Train in Fallbrook

Originally Published In Village News Nov. 26 & Dec. 3, 1998

Contributed by the Fallbrook Historical Society

Don Rivers, President

Every year we have many tours by school children to our Museum. One of the frequent questions that are asked is "Where did the railroad go through Fallbrook and what happened to it?"

After the rail line was washed out twice in the Santa Margarita Canyon north of Fallbrook the new "surf" line was built between Oceanside and Santa Ana. Through arrangements with the owners of the vast Rancho Santa Margarita, the line was again rebuilt, but this time a new line was constructed. The old roadbed was used between Oceanside and the Ranch House, the present Commanding General's Quarters of Camp Pendleton. Beyond the Ranch House a new line continued past Lake O'Neil up over the hill (which was very steep, averaging 132 feet to the mile) through 14 area turning north into the Naval Weapons Station. There were branch lines leading to the numerous magazines where the ammunition and explosives were stored and transported by rail at that time.

Then the main line continued on toward Fallbrook exiting the Naval Weapons Station immediately south of the East Gate, across Main Street at Elder Street. The old station with it's siding was located on Alvarado Street. The only remaining signs of the station are two very tall palm trees. There was a Standard Oil Company bulk oil plant located just west of Brandon Way. The rail line ran easterly until it approached Brandon Way where it went northeast to a "Turn around Triangle." The engine and caboose would head east on the south leg of the triangle, then a switch would be changed and the engine would back up on the line heading north which paralleled Santa Margarita Road, then the switch was changed and the train would have been turned around and it was headed back toward Oceanside. This system was used instead of the "turntable" because there was no problem with space.

There was also a Union Oil bulk oil plant with a siding on Mission and Santa Margarita (about where the avocado packing plant is today) to receive and distribute oil products. The Citrus Association Packing House was the largest user of the railroad along with the lumber companies and oil companies. The train was used for freight only.

The train made the Fallbrook trip once a day in the afternoon Monday through Friday. After World War II with the improved roadways and truck transportation, the railroads lost business.

The roadbed washed out through Camp Pendleton in 1982 and the Santa Fe Railway Company decided not to repair the track. They removed the tracks throughout Fallbrook and gave the right of way to the Navy who spent $9 million dollars and maintained the line into the Naval Weapons Station. The floods returned in 1995 and it was determined to be more practical to move the ammunition by truck.

Going back many years to the actual construction of the California Southern Railroad, a part of whose main line became the Fallbrook Branch of the Santa Fe, we find that errors by the locating engineers were the contributing factor in the abandonment of the line from Temecula to Fallbrook Station, in Temecula Canyon.

Eastern engineers, unfamiliar with California rivers, set the grade stakes in Temecula Canyon just a few feet above the riverbed. Old timers of the area pointed out their mistake, tried showing them water marks much higher up the sides of the canyon walls. The engineers, convinced that the dry river never carried that amount of water, built the line as originally surveyed.

The winter of 1883-1884 was an exceedingly wet one. The Santa Margarita River went on a rampage through the canyon, and eight miles of track were washed out between Temecula and De Luz. Months later the line was rebuilt on the original grade. This time the track held until the winter of 1891, when floods once more raged through the canyon and many miles of track were washed far out to sea. A new line, having been built between Oceanside and Santa Ana, the old line was never rebuilt between Temecula and Fallbrook Station.

That part of the old line from Fallbrook Station to Los Angeles Junction (later called Fallbrook Junction) in Oceanside was operated as the Fallbrook Branch, about 20 miles in all. Fallbrook Station was located in the bottom of the canyon a mile and a half north from the town of Fallbrook.

The branch left the Surf line a mile north of Oceanside and dropped down to the Santa Margarita River, where it curved sharply to the east along a narrow bench between the river and some high cliffs. Farther on it came out into an open valley, which was followed to De Luz canyon. Beyond De Luz it entered Temecula Canyon to Fallbrook Station. Fallbrook Station consisted of a small depot, post office, store, water tank, turntable, storage tracks and homes for the train crew and engine watchman.

Between De Luz and Fallbrook Station the Santa Margarita River was crossed four times by means of "Floating Bridges." The first one was a quarter of a mile above the De Luz station. Two more were on a short horseshoe curve a mile farther on, and the fourth was near Fallbrook Station. These bridges lay flush with the river bottom, the track sloping down approaching them on a four or five percent grade, and leaving the river on the opposite side on the same gradient.

The two bridges on the horseshoe curve were 50 and 100 feet in length respectively, and were so close together that the track took on a roller coaster aspect. Extreme skill was required in both the use of the throttle and air brake in getting trains over this piece of track. Too heavy a brake application would result in the train stalling in the river bottom, and too light an application might result in derailment. Both engine and cars rocked alarmingly over these bridges.

As to the construction of the bridges, piling was driven in four rows across the river, flush with the sand. Large timbers or caps were laid across the tops of these piles. On top of these cross caps, stringers were placed parallel to the track, but not fastened to the caps. The rails were spiked directly to these stringers instead of ties. The track gauge was maintained by several three quarter inch, or larger, iron rods, threaded at both ends, and fastened with bolts and lock washers, through holes bored in the web of the rail.

The idea was not so much to save the bridge, but their floating on the surface as the water rose, but more, that when debris piled up against them to form a dam, the rails on one side of the river would pull loose and allow them to swing down stream parallel with the river. When the water receded they could be pulled back into position. In event the whole bridge was lost down stream, there would be no great financial burden in replacing it.

During high water it was the custom to stop the train before crossing any of the bridges. The brakeman would don hop boots, take a long pole and cross ahead of the train, prodding to see if the stringers were still resting on the cross caps. If all were well the train would dive down into the river and follow him across.

Heavy rains in January of 1916 again caused floods to pour through Temecula Canyon. At Fallbrook Station the bed of the river was scoured down to bedrock, some 20 to25 feet below the former riverbed. Much of the exposed bedrock was pitted with ancient Indian Metates indicating that the canyon had been a favored camping site of the Indians untold years ago. Much of the Santa Fe property was swept away. The engineer's house, surrounded by flood waters, remained as did the engine watchman's house, water tank turntable, the engine of the train and a few cars spotted on higher ground.

Salvaging The Remains

With the completion of the new railroad line to Fallbrook the question of salvaging the equipment still in the Santa Margarita River canyon was considered. The Santa Fe Railway Company placed a value of $25,000 on what was left after the flood.

Superintendent Hitchcock stopped off one morning at Oceanside for a consultation with agent and branch line train crew. He told them that the company had advertised bids for the salvage of the stranded equipment. The bids specified that the salvager was to deliver the engine, cars, turntable and all available scrap to a connection with the new line within 90 days from the time of the awarding of the contract.

He said he had received a bid of $40,000 from a responsible and reliable firm in Los Angeles, which proposed to construct a temporary line from Fallbrook Station to a connection with the new track, and that they had gone as far as to have the Santa Fe bridge area foreman go over the proposed route and estimate the cost of temporary bridges.

The superintendent further stated that he had received a low bid of $6,000 from a house-mover in Pasadena. He was in some doubt about the house-mover's ability to do the job, but as they had made good on several other company moving jobs, on the Arizona Division, and there being such a large difference in the amount of the bid, it put him on the spot. He wanted to know what the agent and train crew thought of the matter as for bonding companies had refused to bond the work. If the house movers were successful it would mean a large savings for the company. After thinking the problem over a while he decided to give the house-movers, "The Boys" as he called them, the job.

Equipment to be moved out of the canyon consisted of an 80-ton 2-8-0 locomotive No. 721, a 36-ton turntable, four refrigerator cars, one passenger coach, one baggage-passenger combination car, one tank car, one box car and an assortment of scrap material. Some of the cars were on their sides along the riverbank. Total weight of the equipment, including loads, was about 400 tons. The distance to be moved to a connection with the new line in the town was 8400 feet with a vertical rise of 463 feet up a maximum grade of 14 percent with a 50-degree maximum of curvature.

The salvage work was performed by five men and four horses, using two capstans and about 3,000 feet of one-half inch cable, several one-inch chains and cussin'. The capstans had 10-inch spools with a sweep of 108 inches and were each operated by two horses. At several places along the route the clearance was so close that it was necessary to dig out the hillside to allow room to operate the capstans.

Throughout the work every precaution was employed to safeguard the equipment on the unusual grades. Ties were placed behind each pair of tracks and 12 x 12 chocks were carried behind each pair of drive wheels. These ties and chocks were wired to the equipment in such a manner that they dragged along the top of the rail as the equipment moved forward. In event of a broken cable or chain, the wheels would settle against the timbers and avoid any possible chance of a runaway. Each piece of the equipment was chained to the track when not in motion.

Everything in the canyon that was salvageable was brought out. All available scrap was loaded in the box car and refrigerator cars, the turntable loaded on a flat car and, to reduce weight, the tender was cut away from the engine, the engine being the last piece of the equipment to be brought out.

A short distance from the starting point in the bottom of the canyon the equipment was switched over to a county wagon road, but as they neared the top of the hill the movers were forced to leave the county road and build their own right of way. Fifty pound rails spiked to ties were laid ahead of the equipment and torn up behind it and re-laid ahead as the work progressed. Two capstans, four horses, six single-sheaf blocks pulled the 80-ton locomotive up the 14 percent grade. On higher grades, two cars were moved by the same method at an average speed of six feet per minute. No "engine trouble" developed, and on grades under 10 percent, two horses easily moved loads up to 50 tons.

The engine was stripped to a 15-foot rigid wheelbase and was pulled around 50-degree curves without derailing. A maximum super-elevation of four inches was used on curves, and the inner rails were kept well greased with crude oil. Experience showed that the greasing of the inner rail on curves was necessary to keep the engine on the track, and that a four-inch super-elevation was the maximum that could be used without over-turning the rails.

Work was begun March 14, 1917, and all of the equipment was cut in on the new line in Fallbrook Sunday, June 10, 1917, well within the contract time. Superintendent Hitchcock was highly pleased. "The Boys" got their $6,000 and were rich.


Go To:

Fallbrook Historical Society
Fallbrook, CA Area Information: History
Elizabeth Yamaguchi's Writings On Fallbrook History


Copyright © 1998-1999 by Fallbrook Historical Society
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to the Fallbrook Historical Society at this source:
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Comments and feedback: Don and Mary Rivers
Last update: 24 January 1999.