The Journal of San Diego History
July 1957, Volume 3, Number 3
Jerry MacMullen, Editor

By James E. Reading

Passenger service between San Diego and Escondido via Poway was in full operation in 1904, when the writer first became aware of that service. It was operated by John and Edward Granville as partners, using covered spring wagons drawn by four and six horses, carrying passengers, baggage, freight and U. S. mail.

My father, James S. Reading, was employed in 1904 to operate the half-way station, which was then located at the foot of the Poway grade on the northerly side, his job being to care for the horses which were changed at the half-way point for stages in both directions. During this period mother served meals for the passengers.

While a new Poway grade was being constructed in 1907, the stages were temporarily routed over the detour via Penasquitos Creek, which is approximately the present route of the Poway Cut-off from U.S. 395 into Poway Valley. During that same year the Granvilles converted from horse-drawn stages to seven passenger French-made touring cars. Within a few months the poor condition of the road began to take its toll, and it frequently became necessary to replace broken parts in the cars. Since few, if any, of the parts were available in the United States, they had to be ordered from Paris with all the attendant delays such procedures incurred. After struggling with the French autos for a couple of years, the owners switched to Model T Fords with generally successful results.

There were numerous interesting episodes which occurred during our occupation of the stage station. One day, shortly before noon and just about stage time, a lone horse ran wildly up to the corral fence. Dad recognized it as one of the stage horses and realized that something was wrong. He hitched one of the other horses to the buckboard and started up the grade. About three-quarters of the way up he found the stage upside down over the bank with Fred Blum, the driver, underneath, unconscious and badly hurt.

The other three horses were tangled in the harness, all with broken legs. Dad was always armed, so he immediately performed the unpleasant duty of shooting the three suffering and struggling horses. He tried to lift the stage, but was unable to move it alone. About that time a man who had been a passenger on the stage came down the grade and joined Dad. He stated that there was a young woman and her small daughter further up the road. The three of them had jumped in response to Fred Blum’s warning when the brake rod broke, and got off with minor bruises. Upon the failure of the brakes the heavy stage had evidently gained too much speed for the horses, run over them, and had rolled off the grade.

With the aid of the male passenger, Dad used the tongue as a lever and lifted the stage so that Mr. Blum’s broken body could be pulled out of the wreckage. He was taken to the old St. Joseph’s Hospital at Seventh and University on the San Diego-bound stage. In approximately four and one-half months, he was back on the job with all his broken bones mended.

Another “crisis” developed when a band of gypsies in three wagons and a buggy stopped at the station, and began examining the harness on the racks beside the road, obviously with covetous eyes and itchy fingers. At this time Dad was in a eucalyptus grove approximately 400 yards away, cutting firewood. Mother went out the back door and called to him, motioning him to hurry as soon as she could attract his attention. Dad came running to the house, found out what was happening and went out to face some ten or a dozen men and their families, alone except for his .38 revolver. After some tense and anxious moments, the gypsies piled into their wagons and went on their way.

During the 1906 floods there was a noon-time cloud burst which washed out bridges and culverts both ways from the station, marooning both stages and some sixteen or eighteen passengers over night. The men spent the night drinking, playing cards and telling stories, since there were scarcely enough beds to accommodate even the female passengers. One of these ladies, who was a member of a San Diego temperance organization, gave the men a severe tongue-lashing in an attempt to discourage their drinking. Later, on some pretext, she slipped out to the kitchen and asked mother for a drink for herself. The next morning the storm had abated and the sun was shining. Dad, the two stage drivers and some of the passengers succeeded in constructing brush and rock detours through the wash-outs, so that the stages were able to continue their respective journeys.

During our occupancy of the stage station I traveled the five miles to the old Poway School by means of a burro during my first grade year, and by horse the following two years. The horses I rode were stage horses, and of necessity young and far from gentle. Whenever my mount shied suddenly away from a startled rabbit or blown piece of paper, I was usually unseated. Generally, the horse would not stand close enough to a fence or rock to enable me to remount, with the result that I had to walk and lead him the rest of the way.

Escondido Stage, at the Half-Way Station. The author is the small boy at the left. At first the stage terminus in San Diego was at Hazelrigg’s Drug Store at the southwest corner of Fifth and F. Later the station was moved to the lobby of the old Pickwick Theater on the east side of Fourth Street, north of Broadway, and the name was changed to the Pickwick Stage Line. The Granvilles sold out, after the Model T Fords went into operation, to the owners of another and larger stage line, They liked the name “Pickwick” and adopted it for the combined system. Later this small operation was taken over by a syndicate buying up numerous stage lines throughout Southern California, again adopting the name “Pickwick” for the entire system. Eventually, still using the name Pickwick Stage Lines, this system became one of the three major stage lines in the U. S. They built numerous hotels in major cities throughout the west and middle west, all with the name Pickwick. Even after the Pickwick and Greyhound systems were merged, the hotels all retained the Pickwick name.

A trip on the old horse-drawn stages was a memorable event for the many tenderfeet, to whom that was their first experience. Fred Blum and the other drivers were experts with the whip, first loudly cracking it alongside the passengers’ ears, and then touching the lead horses gently on the flank with the forward lash. The road was none too wide, particularly on the Poway Grade. The drivers delighted in negotiating portions of the grade on a dead run with the outside wheels within two or three feet of the bank. The passengers leaned away from the bank in their fright, with the result that they could not see the edge of the road. This circumstance, coupled with their imagination, was sufficient to create a condition of near panic.

We were privileged to entertain travelers in the few horseless carriages which braved such a long trip in those days. One of these visitors was driving a five-passenger Rambler touring-car with the back entrance through the middle of the rear seat. He ran out of gasoline near what is now Big Stone Lodge; Dad supplied five gallons of kerosene (which worked all right), but the man had no money to pay for it. He left us a double-barreled Derringer as security, and never came back for it.

During our sojourn at the stage station, Dad’s school-teacher sister, Mary E. Reading, paid us a visit, and in the process met John Granville, one of the owners of the stage line. This began a romance which resulted in their marriage in San Diego in 1911. Uncle John entered the employ of the City of San Diego after selling the stages, and served until his retirement in the late Twenties as a foreman in the Street Department.