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John Harford's 30" horse drawn railroad, San Luis Obispo

North American Narrow Gauge; West of the Rockies (including Canada; Mexico).

John Harford's 30" horse drawn railroad, San Luis Obispo

Postby Randy Hees » Fri Dec 26, 2014 5:43 pm

I am working on the early history of the Pacific Coast Railroad for an article for the site... The draft ended up speaking as much about the various landing as about the railroad... but of course it was a short railroad... Comments and more information welcome...

John Harford's Port San Luis, and his horse powered railroad

30" gauge
Horse powered
15lb rail
1 1/2 miles long
Maximum grade, 4%
operated 1873 to late 1875
Succeeded by the San Luis Obispo & Santa Maria Valley Railroad

For much of the modern history of California's central coast, particularly San Luis Obispo and the surrounding area, the sea was the long distance transportation method of choice, especially before the railroad reached down from the San Francisco in 1894, or connected to the south to Los Angeles in August of 1900, but even after the standard gauge railroads reached the area, the coastal steamers were a significant competitor, at least until WWII and with it shipping restrictions in part based on the threat of Japanese submarines ended the general coastal trade.

San Luis Bay, was one of the few sheltered spots along the central California coast which offered a place to build a wharf where ships could call to load or unload freight an passengers. The earliest landing was built at a site known as Cave Landing, about a mile and a half south of Alvia, at the mouth of San Luis Creek in 1855, with a stagecoach to carry passengers inland to the village which had developed near Mission San Luis Obispo. After more than 10 years of operation, and several changes of ownership, the site became known as Mallagh's Landing.
In 1868, a consortium of local merchants, lead by local lumber merchant John Harford built a new wharf close to the mouth of San Luis creek, at site of what would become the town of Alvia. The project, named "The People's Wharf" included a narrow gauge horse powered tramway (possibly less than 1000' long) on the wharf to a warehouse on shore (in what would become Alvia.) The new wharf opened in September 1869. Due to existing contracts with the passenger steamers, the new wharf initially only served the lumber trade, and as a result failed by 1872. A new consortium, again lead by John Harford, this time including at least one Steamer Captain purchased the Peoples Wharf Co., hired Mallagh as manager, and the "Peoples Wharf" became the dominant local wharf.

As early as 1871, John Harford was working on his own project to build yet a new wharf, two miles north of San Luis Creek, in the protected lee of Point San Luis. It was this project that would eventually lead to what is known as the Pacific Coast Railroad.

The new project, built slowly with limited resources included a 540' wharf, reaching out to water 15' deep, with a 30" gauge from wharf end, to land, then climbing to 80' elevation in only 2,000', (a 4% grade) along the bluffs following the ocean, through a tunnel, then along a general level route to the Valley of San Luis Creek, then down to the Peoples Wharf warehouse. Rails and cars were delivered in June of 1873, and the wharf and railroad opened in September 1873. The railroad had 10 flat cars, one equipped with benches for passengers. Operations called for horses to pull trains, typically of three cars, pulled by 6 horses, to the high point on the line, where the horses would be unhitched, with the cars then drifting downhill powered by gravity. At the end of the line, passengers and freight would transfer to stage coaches, wagons, and ox carts to continue their journey inland.

By October 1873 at least 4 ships were calling on the Harford's new "railroad" wharf. The older "Peoples Wharf" was leased to Goodall, Nelson & Perkins with their 4 steamers. The result was a commercial boom for the area with no less than 8 ships calling regularly. Due to competition, freight rates fell by 50 cents a ton.

The success of the new wharf and tramway lead to proposals and development. The first project proposed was the San Luis Obispo Railroad, a 30" gauge railroad (the proposal called for 2 locomotives, 18 freight cars, 40 "timber cars" and a passenger coach) which never went beyond the paper stage, while the next two both were built, a town at the mouth of San Luis Creek, to be called Alvia, and the San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria Valley Railroad, a 36" gauge line, supported by both local leaders and Goodall, Nelson & Perkins. By late summer, 1874, John Harford sold his railroad and wharf to the new company, joining the new SLO&SMV railroad as a director.

A locomotive and cars for the new 3' gauge SLO&SMV railroad were landed at John Harford's railroad wharf on November 8th 1875, with service starting December. With the new railroad in operation along the beach, the horse powered line high on the bluff was abandoned. It had been in service a bit over two years.

Randy
Randy Hees

Director, Nevada State Railroad Museum, Boulder City
Railway Preservation News http://www.rypn.org
Chasing old trains where ever I may find them...
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Re: John Harford's 30" horse drawn railroad, San Luis Obispo

Postby Andrew Brandon » Mon Dec 29, 2014 11:10 pm

So does this go under Common Carrier or Oddities? :geek:
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Re: John Harford's 30" horse drawn railroad, San Luis Obispo

Postby Randy Hees » Tue Dec 30, 2014 12:17 am

As best I can tell, it is not a published, chartered common carrier, but is a passenger and freight hauling railroad which would lead one to think common carrier... on the other hand, it is in part a gravity railroad, with argues for oddities... I could even accept it being an industrial railroad... it is a portion of a larger industrial entity... a wharf and all traffic was associated with that, it could be considered only a people and freight conveyor system.

But since it lead to, and was replaced by a common carrier (chartered as such) I tend towards common carrier, it only to keep it on the same page with the San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria Valley and the later Pacific Coast.

Randy
Randy Hees

Director, Nevada State Railroad Museum, Boulder City
Railway Preservation News http://www.rypn.org
Chasing old trains where ever I may find them...
http://randyhees.blogspot.com/
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Posts: 454
Joined: Mon Aug 17, 2009 7:07 pm


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