First Through Scheduled Passenger Train Over the Western Pacific

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Link to image of Last Spike Driven at Keddie, California.
With the last rails joined Lenonard Tomasso and the crew pause for a picture on Trestle at Keddie, California.
Hogan Photo, Frank Brehm Collection.

High in the Sierra Nevada’s on a trestle crossing Spanish Creek, north fork of the Feather River, the last rail was put in place from the track laying machine and spiked into place by the rail gang, the date being November 1, 1909.

Almost at that moment of completion of the great undertaking, Charles H. Schlacks, first vice-president of the Western Pacific, and Charles M. Levey, second vice-president and general manager, arrived in San Francisco, Schlacks coming from Denver, where until recently he had been vice-president and general manager of the Denver and Rio Grande, and Levey from his first official inspection of the new road as far north as Oroville.

Vice-President Schlacks stated that the company hoped to operate trains for freight service over the new road before January 1, 1910 although “No appointments of operating and traffic officers have been made, and until we return from a trip of inspection over the entire line no conclusions will be reached in this connection. We desire to see the line and to study its condition, so that we may form some idea as to when we may begin operating. We hope to run trains, at least for freight service, by January 1st."

Link to image of the first through train, an inspection by officials, at Oroville, California.
The first through train, an inspection by officials, pauses at Oroville, California.
Frank Brehm Collection.

The first train to make a trip over the now completed Western Pacific Railway line from the Pacific terminal at San Francisco, California to Salt Lake City, Utah where the line connected with the Denver and Rio Grande, left San Francisco on November 5, 1909 carrying Schlacks, Levy, and Virgil G. Bogue, vice-president and chief engineer.

"This will be the first through passenger train." said Schlacks, "but it will be a special and will not make any schedule time, it will be the first train on the Western Pacific that has started from one terminal and will have reached the other. The trip probably will last several days and will be entirely one of inspection."

Local freight operations had been started as soon as possible after rails had been laid in some areas and would now begin running the complete distance across the new system once cleared for through operations. Through passenger service was set to begin as soon as the proper equipment and motive power was on hand. In a telegram to the Western Pacific Celebration Committee in Sacramento, California on February 22, 1910 Levey wrote: “We now hope to inaugurate through passenger service June 5th, or shortly thereafter, but expect to commence running a local passenger train between San Francisco and Oroville early in April.”

Neither service began when hoped though as it was announced on March 29 that the WP would not start its local passenger service as previously anticipated. There was still a tremendous amount of work to be accomplished at the various stations and in getting the whole line ready for business with no estimate of when the system would be opened.

The roadbed down the canyon was rapidly being put in condition for fast train service. The unballasted portions of the road were receiving gravel just as fast as trains could deliver it, and a large force of men were engaged in raising and properly ballasting the track. At many points, during the previous winter the tracks had settled considerably, thus throwing the rails out of alignment and rendering the running of trains difficult and somewhat dangerous. These shortcomings were quickly being corrected in anticipation of providing regular freight and passenger service.

Mother Nature though had other ideas concerning WP running any trains. C. H. Levey and C. H. Schlacks left San Francisco on April 5 to the scene of a washout on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake. Superintendent Ogilvie of Salt Lake City had made a personal examination of the damage but was unable to state when traffic over the line could be resumed.

The washout occurred in a peculiar way on the extreme south end of the great salt sea between the towns of Grants and Lego, which are eleven miles apart. The Western Pacific tracks had been laid upon a high embankment built across a marsh on the shore of the lake.

Link to image of flooding from the Humbolt River.
Flooding from the Humbolt River caused considerable damage to the new road.
Frank Brehm Collection.

The fill withstood the power of the heavy salt waves which fell upon it as a result of the wind storm, but the ties and rails were swept off the embankment for some distance. Traffic over the Western Pacific lines had consequently been stopped in that division. Officials of the division where the washout occurred had been congratulating themselves because they had just succeeded in overcoming the congestion of local freight traffic.

Levey and Schlacks would have some trouble getting to Salt Lake though, as the same storm had also battered the line in Nevada along the Humboldt River.

Link to image of repair crews working on damaged areas after storms had passed.
Repair crews began working on the damaged areas as soon as the worst of the storms had passed.
Frank Brehm Collection.

Repair crews were mobilized, and the line made passable in less than two weeks. This made it possible to have a train of inspection cross the system beginning on April 12 with Darius Miller, president of the Burlington; Charles H. Schlacks, first vice-president of the Western Pacific and of the Denver and Rio Grande railroads, and Thomas M. Schumacher, vice president in charge of traffic of the Western Pacific. This was significant in that a probable traffic agreement between the Hill roads and the Gould lines was in the works.

Being able to have that line inspection proved beneficial as traffic agreements were concluded at a conference of railroad officials on April 16 whereby the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad and the Denver & Rio Grande’s Western Pacific line would interchange business in Denver and the Gould lines would thereby become the outlet to California for the Hill roads. It was also announced that through passenger trains probably would be operated from Chicago by way of Denver to San Francisco.

Official confirmation of this traffic agreement between the Burlington and Western Pacific was soon as the Western Pacific opened for passenger business a regular Burlington train was to leave San Francisco daily.

The train would run over the Western Pacific to Salt Lake City; over the Denver and Rio Grande to Denver and thence over the Burlington to Chicago, touching at the different cities of the middle west that are on the Burlington line.

T. M. Schumacher left Thursday evening, April 28, for New York with the express intention of conferring with President Jeffery of the Western Pacific relative to the organization of the passenger department. Instead Mr. Schumacher submitted his resignation, effective June 1, as vice-president in charge of traffic for both the Western Pacific and Denver and Rio Grande to become assistant to T. C. Stubbs, traffic director of the Harriman lines.

Link to image of Thomas M. Schumacher.
Thomas M. Schumacher.
Frank Brehm Collection.

This undoubtedly would now cause a delay in the opening of the Western Pacific for passenger traffic. It had been expected that a large number of appointments would be forthcoming upon his return to San Francisco. With Schumacher's resignation, however, Western Pacific was left without a traffic head at a time the road was preparing to open for passenger business, which made it necessary that the vacancy be filled at the soonest available opportunity.

May 23 marked the beginning of through freight traffic over the entire Western Pacific system when consignments from the eastern end of the line to the west coast could now be handled.

While work on the system was being rushed all along the line it was still impossible to say when through passenger service was to begin. For some months freight transportation had been carried on extensively in the Sacramento Valley and many local merchants had already received large shipments consigned over the new line.

June 5th had been envisioned for beginning through passenger service from Salt Lake to Sacramento, but whether the road would be open in time was still in doubt. In some parts of Nevada considerable work still had to be completed which had not been figured on when the date for completion of the system had been set, and now there was reason to doubt whether even July 1st would see the beginning of through service.

In anticipation of the completion of all parts of the road a good deal of the rolling stock to be used for passenger traffic had recently been forwarded from Salt Lake, where it had been kept, to Oakland. Dining cars and passenger coaches formed the major portion of this group, having come from the Denver and Rio Grande.

The surprise of the year in railroad circles was created on the afternoon of June 27, 1910, when it was announced that Edward L. Lomax, general passenger agent of the Union Pacific at Omaha, had received the appointment of passenger traffic manager of the Western Pacific, with his office to be located in San Francisco. The appointment would become effective on July 1.

The appointment of a passenger traffic chief for the new Gould line had been in limbo ever since the road began to operate its freight department in January 1910. Many of those in the railroad industry throughout the country had anxiously awaited the announcement, expecting that a Denver and Rio Grande official would be named to the job so this announcement caused a sensation among railroad officials as the expectation had been the appointment of a Gould system traffic man.

The appointment of Lomax meant that the Western Pacific was definitely getting ready to operate its passenger service. Passenger trains were now set to begin running about the third week in August, following a general inspection of the road by its officers, several of whom were now on their way to San Francisco.

The announcement was also made that through sleeper service between San Francisco and Chicago was to be inaugurated on the Western Pacific and Burlington within a short time, while through train service would be given from San Francisco to St. Louis also.

Prior to beginning scheduled through passenger service Western Pacific wanted to give the public a glance at what they had to offer in service and scenery. How better to do that than run a press special as part of the inauguration.

"We want the public to know what kind of a railroad we have," said Lomax on August 16, 1910. "We are giving the press the first peep. They will let the public know." With that said elaborate preparations were already being made by all the cities along the line of the Western Pacific to welcome the first regular through passenger train on the road.