The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1975, Volume 21, Number 1
James E. Moss, Editor

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Page 1. [map]

Hauling Lumber for Sharp's Heading

Page 2. Hauling Lumber for Sharp’s Heading.

Sharp's Headgate

Page 3. Sharp’s Headgate, Central Main Canal, 7 miles east of Mexicali, Mexico, September 1, 1906. Sharps Headgate, designed and installed by Engineer Charles N. Perry, served during the months when the entire flow of the Colorado was entering the Valley. Much of the time it was under much more pressure than designed for. During flash floods and high water periods, the water in the canal was often near the point of overflowing the top of the gate.


Dr. O.M. Wozencraft, on his way to the California gold fields in 1849, was the only man among thousands of emigrants, to recognize the potential of the Salton Sink. He envisioned the area as becoming a vast agricultural empire, irrigated by a canal from the Colorado river, almost exactly as it was done over a half century later. The project became his chief interest, and the remainder of a long life was spent in trying to turn his dream into a reality. Because of his years of dedicated effort Wozencraft earned the right and distinction of being referred to as “Father of Imperial Valley.”

In contrast to later men who were to share his dream, Wozencraft considered the first requirement to be ownership or control of all the land involved. Consequently his first steps were in that direction.

In 1859, as a result of a bill introduced before the California State Legislature, he was granted all the State’s rights to 1,600 square miles of land in the Salton Sink. The same year a similar bill, amended only to provide that title would not be issued until development started, was introduced in Congress. The bill was well received and would have passed had not the Civil War started.

After the Civil War ended, Wozencraft again attempted to introduce the bill before Congress only to find that body preoccupied with problems of reconstruction and unwilling to consider his bill. He never gave up hope and to the last year of his life kept trying to interest influential people in his project.


In April, 1900, George Chaffey signed a contract with the California Development Company agreeing to construct the main canal and the inlet structure for an amount not to exceed $150,000 to be paid to him in the form of stock in the company and other cosiderations. It was specified that the canal would have capacity to deliver 400,000 acre-feet of water per year.

He immediately brought men and machinery and started work on the canal and the inlet structure, which was called the “Chaffey Gate.” The work proceeded rapidly and on May 14, 1901, the first water was turned into the canal.

For a time Chaffey served as President of the California Development Company. However, because financial matters were not satisfactory to all concerned, he did not long continue to play a part in the affairs of the company. In February, 1902, he sold his interest to Rockwood, Heber, and other officers.

It was largely through Chaffey’s efforts that the name of the area was changed from the Salton Sink to Imperial Valley.


C.R. Rockwood came to Yuma in 1892 as engineer for a Colorado group incorporated as “Arizona and Sonora Land and Irrigation Company.” This organization had employed Rockwood, an engineer with experience in developing irrigation projects, to ascertain the feasibility of using Colorado river water to irrigate a large tract of land in the Mexican State of Sonora.

Rockwood was aware of the efforts, over thirty years earlier, of Dr. 0.M. Wozencraft to develop the Salton Sink area of the Colorado Desert. While the Sonora study was in progress, he took the opportunity to make a trip of a few days duration to see at first hand the area that had so impressed Wozencraft, and was as impressed as the young doctor had been.

When engineering data indicated the Sonora project was not feasible, Rockwood informed the Colorado men, and ended by telling them about the Salton Sink and the possibilities it held. They were interested and ordered him to make a preliminary survey, showing an estimate of acreage possible to develop, costs and other details.

When the preliminary report was forthcoming they immediately took steps to change their corporate name to the “Colorado River Irrigation Company” and informed Rockwood that if more detailed surveys were equally promising, there was two million dollars available to carry out the work. However, after the engineer conducted more detailed surveys and found the prospects even more promising than hoped for, the new company could raise no funds and was unable to continue. In 1894 Rockwood brought suit and was awarded the data that had been gathered and the engineering equipment. The company was re-organized as the California Development Company with Anthony H. Heber as president and C.R. Rockwood as Vice President.


Anthony H. Heber was drawn into the California Development Company by Rockwood in 1896 and was the first president of the Company. When the Southern Pacific Railroad took control of the Development Company, Heber was deposed as head of the Development Company but remained for a long time in the area, engaging in promotional work. He lost his life in November, 1906, in a hotel fire at Goldfield, Nevada.


Engineer Charles N. Perry came to Yuma with C.R. Rockwood in 1892 and conducted some of the early surveys of Imperial Valley. He designed and supervised the installation of the “Chaffey Gate” and many of the canal structures of the distribution system then being built in Imperial Valley.


The above photograph shows the NEW RIVER CANYON as it cut through the Mexican town of Mexicali on September 1, 1906. If the river had continued out of control this town and others on the north side of the border would have been completely washed away.
In his book, Imperial Valley and the Salton Sink, Cory wrote: “. . . .In nine months the runaway waters of the Colorado had eroded from the New and Alamo river channels and carried down into the Salton Sea a yardage almost four times as great as that of the entire Panama Canal. The combined length of the channels cut was almost 43 miles, the average width being 1,000 feet and the depth 50 feet. To this total of 400,000,000 to 450,000,000 cubic yards must be added almost 10% more for side canyons, surface erosion, etc. Very rarely, if ever before, has it been possible to see a geological agency effect in a few months a change which usually requires centuries.”


Epes Randolph, assistant to the President of the Southern Pacific Railroad system, was a construction engineer with many notable accomplishments to his credit.

To secure financial assistance from the Southern Pacific Railroad Company in turning the river, The California Development Company was forced to re-organize, naming Railroad Company men as officers of the corporation. Randolph was named President.

Turning the river proved to be a much bigger and far more costly undertaking than Randolph had thought. However, he was the right man for the job. It was his decisiveness that resulted in the Railroad Company marshalling enough men, machinery and money to accomplish what many engineers of that day thought was impossible.


Page 13. H.T. CORY
H.T. Cory received advanced degrees in Civil Engineering in 1893 and in Mechanical Engineering in 1896. He was a Professor of Engineering for seven years at the University of Missouri and Dean and Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Cincinnati for three years.

Cory joined the Harriman organization as assistant to the President. He served for a year as assistant to Epes Randolph and held that position when the Southern Pacific Company took over the management of the California Development Company and Randolph was named President.

Cory was at the peak of a distinguished career in Engineering when he took charge of turning the Colorado river in 1906-1907.


Page 14. THE “CUT BACK”
While passing Calexico the New River was cutting back at the rate of one foot per minute. The falls shown in this photograph were 28 feet high.

The cut-back action started during one of the many flash floods when more than one hundred thousand second feet of water was rushing down the two channels.

Had the cut-back continued to the Colorado the situation would have become hopeless.

New River 4 miles northwest of Brawley

Page 14. New River 4 miles northwest of Brawley. Three acres dropped out of sight in one piece.

   New River, before and after river break

Pages 16-17. “Before the river break, water to fill the needs of the Westmorland area was carried across New River Wash in a wooden flume located about two miles south and west of Brawley. (Above left). New River, previous to the Colorado getting out of control was no more than a fair sized desert wash, perhaps a hundred feet wide and ten feet deep. With the major part of the Colorado rushing down the wash, the flume was swept away and with it any chance of restoring water to the land until after the Colorado was again under control. With one exception all the settlers abandoned their homesteads and moved away. The one settler who stayed with his claim was Robert Kingsley and his family whose ranch was about two miles west of Westmorland. They raised a few pigs and chickens by hauling water over seven miles from New River during the twenty-two months there was no water in their canals. The cable way shown in the above photo was the only way of reaching the area for two years.”

Quotation and photo from Charles E. Nice, pioneer settler and present resident of Brawley.

“Almost all the men, women and children of six Indian tribes were at the site of the river break in a separate camp of about 2,000 people. About 400 workers could be depended upon from this collection. The men were paid 20c per hour and every nine men received an additional one man’s pay for a squaw to cook for them. They bought their own supplies, and to avoid paying duty on crossing the line, built their camps on the Arizona bank, crossing the dry channel below the break to and from work.” H.T. Cory, Imperial Valley and the Salton Sink. The photo is from Cory’s collection.

Rockwood Headgate February, 1906

Page 19. Rockwood Headgate February, 1906

Rockwood Headgate Completed April 18, 1906

Page 19. Completed April 18, 1906

Train wreck

Page 19. The Rockwood Headgate was completed April 18, 1906, at a cost in excess of $122,000. A series of rock dams built across the break gradually raised the water level which began flowing through the wooden structure as planned. It soon became evident the headgate was failing, and on October 11 the huge wooden structure buckled in the center and went out with a crashing roar. In a desperate attempt to save the headgate, a railroad trestle was hurriedly built in front of the structure so that heavy rock could be dumped to keep pressure off the gate. However, the trestle gave way and the train was wrecked.


Page 21. The SILAS J. LEWIS
Because previous experience indicated that rock dumped into the river would simply sink out of sight and continue settling into the mud of the river bottom, placing brush mats under all rock dams was considered mandatory. Consequently a device was developed to make possible the weaving of wide and strong mats rapidly.

The barge, Silas J. Lewis, 100 feet long and 35 feet wide, shown in the above photograph, was equipped to weave brush mats 100 feet wide and continuous for as long as might be required. A dozen drums of one-half inch steel cable were mounted below the deck with the ends of the cables extending across the deck between each skid and on ashore to be anchored to dead men firmly set. The great mats were woven with steel cables as the warp, or longitudinal strength of the mat. Smaller cables and wire tied the long brush facines securely to the steel cable warp. When the width of the deck was covered with the facines woven and tied in place, the barge was moved out sideways across the width of the river, and the 35 feet of 100 foot wide mat would settle into the water to be saturated with silt and sink heavily to the bottom. No further weighting was needed.


Mat making crew on the barge Silas J. Lewis wedging and tying long facines of willow and arrow-weed in place.

The trestles from which the final closing was made washed away several times before rock dumping started. Load after load of rock disappeared in the torrent as though dumped in a bottomless pit. Once started, dumping of rock and gravel in the crevasse never stopped until the river was again flowing toward the gulf.

When the river had been turned and the rock dams were near the top of the trestles, the space between the two was filled with gravel and clay settled into place by high pressure streams of water.

The final closing, exclusive of other necessary rip-rap and reinforcing of levees, required 1,517 “battleship” cars of rock, 2,052 “battleship” cars of gravel, 956 “battleship” cars of clay and 1,240 flat cars of large rock.


Illustrations courtesy the H. T. Cory Special Collection, Powell Library, University of California, Los Angeles.