Where the Santa Fe Began - in California

by Richard V. Dodge

Printed in DISPATCHER December 10, 1959 Issue 30

People used to come to Southern California for their health. Frank Kimball was one of them. The Kimball Brothers soon bought the Rancho de la Nacion and subdivided the northwest corner into a townsite named NATIONAL CITY. Then they subscribed 17,000 acres to induce the backers of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad to make National City its Pacific Coast Terminus.

The California Southern Rail Road was organized in 1880 to build from National City north to the San Luis Rey River, through Temecula Canyon to San Bernardino and on to a junction with the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad. The latter was preparing to build across New Mexico and Arizona.

All materials had to be shipped to National City by boat. Rails, track fittings and most of the steam locomotives and cars came in sailing vessels around Cape Horn. Ties were brought down from the north.

225 acres had been set aside for terminal purposes, for shops', a roundhouse, wharves, yards, warehouses, etc. Such facilities were built in 1881 and the station, still in service, in 1882. A creosoting plant was established to treat bridge timbers, piling and ties.

The main line was constructed to the present Oceanside in 1881; to Colton, junction with the Southern Pacific, in 1882, and to San Bernardino in 1883. Floods and the Southern Pacific hindered the extension through Cajon Pass until 1885. The last spike was driven on November 9, through service from and to Kansas City began on the 15th and, for a short time, National City really was the Pacific Coast Terminus of the now great Santa Fe Route.

A rate war followed, setting the stage for the fabulous Land Boom in Southern California, which reached its crest in August 1887. During the fateful period of subsidence and reaction, the California Southern and the California Central Railway, which had built the branch lines forming the Southern California network, were consolidated, for economy, into the Southern California Railway in 1889. The shops were transferred to San Bernardino, the company's headquarters were moved to Los Angeles and the creosoting works was shut down.

The 1890's were years, of near-stagnation and slow recovery. The panic of 1893 brought financial failure to the A.T.&S.F. RR., and the present corporation. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company emerged.

The chief industries of National City during the period were: citrus fruit packing; an olive oil factory; a parlor match factory, the only one on the coast(Some may remember the non-parlor variety in general use - "California Stinkers"); an ore reduction plant; lumber and brick yards, feed mills, manufacturers of farm implements, and wagons, water pipe and wire goods; also bottled Coronado mineral water, claimed to equal Wisconsin's Waukesha in medicinal properties.

The Southern California Railway continued to function until it was "sold" to The A.T.&S.F. Ry. in 1906.

Passenger train service was operated through to National City, usually two trains each way a day. When the San Diego & Arizona Railway was built, train service was reduced to one combination baggage and passenger car between San Diego and National City, but the substantial growth of the San Diego territory began. The combo, was operated until about 1935. Creosoting operations were resumed in 1924 and continued through 1950.

World War II brought great industrial growth which is still continuing at an ever increasing pace. This is resulting in vast growths of freight handling facilities needed in the San Diego area, including National City and Chula Vista.

Editor's Note: The above story, written by the Historian of the Railway Historical Society of San Diego, Inc., was prepared for members of the Advertising & Sales Club of San Diego on the occasion of the inspection - BY SANTA FE RAIL - of the growing industrial area of National City. This sheet was prepared by the staff of the Dispatcher, official Society publication. The special Santa Fe San Diego-National City excursion date was Sep. 30, 1959.

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