Got a time machine? Go back to Santa Rosa in the months before the 1906 earthquake and tell the City Council to put a moratorium on new brick building construction. And while you’re there, let them know it would be a swell idea to have a reliable water system should something really bad happen — such as half the downtown burning to the ground after a major earthquake.

Fire destroyed much of downtown Santa Rosa after the 1906 quake, even though the town had both private and public water systems with separate pipes running down all the main streets. But the city lines already leaked badly, and presumably some of these mains burst in the jolt or were blown apart as the adjacent gas lines exploded; for whatever reason, pressure in hydrants was too low and the desperate firemen resorted to tapping what water they could from Santa Rosa Creek.

The water pipes for the private system belonged to the old Santa Rosa Water Works, better known as the McDonald Water Company, which had been operating since the mid-1870s. The old system had few enthusiasts; besides its wimpy water pressure that made fire hydrants ineffective, an 1891 report confirmed suspicions that its reservoir, Lake Ralphine, was contaminated with hog and human waste. The municipal system came along in 1896 and was also plagued with problems from the start. For a town built smack in the middle of a 250 square mile watershed, Santa Rosa has had remarkable troubles delivering a reliable flow of clean water to town faucets.

We wade into the water wars via the entertaining account of a 1906 City Council meeting transcribed below. Note that no actual point is debated; the meeting is a free-for-all public hand-wringing. The lowlight was the appearance of prominent attorney Thomas J. Geary, here rather obviously acting as a lobbyist for McDonald, urging the city to stop drilling new wells and instead buy water from McDonald’s company. Along the way, Geary also told the Council that the rich were entitled to more water than Average Joe because they paid more taxes.

The most interesting comment at the Council meeting came from “pump man” Mr. Fish (!) who “urged a plan which he had suggested for this city many years ago–that instead of pumping water into the reservoir outside the city, it be sent into a mammoth tank in the heart of the city eighty feet high.” Had Santa Rosa such a water tower in place before the earthquake, the downtown might have been spared the fire damage. The pumping station, which pushed the well water up to the city’s hilltop reservoir above Rincon Valley, never failed during the quake, and water levels in the four city wells even began going up immediately after the tremors and kept rising for weeks.

What irony; the only time city wells were overflowing in that era was when it was unavailable for delivery. Instead of McDonald’s contamination problems, simple lack of water was the bane of the municipal system. As soon it began operating in 1896, it was clear that the pumps weren’t producing as much water as needed, and yet another well was ordered drilled. The city also enacted conservation measures that became increasingly draconian over the next several years. A city inspector was hired to examine toilets, faucets, and other fixtures for leaks, and had powers to issue a $2.50 fine for each violation; police were ordered to spy for water running overnight, and wake up offenders to shut off the spigot; the city was split into east/west irrigation districts, with one side of town allowed to water lawns from 6 to 8 in the morning and the other from 6 to 8 in the evening, the starting and ending times strictly announced by the blowing of the town’s steam whistle. And when the fire alarms went off, all water use had to be stopped immediately.

Even with the addition of a 1903 well that nearly doubled capacity, the town water system was barely able to keep up with demand, and a report the next year explained why: Almost a quarter of the water that left the reservoir was lost somewhere in the city’s plumbing — 270,000 gallons just dribbled away every day.

The city finally began installing meters in 1905, with the promise that a family of five or less still could have 350 gallons of free water a day. But old habits die hard, and the town kept the Water Police around to assess extra charges for nearly everything; watering you lawn cost 1/2 cent per square yard per year, irrigating strawberries and vegetables, 3¢ per square yard. And it’ll be 25¢ per month for the pleasure of that bathtub in your house, plus another two bits for the potty, please.

Additional sources: Chapter 10 in the 19th century history by LeBaron, et. al, Ample and Pure Water for Santa Rosa, 1867-1926 by John Cummings,
The California earthquake of April 18, 1906
by Andrew C. Lawson
First Shipment of Water Meters are Now Due Here

City Clerk Clawson has received the bill for fifty of the water meters which were recently ordered by the City Council. The order was for one thousand meters and these will be installed in the near future. Now that the first shipment is about to arrive, it is reasonable to believe that the remainder will follow rapidly. When the meters have been placed the officials in charge of the pumping station feel confident that they will be able to supply all the water needed by the citizens of the City of Roses, because the meters will stop the alleged leakages in the system.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 23, 1905

Result of Pumping Test in Known
Visit Paid to the Pumping Station to Receive Engineer Yandle’s Report

Mayor J. P. Overton and Councilmen W. D. Reynolds, Fred King and G. S. Brown visited the pumping station…Engineer Yandle informed the Mayor and Councilmen on Thursday that the test showed that 1,087,000 gallons of water was pumped each day…

– Press Democrat, December 28, 1905

From Mass of Eigures [sic] and Suggestions Given at Meeting Council Will Evolve Solution of Problem

After listening to much fervid oratory from citizens of Santa Rosa, and pondering over the momentous question of permitting the installation of electric pumping machinery and electric generating machinery at the local pumping station, the Council adjourned without being any nearer a solution of the problem than when the session began…

…[The City Council] had to wait until the citizens had finished offering suggestions, and then returned to their homes confused in mind as to the best course to pursue, and their rest was troubled with nightmares of machinery, long volumes of figures and well-rounded sentences of oratory.

There was not the interest taken in the matter by the citizens that its importance demanded. Hardly a dozen men had congregated to assist the Council in unravelling one of the knottiest problems that has confronted the city government. There is apparently a disposition to let the council act on the matter as it seems best to them, and then those who are not satisfied with the action taken will be able to spend their time on the street corners and “kick” because the action taken did not suit them.

[Danville Decker, “the suave local manager of the Santa Rosa Lighting Company,” told the Council that his company drilled two unproductive wells about 80 feet deep. John L. Jordan, “who takes a lively interest in the city’s water system,” told the Council that he could produce more water than the city needed if they would give him $600 to bore three 50-foot wells. Citizen John H. Fowler admitted no special knowledge on the matter, but urged the city to embrace progress and switch over to electric pumps, giving a little presentation on the history of machines.]

Attorney Thomas J. Geary made an excellent speech on “water” which provoked much merriment during its delivery. He declared he did know a great deal about water, and personally did not care a great deal for it. It looked to the speaker like the city had had ten years of municipal ownership which had proved a failure. Attorney Geary said that municipal ownership seemed to be on trial throughout the country, and while theoretically it should be an advantage, because it eliminated the profit of private corporations, and should be able to furnish commodities such as water at less than private corporations, it did not result favorably in practice. Whether the city could not conduct the water works as economically as private corporations, or what was the matter, he did not pretend to say. He declared that Santa Rosa’s experience of ten years was one of the worst cases of failure known, and said the municipality was paying more for the water it obtained than any other municipality. Property owners, he declared, had been deluded by the notion of obtaining “free water, which is a very catchy phrase, and said it was folly to delude the people into believing they were getting something for nothing, when they were not doing so.

The attorney declared that it had cost this city, with the interest being paid on its bonded indebtedness, $21,000 to pump and deliver the small amount of water given last year, about 800,000 gallons per day. In comparison with the water rates of San Francisco Mr. Geary said the same amount of water pumped here in 1905 at a cost of $21,000, could have been secured at a cost of $2009 in San Francisco, according to the report of that city for 1901. He stated that an individual could purchase one million gallons of water a day in San Francisco at a meter rate of $167 per month, while the City of Santa Rosa was pumping only about 800,000 gallons, and paying an expense bill of $909, many times greater in San Francisco.

Getting down to what he thought should be done with the pumping station, Attorney Geary said the city should rapidly install the meters purchased, allow a minimum quantity of water to each family at so many gallons per capita, and then give water to the citizens in accordance with the amount of taxes paid. He argued that the man who paid taxes on a ten thousand dollar home was entitled to more water than one paying one thousand dollars. He suggested conserving the water, and declared that with proper restrictions there was an abundance of water being pumped at present to supply Santa Rosa for the next three years at least. It looked to the speaker like the sensible thing to do with the present works was not to waste any more money on attempting to develop wells, and he declared the present water system was a bad legacy handed down to the present Council by previous boards, who while having done their best to make the works a success, had only resulted in failure. In accepting the proposal of the men to install the pumping machinery, Mr. Geary declared the city would cut down the expense of delivering water to this city, could save five thousand dollars a year, and within the next three years when it became necessary to have a greater supply of water the City Council could look around and obtain other supplies. He advocated the adoption of any plan which would cut down the expense of delivering the water into the city’s mains, and said that under no circumstances should it cost the city $11,000 per year to pump 800,000 gallons daily.

Another remedy he offered was that the Council could fix a rate on the McDonald system for the delivery of one million gallons per day to the city, and as long as this rate was a reasonable one, the city could compel the McDonald system to sell and deliver it. This figure, he declared, would be much more inexpensive than the present rate being paid for pumping the water by the city’s system. “Out of the economy you effect,” he declared, “you can buy water from the McDonald system to supply the city. Another matter that you can do, is to take the water that flows away from the McDonald system back into Santa Rosa Creek, and by using that water you might find you had an abundant supply for years to come.”

John Robinson of the Eagle Hotel made a short address, full of stirring words. He turned his batteries on Geary, and said he failed to comprehend the object of the legal gentleman who had addressed the Council. He declared Geary was guilty of “jumbling with figures and his statements were calculated to be misleading.” In comparing the cost of water of this city with San Francisco, he asked why Geary had not made a comparison with the deserts of Nevada. He believed Geary’s statement was misleading throughout, and said that experts were of the opinion that there was an abundance of water at the city’s pumping station, and said that on any question Geary handled, he “fixed it up with a polish that sways the minds of men.” Mr. Robinson declared the city had the well on its hands, and should go ahead and develop more water, in order that the deplorable condition of scarcity of that commodity experienced in past summer seasons should not be repeated during the coming summer. He felt that the council should persevere and satisfy themselves absolutely that there was not enough water at their pumping station for the city before abandoning it.

Attorney Geary replied to Mr. Robinson, and showed where these gentlemen were in harmony in all their statements to the Council. He showed that he had not spoken of abandoning the wells, but had urged conservation of water and maintaining the present system, but wanted the expense reduced materially.

Mr. Fish, a pump man, who was present, and spoke briefly to the Council, later answering many questions put to him by various people. He declared there were many ways of handling water cheaper than the city was doing at present. He urged a plan which he had suggested for this city many years ago–that instead of pumping water into the reservoir outside the city, it be sent into a mammoth tank in the heart of the city eighty feet high. This, in his opinion, would give a far better service than could be obtained with the reservoir…

…Chief Engineer Yandle spoke on the subject, saying the figures given by Geary included the salaries of Chief of the Fire Department L. Adams, and other expenses. He had previously advised the Council, and reiterated the statement, that with first class pumps the cost bill could be materially reduced. The engineer stated that the recent test of water being pumped at the station showed a million gallons strong being pumped from the wells.

Manager Danville Decker declared that the first impressions were the most lasting, and he had heard the Councilmen and other speakers talk of two million gallons of water so much he believed they had that figure indelibly impressed on their minds. No one, he declared, has ever said there was more than one million gallons of water at the station. At times when the city had bored a well and struck a magnificent flow of water the Councilmen had become enthused, and he admitted he had also become enthused over the splendid prospects of obtaining an unlimited supply of water. When this flow from the wells ceased, all were mutually depressed. He advised using the meters, and going to look for water elsewhere if it could not be found at the pumping station. The speaker believed there was no reason for expending money where there was a possibility no water could be developed, and said the city was not encouraged to do anything at the pumping station. Manager Decker has had much experience with meters in his business, and declared the meters were the best safeguard of the city’s interests, and said the questions was perfectly clear that no more money should be spent at the pumping station for developing water. The water should be pumped cheaply, or something was wrong, he declared, and reiterated the statement made to the Council some years ago, that his company was ready at any time to supply current for pumping water from the city’s wells.

Mayor Overton said the city was looking ahead in making its estimates for pumping two million gallons of water, and that it would be folly for a growing city like Santa Rosa to consider installing machinery at this time which would simply handle the supply at present developed. His honor declared he believed the city’s water system needed overhauling badly, and if the city was going to continue to do the pumping, they should have some one do considerable overhauling of the plant. He said if it was the sense of the Council to develop more water at the pumping station that it should be acted on at once. The Mayor wishes to do something at once to relieve the anticipated condition of next summer.

“We have a million gallons of water now, and cannot afford to abandon the plant. We should take action at once to decrease the cost of pumping, either by ourselves or by contract with some one else. We should do at once what is for the best interests of the city.”

Chief Engineer Yandle declared the million gallons of water at the pumping station would supply seventy gallons per capita to all the residents of Santa Rosa, which would make a total of 700,000 gallons, and allowing 150,000 gallons for street sprinklers, would leave a comfortable balance for the city…

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 10, 1906
First Step Toward Setting of Cost of City Water Used in Excess

In accordance with the provisions of the new city charter which will go into effect in April, an ordinance has been introduced fixing the amount of water that shall be allowed to each family for domestic purposes free of charge and the rates that shall be charged upon the meter readings for all amounts exceeding the allowance.

The new ordinance provided for 350 gallons of water for each family where there are five or less residing, for every twenty-four hours, and for each additional person residing in the house, 25 gallons per day. The ordinance provides that the term “domestic use,” as employed in the ordinance shall not be construed to mean “irrigation” or for the use of business houses or business purposes.

For all water that is to be used above the specified 350 gallons a day, the Council will determine the rate at their next meeting.

Where there is no meter the rates suggested are the same as have been charged heretofore by the Santa Rosa Water Company. These rates include $1 a month for a family of five or less and 10 cents for each additional person; 25 cents for each bath tub and closet; for irrigating flower gardens and lawns, per square yard per year, ¼ cent or ½ cent for six consecutive months; for irrigating strawberries and vegetables, per square yard, 3 cents; for one horse and vehicle, 20 cents; each additional horse or cow, 10 cents. For public uses the prices suggested are $3.50 to $15 for hotels, per month; saloons, $2; stores, 75¢; butcher shops, $1; offices, 50¢; dentists, $1; photographers, $2; restaurants, $2.50; bakeries $2; confectioneries. $1.50; steam laundries, $10; for motors, $3 to $25; building purposes, bricks per thousand, 15¢; plastering per square yard, 60¢; cement, 10¢ per barrel; lawns, gardens, flowers and not used for other purposes by six months, per month, 50¢.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 7, 1906
Report to City Council Made by Street Commissioner Decker at Tuesday Night’s Meeting

…Mr. Decker reported that 290 water consumers used less than 250 gallons per day for the month of July; 230 used less than 500 gallons per day; 75 used less than 1,000 gallons per day; and 33 used over 1,000 gallons gallons per day. The average, he said, for those using less than 500 gallons per day being 260 gallons.

– Press Democrat, September 13, 1906

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Did you hear about the Ohio voting machine scandal? Either the devices were unreliable or someone tampered with them to rig the election — a machine was discovered that awarded every single vote to one candidate. “The discrepancy was so marked, in this case that an error was apparent at a glance,” reported the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. But the allegations weren’t about the much-discussed electronic voting problems in 2004 Ohio (which still scores about 182,000 Google hits); it was about problems with mechanical voting machines in Ohio more than a century ago. And, like skeptics today, Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley argued in March, 1906, that the machines were fatally flawed because there was no paper ballot trail for recounts.

The reliability of voting machines was a hot topic that month in Santa Rosa — a real estate company even used the theme for an ad, seen at right — because the U.S. Standard Voting Machine company was trying to convince the City of Roses to buy them. The issue came to climax at a March 6th City Council meeting. One public speaker complained that the machines were too hard to use: “Many people have tried the machines of late and it has been proven that as a rule they are ignorant of the workings of the machine, and unless there could be a lesson given every day between now and the time of the election, it will be the means of disfranchising a large number of the voters of the city.”

But the most compelling speaker that evening was Democratic Party mover-and-shaker Thomas J. Geary, who argued that the “voting machine is an instrument of bossism” and intended to deprive the people of their rights. As reported in the Republican newspaper, Geary created “considerable amusement” as he “…read from the instructions printed on each of the machines, where in order to vote a straight ticket the voter is instructed to ‘pull back the lever until the bell rings.’ He made considerable sport of the fact that the voter must ring a bell when he goes to vote, and stated that he was not particular about having his vote announced by the ringing of a bell.”

Geary preyed upon a common fear with his remark that the machines encouraged “bossism.” Everyone in that audience knew that San Francisco was under the thumb of corrupt political boss Abe Reuf, whose Union Labor party had won re-election just a few months earlier. Reformers had forged a Republican-Democrat “fusion” ticket that had wide support, but contributing to its failure was that voters had to pick out those candidates individually on the ballot. And the new voting machines probably did make such split-ticket voting more difficult; imagine yourself as Mr. 1905 San Francisco Voter (no vote for California women until 1912, remember) who has never seen a voting machine before. You enter the booth and the curtain automatically shuts behind your back. In front of you is a bewildering wall of brass switches. With only a couple of minutes to vote, searching for the reform candidates was daunting; the path of least resistance was to pull a single lever and vote along straight party lines. *

Adding to the distrust of the machines were sensationalist articles in some of the San Francisco pro-reform papers, warning that Reuf could have rigged them. “MACHINE CAN BE FIXED AND VOTERS MUST BE ALERT,” screamed a headline in the October 31, 1905 San Francisco Call. “GRAVE DANGER LIES IN MACHINE DEFECT.” The Bulletin newspaper also joined in warning that corrupt city bosses might rig the machines with rubber bands attached to the counters for opposition candidates, which would snap the counters back into the neutral position; when the voter pulled the lever to record his ballot, there would be no vote entered for the rubber-banded reformers. (Articles and graphics from out-of-town papers don’t really belong here, but the layout from the Call, seen at right, is remarkable.)

Geary’s gripe about the bell was another exaggerated “danger.” Yes, a bell rang when the voter pulled a lever, but the purpose was to let know that he was now free to leave the voting booth, if desired; a curtain had closed behind him when he entered the booth, and it could not be opened until at least one vote had been recorded, notified by the bell.

Geary’s speech settled the matter; the Santa Rosa City Council voted unanimously to stick with the “Australian ballot system” (what we’d call today a hand-counted paper ballot; candidates and their party affiliations are printed on paper and the voter makes a mark next to the names).

As for the reliability of these early voting machines and the possibility of mischief, it appears that the gizmos received a bad rap. No rubber-band tampering was ever found in San Francisco, and an article about voting machines in a 1905 technical magazine noted that such tampering is “possible but stupid” because the rubber band would be visible to the voter. A scan of 1905-1906 newspaper stories nationwide finds no complaints except in New Jersey, where political bosses placed the machines just in districts inclined to split-ticket voting, thus creating the same obstacles that voters faced in San Francisco. And as for the Ohio machine where all the votes suspiciously went to one candidate, no mention can be found. Either the incident had happened years before, or the Press Democrat was spinning tales.

* Geary’s “bossism” speech marked the second time in a few months that Democrats in Santa Rosa had interjected 1905 San Francisco election politics into local issues. The previous September, PD editor Finley had compared a Santa Rosa reform group to the Citizen’s Alliance, a despised organization of anti-labor thugs. In the San Francisco election, Boss Reuf primarily won by dishonestly linking the reformers with the group.

The agent for one of the various voting machines now on the market has tendered the city free use of his machines at the approaching municipal election, with the idea that their purchase will probably follow, together with that of sufficient others to equip the county.

So much has been heard regarding the wonders of the voting machine that one almost hates to admit, even to himself, that the only real argument in their favor is that they satisfy public curiosity as to the result of the election a little sooner than can be done under the present system.

Opposed to this are many disadvantages [sic].

We have yet to hear of a case where anyone has been injured by having to wait until the following morning to ascertain the result of an election; in fact the uncertainty of the few hours first following the closing of the polls is what adds most to the interest of such affairs.

The first argument against the voting machine is that it is a machine and as such is of course apt to get out of order at any time and without warning, either electing the wrong man or invalidating the entire election.

The second, and perhaps the most serious objection, is that the machines now on the market are constructed upon an incorrect principle. They are all built with the idea of encouraging “straight voting,” where the safety and very existence of our present form of government depends upon encouraging the independent voter. Public sentiment is running strong against the “straight ticket” idea, and it is highly probably that before long our laws will be so amended as to do away with the present form of ballot entirely, compelling every voter to exercise his choice for or against each individual candidate, as was the case under the old Australian ballot system. When this is done the voting machines now in use will become worthless, and others built upon the new principal will have to be purchased to take their place. It therefore follows that this is not a very good time to buy voting machines, whether one is in favor of or opposed to them.

The voting machine is different from any other machine in that its mistakes cannot be corrected. The work of the adding machine, the typewriter and the Linotype can be done over again in cases where errors are discovered, but no such rectifying of mistakes is possible with the voting machine. The voter records his wish and goes his way, no one knows where, and he leaves no record of his action save that contained in the inner mechanism of the machine. When later in the day, the machine is found to be out of order, it is impossible to round up all the voters the second time, and so the entire day’s work is lost.

In case the disarrangement is not discovered, somebody is “counted out.”

According to a report telegraphed from Ohio not long ago, when a voting machine was opened at the close of the day’s run it was found that one candidate had received two or three thousand votes and his opponent none at all. The discrepancy was so marked, in this case that an error was apparent at a glance, but if it had been less so it might have never been noticed.

A very strong argument against the voting machine is that it leaves no record of its procedure, and in case a dispute arises as to the correctness of its figures, there is no possible way of settling it. Under the present system it is always possible to rectify mistakes, even after the result has been announced by referring to the returns or recounting the ballots, or both.

The first cost of the voting machine is very heavy; and the money paid for them goes to manufacturers residing in the east. Between elections the machines must be stored, and a thorough overhauling at the hands of an expert is necessary each time before they can be placed in commission. In addition to the heavy expenditure required in their purchase and maintenance, about the same amount must be paid out for assistance as under the present system. Although it is claimed that such is not the case, it is very probable that no real saving is effected by the introduction of the voting machine. Figuring interest on the cost of the investment, wear and tear, etc., and considering the likelihood of having to throw the machine out of commission after a few years’ use, the cost of conducting elections is in all probability considerably greater where the machine is used than under the hand system.

And the entire amount paid out for conducting elections under the present system goes to the citizens and taxpayers of the county.

It may be that some people will contend that voting machines should be introduced here at once, but we are inclined to believe that if such is the case, it is only because they have failed to consider the matter in all its aspects.

As we see it, there is nothing to be gained by the introduction of machines within the city or the county at the present time. The forty or fifty thousand dollars that it would cost can be expended to far better advantage in other directions.

– March 6, 1906 Press Democrat editorial

Council Rescind Former Resolution
Petition Presented and Considerable Oratory Feature of Proceedings

By unanimous vote the members of the City Council at their meeting last night rescinded a resolution passed at a previous meeting providing for the use of voting machines at the coming municipal election. Many citizens were present at the meeting, and when Mayor Overton declared the motion carried, the hall rang with applause.

A petition very numerously signed was first read. It asked that the resolution heretofore passed providing for the use of voting machines should be allowed to stand, and called attention to the use of machines elsewhere, etc. The petition was placed on fine.

Then Attorney L. W. Julliard, representing Frank C. Jordan, agent for the voting machine, stepped to the front. He stated that he had received a telephone message a short time before asking him to appear and stating that owing to a failure to make train connections Mr. Jordan found himself left over night at Stockton and unable to reach Santa Rosa in time for the meeting. Jordan asked that the machine matter be delayed until Wednesday night when he could be present.

Councilman Wallace moved that the former resolution passed by the City Council allowing the use of voting machines be rescinded. Councilman Donahue seconded the motion. Then the debate on the question began, and Mayor Overton gave anyone who desired to speak an opportunity to do so.

John Robinson, the well known proprietor of the Eagle hotel, was not slow in accepting the Mayor’s invitation for an expression of views. Mr. Robinson said there was no doubt but that the agent of the voting machine had fully explained his wares to the council, and he could not be blamed for endeavoring to get business for his company. He thought, however, that possibly the passing of the resolution two weeks ago was a little hasty, and he mentioned Mayor Overton’s desire as expressed at the time to have the matter considered further. The speaker called attention to the complications of the mechanism he had seen men contend with when they attempted to practice voting on a machine, and he did not mince language when he declared with some emphasis that the use of machines here on election day would practically disfanchise a great many good people. He though that if the resolution was not rescinded it would be a very serious mistake.

Attorney Julliard in behalf of Mr. Jordan took the floor to extol the virtues of the machine and if he had been speaking for himself and also was the agent, his argument could hardly have been more persuasive. He said that the arguments against the use of the machines could almost as well be applicable to the Australian ballot. He cited elections in other cities and towns where machines had worked, presumably like a charm.

Before Colonel Julliard spoke, Councilman King said he would like to hear what the Hon. T. J. Geary had to say, Mr. Geary being an interested but silent looking-on at the proceedings. Colonel Julliard had his inning first, and during the course of his remarks he (Colonel Julliard) called attention to the incorrect statement published in an evening paper stating that Mr. Geary was in favor of the machines.

Mr. Geary spoke forcibly and eloquently in opposing the introduction of voting machines here at the present time. He said it was no stroke of economy to use the machines because there would have to be the usual election officers and other matters to provide for. He said he was opposed to voting machines as at present constructed which were in direct opposition to the tendency of the people in their use of the ballot. Voting machines, he declared, with much emphasis, were made for the benefit of the bosses and for the depriving of the people of their rights. They were made, he said, to permit the bosses’ coercing the people and were used as a means to get them to do their bidding. Things had come to such a pass he declared that it was often a choice between two sets of bosses nowadays, and people under the pretense of freedom had become abject slaves of bosses and of bossism. The tendency of the times, he said, was to destroy the bosses and there was also a strong tendency against party tickets, and a growth of an intelligent sentiment which demands that people thing and vote for themselves. Amid applause the speaker declared the “voting machine is an instrument of bossism.” He went on to say that he believed the present ballot law would be changed within two years.

Colonel Julliard replied to some of the things the previous speaker had touched on, and said that out of courtesy to Mr. Jordan the matter might be laid over until Wednesday night when that gentleman could be here.

Mr. Robinson said he had learned through the public press of the city and in other ways to show that the people generally did not want the voting machine.

J. L. Jordan said he preferred and he thought the majority preferred that the coming election should be voted in the old way.

In further proof of his statements Mr. Geary brought in a minature voting machine which had been place in the anteroom for inspection, and his reading of the directions and the explanations afforded considerable merriment and drove home to a clinch some of the claims he had made.

The vote on the question was then called for and Councilmen Reynolds, Donahue, Brown, Wallace, King and McDonough all voted a hearty “Aye,” and the spectre of the voting machine at the coming city election vanished. The city will pay the cost of the freight in bringing the voting machines here as agreed.

– March 7, 1906 Press Democrat

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Walter Holloway probably didn’t believe his eyes that afternoon of January 3, 1905; there, in the middle of the street, was a group of men sawing away at the railroad tracks.

As a conductor on the steam-powered California Northwestern railway, Holloway would’ve known that there had been months of bickering between his company and owners of the electric trolley, who wanted to bring their own tracks into downtown Santa Rosa by crossing the steam railroad’s rails. Although California Northwestern was expecting trouble at the Sebastopol Avenue location, this rogue attack on a spur line recently built for the local brewery caught them unawares.

He alerted his bosses and a confrontation ensued. Then, as winter’s early darkness approached, the scene of the action switched to Sebastopol Avenue, where the electric line was trying to push a trolley car across the steam railroad’s double tracks. With much drama and the power of a horse and mule team, it was done just after midnight. The following day, the California Northwestern obtained a temporary injunction blocking any further attempts by the electric line to even touch any of the California Northwestern’s rails.

This was the first skirmish between the steam and electric railroads on the outskirts of downtown Santa Rosa. If you haven’t already read “The Battle of Sebastopol Avenue,” there you’ll find a summary of the big fight and other background. Also related is “The Generals of the Battle of Sebastopol Avenue,” and “The Battle(field) of Sebastopol Avenue,” which all provide further details.

The electric line — formally known as the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway — had broad support from Santa Rosa merchants and residents, and was already running trolleys to Petaluma via Sebastopol (and by the end of the year, to points beyond; see map at right). By 1905, similar electric interurban systems were operating throughout most American cosmopolitan areas, and a welcome change from the infamously erratic local public transit offered by horse-drawn cars. Santa Rosa was so eager for an electric system that city officials gave J. H. Brush, who bought out most of the town’s horse-drawn systems, a 50-year franchise on city transit. (Part of the legal fight was that California Northwestern argued that this no-bid contract was illegal.) His son, Frank Brush, was director of the P&SR electric railway, and was the middleman in the tug-of-war in the battle of Sebastopol Ave. That the trolley was running to Petaluma and points west also meant that it was competing with the California Northwestern, and if there was one certain rule in the old West, it was that the guy with the biggest pair of tracks would always win the fight.

The court order left everything in limbo. For two months, a traveler from Petaluma or Sebastopol could take the trolley up to the steam railroad tracks on Sebastopol Avenue, get out and walk across the tracks to the “Woodworth” trolley on the other side. This would shuttle passengers as far as Second Street, where it hit a dead-end at the brewery’s railroad tracks. From there it was a walk of a couple of blocks to the depot, or you could hike six blocks to the department stores and other shops around Courthouse Square. Instead of “mass transportation,” it was more of a “mass perambulation” punctuated by short streetcar rides.

Literally caught in the middle of this battle was Grace Brothers’ brewery, who simply wanted to efficiently get beer-making stuff into their plant and ship the finished brew out. Only a few months earlier, they had paid $311 to have this railroad spur installed; now, because the short stretch of track was included in the count order, some demanded the city rip out their tracks. A Jan. 10 City Council meeting briefly considered revoking their permit for the rail, but the electric line’s manager and director both came to their defense. Brewery head Joseph T. Grace — clearly not wanting to offend anyone, much less thirsty railroad workers — attested that he didn’t intend to interfere with the electric railway, or cause any trouble, any time.

Also caught in the middle was Sonoma County Sheriff Frank Grace, the brother in the name of Grace Brothers brewery. The much-respected lawman appears to have gone into hiding during the March fracas, except for posturing that he’d serve any warrants placed in his hand. That was actually probably the most politic thing for him to do; because of his personal financial and brotherly ties to the brewery and its controversial railroad spur, any action there — or even lack of action, if he were at the scene — might have been condemned as cheap self-interest.

Tying these events into Comstock House history, James Wyatt Oates was the lawyer for the electric railway. Attorney Thomas J. Geary appeared at the City Council meeting for the brewery (although he was also the local attorney for the California Northwestern) and when a speaker called for the brewery tracks to be torn up, the large audience at the Council meeting burst into applause. Geary sneered that they were no better than a mob. “Sonoma county’s Democratic boss” was ever the charmer.


Two Trains Run Across Siding — Would Not Permit Use of Rails So the Car Was Propelled Across on Planks — Telegram from President Foster

The first electric car entered the city of Santa Rosa at 12:15 o’clock this morning.

It did not come in propelled by electric power or gliding over steel rails. It crossed the California Northwestern track, the much disputed crossing, with its wheels traveling over stout planks and it was drawn by four horses and two mules with half a hundred men assisting. When its wheels rested on the rails on this side there was much cheering and the compressed air whistle was tooted merrily. In other words it was moved across the double track of the California Northwestern, much as an ordinary house would have been.

There was all kinds of excitement at the Sebastopol avenue crossing last night lasting from nine o’clock until the time named when the good car “Woodworth” rested like Noah’s ark this side and safe within the city. There the people began to thin out and the crowd, estimated when the excitement was at its height, at five hundred strong, dwindled away.

For some time it has been urged that the electric people should have a car on the Santa Rosa side of the Sebastopol avenue crossing so that passengers could be brought into town by that means. Consequently the company recently set to work, erected their poles, strung their trolley wire and had practically everything ready, but lacked the car. Last night the officials of the railroad decided that they would get a car across the steam railroad’s tracks at all hazards and this determinated induced the exciting incidents that followed.

The C. N. W. R. people had anticipated trouble of some kind so that when a couple of rails were laid across the double track of their road, not spiked, it took very few minutes for a couple of large engines, one on each track, to back up and successfully “cover” the crossing. Chief Engineer F. K. Zook of the C. N. W. R. and Superintendent of Construction Fairchild of the electric railroad were both on hand, each one to look out for his respective company’s interests. The cars came to a standstill directly across the crossing and nothing could be done.

In the mean time a large crowd had gathered and City Marshal Severson and a number of officers were on hand to prevent a breach of the peace. A hurried message was sent by phone to the City Hall to Street Commissioner White. A Press Democrat reporter happened to answer the phone. “Tell White,” the voice came over the phone, “to come to Sebastopol avenue crossing and order an obstruction moved.” The Street Commissioner hurried to the scene and courteously asked that the cars and engines “move on.”

Finally White [2 words illegible] to Chief Engineer Zook and asked permission to haul the car across the track. He was courteously told that the Chief Engineer was not there to give permission to anybody, but was there to prevent rails being laid and to look after his company’s interests. After some more talk a telegram was sent to President A. W. Foster of the C. N. W. R. and when a reply was received, Chief Engineer Zook ordered the trains to pull up a little so as to clear the crossing. Then permission was given to take the car across the tracks on planks but no rails would be permitted.

The planks were brought. The strong aggregation of horse and mule flesh was ordered from Lee Brothers’ stables. They were connected with the car by means of a stout chain and the slow work of piloting the car across the Sebastopol avenue crossing was commenced and finally, shortly after midnight as stated, the task was completed.

Once during the exciting episodes of the evening City Marshal Severson suggested to an official of the steam railroad that the cars must not be permitted to block Sebastopol avenue. The Marshal’s words seemed to meet with the approval of some in the assembled populace and they clamored that the City Marshal should use his authority as an officer and do some arresting. He was promised all kinds of help from the crowd even to the moving of the freight cars by force.

Anyhow the car has crossed the track and it is a matter of much significance, for as an official of the electric railroad said last night, “we want to run the electric car into Santa Rosa without further delay to the present terminus at the foot of Fourth street. And it was also stated last night that just as soon as possible the car “Woodworth” will be running up the street to the Court House, at least. The “Woodworth” in other words, will take the place of the free bus now being operated by the merchants and will run either between the California Northwestern depot and the present disputed crossing or between the latter point and the Court House.

The excitement, however, commenced yesterday afternoon when some of the employees of the electric railroad swooped down on the California Northwestern switch track which runs into Grace Brothers Brewery. Then with the regulation instruments for such work they commenced to cut the steam road’s rails for the purpose of putting in a phlange-way to allow cars to cross the rails having previously laid on either side of the switch.

The cutting of the rails had been in progress several minutes when Conductor Holloway of the Sebastopol train noticed what was transpiring. Railroad Supervisor Barrows was speedily called to the scene and he notified the Superintendent of Construction Fairchild of the electric road that the cutting of the rails must stop. The work continued, however, and then Supervisor Barrows ordered Engineer Donnolly to back some freight cars across the crossing to “protect the company’s property.”

[5 words illegible] the work did not stop. The switch is on an angle so that it was impossible to have wheels resting on both rails at once. Consequently while the car wheels was covering and protecting one rail the man with the steel cutter hacked away at the unprotected rail. When the cars were moved to and fro the electric railroad’s man plied their work as best they could. This did not last long and then the men were called off leaving one rail almost cut through and the other partially so.

Soon a small army of railroad section men arrived and at the order of Mr. Barrows they quickly filled up the holes that had been dug and the incident terminated for the time being. Section men were left to guard the place, all night, however, and at the hour of going to press were still on watch.

The news of what was transpiring spread like wildfire through the city and a large crowd quickly gathered. The movements of the men of both roads were watched with keen interest and there were many suggestions and predictions vouchsafed.

At the Council meeting last night Attorney L. E. Rankin of the Petaluma & Santa Rosa railroad addressed the Council and recalled incidents of the afternoon.

“All that we ask,” said Rankin, addressing the Council, “is that you instruct the Street Commissioner to keep the railroad from being blockaded. Under the franchise we hold this is all we ask.”


– Press Democrat, January 4, 1905


The “Woodworth” Commenced its Trips Between Second Street and Sebastopol Avenue Yesterday

The electric car “Woodworth” commenced making trips from Sebastopol avenue to Second street at noon on Saturday, and will continue to do so right along now. Today the car will run every few minutes. A motorman and conductor are in charge of the car and no fares are collected from passengers to and from the main system on the other side of Sebastopol avenue for Sebastopol and way stations to Petaluma. Thus the car is reached a little over a block from Fourth street.

The new bridge was used for the first time on Saturday afternoon when the “Woodworth” passed over on its initial trip. It is the intention of the railroad company to take off the free bus now that the cars run within a little over a block of Fourth street.

– Press Democrat, January 9, 1905

The electric trolley wire is in place at the crossing of the California Northwestern’s line, although the track for the electric road is not yet laid there. It has already been demonstrated that the California Northwestern people, from President down, are interested to see that the electric line does its work in accordance with the established rules at the place where they wish to cross the steam road; and that the inter-urban road assumes and aquires no privileges to which it is not entitled.

Actuated by this interest on behalf of his employer, the foreman of a Northwestern section gang yesterday, it is said, indertook to measure the height of the trolley wire, presumably to ascertain whether it was sufficiently elevated to let the locomotive pass under. So he threw a metal-ribbed tape-line over the trolley, and then reached out to draw it taut. But he didn’t draw.

There’s a pretty high voltage in that trolley, and the juice just slid through that metal tape, and into the foreman’s mortal part, and tied him into knots. He gave a most excellent performance of the “muscle dance” for a few brief minutes which would doubtless have lasted longer, had not his gyrations carried him so far that the tape slid from the trolley wire, and the circuit was broken.

The foreman breathed hard for a few minutes and then rolled up and pocketed his tape, refusing all calls for an encore of his dance. Doubtless he decree that if the Northwestern wants the elevation of that trolley, it will have to be taken by triangulation.

– Press Democrat, January 11, 1905

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