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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Pity the candidate of a rural district in 1904 — it took three (four?) days for candidate Bell to canvas the larger towns in Sonoma County alone, and this district stretches all the way to Oregon (and at the time, it also apparently included more counties in the upper Central Valley). Party leaders and political celebrities were more involved in stumping for local candidates than today; no one thought it odd that vice presidential candidate Fairbanks was speechifying for an hour down in Stockton to reelect a Congressman.

Republican McKinlay had no less than the governor of the state campaigning for him: George Pardee, who, in fifteen too-short months after that election, would be the only major elected official to be roundly praised for his actions following the Great Earthquake of 1906. Most of the upset from the Press Democrat was aimed at the governor for having the effrontery to take sides in an election.

Democrat Bell’s champion was Thomas J. Geary, called “Sonoma county’s Democratic boss” by Lemmon’s newspaper. Geary was no inconsequential backwoods Baby Tweed; he earned a prominent place in this county’s hall of shame for pushing through the infamous Geary Act of 1892 when he was a member of the House. This law not only extended the Chinese Exclusion Act for another decade, but also made it more discriminatory. Chinese residents were now denied bail if arrested and prevented from testifying in court. It also forced all Chinese residents to carry a special ID issued by the federal government; caught without papers, unfortunates had to produce “at least one credible white witness” to swear that they were in the United States prior to 1892, else they’d be deported or spend a year at hard labor.

Geary campaigned hard for Bell, even traveling outside the county to the nether corners of the district. He may have viewed the contest as a surrogate battle against Governor Pardee; two years earlier, Geary was a serious contender to be the Democratic nominee for governor, stepping aside for another man, who lost to Pardee.

Endorsements also had greater weight in that era, particularly since Bell and McKinlay had roughly equivalent credentials, and it seems that neither was particularly well known in the district. Twice the Press Democrat offered editorials praising Bell for his connections to the late Morris Estee, an early California politician who had died the year earlier. Bell’s support from Geary and then posthumously from Estee, however, suggests much about the sort of person he really was.

Morris M. Estee
is worth a quick digression here. Although he was affiliated with the Republican party, he could be a case study as a typical Jim Crow legislator from the Deep South. He staked out deeply racist positions that affirmed non-whites had lesser rights, but at the same time didn’t suffer such outrageous discrimination that it would draw the ire of Washington D.C. Some lowlights from his career:

As the 1863 California legislature was trying to overturn the 1850 law that “no black, mullato person, or Indian should be permitted to give evidence in any court of the state in an action in which a white person was a party,” Estee offered a compromise that testimony could be accepted — but only as long as it was corroborated by a white
* Estee wrote about the Chinese in 1876: “They have not any large intelligence; they have not any literature that amounts to anything; they have a little knowledge of the sciences, and some knowledge of the arts; they have no notion of music or poetry, or very few of the exalted ideas which distinguish between barbarian and civilized men, except honesty”
* At the 1878-79 California Constitutional Convention, Estee, who insisted that he was as “anxious to get rid of the Chinese as any man in the State of California” argued they had a right to live in houses and should be allowed to catch fish. To “deprive them of the means of procuring the necessaries of life” would be wrong, and “would turn all civilized people against us everywhere,” he warned, particularly “public sentiment in the East [Coast of the U.S.]”

An excerpt from one of the Press Democrat’s two Estee-Bell editorials is below (the other assured readers that Estee knew Bell “personally and intimately”). As Bell became the Napa County DA in 1895, the party described would have taken place some time before he was 22. Following that item is an astonishingly direct editorial attack on Geary from the Republican.

…It was at the residence of the late Morris M. Estee near Napa that the writer first had the pleasure of meeting Theodore Bell. He was then a young man with his life work all before him. Mr. Bell was one of a number of young people who spent an evening at the hospitable Estee home. After the guests had departed, or it may have been the next morning, the writer asked who Mr. Bell was. “Theodore Bell?” replied the venerable jurist. “He is a young man who lives here in Napa. He is teaching school and studying law. He is a very fine young man. You will hear from him some day. If given the opportunity he should and I believe will become one of the country’s big men.” …

– Press Democrat, November 5, 1904

And now there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth because the newspaper having the “longest leased line” [an expensive private telegraph connection] declines to admit to its columns the name of Sonoma county’s Democratic boss. Of course the management of the paper is real mean to pursue this policy, but it is not the only mean thing in the world. That paper undertook to give our local Democratic boss prominence a few years ago. It showed him many favors. Through its influence he was pushed forward as the head of the last anti-Chinese movement and the Democratic nomination for the governorship seemed about to be conferred upon him. But he was discovered to be treacherous, even too treacherous to be considered by the Democratic party as a candidate for that or anyother [sic] place, and then he turned against the man and the paper that had tried to build him up after his political fall. Hence the present trouble. Let the good work go on.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 11, 1904

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The mano a mano combat eased up after that skirmish, but both editors were still flushed for battle. Opposing political parties were labeled a “machine” or “gang,” and Republican editor Lemmon was ready to name names: Besides Geary (described above), others he condemned as part of a Democratic party cabal were Press Democrat editor Finley and Charles O. Dunbar, a state assemblyman running for re-election. Dunbar — who would later become mayor of Santa Rosa — was also a one of Finley’s partners in the Press Democrat, and was the only other person on the masthead (as “business manager”).

Finley seemed to have a wee too much invested emotionally in the election’s outcome. His editorials became increasingly shrill, even using long stretches of capitalization for inarticulate emphasis (SEE BELOW). Nearly every edition in the month before the election predicted a cakewalk for Alton Parker and/or Bell; the day before the vote, the PD reported Parker was relaxing on his farmhouse porch reviewing letters from office-seekers. Freudians can also draw their own conclusions as to Finley’s repeated references to Bell being the more manly candidate. The attacks on Republicans became hysteric. If Bell was “a brave, energetic, clean and brainy young man,” McKinlay was an indolent sloth, “lolling about in the luxuriant quarters of the Union League Club” in his tuxedo. Republican victory was a national threat; the over-the-top editorial cartoon showing a “Rooseveltism” bayonet through the U.S. Constitution gave no quarter.

Then suddenly it was over, and it was a rout; Roosevelt swept the nation, even breaking the coalition of the “Solid South” for the first time since the Civil War by winning Missouri. Teddy also won the Missouri-settled county here, including every precinct in Santa Rosa by comfortable margins.

Theodore Bell lost in a close race, as did Dunbar.

Probably exhausted by it all, editor Finley headed east for a vacation at the World’s Fair. A couple of weeks later, the Press Democrat reported he’d shipped his dad some persimmons picked from a tree on the Midwest family homestead, a far distance from the flapdoodles.


Geary, Dunbar, and Finley are the self constituted committee on good morals in this city. We are not informed as to when they reformed. What do the moral people of this community think of that gang in the character they have assumed? They are the principle ones making Bell’s fight in this county and the ones who will have most influence with him if he should be elected.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 5, 1904


The Republican “machine,” as most everybody knows, is making the fight of the state in this district in the hope of being able to overcome Congressman Bell’s strength before the people, and defeat him.

The men and the influence back of Duncan McKinlay’s campaign are doing their very best to force him upon the people of this district, although they know the people do not want him.

In support of that policy these men, most of whom reside outside the district, have determined to have a big meeting her Monday night when Duncan McKinlay speaks, if it takes “the last dollar in the sack.”

It is announced that special trains are to be run form [sic] all directions, that the Governor of this great state is to be requisitioned and brought here from his home in Alameda county to make a speech in McKinlay’s behalf, and that a big “marching club” is to be imported from Oakland — which is also outside of the district — in a monster, stupendous and Herculean effort to get up a demonstration and to prevent that meeting from being a “frost.”





And that’s why “There’s nothin’ to it![“]

– Press Democrat, November 6, 1904


There was little Democracy in the so-called Democratic meeting in this city the other night. As far as possible there was avoidance of reference to the national party or the principles, practices or candidates of the same. Parker’s name was mentioned once, but it was greeted with slight applause. As far as possible it was an effort to use the livery of Republicanism in the service of Democracy. Geary presided, presumably in the interest of decency and morality. Poor old Democratic party…

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 5, 1904

Like the boy in the graveyard, the Republican press is whistling hard to keep its courage up, but it is a hard task. The local members of that party know their Congressional fight is lost, and many of them are privately admitting the fact on the streets.

– Press Democrat, November 6, 1904

Duncan McKinlay in his Tuxedo suit and lolling about in the luxuriant quarters of the Union League Club has undoubtedly been cutting considerable a swath around the Palace Hotel and certain other places that might be mentioned, since shaking the dust of this city and country from his feet, but he has been doing nothing calculated to add to his loyalty as a representative of this district if he should be elected to that position. Few will be apt to deny that the interests of the district would be far safer in the hands of a man like Theodore Bell, whose interest and hopes are all centered here in the district to which he has ever proved loyal, than to any man of whom the same things can not be said.

– Press Democrat, November 6, 1904

A vote for Theodore Bell for Congress today will be a vote to help a brave, energetic, clean and brainy young man along — one who during his ten years of public life has never yet given his friends and supporters any cause to regret having assisted him.

– Press Democrat, November 8, 1904

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