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California \ Mount Diablo & San Jose Railroad

Mount Diablo & San Jose Railroad.

By Randy Hees

T he Mt Diablo & San Jose railroad never existed. It was the product of an elaborate practical joke, perpetuated by railroad historian Ted Wurm (Theodore Gusano, being Ted Wurm in Spanish). Ted told railroad historian Hart Corbett, that it was written while he was "stuck" in Oak Knoll hospital for a week after having his appendix removed, and was bored out of his mind.

Bruce Sorel, who first met Ted on a late 1930's Virginia & Truckee excursion, reported that Ted told him "I have a bunch of photos no one has ever seen...” and “I want to see if I can fool the experts".  Bruce hadn't heard the Oak Knoll hospital story, but noted that Ted had served in the navy (Oak Knoll was a Navy hospital) got bored easily, and if a new project didn't grab his attention, he would make something up.

Ted's knowledge of railroad history allowed him to weave a tale using verifiable facts about several real railroads (The Empire Coal and Railroad and the California and Nevada Railroad) to give the story the ring of truth. His narrative style in the book, seeming based on the reminiscences of his Grandfather is common in booklets produced by local historical societies. More than a few railroad historians accepted the book at face value. Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette publisher Bob Brown, included a review of the book in the may/June 1988 issue. Bob recently expressed both embarrassment and a little anger over the hoax. I did note that in that review, Bob noted that he had never heard of the line before.

From the book, In the Forward: “Historical accuracy, unfortunately, cannot be guaranteed. I can offer only soundly research and reasonably accurate speculation...” We include the story of the Devil's Shortline here, along with the real story behind the book, both in Ted's honor. It is our hope that future historians, stumbling across a copy of the book, will not be fooled (again).

"History" of the Mount Diablo & San Jose Railroad.

P roposed to run from Antioch on the Sacramento River southward using the tracks of the Empire Coal Mine railroad. The line then continuing along the east side of Mt. Diablo following Marsh Creek through Riggs Canyon and into Horse Valley. When the railroad reached the village of Diablo (called Blackhawk today) the line was to split, with the mainline running south to Livermore and a branch westward via Lafayette and Moraga where it was planned to connect with the California and Nevada Railroad.

The railroad was conceived as "a tourist and picnic" line, but it continued to carry coal from the mines formerly served by the Empire Coal Company. The primary freight over the line was gravel, much of which was supplied to the Santa Fe railroad which was building its line between Stockton and Richmond. Work on the Moraga branch came to a halt in 1904, when the California & Nevada railroad was sold to the Santa Fe, who wanted to use the C&N right of way for their Oakland branch.

Work on the mainline continued, with track reaching Livermore in early 1906.  The 1906 earthquake badly damaged the line, particularly between Diablo and Antioch, and lead to its formal abandonment the following year. The only reminder of this short lived railroad is a single ballast car, now part of the SPCRR collection at Ardenwood in Newark California.

Revised: April 2, 2015.

Gusano, Theodora. The Devil's Shortline: Mt. Diablo & San Jose Railroad: a Forgotten California Narrow Gauge. Albany: Ross Valley Books, 1988.
Hansen, Erle. The California & Nevada Railroad. North Hampton: R & S Printers, 1988.
Ward, Bert. "Mt Diablo Coal Mine Railroads Part 1", Western Railroader Vol 33, no 12, issue 370, December 1970.
Ward, Bert. "Mt Diablo Coal Mine Railroads Part 2", Western Railroader Vol 34, no 1, issue 371, Jan 1971.
Thompson and West. Contra Costa County Atlas 1879.

Reference Material Available Online:


Collected Mount Diablo & San Jose Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

Photographs of home built hopper at Ardenwood Historic Farm.
Around 2002 the car was lettered "Mt D & S J R R" in Ted Wurm's honor.

Equipment Drawings.

Drawings of Ballast Car #21.
Courtesy the Society for the Preservation of Carter Railroad Resources (SPCRR).

California \ Mount Diablo & San Jose Railroad
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