By Christian N. Brown
It was in 1904 that I came to San Diego, as an immigrant boy from Denmark, and my first job was as a ranch hand in Old Town; I was 17 at the time. After 19 months in the saddle I went to work for John Engebretsen, the contractor, grading India Street and tearing down the old bridge in Brickyard Canyon.
Later I was hired by E. A. Hornbeck, who was superintendent of the National City & Otay Railway, the La Jolla Railroad, and the San Diego, Cuyamaca & Eastern. They were all steam lines.
The N. C. & 0. depot was at Sixth and L Streets (part of it is still there) and we went out Newton Avenue toward National City, crossing Chollas Valley on a very high bridge, at the old Salt Works. By that time we already had stopped at Twenty-fifth, Twenty-eighth and Thirtieth Streets for passengers, and we stopped again at Una Street, before reaching the city limits at National City. Then came stops at Eighth and National Avenue, Fourth Avenue, Eighteenth and Twenty-fourth Streets. At this last stop were the round-house, and superintendent’s office. Then came Olivewood, Terrace and Sweetwater junction, before we went up the hill to Chula Vista. After reaching Otay we came to Coronado junction, where we connected with the Coronado Railroad. Then we crossed the Otay valley and up to Palm City, Nestor, Ware’s, Snell’s, Tavan’s, and finally to the border at Tijuana. We had three types of engines – Saddle tank, Suburban (with the engine and tender on the same frame) and later the old Cuyamaca Moguls.
From Sweetwater junction trains ran to Linwood, Bonita, Avondale, Sunnyside, Sweetwater Dam and La Presa, and to the quarries; the junction at Quarryspur was half way between Sunnyside and the station on top of the hill, at the dam. From there we went on up to La Presa, the end of the line, over four or five miles of very crooked track.
We hauled a lot of water from Baldheaded Springs, at La Presa. They called it Isham’s Nuvida Water; they had a very fancy label on the bottles, and some of it was carbonated. The bottling works was at La Presa, and from it they loaded the water into freight cars.
At that time we had some large box-cars (we called them “furniture cars” then, instead of “automobile cars” as they do today) and we had a rather green agent at La Presa. He insisted that a load was a load, so he had them fill the furniture car with water. How we ever got it down to National City to the scales I’ll never know, because the rails were light and the curves were sharp, but we got it there somehow. When they tried to weigh it Harry Snow, the agent at National City, couldn’t even weigh one end of the car at a time, because the scale wasn’t big enough. We moved the car onto a transfer track to the Santa Fe, and they made two big loads out of that one car.
When I first saw La Presa, there was an old, abandoned three-story hotel standing there, and a Mrs. Costella was running a sort of restaurant, furnishing meals to the teamsters who hauled materials from La Presa up to Lower Otay Dam by 8- and 10-mule teams; they hauled cement, lime and steel from the end of the track at La Presa, for the first Otay Dam.
John D. Spreckels acquired the N. C. & 0. in 1906, from the San Diego Land & Town Co., and consolidated the two lines (he already owned the Coronado Railroad) as the San Diego Southern. He hired Fred Bowman from the Santa Fe as superintendent; Bowman was very progressive, and he put on another train to handle commuters between Otay and Chula Vista, in addition to the regular train from Tijuana. I had the job firing, and we laid over at Otay, sometimes one or two hours, for the return trip. I had the opportunity to go through the old Otay watch factory, which was abandoned. They had left quite a lot of papers, records of wages paid and merchandise shipped out, and I read quite a bit of that. I’m sorry I didn’t keep some of those old, discarded papers.
The Coronado line had its own track which came in from National City, crossed the N. C. & 0. down in Chollas Valley below the salt works, and continued up Chollas Valley to Thirty-second Street. Then they ran along the Cuyamaca line down to the foot of Tenth, where it turned up to N Street and on to the foot of Sixth, where both lines used the same depot. The Coronado Railroad didn’t run regular passenger trains when I went to work, but we hauled quite a number of private cars around to the Polo Grounds at Coronado; these cars came in by Santa Fe and were transferred to our tracks at National City.
The “picnic cars” were open, with cross seats, and some of them were kept in the old-fashioned yellow color of passenger cars; incidentally, they had no air-brakes on them. The story was, and I believe it was right, that they came around The Horn in a sailing vessel, along with one or two engines for the Coronado Railroad. They were used to take people out to picnics, for the bull-fight trains to Tijuana, and over in Coronado, for handling holiday crowds between the ferry and Tent City. We made up trains of eight or ten cars with an engine on each end, and we met every other ferry. By the way, that was one of the “preferred” runs — not much money, but lots of fun.
When I went to work for the line in 1906, all of the engines had been converted to oil-burners. We still had link-and-pin couplers on the engines and some of the cars, although the Interstate Commerce Commission already had an order out to equip all engines and cars with automatic couplers.
I was promoted from fireman to engineer in February, 1909, and was running to Tijuana at the time of the revolution. One day I was at the line about noon when “General” Jack Mosby came across the line, after he was chased out of Tijuana. He was an Englishman, who was in charge of the rebels after David ap Rhys Price deserted them. Price was in command when the rebels took Tijuana and looted the town. After looting the postoffice and banks, he sent the money across the line — and then skipped across the border himself, leaving Mosby in command.
When the Mexican federals and the Yaqui Indians came over from Tecate they had machine-guns, while all that the rebels had was a conglomeration of old Springfields, 30-30 Winchesters, and anything else they could get hold of. They couldn’t stand up to machineguns, so they came across the line and surrendered to the United States Cavalry that was stationed at the border during the trouble. They gave up their horses and guns and everything else, and were taken to a concentration camp at Fort Rosecrans. The equipment was put in a tent in a little valley that was up toward San Ysidro, with the cavalrymen guarding it. I got acquainted with one of the boys there, and he got me a 30-30 rifle.
By that time the San Diego & Arizona already had been built past the border, and down into Mexico about as far as Redondo. Old Engine 50, with Joe Corbett as engineer and W. J. McCormick as conductor, arrived about the time of the fight, and went on across the line to do some switching. One of Mosby’s lieutenants came up to McCormick and put a gun in his stomach and said “I’ll take charge!” McCormick said “Yes, sit — go ahead!”
They happened to have some boys in the troop who knew how to handle engines, so they took the engine and two flat-cars, loaded up some of the boys and headed for the old Agua Caliente bath-house (there was no race-track then) but they only got around the corner. Before they crossed the river they met the Yaqui Indians with machineguns, and quickly came back. In the skirmish, they shot at the engine. At that time Old No. 50 had a wooden cab, and for years – until they replaced it with a steel cab – you could see the bullet holes.
Later I went onto the San Diego & Arizona Railway, and I retired in July, 1955, after 491/2 years’ service on various San Diego County lines.