TIDEWATER SOUTHERN HISTORY

DREAMS OF EMPIRE.. 1910-1917

Since the 1870's, when the Central Pacific/Southern Pacific juggernaut had cemented its stranglehold on California's Central Valley, the resident's and industries had tried to find ways to break its grip. The coming of Claus Spreckels' San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railway (sold to the Santa Fe in 1900) had helped bring competition to the valley, but by the 1900's, the new interurban movement had local promoters again looking for ways to bring new competition to the "friendly" SP.

The Central California Traction Company began discussing a southern extension while its line from Stockton to Sacramento was still being built.  CCT General Manager Samuel McLenegan made public comments in February 1908 that the company wanted to reach Modesto.  In March of that year, a committee of made up of Manteca, French Camp, Lathrop and Ripon residents met to create a plan to acquire right of way for the CCT.  On March 18, this committee incorporated the South San Joaquin Improvement Company to work toward the goal of extending the Traction Company through their communities.

The management of the CCT continued to make bold claims of reachin south until April 4, 1908.  In a press conference, Traction Company officials stated that any extension to Modesto rested with the local residents and their willingness to purchase $400,00 worth of bonds.  The support fell away and the idea of an interurban to Modesto lay silent for a time.

In September of 1908, the San Joaquin Valley Electric Railway announced plans to construct a 35 mile railroad between Stockton and Modesto passing through French Camp Manteca and Ripon.  Promoted by one Morris L. Brackett of New York, the venture became know as the "Brackett Road".  The road was incorporated on October 3, 1908 with a listed capitalization of $1,000,000 and another New Yorker, H. C. Holmes, as President.  Meetings were quickly held with the Stockton City Council and the Modesto Board of Trustees to determine routes within the terminal cities.  While the SJVE met with success in Stockton, the Modesto Trustees did not like the proposed alignment and denied the SJVE's franchise.  Negotiations finally led to the granting, on December 16, 1908, of a franchise to operate on Ninth Street.  The SJVE now claimed it possessed all the rights of way and franchises to allow the road's construction.  Vice-President Brackett confidently announced that the company would have rails to Ripon by July 1st, 1909.  He also stated that the SJVE would not be a fully electrified system, but would instead rely on self-propelled gas-electric motor cars.

Competition was brewing however.  Although the CCT appeared to have lost interest in a Modesto extnesion, others besides Brackett viewed the Stockton-Modesto corridor as an opportunity.  On October 29, 1908, the Stockton Evening Mail reported that a group of valley farmers, in association with J. A. Mitchling of Cincinnati, Ohio, had quietly been buyin land in Stanislaus County for use in building an electric railway north out of Modesto.  According to land maps from the TS company records, some of the purchases were occuring as early as 1905.  This name of this new line was reported to be the Tidewater & Southern Railway.

 

While 1909 passed quietly, 1910 saw a flurry of activity around these fledgling ventures.  In July 1910, CCT Vice-President George Peltier stated that the CCT was still planning on extending to Modesto and even as far south as Fresno.  Eventually, however, this idea was dropped and the CCT remained as a Stockton-Sacramento property.

On October 3, 1910, articles of incorporation were filed for the Tidewater & Southern Railroad (or Railway Company, there are conflicts as to which was the official name), which was to build a standard gauge railroad from Stockton southward. Once, extensive riverboat traffic on the San Joaquin River had provided reliable transportation as far as Fresno. But, by 1910, silting of the river's channel had built up to a point that navigation beyond Stockton became nearly impossible. Hence, the name "Tidewater". 

The new company offered a stock issue of 10,000 shares and began refining the route on which to lay its railroad. An investment prospectus issued as the time touts the advantages of the future road and displays the still uncertain routing.  The cover seems to display both the route of rival San Joaquin Valley Electric and the T&S own stated line.  On January 28, 1911, amended incorporation papers were filed, listing Stockton as the principal place of business.  By 1911, the company had announced intentions to build from Stockton, through Modesto, to Turlock and "other points south" (including a proposed connection with the Ventura County Railroad), as well as a branch from the town of Atlanta to Ripon. To this end, it amended, in early 1911, its stock offering to 750,000 shares of common stock and 250,000 shares of preferred. All stock was listed as providing a semi-annual, 6% dividend out of net profits, with the preferred stock, of course, earning in priority. The railroad was to be in operation by July 1 as far as Modesto. On February 1, the Robert Engineering Company secured the contract for construction of the line.

Meanwhile, the SJVE had begun grading its own line on August 1, 1910.  In November, the San Francisco based firm of Moriarty and Perkins received a contract to build a bridge of the Stanislaus River.  The railroad had also abandoned plans to use gas-electric cars and instead stated that it would be a third rail electric.

Tracklaying on the SJVE began in April, 1911, however the line was showing signs of trouble.  During the fall of 1912, there was much discussion about merging the SJVE with the Modesto and Empire Traction Company, but they came to naught.  The SJVE forfeited its charter on March 1, 1913 and the line quickly sank beneath a fusliade of lawsuits against Brackett and the other officers of the company.

While the SJVE still appeared to be a threat to its own plans, the T&S sought to gain an advantage and secure terminal trackage within Modesto.  The Tidewater & Southern proposed, on April 18, 1911, to lease and operate the Modesto Interurban Railroad, then building a line from Modesto east to the town of Empire. The plan was accepted and the T&SRR brought in a gas car (literally a car, it was an automobile with flanged wheels) leased from the Stockton Terminal and Eastern Railroad to run on the MI line. It arrived on April 30 and was used for only a matter of months. With the T&SRR being intent on building its line, the MI was allowed to begin falling apart. On October 17, 1911, the lease was ended and the Modesto Interurban was reincorporated as the Modesto and Empire Traction Company. This little railroad would continue to play a large part in the Tidewater story until the present day.

The T&SRR only managed to lay about four miles of rail on a graded roadbed of nine miles between Modesto and Turlock by the end of 1911. Another company, the Tidewater & Southern Transit Company, was incorporated on February 16, 1912. This company proposed to build from Turlock to Fresno, a city which would remain a goal of the successor Tidewater Southern Railway for some 20 years. The T&STC graded some four miles of roadbed near the Merced River, but never laid any rail. 

On March 11, 1912, the two companies were consolidated to form the Tidewater Southern Railway, under the leadership of T&SRR president Byron Bearce. By May 1912, grading was completed between Escalon and the Stanislaus River. The first motive power arrived in July when an 1882 vintage 2-6-2T was purchased from the SP. (It does not appear that either the T&SRR or the T&STC owned any rolling stock, although switchlocks and other small items still exist with T&S markings.) Construction moved quickly during 1912, with the 32.23 miles mainline from Stockton to Modesto being opened by October.

The original mainline of the TS entered Stockton to the east of the Western Pacific line, coming up Sharps Lane and Pilgrim Street before entering CCT/SE trackage just past the Santa Fe line.  The TS maintained a joint terminal office with the CCT at Weber Street and El Dorado in the Stockton Hotel Building. Trains originated at the Stockton waterfront, about two blocks west of the terminal office at the end CCT's Weber Street line.  According to some early timetables, however, it appears that the pre-electrification TS passenger trains were routed onto the Western Pacific, probably via a connection at Ortega used for freight interchange, and terminated at the WP Stockton Depot.

By 1918, the Sharps Lane route was abandoned and the road made its entry by crossing the SP and WP tracks at Ortega, then using the trackage of the former Alameda and San Joaquin (a predecessor line to the WP, which used the A&SJ line south of Ortega) running along the west side of the SP line, and finally using trackage rights on the Central California Traction Company/Stockton Electric Railway line up Center Street to the joint office with the CCT.

With its mainline open, the Tidewater began opening up land along its route to new towns and developments. One such site was the town of Atlanta, to be built on land owned by the railroad. In mid-1913, the Stockton firm of Storey & Triola began advertising lots for sale in Atlanta, ranging in price from $250 to $400 with 10% down! In writing, these developments were viewed as future vital centers for trade and commerce, but few if any every flourished the way the railroad hoped.

The Jewett Car Company built three combination interurban cars for the Tidewater in late 1912. (Sources indicate that a fourth car was also built, a baggage interurban, but few details of this car are known.) The installation of 1200 volt DC overhead catenary began in May of 1913 and was complete to Modesto by November. On November 15, electric passenger service commenced with each car making three daily roundtrips between downtown Stockton and Modesto. Running time for the one way trip was carded at one hour and twenty-five minutes. The competing SP trains required 15-30 minutes longer for the same trip.

On January 15, 1914, the Tidewater took delivery of its first electric freight locomotive, wooden body steeplecab 100. Built by the CCT in Stockton from a flat car, it had been CCT 1, work motor and sprinkler car. The little locomotive's 260 horses would prove underpowered for the TS trains, and in 1920, it would be rebuilt with 110 hp motors for a total of 440 hp.

The line was an early success. By 1916, the Tidewater Southern was operating 24 trains daily between Stockton and Modesto. The 33 mile trip time had been shaved to 65 minutes. Picnic trains ran to the Stanislaus River during nice weather with special rates in effect on Saturday evenings and Sunday roundtrips. However, by early 1915, the growing prevalence of the automobile made it clear that the TS could not rely on passenger revenues alone. It was decided that interurban service, and the catenary, would not be extended beyond Modesto. No regular passenger service would ever be offered outside the Stockton-Modesto corridor.  Freight continued to grow, however.  During World War II, the TS even found it necessary to lease additional motive power.  Oakland, Antioch and Eastern box motor 101 came over on a monthly lease, helping move the heavy wartime traffic.  This motor would later become Sacramento Northern and make a repeat visit to Modesto.

In July 1916, the Tidewater Southern made good on the original promise of the Tidewater & Southern by opening an extension to Turlock. One year later, the mainline reached the town of Hilmar, diverging from the Turlock "branch" at Hatch. While plans would exist into the 1930's for further extensions down the valley to Fresno and Bakersfield, the line never extended beyond Hilmar. In May 1918, the last major trackage was added to the line when a 6.6 mile branch was opened to Manteca from Manteca Junction. 

In 1918, the road also entered into a plan with the Modesto and Empire Traction to expand industrial trackage in downtown Modesto. MET President T. K. Beard proposed that the TS build, maintain, and pay all levies on a terminal area for the two roads just south of downtown. The MET would pay rent to the TS and they would have joint operation in the terminal. In 1920, the area was placed under the control of the Modesto Terminal Company, an affiliate of the MET. The joint operation arrangement would last until 1958, when the MET took over sole operation. 

The Tidewater's plans of southward expansion captured the attention of the Western Pacific Railroad. Fresh from its first bankruptcy and free of its original charter restriction prohibiting it from building or acquiring branch lines, the WP was in a mood to grow. In January 1917, a majority of TS stock was purchased by the Western Pacific Railroad.

DEATH of an INTERURBAN.. 1918-1946

Western Pacific ownership wrought several immediate changes.  Steam locomotive 1 was replaced in 1917, when the Tidewater purchased Western Pacific 126. A 4-6-0 built by the Rome Locomotive Works, this locomotive had been built in 1891 for the Denver and Rio Grande and had come to the WP via the Boca and Loyalton. It was renumbered as second Tidewater Southern 1 and saw use in construction of the railroad south of Modesto following its arrival in February 1918.  In addition, the original Sharps Lane entry into Stockton was abandoned and replaced with the alignment following the former Alameda and San Jouquin line past the Santa Fe depot. 

While passenger revenues declined, freight continued to grow. June of 1921 saw the purchase of a 60-ton GE steeplecab motor numbered 106, TS' first brand-new freight power and a virtual twin to Sacramento Northern's 650-654 locomotives. This engine joined with the recently remotored 100 to power growing freight trains. The Tidewater also began the practice of borrowing WP power as needed. The most common visitor was WP 124, a small 2-8-0 that had been built in 1882 for a part of the Southern Railway family and had been a stable-mate of TS 1 on the Boca and Loyalton. WP 125, a small 4-6-0, would also be leased from late 1928 to late 1930, and nearly became a Tidewater locomotive. At this time, the TS also owned two cabooses numbered 301 and 302. These hacks would be replaced by two second-hand cabooses using the same numbers in 1939. 

By 1922, the Stockton-Modesto trains were reduced to 22 per day. On occasions when demand was high, the TS borrowed two Holman-built trailers from the CCT. Period of high demand became rarer and rarer, however. Despite excellent service, increasing use of automobiles bit further into passenger revenues. The onset of the Depression marked the beginning of the end, as it did for so many interurbans. Service in 1928 stood at 18 daily trains, but by 1932, the TS only offered 8 trains per day. The last electric interurban ran on May 26,1932, ending 19 years of service. Passengers were carried in a daily mixed freight pulled by steam and electric locomotives. The beautiful Jewett cars are widely reported to have served for a time, demotored, as caboose/coaches.  However, TS records seem to indicate they were not used in this service regularly, if at all, and instead sat in storage until at least 1934 or 1935.  At some point, they were detrucked and set up as section houses at the junction point of Hatch.  Today, one, the 200, sits awaiting restoration in a shed at the Western Railway Museum at Rio Vista Junction.  Car 202 still sits on a ranch in the Hatch area.  The fate of 201 and the express motor 300 are unknown.

With the end of interurban service, the line into Stockton was cut back to Mineral Baths, about a mile north or Ortega. According to some sources, this first abandonment of TS trackage was quickly followed by the severing of the Hilmar line south of Chemurgic, although this is probably in error as timetables showed this line in place in the 1950's.  When built, this had been considered the mainline when the Tidewater still had its sights set on Fresno.  However, by the early 1920's (according to the early abandonment sources), it had been demoted to branchline status, although it was still treated as the mainline in timetables.  Aside from the line from Chemurgic to Hilmar, no more lines of the Tidewater Southern would be abandoned until over 50 years later.

(There are actually many questions about the Hilmar line and its status.  While several sources indicate it was a branch removed in the mid-late 1930's, TS Employee Timetables as late as 1955 not only list the Hilmar line as being in service, but indicate it, and not the Turlock line, is the mainline.  The line from Hatch to Turlock is listed as the Turlock Branch.  In addition, several persons knowlegable in TS history have stated that no depot ever existed in Hilmar.  However, an issue of WP Mileposts shows a depot labeled as the Hilmar Depot standing and with tracks in 1953 and official TS records indicate a depot in Hilmar as part of land sales in the town in the mid-1950's.  To further muddy the waters, Ben Cantu of the Tidewater Southern Historical Society published, in the Society's Tidewater Journal, of finding a depot-like building in Hilmar on the former TS alignment, although this was later determined to be unlikely that the building was the Hilmar depot.  Further information would be welcome.)

The overhead began coming down with the end of interurban service, however the city of Modesto would play a vital role in keeping some of the Tidewater under wire.  Fearing smoke-belching steam trains on its major road, Ninth Street, the city passed an ordinance forbidding the operation of steam locomotives on its streets.  Thus, the railroad was forced to retain 2.1 miles of electrified trackage between south Modesto and Aurora station in the north, along with associated yard trackage.  Electric motors 100 and 106 continued to haul the freight trains, steam locomotive and all, down Ninth Street and perform local switching, occaisionally supplemented by SN 601 or a CCT motor. 

With the removal of the overhead, more Western Pacific steam locomotives were used to augment the 1 in handling the abundant fruit and vegetable traffic. Beside the ever-present WP 124, ten-wheelers from the 90 series were often seen running through Modesto. In 1940, the Tidewater purchased Sierra Railroad 32, a Baldwin 2-6-2. This locomotive had been built in 1923, had seen use on the Angles Branch and on smaller Sierra trains, and was well suited for the one-time interurban's light trackage. In 1941, it was renumbered to 132 to avoid confusion with WP 32 when the locomotive was in Stockton for servicing. Since Tidewater Southern engines were at the Stockton roundhouse alongside WP engines, this was deemed prudent. It is interesting to note, however, TS 1 was never renumbered to avoid confusion with WP 1. 

During WWII the TS would borrow whatever diesel and steam locomotives it could from the WP to handle booming war-time traffic. During this time, the TS traded its steeplecab 106 to the WP's Sacramento Northern Railway in exchange for the use of SN motors 601 and 602 for the duration of the war. Borrowed WP SW1s and S1s started the wave of dieselization on the Tidewater, however it wasn't until after the war that the company's own diesels began to arrive.

DOING the JOB..  1947-1966

 

On December 21, 1946, a 44-tonner arrived from GE numbered 135. It had been ordered along with five similar "mice" for the Sacramento Northern and brought about the retirement of TS 1. The venerable 4-6-0 was put out to pasture in November 1946, and its tender applied to WP 124, lettering intact, which continued to haunt TS rails. New 135 began working mainline trains and often rotated with the two "juice-jacks" in the Tidewater's signature game of "pull the steam train" down Modesto's Ninth Street. In April 1948, two GE 70-tonners arrived numbered 141 and 142. These locomotives heralded the end of electric service on the line. GE motor 106 had been sold to the Sacramento Northern as SN 670 on March 31, 1948, although it appears to have moved to the SN some months earlier. Wood-body motor 100, the first electric freight engine on the road, would hold out to be the last, finally retiring on April 26, 1948. After 35 years, the last wire on the Tidewater came down.

In 1951-52, all three TS diesels were renumbered replacing the 1 in their numbers with a 7. GE 70-tonner 743 joined the road in mid-1953.  By 1954 or 55, TS 132, perhaps the last revenue steam locomotive left on the WP system, had its fires dropped for the final time. For the first time since the earliest days, the Tidewater was using only one kind of motive power.

According to company records, it was about this time that the Hilmar line was abandoned beyond Chemurgic.  It is uncertain when service to Hilmar ended, but the railroad land in the town was all sold by 1956.  Other land and structure sales began occuring as the traffic base shifted from fresh produce to canned and manufactured goods.  Packing sheds, once numerous and vital, would begin to disappear as would the freight agencies that managed them.  While the line was losing these symbols of old prosperity, it was also being rebuilt with heavier materials to handle the growth of its new traffic.

The Tidewater would remain very stable through the bucolic late 1950s and the turbulent 1960s. The road was prosperous, hauling a bounty of agricultural products from the numerous packing companies and food plants along its route and from the MET interchange in Modesto. Management declared dividends in the early 1960s (WP was a majority owner, there were still independent shareholders) as the company continued to post profits. 

Profits and growth meant more traffic was rolling down the rails. Built as an interurban, the Tidewater had long suffered from a physical plant that, while well-built and sturdy by trolley standards, was not up to the task of modern, high capacity freight cars. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the road upgraded its structure, laying heavier rail and replacing several original bridges with sturdier structures, including the long Stanislaus River Bridge south of Escalon in 1955.  According to some sources, these upgrades allowed the retirement of steam engine 132, which had been retained partly to work light trackage, and would later allow the TS to use larger, more modern diesels and freight cars.

Traffic growth was handled with borrowed WP switchers and geeps and leased SN 44 and 70 tonners. And TS motive power often stepped off-line to aid its parent and sibling. The caboose roster changed, with the road adding three of WP's signature outside-braced, wood-body cupola hacks to replace its existing three car roster. The most notable changes on the line were in its freight rolling stock, as the Tidewater updated its fleet of boxcars and gondolas. Most noticable was a series of boxcars bearing the "Cornucopia" logo, perhaps one of the most colorful railroad heralds in history.

The "Cornucopia" cars were conspicuous examples of the Tidewater's independence from parent WP. While the SN was slowly being dismembered through the 1960s and on into the 70s, the Tidewater held on to its physical integrity and its identity. Big changes in motive power finally came in 1967, when two Alco S2s, late of the Missouri Pacific, were brought in to replace the obsolete GEs.

 

 

more history coming....

 
 
 

A postcard view of the Stockton Waterfront as it appeared in the late 1910's and early 1920's.  It was here that the railroad reached "Tidewater".  Stockton owes its position as a railroad crossroads to its location on navigable water.  The TS and CCT shared trackage into the port area.

Eugene John Vicknair collection

The Stockton Hotel, location of the joint Tidewater Southern-Central California Traction depot and ticket office in central Stockton.

photo by W. C. Whittaker, courtesy of the Dave Stanley Collection