the Hotel Del in 1891, and many other presidents as well. Even England’s Prince of Wales visited the hotel in 1920.



11/16/2011 Chula Vista Live Steamers, National City, CA

John D. Spreckels’ younger brother and silent partner Adolph had syphilis, acquired before his marriage to wife Alma. Adolph never passed the illness on to Alma, perhaps because the syphilis was in remission.


12/16/2011 Sierra Club Monthly Meeting, San Diego, CA

Dos Cabezas

NOTE: Photographs shown are not posted here.


Dos Cabezas:

      1915-built and used as a survey camp while Carrizo Gorge was being surveyed

      1916-used as a construction camp

      1919-used as a maintenance and repair station until the early 1950s


      Quarters for the section crew [photo]

      Water was pumped in through pipes from Dos Cabezas Spring about 2 miles away.


      Peter J Pappas was the section foreman at Dos Cabezas 1934 - 1938

      Two-bedroom house for the section foreman [photo]

      His 2 daughters pictured hugging the “Dos Cabezas” sign are probably in their 70s or 80s if they are still around. [photo]


      1930s - ramp over wash leading up to the foreman’s house, later covered with very deep snow at Dos Cabezas [photos]


      1916 - 40,000-gallon redwood tank and tower built for $1,318.88

      1946 (30,000-gallon?) steel tank replaced the wooden one and cost $1,288.88. The original base still stands. Note the overly wide base. [photo]


      1951 - Barnes, Dos Cabezas foreman, on a gang car [photo]


      Changes to the water tank over time [photos]


      Original construction - telegraph used

      1940s - telephones replaced telegraph; Booths dot the line’s route and one is still at Dos Cabezas, heavily vandalized. [photos]


      Crew quarters now in ruins [photos]


1950s (and earlier) - limestone and marble mined nearby

There was a plant that screened and bagged the mined material, with the building’s concrete slab still to the left of the ramp [photo]


2/23/2012 Coronado Historical Association and Museum, Coronado, CA

Lillian Harriet Holbrook Belcher Hamilton

Harriet was born in San Francisco circa 1912 as the only child of Lillian Caroline Spreckels Wegeforth, the daughter of John D. Spreckels. Thus, Harriet was Spreckels’s grandchild. She moved to Coronado at age 7 and grew up there.


Harriet married Frank Garretson Belcher in 1930. He was, among having other positions, a director of the Coronado Riding Club and the Coronado National Horse Show Association. In the early 1940s, Belcher was in the Navy reserves. He was assigned to keep an eye on certain people in the area around the naval bases in San Diego and North Island.


Harriet was a good Navy wife. She took care of her three little boys (She later had a daughter, too.), but she also decoded communications to the US embassy, watched the coast, and tried to identify Axis agents through all possible means. Essentially, John D. Spreckels’ granddaughter was a spy! She participated in diplomatic and armed services functions and made many contacts, even on a purely social basis, affording innumerable opportunities for intelligence-gathering. She carried a tiny Minox camera (a sub-miniature camera originally designed to be a luxury item but which gained notoriety as a spy camera) and became an expert at fast shots of people and documents. The manager of the Hotel del Coronado was bringing in titled “guests” from Germany and Italy who, as it turned out, were spying on naval operations and intelligence in San Diego and North Island. Harriet’s and Frank’s work led to the manager and his “guests” being asked to leave California!


Harriet moved to Atherton in the San Francisco Peninsular area in 1946. She wrote four books, three on family history and another on Chinese snuff bottles. Later, she divorced Belcher and married Edward Morse Hamilton. Harriet, who was known regionally as a philanthropist, died from Alzheimer’s disease at 85 years old on March 15, 1997, at home.

Source: Marlborough Spring 1987. Harriet Holbrook Hamilton ’29, Appreciating the Many Forms of the Beautiful, p . 16-19.


Bonus after the program…. John D. Spreckels’s great-granddaughter was in the audience and introduced herself to me! Her opening line: “You showed a picture of my mother!” (During the credits and expressions of my gratitude at the end of my program, I show JDS with his grandchildren). What a treat!


5/25/2012 Imperial County Historical Society/Pioneers Museum, Imperial, CA

Exerpts were read from various sources, mostly from the excellent book Tropical Storm Kathleen written by CALTRANS Public Information Officer James L. Larson shortly after Hurricane Kathleen wreaked havoc in southern CA and elsewhere in 1976. Damage in Imperial Valley was devastating. Dramatic photographs from the book and other sources of the devastation in Kathleen’s wake were shown at the time of the readings.

Hurricane Kathleen

NOTE: Photographs shown are not posted here.

The week of 9/5/1976, tropical storm Kathleen was off the coast of Baja CA, Mexico, the eleventh storm of the season. The force of the storm moved it further north in Baja and at various times was up- or down-graded as a tropical storm, tropical depression, and hurricane. It was rapidly heading towards CA. Flash flood warnings were announced in parts of SD, Imperial, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties. Rain, heavy at times, fell througout the day and night, accompanied by strong winds.


In Jacumba, rain began falling heavily about midnight of the 9th and continued all morning into the 10th. As dawn broke the rain intensified.


Kathleen concentrated along the Laguna Mountain range, about ½-way between El Centro and SD. Rain from the storm fell very heavily on the eastern slopes of the Laguna Mountains, 8-10 inches of rain in as many hours. The rocky surfaces, barren slopes, and sandy washes of the mountains caused almost all of the fallen water to run off rapidly to the desert below, heading toward interstate 8, upgraded to freeway standards merely two years previously.


There were swollen creeks, water surging over the roadway in several locations, and traffic stopped. Nothing was there to hold the water back.


A CHP officer reported, “Water was pouring off cut slopes like waterfalls, but what was most alarming were the rocks and boulders falling on the road.”


Myers Creek, one of the main washes draining the Lagunas, parallels and crosses the eastbound lanes of Interstate 8 four times and continues easterly towards the town of Ocotillo. Myers Creek, normally dry, had swollen into a raging river.


Large sections of asphalt pavement crumbled and joined the water in the race toward the desert floor.


Records were broken for the volume of water through Myers Canyon: 10-15’ deep, 20-40’ wide, flowing with velocity up to 25-30 mph, forcing huge boulders to rumble along. Water was everywhere; the noise was deafening.


A huge section of roadway gave way, and the 50’-high fill just slipped into the creek.


A CHP officer saw the north end of the 150’-long Myers Creek bridge fall after high waves pounded into it every 2-3 minutes, splashing water high over the top.


A pickup truck and station wagon were swept off the road near the bridge and tumbled downstream. Two girls miraculously managed to free themselves from the truck and waded to higher ground. Both the truck and wagon finally stopped ½-mile downstream, completely demolished. The driver of the wagon was unable to get out and his body was found hours later in a mud bank, 2 miles away in Ocotillo. Three would-be rescuers were swept away, but survived, although one was hurt and had to be rescued himself.


Now, to the railroad. SD&AE tracks parallel the freeway downstream for ¼-mile. Water slammed into the 10-15’-high roadbed in many places, twisting the rails and burying some sections. The floodwaters carried RR ties and metal culverts along with the rocks and sand.


When the wall of water reached Ocotillo, it was 5’ deep and ½-mile wide. The high ground in Ocotillo was near the freeway at the south end of town. There was a depression in the middle of town, but folks there never thought of it as a major wash. Actually, though, it was the downstream portion of Myers creek and sitting right smack in the path of the racing flash floodwaters.


Structures and trailers were torn off their foundations; vehicles were overturned, furniture, propane tanks, trash barrels, and household items all floated by.


One Imperial County Deputy Sheriff, Sergeant Billy Hall, helped rescue 25 people from their homes during the heavy flooding. The rescue vehicle couldn’t stop or it would get stuck in the mud, so somebody circled around with it as he waded into the water and brought people out, trying to load them in to the 4WD Blazer while it was constantly moving. People refused to leave unless they could bring their animals, cages, heavy oxygen bottles, and other valuables with them.


While the depth of the water passing through town was 4-5’, occasional 3’ waves would pass through, up-ending even the 240-pound sheriff.


The next morning, Saturday, 9/11, Myers Creek was dry, CALTRANS bulldozers were unloaded, detour stakes were pointing out the new alignment, men and equipment were already hired and brought in from El Centro, and clean-up and repair work began. Sections of roadway were silted across both lanes up to 6’ deep, rock slides littered around, and culverts were blocked with sand. Interstate 8 was patched together with a detour route by the following Friday, but damage increased the 2-hour drive between San Diego and El Centro by at least one hour. 3 months later, evidence of Kathleen still remained.


Ocotillo faced a tremendous amount of damage.


Clean-up was an extensive project in Ocotillo. Major structural damage was high, but most residents stayed and began improving their properties, although some merely walked off.


This newly designed house under construction will replace the only house in Ocotillo covered by flood insurance. (Setzer home, Cactus Street)


Tropical storm Kathleen was the first such storm to hit CA in 37 years.and caused damage throughout parts of Imperial County’s farmland.


As the storm passed through, it left in its wake 10 people dead: 3 in Imperial County, 6 in Mexico, and 1 in Yuma, AZ. Hundreds of homes were damaged, and there were heavy crop losses.


On a positive note, an early man site was found in the face of a bank eroded by floodwaters. The 75’ deep site was thought to be, perhaps, 100,000 years old or more. Over 80 rock tools wer found. Pieces of human bones were found in close association with the tools. Artifacts were placed at the IVC museum.

[NOTE: An audience member mentioned that the artifacts were stolen from the IVC museum some time ago.]

Source: Tropical Storm Kathleen. James L. Larson, CALTRANS Information Officer, San Diego, CA.


9/24/2012 Temecula Valley Historical Society


CARRISO GORGE Business Car  050   

This historic car was built by The Pullman Car & Mfg.Corp. in 1910 and converted into a business car for SD&A president John D.Spreckels in 1922. The interior was rebuilt, with a solarium lounge; office; two bedrooms with sink, toilet, and connecting tub bath; dining room; stall shower; galley; pantry; and steward's quarters with berth and toilet. It was numbered SDA #050, and named Carriso Gorge.


Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was counsel for Pullman and became President of the company after George M. Pullman died. An incident occurred on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1864 or 1865, shortly before John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln.


The platform was about the height of the railcar floor, with a narrow space between the platform and the car body. Lincoln was pressed against the car body by the large crowd, the train began to move, and he was twisted off his feet and dropped down the opening with feet downward and was helpless. At that moment, his coat collar was vigorously seized and he was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank his rescuer, he recognized that it was a very famous actor of the time, Edwin Booth, who happened to be John Wilkes Booth’s brother. Booth did not know the identity of the man whose life he had saved until some months later. The fact that he had saved the life of Abraham Lincoln's son was said to have been of some comfort to Edwin Booth following his brother's assassination of the president.


1992 Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association. W. Schneider;


10/10/2012 Oasis, Escondido, CA

Grape Day started in 1908 as a way to celebrate Escondido's grape harvest and promote the city. Its popular annual parade included marching bands, walking groups, equestrians, and decorated automobiles and floats.


The SD&A entered floats in at least a few parades. In 1923, the San Diego & Arizona Railway float, decorated with a lush arrangement of roses, carnations, and ferns, won first prize in the commercial category. The fancy float was designed by the roadmaster and clerk for the SD&A, Ernest Settles, and glorified the railroad industry.

Source: Stephen A. Covey, Images of America: Early Escondido, the Louis A. Havens Collection 2008. Arcadia: South Carolina;p. 85.


11/16/2012 Historical Society of Palm Desert

Excerpts from:

Mountain Heritage, The Back Country’s Historical Digest, “Working in Carrizo Gorge” by William F. (Bill) Garber, Sr. Volume 22 Number 2, Spring 2008, p. 9. (Courtesy of Mountain Empire Historical Society)

Note: William Garber was born 1898; He surveyed Carrizo Gorge in the summer of 1915 while in high school.

There were many sticky financial and political problems that had to be resolved, but they were a breeze compared to the basic engineering problems inherent in conquering a terrain so rugged that it is still looked upon as the most difficult project ever undertaken by any railroad in America; it was known as the railroad that was impossible to build.


The Southern Pacific, known locally as the San Diego & Arizona Railway Company, was having so much trouble finding experienced men for the job that they were hiring anyone who could open the door and walk across the employment office. I passed this test and was signed on as an Engineering Aide at $35.00 dollars a month.


Later on we were right at the head of the Gorge at the end of Jacumba valley. There was a homestead there owned by a fellow by the name of Hartunge. On this homestead was a great big rock, oh about 15 or 20 feet high, it looked like a great big egg. It had a big split with a bee hive right in the middle. Crazy Jim decided to get the honey out of that beehive. So he sticks a stick of dynamite in there and ignites it and the egg opened up and rolled over top of ole Jim and flattened him like a rug, deader than a peanut. That was the end of ole Jim Kane!”


The myriad of rocks are unbelievable, like as if they came from the beginning of time and go on to eternity.


If there wasn’t one rattle snake stretched out along a thin line of shade, there were two. Better that there were two, for if not, one would undoubtedly be hidden from view.


Nights were as cold as Helena, Montana. To try and keep warm, I slept on the Sunday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times and under seven army blankets.


Finally the actual time on the job was getting so short it was decided to move camp to Dos Cabazas [sic] near the end of the Gorge on the desert floor. What a miserable place; three mesquite trees, sidewinders, ordinary diamond backs and chuckwallas, some spot!


Heat, rocks and dirt; that is the Carrizo Gorge. Nothing crawled over this land except the San Diego & Arizona Railway.


4/1/2013 Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

1965 derailment

In 1965, there was a derailment in Carrizo Gorge on the way to San Diego, as the train was coming out of the Tunnel 7 bypass curves.


Among the cargo being hauled by that train were supplies that were scheduled to be used in the construction of, what was then to be, the new Pearson Ford dealership at the corner of Fairmount Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard in East San Diego. Riding in flatbed truck semi-trailers that were loaded onto piggyback flatcars, precast concrete beams destined for the Pearson Ford dealership were jettisoned off the train, with their trailers, and landed somewhere on their way down to, or at, the bottom of the Gorge. The trailers were recovered, but not the concrete beams.


The dealership’s Grand Opening event had to be delayed.


Even today, some may have heard about this derailment, but not because of the Pearson Ford connection but because of that train’s more memorable cargo, 2 refrigerated containers of Coors beer (photo of the “Coors wreck” in the book).

Source:,1356735 (Michael Reading)


4/18/2013 Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

1983 derailment

NOTE: Photographs shown are not posted here.

In the first half of 1983, Kyle Railways was the freight operator. A westbound train came through Carrizo Gorge one night, headed for San Diego. It derailed, and a few cars slipped off the track. One car, a 50-foot Southern Pacific (SP) boxcar, dropped over the edge and ended up on its side; a second 50-foot SP boxcar stayed upright alongside the track but was damaged. Both boxcars were loaded full with 100-pound sacks of cement. The upright car’s cargo was fully unloaded. The car on its side became too unstable and only some of its load was recovered. The decision was made to abandon both boxcars. The upright one was shoved over the side. Today, 30 years later, the boxcars remain perched precariously on the steep, rocky hillside.

Source:,1356735 (Michael Reading)


11/8/2013 Imperial Valley Desert Museum, Ocotillo, CA

China Camp

NOTE: Photographs shown are not posted here.

When visiting the area, please respect all artifacts found there. Do not touch, take, modify, or impact the important part of history that this area represents in railroad and regional history.


Dos Cabezas: an historically significant area associated with the SD&A Railway.


According to a first-person article from an SDSU college student who worked as a surveyor for the SD&A in the summer of 1915, the railroad survey team moved to Dos Cabezas and was described as “What a miserable place; three mesquite trees, sidewinders, ordinary diamond backs and chuckwallas, some spot!”1 A stream came down between the two heads, and Dos Cabezas Spring provided a reliable water source.


In 1916, it was used as a construction camp, and, starting in 1919, it was used as a maintenance and repair station until the early 1950s. The maintenance and repair station is along the mainline tracks. [photos]


In 2011, sone of the buildings looked like this. [photos]


Original construction had telegraph “booths,” but the switch was made to telephones in the 1940s. [photos]


There is historical and archaeological documentation of a construction camp (“China Camp”) on the San Diego & Arizona Railway. A survey was done for the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park by Kevin B. Hallaran, Karen K. Swope, and Philip J. Wilke in January 19892. This site is not at the same place as the more recent camps but is in the same vicinity.


Some items described in the survey include:

A large drum-shape concrete object 75 cm. wide and 74 cm. in diameter, with an estimated weight of 650 kg. An iron rod more than 2 cm. thick extends through the axis of the object and protrudes 11 cm. on either end. It was made by pouring concrete into a mold, and it appears to have had smooth cement or mortar applied to its exterior. Scored into the wet cement on one end is “April 22, 1919” and the initials “BBB.” The smooth exterior rules out the possibility that it is a roller of some sort. It may be a counterweight, but its function has not been ascertained. [photo]


Metal can dumps and other debris are scattered in such a manner as to suggest the castoffs from small groups of workers subsisting primarily on canned goods. Little evidence of cooking or food preparation (pots, pans, dishes, spice and condiment containers) was found. We believe engineering and survey parties may have camped here for short periods of time, but perhaps over the course of several years. The way the cans were opened suggests that field personel ate directly from the can on a fairly regular basis. The remains thus point to use of the China Camp area prior to the time it served as an actual railway construction camp. [photo]


The primary structural feature to attract public attention at China Camp is the ruin of a building constructed of masonry and black blasting powder containers. Remains of the structure indicate that it originally was built with four substantial stone masonry corner columns. Rocks used in this masonry construction include those of basalt and other material not common in the immediate vicinity. The cans were set in mortar after each had been filled with sand and gravel and the opening cemented shut (still visible in 2003). Succcessive layers of cans were staggered. The structure originally stood about 3 m (10 ft) high and was placed slightly out of sight behind an outcrop of rock. Originally, an estimated 450-500 powder containers were used in construction of the building, but most of these are now missing. Doubtless the powder cans used in this bulding are castoffs from construction of the railroad grade and tunnels. The function of the structure is unknown. It was noted in the survey that a trail or road runs to the powder can structure from the east. [photos]


One site consists of a wooden frame with a pipe crossbar. The frame or “rack” consists of two upright timbers slightly over 2 m. high, separated by 1.4 m., and spanned by 1½ in. pipe. Its function has not been determined. [photo]


In what appears to be the main residential area of the camp is a riveted, corrugated metal conduit, open at the top, 94 cm. in diameter, and resembling a cistern or well head. A few timbers lay around the feature, and there are also several large stones in the area. [photo]


Two concrete cistern-like structures, identical to one another, are located north of the previously described metal conduit. These features are similarly configured, with sloping bottoms, and each has rocks placed in the ground around the rim. They each measure 119 cm. in diameter and 107 cm. deep. They differ from the metal feature in that the openings are flush with the present ground surface, and have always, apparently, been so. Stains on the insides of the walls of these features suggest that water stood at various levels at some time in the past. The function is unknown. [photo]


In another complex assemblage of structural remains, cut into the hillside, is a semi-subterranean structure of local rock measuring 6 x 7 m., with the floor 60 cm. below ground level. The structure once had a low, gabled roof. Ben Wyly of Jacumba (SD&AE track maintenance supervisor 1937-1979) related that this was the location of a mess hall. [photos]


It would seem reasonable to suggest that a residential area was established at the site of China Camp for a sizeable construction crew engaged in boring Tunnel 20, and perhaps also adjacent Tunnels 19 and 21, as well as nearby sections of the railway grade. This area is high and flat, and is the only suitable place in the vicinity. Situated in a small pass, it would have been cooler and more breezy than anywhere nearer the railway alignment. It was also located along an established wagon road which would have been important for transport of food, water, supplies, and equipment.


China Camp was dismantled after the line was put into service (The Park survey says about 1917, but construction of Carrizo Gorge was completed in 1919, so probably wrong)


The survey mentions that a bedrock mortar and pestle and a scatter of aboriginal pottery sherds are present. [photos]


1Mountain Heritage Volume 22 Number 2 Spring 2008  (a publication of the Mountain Empire Historical Society

2Kevin B. Hallaran, Karen K. Swope, and Philip J. Wilke. Historical and archaeological documentation of a construction camp (“China Camp”) on the San Diego & Arizona Railway, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, San Diego County, California. January 1989. UCRARU No. 943


1/21/2014 Oasis, Penasquitos Library, San Diego, CA

NOTE: Photographs shown are not posted here.

The Spreckels’ “beach house” mansion

After John D. Spreckels moved to San Diego from San Francisco, in 1907 he began construction of two mansions in Coronado. One, sometimes known as his “bay-side house,” was across the street from his Hotel del Coronado and was the one he lived in starting in 1908. It eventually became the Glorietta Bay Inn. [photos]


His second mansion was built a few blocks away at 1043 Ocean Bouldevard on 5 acres. [photo]


It was constructed in the Italian Renaissance Revival style as a “beach house” for his family. He later gave it to one of his sons, Claus, as a wedding gift in 1910. Claus’s wife, Ellie Moon Spreckels, added a 3,000 square foot unit at the rear of the property to serve as a guest house in 1928 and she lived there until her death in 1967 (Claus died in 1946 at age 88). The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII, was served tea here during his 1920 visit to Coronado. Both of the mansions were constructed with thick reinforced concrete to withstand earthquakes.The “beach house” was under Spreckels family ownership until 1970 when it was sold to outsiders. The 6,600-square-foot house was named a Coronado historical landmark in 1982.


In March 2007, millionaire Jonah Shacknai, CEO and founder of Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp. in Arizona, bought the 12,750-square-foot Spreckels compound for $12.75 million.


In July 2011, Shacknai's 6-year-old son, Max, was severely injured in a second-story fall down the stairs while under the supervision of Shacknai's girlfriend, 32 year old Rebecca Zahau. [photos]


Tragically, Max was pronounced dead in a San Diego hospital five days after his fall. Shacknai's ex-wife and Max's mother, Dina Shacknai, publicly questioned authorities' assertion that Max's death was an accident. She formally requested that the investigation into Max's death be reopened, but authorities denied the request. [photo]


Meanwhile, two days after Max’s fall, while Max remained hospitalized, Zahau's naked body was found bound and hanging by the neck from a second story balcony. Her feet were tied and her hands tied behind her. The Coronado Sheriff’s department declared it a suicide, but Zahau's family pushed for further investigation. The case was closed and remained listed as a suicide, although in July 2013, Zahau’s family filed a $10 M federal wrongful death suit claiming murder. Mystery still continues to remain surrounding both deaths. Ironically, Spreckels' Hotel del Coronado has been said to be haunted for many years because of the suicides committed by two women there. According to some, their ghosts still remain.


Following the deaths, Jonah Shacknai sold the 27-room mansion for $9 million to a group of investors who remodeled the house for resale. That was one of the 10 most expensive homes sold in  San Diego county in 2013. [photo]


The property was listed and includes the four-bedroom beach house that John D. Spreckels built in 1908, now renovated and with upscale furnishings, the three-bedroom guesthouse that his son Claus and wife Ellie built in 1928, and two apartments above the garage. The 10,500 square feet of living space includes 10 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms plus a four-car garage and a 1,000-square-foot basement. Initially, the property was listed for $16.9 million which was raised to $17.9 million in reaction to subsequent sustained interest. [photos]


Lynne Carrier, “Polishing an Oceanfront Gem,” Coastal San Diego Homes July 20, 2013; p. 4,6,8


9/6/2014 Pacific Southwest Region National Model Railroad Association 2014 Convention, San Diego, CA

Claus Spreckels (1828 – 1908), John D’s father.

He purchased 40,000 acres on the Island of Maui in Hawaii. In 1883, Spreckels purchased the entire Hawaiian crop of sugar to refine at his San Francisco plant. When he incorporated the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company with $10 million capital in 1884, it included four sugar mills, some 35 miles of railroad with equipment, a water reservoir, and the most advanced canal system in the Pacific region. With this addition to his holdings, Spreckels had assembled a veritable “sugar empire” that produced much cheaper sugar than competitors. This Hawaiian enterprise made Spreckels a multi-millionaire with a fortune estimated at $12 to 25 million in the late 1880s. By March of 1891, Spreckels was the confirmed sugar king of the West.


To transport bulk cargo, Claus Spreckels was also engaged in several railroad ventures. Maui was developed with the help of a narrow gauge railroad network, now merely a tourist attraction. From 1890, the Pajaro Valley Railroad Company connected Watsonville and the Pacific Ocean, providing a convenient transportation option for beets, farm products, and passengers. With the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railroad Co., incorporated in 1895, Spreckels broke the monopoly of the Southern Pacific Railway. In 1897, the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad linked the Watsonville and Spreckels plants, while the Bakersfield and Los Angeles Railway Company closed the gap with the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railroad, helping to develop middle and southern California. Spreckels’ last investment was the purchase of the National City & Otay Railroad for $700,000 two years before his death. Driven by his sugar interests, Spreckels’ investments in these other industries improved the infrastructure of his home state, where he was able to benefit from the economic rise of California agriculture.



10/9/2015 Outdoor Adventure USA annual BorregoFest

Goat Canyon Trestle

NOTE: Photographs shown are not posted here.

Photos of the Goat Canyon Trestle taken during the recent (November 2014 and March 2015) sanctioned hikes along the SD&A(E) hikes through Carrizo Gorge to the Goat Canyon Trestle were shown, taking the audience through what they would have experienced at the Goat Canyon Trestle and adjacent New Tunnel #15 and Tunnel #16 if they had participated in those hike experiences. Expansive and breathtaking views, intricacies and details of the wooden bents and support beams holding up the awesome trestle, remnants of a complex firefighting system, trails around the tunnels, rusted out old equipment, and the shakey, risky, wobbly, uneven, broken, patched up, damaged, sometimes repaired, disintegrating, rotted, pieced-together, walking surfaces over the magnificent, but scary as hell, Goat Canyon Trestle!


3/4/2017 Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association at PSRM

Surveying in Carrizo Gorge

NOTE: Dozens of photographs of austere, arid, and awesomely beautiful modern-day Carrizo Gorge were shown while the following excerpts were read. The narrative gives a brief glimpse into what life was like for those brave, hard-working men who sought and determined the 11-track miles route through the rugged steep canyon between the In-Ko-Pah and Jacumba mountains in the early 1900s.

Excerpts from:

Mrs. Isabelle Ferguson, Surveying for the San Diego and Arizona, Dispatcher, Railway Historical Society of San Diego, California, Issue 22, December 20, 1958.

NOTE: Isabelle Ferguson was the widow of the late Frank Ferguson who was in charge of field engineering for the San Diego & Arizona Railway

            Experts had called this particular “dream” the “Impossible Railroad,” on account of the dangerous and practically inaccessible terrain through the Laguna mountain range.  So, to accomplish such an undertaking nothing less than just that – the “impossible” must be tackled.

            That is where this bit of history comes in, the story of surveying for that impossible railroad…

            It was hard to realize the gruelling progress the men were able to make day by day.  Truly, Carrizo Gorge could have been one of the Creator’s dumping places.  Nothing but rock formations of every conceivable size, shape and kind lined the sides of this thousand foot deep canyon…

            They scaled huge boulders and sheer rock walls.  Many times this would only be accomplished by rope, often slipping or falling---sometimes into a nest of yucca spikes or sliding down on their seats.  At lunch time, they squatted on sizzling stone slabs to eat their hot melted sandwiches and drink, sparingly, hot water from the canteens…

            Each man had to stumble and scramble along, carrying his own bare personal necessities…

            The sheer enclosure of the canyon walls through living rock with burning sun overhead seemed the nearest to Hades as they might ever hope to see

            … the men had to wash their socks in the water they saved from washing their faces, after a suffocating hot day’s work.

            Where rattlesnakes abounded and even found comfortable rendezvous when they discovered what nice cosy spots could be had under the sleeping bags at night…

            For evening relaxation or occasional recreation, some of the party would attempt to recline comfortably on solid rock daybeds, others practiced shooting at chollas cactus targets, some took pictures.

            …There were thunder and lightning storms, cloudbursts, hot east winds and many catastrophes more or less dangerous.

            Some Old Timers can still hear the loud clanging music of the steam caliope that rode the first engine across the desert (now Imperial Valley) on the memorable day, November 15, 1919, when John D. Spreckels drove the golden spike.


5/24/2018 CityFront Terrace Homeowner’s Association

Trains and Watches

In 1886, when he was 23 years old, Richard was a telegraph operator in the North Redwood, Minnesota, train station for the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway. He was on duty one day when a load of watches arrived from the East. It was a huge crate of pocket watches. The addressee never came to claim them. So Richard sent a telegram to the manufacturer who didn’t want to pay the freight to get them back, so Richard was asked if he could sell them.


Richard sent a wire to every agent in the system asking if they wanted a cheap, but good, pocket watch. He sold the entire case in less than two days and at a handsome profit. That started it all. He ordered more watches from the watch company and encouraged the telegraph operators to offer high quality watches for a cheap price to all the travelers. It worked. It didn’t take long for word to spread and, before long, people other than travelers came to the train station to buy watches. So it was in 1886, Richard began a mail-order watch business in Minneapolis. The following year, he moved his business to Chicago and became so busy that he had to hire a professional watch maker to help him with the orders. The watch maker's name was Alvah. In 1893 Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck incorporated as Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Sources: (accessed 5/13/2018) Jim Davidson, The Southern Illinoisan July 19, 2014


12/14/2018 Coachella Valley Archaeolgocial Society, Palm Desert, CA

Jamul Kumeyaay tribal land

“In addition to the formalized eighteen federal reservations that served as home to a majority of San Diego County Indians in the early 1900s, there were pockets of families that lived off the federal reservations. Perhaps foremost among these was the Jamul village or ranchería. Located in the Jamul (Hamuul, sweet water) Valley along the old stage road linking San Diego County to Yuma and Baja California, this settlement was the remnant of a much larger village that dates back before the arrival of the Spaniards and one that played an active role in early San Diego history.


“By 1920 the Jamul village had drastically shrunk and was concentrated on six acres of land controlled by the Catholic Church and on land given to the Jamul people by John D. Spreckels, the sugar magnate and financier. Spreckels, who owned the sprawling Rancho Jamul land grant, had a special relationship with the Indians of the area. Many of them, including Antonio Cuero, uncle of Isabel Thing and a leader in the Kumeyaay community, worked for Spreckels on several of his Coronado projects including construction of the famed Hotel Del Coronado in 1886. Spreckels learned that the Jamul Indians were considered to be squatters on their own land and they, as well as other non-reservation Indians were in jeopardy of becoming entirely homeless. Spreckels deeded acreage to the Catholic Church to be held in trust for the Kumeyaay of Jamul. The Catholic Church subsequently turned the land over to the tribe for their exclusive use. Following federal guidelines, the six acres were then transformed from fee land to trust land and gained recognition as federally administered tribal land.”


Richard Carrico, Strangers in a Stolen Land, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, 2008; p. 171.



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Last updated April 27, 2020