Try to imagine the West Coast criss-crossed by electric streetcars. You could hop aboard a trolley in Santa Rosa and maybe step off in Sacramento a block from Aunt Mabel’s house, or you might start the weekend early by visiting friends in Oakland so the next morning you can all take a streetcar directly to the new amusement boardwalk at Santa Cruz. A world awaits.

Advertisement from the November 26, 1911 Press Democrat



Such was the bright future that seemed inevitable between about 1905 and 1910. Probably every cosmopolitan area in the country had an electric trolley system that offered an easy way to move around a city and its outlying towns. What later became known as the Key System served every community along the East Bay shore down to Hayward; the Northern Electric connected Sacramento and Chico and all the small valley towns in between, as just a couple of examples. Locally our interurban system was the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway, which carried our great-grandparents between those towns as well as to Graton and Sebastopol and forgotten country crossroads such as Liberty (about 1.5 miles west of the Petaluma Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze).

And it was only getting better. Everywhere existing “traction systems” (the formal name) were adding new routes and equally important, making deals to link up with other systems; Northern Electric would soon stretch down to the East Bay, sharing tracks and electricity with the Key System. There was talk about forming great interstate networks and maybe even a transcontinental route.

Thus there was excitement but no great surprise when it was reported in 1908 that plans were underway to build an electric railroad from Marin county to Lake Tahoe, with a spur stretching to Petaluma and Santa Rosa. Despite assurances by Bay Area newspapers including the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa Republican, the deal died quickly, not least because it required $12,000,000 from investors in one of the tightest economies in the nation’s history; it was only a year past the bank panic of 1907 which saw the U.S. financial system near collapse, and no one was in the mood to gamble on risky projects. Nor did it help that the mastermind behind it was Richard M. Hotaling, a San Francisco playboy who knew nothing about railroads, or for that matter, business.*

But aside from Hotaling’s complete lack of business acumen and the wildly ambitious scope of building a Lake Tahoe road, the deal wasn’t that unusual. Typically a group of investors formed a new company to build a specific small railroad. Bonds were offered for sale, and from the newspaper announcements it seems the company claimed work would be completed with remarkable (and improbable) speed and/or the hardest phase of construction was already finished. When they inevitably ran out of money or faced some sort of serious obstacle, work stopped and didn’t resume for months, years, or maybe ever. It was pay-as-you-go railroad tycooning.

Hotaling had also fizzled in trying to start a railroad company in 1905; that time he planned an electric line from Sausalito to Lakeport via Napa. The road was projected to cost up to $15 million, even more than he would later guesstimate to reach Lake Tahoe. Today it may seem like a crummy investment, but in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, it would have had great appeal for one reason alone: It reached Clear Lake, which was the Holy Grail for railroaders. At the time there was not a single railroad track of any kind in Lake county. Everyone went in and out of the area via bumpy stagecoach until 1907, when a company started offering bumpy auto transport between Calistoga and Middletown. And everyone, it seems, wanted to go to Lake county.

Lake county was then being promoted as the “Switzerland of America” (never mind that Colorado claimed the same after the Civil War, and New Hampshire used the motto a half-century before that) and its mineral spring resorts were world famous. Tens of thousands of visitors spent weeks there every summer. You rubbed elbows with royalty and world leaders; you could watch a boxing champion train at one resort and his upcoming challenger spar at another. The most opulent of the resorts, Bartlett Springs, was virtually a small city, accommodating  up to 5,000 guests and an even larger staff. It had a casino, gourmet European chefs, a resident orchestra, five hotels and hundreds of cabins. The Lake county Chamber of Commerce wrote a history of the resorts with a vivid (if somewhat purple) description:

Turrets and towers reaching nearly to the sky, adorned the multicolored flags waving festively in the mountain breezes, loomed high above the stately evergreen forests in which they were centered. These luxury hotels or baronial castles featured every type of architecture-from the airy Swiss Chalet style, Victorian, with accommodations for 500 or more persons in the main hotel buildings. Often these resorts would have their main hotel and several secondary or smaller hotels that could accommodate from 200 to 300 persons. Also dozens of individual housekeeping cottages, annexes, dormitory type buildings and even extensive campground facilities. Posh casinos, mirrored ballrooms, brocade and satin upholstered salons, music halls redolent with gold leaf and formal dining rooms gleaming with silver and crystal were just some of the luxuries offered the clientele.

My lord, it sounded like a county full of Disneylands.

Plans to construct some type of a railroad into Lake county went back to 1869. According to county histories, companies were also founded to lay tracks in 1896, 1900, 1903, two in 1905 (not counting Hotaling’s plan) and 1907. Hey, want to lose money on a sure thing? I’ve got some Lake county railroad bonds I’d like to sell you.

(RIGHT: Proposed Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad route map that appeared several times in the Press Democrat, 1910-1911)

Then come 1908, both Santa Rosa papers herald yet another Lake train scheme. The difference this time is that the 56-mile electric line was to be built by a Santa Rosa company: The Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad, headed by William Reynolds – who was also president of the Santa Rosa Bank. Hearing Reynolds’ presentation to the Chamber of Commerce were many of Santa Rosa’s real estate and investment heavy hitters.

Little was written of the project until almost exactly a year later, when the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce heard another pitch. This time it was from a group of Lake county investors with a company called Highland Pacific that proposed their own Lakeport to Santa Rosa train. Rival Reynolds was there and didn’t seem threatened, even proposing the two could share tracks into Santa Rosa from Gwynn’s Corners (the intersection of Old Redwood Highway and Mark West). Perhaps the Lake county guys were not aware how much they were revealing their hands to the enemy camp; a few weeks later the Press Democrat reported Santa Rosa’s mayor and the Chamber Secretary had been “busy for several days securing rights of way from property owners for the Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Scenic Railway” and they had “practically secured $3,000” to start work.

But the project gained no traction. The PD announced in 1910 that construction would begin at the end of the year and take twenty months. Work appears to have stopped after five miles were graded.

While the Santa Rosa efforts were on hiatus, yet another team showed up to play: The newly-created Clear Lake Railroad Company stated in 1911 they would construct a standard gauge road from Hopland to Lakeport. The shortest route of all at slightly less than 25 miles, it would be a spur from the Northwestern Pacific main line. The NWP would also sell them rails at cost, finance them with discount loans and would be in no hurry to be paid back.

The Press Democrat complained this sweetest of sweetheart deals was really aimed at killing Santa Rosa’s dreams: “The Northwestern revives again this old, old proposition at a time when its revival might have a chilling influence upon the new enterprise.” The PD announced shortly after that “work on the new Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad, which has been temporarily discontinued, is to be resumed at once.” Apparently it was not.

The Hopland project broke ground in November, 1911 and quickly became entangled in a labor dispute. Work sputtered along for over five years, the company selling more bonds and making (what appear to be) questionable insider deals concerning Clear Lake frontage. All they accomplished was a few miles of graded roadbed in Mendocino County. And thus endeth this chapter on Lake county rail.

It can be argued that the failure of the Santa Rosa electric line was the biggest setback to the town’s progress since the 1906 earthquake. Not that business interests had such love to serve their Lake county brethren; the attraction was all those wealthy people passing through town. As the Press Democrat explained: “In making Santa Rosa the terminal the city becomes a railroad center of considerable importance. It is estimated that over 50,000 visitors will pass through Santa Rosa in and out annually on their way to and from the various resorts.”

Perhaps just as important, the trolley line would have extended Santa Rosa’s sphere of influence north to Healdsburg; note the 1910 full-page ad that appeared in the Republican selling property in the “new subdivision” on the yet-to-be-built route. Lacking a boost in land values from developments and lacking the draw of a major transit hub, it seemed like Santa Rosa had again missed out on boom times.

But maybe that was for the best. Those were the peak years for interurban trains, and it’s no mystery why interest began to decline thereafter; in 1907 we began to go car crazy on the West Coast and in 1910 California voted to create a state highway system. People wanted their private cars and paved roads, not efficient public transit on rails. During and after WWI electric systems increasingly shut down or switched to freight-only; in the dozen years centered on the 1929 start of the Great Depression, 8,400 miles of track were abandoned nationwide. The Petaluma & Santa Rosa trolley ended passenger service in 1932 for lack of ridership. During those years the Lake county resort scene was also vanishing; several of the resorts – including the magnificent Bartlett Springs – burned to the ground and were not rebuilt. Had it been completed, the Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad would have been the train to nowhere after about two decades.

Still, those early years would have been marvelous. Imagine: Just a couple of effortless hours away from downtown Santa Rosa, there awaited “turrets and towers reaching nearly to the sky, adorned the multicolored flags waving festively in the mountain breezes.” I’d certainly buy a ticket. Maybe just one way.

* Richard (“Dick”) Hotaling (1868-1925) was a San Francisco millionaire and one of the heirs to the A. P. Hotaling whiskey fortune. Besides his short-lived railroad venture he managed the family’s 1600-acre Sleepy Hollow dairy ranch in San Anselmo for a few years. But his interest in business matters quickly wained; he was always described in the papers as a clubman and amateur actor, performing at the Bohemian Grove and with a theatrical company in Oakland which usually cast him in the leading roles. He specialized in Shakespearian roles and his interpretations would certainly raise eyebrows today – he performed Shylock with a Yiddish accent and Othello in “African dialect,” explaining to the San Francisco Call there was “no logical reason why Shylock and Othello should speak like Venetians” before laughing, “Wouldn’t it be funny to hear Othello declaim a la Uncle Tom?” Hotaling was also accused of attempting to defraud family members. He claimed his elderly mother gave him the ranch and handed over the one-quarter share in the business inherited by his brother Fred after she was embarrassed in 1913 by Fred appearing drunk after a society ball. His mother supposedly also gave him her own quarter share of stock with the understanding the deed would be recorded only after she died or in the case of a “German invasion,” meaning her fears that the widow of her eldest son was planning to marry a German nobleman seeking to occupy the San Anselmo mansion. The court returned Fred’s stock and ruled in favor of mom in 1919. Dick was also investigated by a grand jury a few months before his death regarding a murder-for-hire scheme to poison Fred and his wife, but was not indicted for lack of corroborating evidence.


Line Into Lake County Discussed Thursday Night

There was a good attendance at the regular meeting of the Chamber of Commerce Thursday evening and the time was largely devoted to discussion of a narrow gauge railroad from Santa Rosa into Lake county. This is a project in which W. D. Reynolds and J. W. Barrows have taken an especially deep interest for several years. Maps of the proposed line were drawn in 1906 and 1907 under direction of Mr. Barrows, and when he went east last year he gave the matter considerable investigation. At that time the REPUBLICAN gave the story of his investigations and some points in regard to such roads. The proposed road would have a width of 24 to 27 inches and such lines are declared to have proven very profitable. They go up and down grads much steeper than those of standard gauge lines and are declared to be very safe in their management. The meeting Thursday night was addressed by Judge Crawford, Rev. Peter Colvin, R. C. Moodey, Mayor Gray, A. Trembley , John Rinner, Frank Leppo, Dr. Harry Leppo, Dr. Jackson Temple, and others.


– Santa Rosa Republican, September 18, 1908
Proposed Electric Road May Bring Eastern Lines

The proposed electric railroad that was mentioned in the REPUBLICAN of Thursday, beginning from Belvedere, and running north through Santa Rosa and other cities to Lake Tahoe, is really to be the connecting point with a large transcontinental route.

It will mean the entrance to this city and county and state from the northeast to the bay of either the Hill system, the Rockefellers’ St. Paul system, the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific project of David M. Moffat of Denver, or the Chicago and Northwestern.

The road projected by Richard M. Hotaling is to be 178 miles in length, and can be used for steam or electric trains. It is to cost $12,000,000 and work is to begin by next March.

At Sacramento the proposed road will connect with the Butters road known as the Northern Electric, which is built as far as Chico and is in operation. It will extend to Redding and form an important link in the transcontinental route. Since the death of Henry A. Butters, interested parties have proposed a combination of the Northern Electric and the Hotaling projects, and it is certain that a merger of these two properties will be made within a year. It is these two companies which will be eventually utilized by some big eastern road to get an outlet to the Bay of San Francisco.

The late Henry A. Butters, along with Louis Sloss, E. R. Lillienthal and other wealthy San Franciscans, built the Northern Electric system between Sacramento and Yuba City, Marysville, Oroville and Chico, and projected it north to Red Bluff and Redding because he has great faith in the development of Northern California.

Hotaling and his associates say they have the same faith in the growth of this part of the State and that the three firms of engineers employed by them reported that this section of the state is a fine field for railway development.

Interested parties in both systems said yesterday the logic of the situation pointed to a close affiliation or combination of both properties. They refuse to say when and how the companies might reach an understanding.

Like the Hotaling system is to be, the Northern Electric can be used by steam or electric trains, or both. It is now being operated by electric power furnished by the transmission mountain plants of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of this city. Presumably the Hotaling road will use powere from the same company. People who are interested in a merger of the two properties say that as one system they could handle by electric power all traffic purely local. In case of some big eastern road later on became interested in the system, it could readily use steam trains for through freight and passenger traffic.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 6, 1908

Kinsfolk, Neighbors and Friends:

We need an electric railroad to run from Santa Rosa to Lake county and we need it badly. It is a much easier matter to tell you why we need this road than to try to tell you why the devil is in hogs, or why there should be any devil at all. We can explain this matter to your enquiring minds more satisfactorily than we can tell you why Bryan is in Lincoln, Roosevelt in France or why the thieving Sugar Trust escapes punishment so easily.

We all know that this electric road should be built. We know that it would further the welfare of the county to have it and over a question that is so clear to our minds, we arenot going to divide and quarrel.

We must look after the interests of our county. We must encourage the promoters of this great scheme. Santa Rosa is destined to become a great railroad center. Thousands of people are headed this way. When they arrive, we must prove to them that it will be to their interest to remain…

…But that Santa Rosa and Clear Lake electric line! We must “boost” that. We need it in our business–we need it all the time. With a station every mile or two, the farmers will be able to ship their produce into town in large or small quantities , and at almost any time of day.



– Santa Rosa Republican, May 6, 1910
Work Begins on December 1st and Must Be Completed in Twenty Months
Years of Quiet But Energetic Work Has Achieved Results–Passenger Steamers on Clear Lake

…For nearly five years the gentlemen at the head of the undertaking have been quietly, yet none the less energetically working to bring about the consummation of this railroad into Lake county. Their plans were well defined at the time of the disaster of April, 1906, and but for that set back the road would doubtless have been in operation for some time….

…the electric railroad from Santa Rosa to Clear Lake will be a “scenic railroad.” Every one familiar with the route will agree as to this. Through valley and canyon and over hill it will run until its termination on the shores of Clear Lake is reached. It will be the first railroad of any kind to enter Lake county–“the Switzerland of America,” famed far and wide for its unparalleled scenery and climate, eagerly sought after each year by thousands of tourists and pleasure seekers.

Route of Proposed Road

The route of the new railroad runs from Santa Rosa to Kellogg, and thence skirting St. Helena mountain, it will go to Middletown, and then on to Clear Lake. In Santa Rosa the terminus will be on Wilson street between Fourth and Fifth streets, and consequently it will connect for passengers from both the Northwestern Pacific and Petaluma & Santa Rosa railroad depots. It will run up Fifth street to North street to the Southern Pacific depot. From the depot it will pass the Odd Fellows’ cemetery, and will proceed along the line of the Healdsburg road, and then on by Mark West to Kellogg, passing the Knight’s Valley ranch where it is expected the California Trades ^ Training School will be located.

The Lake county terminus will be at deep water on Clear Lake. The plan is to put two large passenger boats on the Lake to connect with every resort frontong on or in touch with the lake.


– Press Democrat, November 15, 1910
Chamber Commerce Representatives Review the Situation

…The local directors have agreed to sell for cash 15 per cent or $528.75 per mile of this stock, thus requiring the sale of about $30,000 worth of stock in Santa Rosa, along the route and in Lake county. Nearly $5,000 worth of stock has been subscribed, we are told, by residents of Middletown. Nearly $5,000 more will be taken at Lower Lake, and nearly $5,000 has already been subscribed in Santa Rosa…

In making Santa Rosa the terminal the city becomes a railroad center of considerable importance. It is estimated that over 50,000 visitors will pass through Santa Rosa in and out annually on their way to and from the various resorts. We believe the road will be a lasting benefit for the community and will be worthy of the attempt to secure same, and should receive the support of all our people…


– Press Democrat, March 23, 1911
Northwestern Pacific Makes an Effort to Discourage it by Offering to Expedite Another Line

Subscriptions are steadily coming in to the capital stock of the Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad Company, the survey has been finished from Santa Rosa to Middletown in Lake county, and five miles of grading work has been completed in the most difficult part of the road. “The road will be finished before winter,” is the declaration of the men who are pushing the work.

The customary and expected effort to discourage and forestall the enterprise came to light with the publication in San Francisco Wednesday of the account of a conference held in San Francisco between the officers of the Northwestern Pacific and a delegation of business men who had been invited to the city for the purpose of the interview. According to this story, the Northwestern Pacific offers to expedite the building of a line from Lakeport to connect with and feed the Northwestern Pacific main line at Hopland. The road is to be twenty-two miles long, is to cost $200,000 and is to be financed by popular subscription at $100 a share. It is to be a standard-gauge gasoline motor road with a maximum grade of five percent.

The Northwestern Pacific agreed to furnish rails at cost price, and to bond the road at five per cent, to refrain from control of the line and to give ample time for redemption of the bonds. [? illegible microfilm ?] and published ever time it has appeared that the people of Santa Rosa and the people of Lakeport were doing something to connect the two towns by rail. Nothing has ever come of any of them.

Naturally, a direct and independent line from Santa Rosa to Lakeport would not bring as much business to the Northwestern Pacific as would a feeder line to tap the Northwestern at Hopland. Obviously, the direct line to Santa Rosa will bring more business to Santa Rosa than would the “feeder” line to Hopland. That explains, of course, why the Northwestern would prefer a “feeder,” and it also explains, equally of course, why Santa Rosa’s interests are with the independent line. Also, it explains why the Northwestern revives again this old, old propsition at a time when its revival might have a chilling influence upon the new enterprise.

But the new enterprise is not affected by the chill.

“We’ll have our road in operation before there is a tie laid on the feeder,” said one of the men engaged in the building of the Santa Rosa & Clear Lake road, when asked about it by a Press Democrat reporter Wednesday.

– Press Democrat, March 30, 1911
Money Deposited in Local Banks to Start Work
J. W. Barrows Resigns Position With Western Pacific to Take Charge of Building for New Line–Will Make Headquarters in Santa Rosa

Work on the new Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad, which has been temporarily discontinued, is to be resumed at once. Milton Nathan of the Nathan, Brownscomb Construction Company was in this city yesterday and deposited $5,000 in cash with two of the local banks to start construction work and announced that there was plenty more on hand which would be forthcoming as soon as it was needed…


– Press Democrat, July 16, 1911

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Contributing to poor Mr. Hurst’s grump was knowledge that he’d probably be out of a job soon — by August, the new electric trolley was running down Fourth street and would replace his horse-drawn car.

Jailed for Annoying Street Car Driver

Ross Howe, a young fellow of hoodlum instincts, was yesterday sentenced to serve five days in the county jail by Recorder Bagley. He was convicted on the charge of using vulgar language last Sunday to A. H. Hurst, the crippled old man who drives the street car.

Charles Edwards, who is reported to hail from Petaluma and who is a fit comrade of Howe, also annoyed Mr. Hurst last Sunday whiled the driver was attending to his duties. The old man, exasperated beyond endurance, threw a rock at his tormentor and broke a pane of glass in a Fourth street store window. Edwards has been notified that unless he returns and pays for the damage, he will be prosecuted for malicious mischief. Recorder Bagley is determined that the usual practice of annoying the street car drivers shall be broken up with a few salutary fines and imprisonments.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 5, 1905

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Without doubt, it was the grandest street fight in Santa Rosa’s history. As a crowd of about 3,000 watched — a third of the town’s population — rival railroad crews fought an hours-long battle. Men were bloodied and bruised by rocks, shovels were swung like clubs, panicked horses bolted for their lives, and blasts of locomotive steam threatened to peel the skin off anyone who dared come too close to the great iron machines on rails. But at the end of the day, something positive came from the fracas: Santa Rosa took its first deliberate step into the Twentieth Century.

At right: A scene from the March 1, 1905 “Battle of Sebastopol Avenue,” as men from the California Northwestern railroad shovel dirt and gravel on workers from the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway as they attempt to install a rail crossing.

A retouched detail from this image can be found in part 3, “The Generals of the Battle of Sebastopol Avenue,” along with an additional picture from the Press Democrat. A photograph of the January confrontation can be found in Santa Rosa: A Nineteenth Century Town (Gaye LeBaron, et. al.) and another picture from the March “battle” appeared in a 1984 Gaye LeBaron column.

The discoloration is from glue used to attach the photo to an album.

Photo courtesy Sonoma County Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

It was 12:45 in the morning of March 2, 1905 when the first electric trolley crossed the railroad tracks at Sebastopol Avenue, marking the end of months of legal and civic debate — as well as that violent confrontation the day before.

The basic story goes like this: The steam railroad’s long monopoly on local shipping and transit was threatened by construction of an electric trolley line, formally known as the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway. To connect downtown Santa Rosa with the trolley already running between Petaluma and Sebastopol, the electric railway (the orange line on map, at right) had to cross the steam railroad’s tracks (blue line) at Sebastopol Avenue, shown by the arrow. Claiming there were safety concerns, the president of the California Northwestern steam railroad obtained a court order in January stopping the electric railroad from installing a crossing point.

When the temporary injunction was lifted two months later, both sides sprang into action. Workers for the steam railroad tried to slow or stop electric line workers preparing the crossing site by shoveling dirt and gravel back into their excavation. Rocks were thrown, a horse-drawn wagon dramatically smashed, and then the California Northwestern produced its secret weapons: a pair of locomotives equipped with nozzles that shot steam from the engine on anyone close by. In the middle of this chaos, the director of the electric trolley threw himself on the tracks in front of the locomotive. As steam road workers tried to pull him off, electric line workers rushed to his defense, and the man became a living rope in a tug-of-war.

The Press Democrat perfectly captured the tension: “The roar of the steam and the shouts of the spectators created a sentiment and thrill that was almost impossible to check. It was hardly like an even contest, the men digging for their lives in order to get the crossing in place, armed only with picks and shovels, as compared with the rain of earth from the flat cars and the belching steam from the engines…the slightest coercion at that moment would have started a riot that would undoubtedly have ended in bloodshed. That is what everybody expected.”

It’s a thrilling yarn, and well told by both newspapers of the day. Alas, it appears that the full Press Democrat account has not survived. The PD was a morning paper, and although two “extra” editions were issued on the afternoon of March 1 as events were unfolding, what exists on microfilm today is the March 2 edition, which was mostly a wrap-up of the previous day’s news, lacking the immediacy of the reporting that can be found in the hot-off-the-press Santa Rosa Republican. The account presented below is an unabashedly unscholarly hybrid, with a few snippets from the March 2 Press Democrat interjected at the appropriate spots of the full account from the March 1st and 2nd Republican. These added passages from the PD are shown in [brackets and italics].

There’s lots more to this story, including analysis of the special interests on each side, to be read in “The Generals of the Battle of Sebastopol Avenue.” An account of the first confrontation in January can be found in “Prelude to the Battle of Sebastopol Avenue.” Finally, “The Battle(field) of Sebastopol Avenue,” discusses the layout of this part of Santa Rosa in 1905, and includes a contemporary map. But none of that background is needed to enjoy this remarkable telling of the tale:

An Exciting Situation Developed by the Efforts of the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway to Make Sebastopol Avenue Crossing

SAN FRANCISCO, March 1. — Superior Judge J. M. Seawell this morning rendered a decision dissolving the temporary injunction against the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway, which restrained that corporation from crossing the tracks of the California Northwestern at Sebastopol avenue in Santa Rosa.

The scene at the Sebastopol avenue crossing immediately following the word that a decision had been rendered in favor of the electric line by Judge Seawell, was perhaps never equalled in the history of the city.

The California Northwestern Railway was prepared to prevent the putting in of the crossing, and ran gravel trains down the main and side tracks in an effort to block the laborers who were digging out the ties in the county road.

The engines were fitted with projecting pipes from the pilots which shot scalding steam and hot water right into the crowd of workers regardless of consequences.

As fast as a hole was dug in the crossing the men on the gravel cars dumped in dirt.

Those on the ground shoveled the loose earth out again, making very little headway. In a little while every man engaged at the crossing was covered with soil from head to foot. The steam and hot water wet their clothing and drove the dirt into the fabric.

Not satisfied with the progress made in interfering with the work of the gang for the electric line, the engineers of the steam line’s engines drove right on across the county road, keeping up a constant see-saw on the tracks and maintaining a steady cloud of steam in front to clear away the men attempting to put in the crossing.

Then the electric railway people drove two horse teams across the right of way of the steam line. The horses were brought to a standstill between the engines. Even this did not deter the steam line. The engines were shoved right down on the teams. The horses reared and plunged, being frightened at the escaping steam and the tooting of whistles.

It was not thought that the engines would actually crush the wagons, but they did. The drivers had to jump for fear of being crushed. Slowly the pilots came together on either side of the crossing and the wagons were smashed to splinters. Fortunately the horses were released without injury, though the crowd scattered at the thought of the powerful animals plunging through the human mass on every side.

This conduct on the part of the steam railway’s officals increased the crowd which was with the electric line in its fight. Rocks and clods of earth were picked up on every hand and flung at the engineers and the train crews who were directing the fight for the steam line.

There were several narrow escapes and the train crews had to duck lively to escape.

After about two hours of fighting back and forth the officers arrived with warrants and arrested the officials of the steam line who were violating the law in having the cars and engines obstruct the county road.

Detailed Story Of the Fight

As soon as the news reached the City of Roses that Judge Seawell had granted a dissolution of the injunction many citizens wended their way to the scene, confident that there would be something doing. There was quite a wait before the electric railroad officials put in an appeaerance, but shortly after they arrived things began to hum in good style.

The California Northwestern railroad had the crossing well guarded. An engine was on either side of the main line with steam up and ready for action. These engines were the ones recently described in these columns, and at the time it was stated that they were for “fighting purposes” when the time came at the crossing. This was strenously denied by the officials of the company, but at the proper moment their use was shown to the public, and the crowds were driven back time and again from the steam which poured in all directions from the steam pipes in front of the locomotives. These had been termed “‘Admiral’ Barrows’ fighting ships.”

The big crowd was with the electric people, and they gave voice to it in no uncertain manner. Many times citizens took shovels and assisted in throwing dirt for the electric company, and also protected their men in onslaughts by the steam railroad people.

[ “Stand back boys,” someone shouted, and the crowd cleared back a little to let two men ride horses in between the two locomotives encroaching on the right of way. The engines came closer and finally the horses were ridden out of the way. Then the engines backed up. This was repeated once or twice. But the roar of the steam and the general excitement did not let up for a moment.]

When General Manager Downs arrived on the scene in company with other officials of his company he sought out Supervisor Barrows and shook hands cordially with him. He inquired for Mr. Zook, and these gentlemen shook hands in friendly manner. In a courteous way each of these gentlemen informed the other of what they proposed to do in the matter of the crossing, and after this exchange of courtesy the electric men went to work to dig up the tracks of the steam road.

An engine was moved forward, and before this locomotive Director Frank A. Brush, of the electric company lay prostate on the ground. The locomotive was stopped before it struck him, and then ensued a contest between the men of the opposing companies that threatened to rend Mr. Brush limb from limb. The steam railroad men attempted to pull him off the tracks, while the electric men held him on the tracks. While lying prone on the pilot of the engine, Engineer Gene Ellison walked out on the running board of his locomotive and turned on the steam from the pipes recently described in these columns. Mr. Brush’s head was directly in line with this steam, and the position becoming unbearable, he finally got up from the ground.

The steam was kept playing on the crowds in all directions and kept them at a distance. The workmen of the electric railroad were unmindful of the steam, and worked ahead in the blinding steam as if nothing had happened. But the men went at their digging and tugging, while the men of the steam road kept throwing sand and gravel on them in a vain attempt to cause them to desist.

On either side of the main line on which the two locomotives were stationed, the California Northwestern had cars of gravel with which to fight the electric railroad people. This they used to great advantage and provoked several fights. One man threw a pick into a bunch of laborers on the cars and struck several men. Shovels were freely used, and rocks were thrown in great numbers. Many of these missiles struck persons, and black eyes, bloody faces and other evidences of the “scrap” which had taken place were found on every side. Foreman Horn, of the electric railroad, probably got the worst “package” of the lot. His face under the eye was badly lacerated, and his eye blackened for a great space. This he bore uncomplaingly, and never retaliated, but kept on working. It was evident he was attempting to see who struck him, in order to repay the blow with interest when the time came.

Superintendent Thorton, Manager Downs, Attorneys Rankin and Lippitt and other officials directed the men of the electric line, who showed no disposition to fight until their ire had been aroused by the treatment received from the steam company’s men. As far as everbody was concerned, it was supposed to be a peaceable war, but every few minutes the patience of some of the men would become exhausted, and blows would be resorted to.

While all these fights were in progress and the attention of the steam railroad men was directed elsewhere, the electric people were working ahead patiently. They sought to tear up the steam company’s rails, and their intention to force the crossing was manifested in the way they handled things. At 12:21 this afternoon, the outside rail on the east side of the steam road’s right of way was forced, and a tie was placed under the end of the rail which was torn up. This brought a huge cheer from the spectators, and as soon as it was discovered the steam road ran a flat car down and ditched it at the spot to further protect the rails. Then back of this flat car the electric people began tearing at the rails. Superintendent Hunter, who had arrived on a special tribe from Tiburon, attempted to stop this procedure, but a great force of men shoved him quickly into the background, and he was powerless to prevent the rail being torn up. The fish plates were removed, but before the rail could be further loosened the big freight engine of the company, which had been summoned from the north, was backed down on the rail.

On the west side of the main line efforts were being made also to tear up the rails. Time and again a jack was placed under the rails to break them, but each time its hold was broken by a bunch of steam road men, who wrestled it from its position. At one time the steam road men attempted to make away bodily with the jack, and were almost successful, when a bunch of electric men bore down on them and rescued their property.

During the morning a wire was thrown over the trolley of the electric road, and the end of the same was attached to the engine which was being handled by Frank Garcia. Great sparks flew from the wire, but no damage was done to the locomotive or anyone aboard it. This was greatly interesting to the crowd, who cheered the electric people to obtain mastery over their opponents.

At one time a huge bunch of ties were piled in front of the locomotives, and efforts on the part of the opposing forces to remove the ties and to prevent their removal were watched with interest by the spectators. Hundreds of people wee on hand at the time the rails were forced, and these cheered lustily, as they saw the rails lifted from the ground. On the west side of the main line a large piece of rail was removed.

Wagons containing sand were run onto the steam road’s tracks by the electric road people, and the teams were stopped there. Into these the steam company ran its locomotives and the wheels were crushed and the wagons otherwise disabled. After the wagons had been wrecked, chains attached to the engines were placed about the wheels, with the apparent intention of pulling them from the tracks. This was not done, however. The two side tracks alongside the main line, having been blockaded by the ditching of cars where the rails had been torn up, the attention of both the opposing forces was directed to the rails of the main line.

[ All this time the crowd was growing larger and larger as the news spread of what was transpiring at Sebastopol avenue. All place of vantage were crowded and the thoroughfare on either side was crowded with humanity.]

Street Commissioner White was on hand to prevent the blockading of the streets, and had his hands full attempting to enforce his order in that respect. Constables James H. Boswell and Sam J. Gilliam were present to enforce the crowds keeping the peace, and while there were a number of fights, these gentlemen were unable to reach the parties owing to the crowds which immediately surrounded them. They preserved the peace well under the circumstances, and stoped some of the vicious practices which were being indulged in by both sides at times.

The steam road had all the advantages in the fighting. Their men were on top of the cars, and dumped sand and gravel by shovelsfull on the electric men, much to their disadvantage. Then again the steam men were favored by the batteries of steam from the locomotives, which soused the electric workmen and handicapped them in their efforts. Again the steam road had a lot of men hired to assist in protecting their crossing. These men were well dressed and circulated through the crowd at all times, but at sign of trouble most of them felt suddenly called elsewhere.

A volley of rocks hurled at the men on the gravel cars of the steam road quickly drove these men from their position, but they showed greater pluck than the good clothes men who had been hired to proect the crossing. These men ran almost every time they saw a rock picked up, and sought cover in the coach provided for them at the crossing. One of the steam road’s men showed a viciousness seldom seen in the City of Roses, where men sometimes fight, but give their opponent a square deal. The individual stood between the flat car and engine and hurled large rocks from his place of concealment at the electric workmen. Fortunately, for the latter he was too excited to have good aim, and the missiles he threw went wild. Had they struck anyone in a vital spot they would have done great damage.

Sheriff Grace Would Not Act

Attorneys James W. Oates and J. Rollo Leppo called on Sheriff Frank P. Grace this morning twice. At the first call the sheriff was absent, but on the second call they had a personal audience with him. The attorneys requested the sheriff and his deputies to go to the crossing and preserve order and prevent obstruction of the county’s highways. This the sheriff refused to do. He declared that if warrants were sworn and given to him he would serve them, but declined to go to the crossing at all. Deputy Sheriff John L. Gist was the only representative who appeared at the scene at all, and he came merely to serve a warrant, and then quickly departed.

Late in the afternoon warrants were sworn out for the arrest of the following electric railway officials… (5 were) charged with obstructing the California Northwestern Railroad.

Of the steam road people there were arrested … (12) charged with obstructing the work of the electric people. A large number of others were arrested on “John Doe” warrants on the same charges.

The men were taken before Justice Atchinson and released on bail of $25 each. Attorney T. J. Geary appeared for them as counsel in the justice court.

The Electric Line is Finally Across Sebastopol Avenue in Spite of Interference by Steam Road

…When the Republican went to press yesterday afternoon the electric railroad had gained the advantage of removing rails from both the switches of the California Northwestern railroad on the east and west sides of the main line. To offset this advantage the steam road had ditched flat cars into these holes made by tearing away rails and ties.

Acting under orders, the policemen arrested every man found guilty of giving an order which further obstructed the Sebastopol crossing. A sharp lookout was kept for the man who gave the orders, and the official was promptly taken into custody. While the men of the electric road were working on the west side of the main line and had succeeded in getting a large section of rail cut out and removed, Chief Engineer Zook ordered Conductor Riese to cut off his engine, No, 23, and go over on the west side and further block the work. This was done, and the flat car which had already been thrown off the rails was further pushed into place where the rails had been removed,


For this offense Conductor Riese was arrested a second time, and given a second ride in the rubber tired vehicle which is provided by the city for such emergencies.

Conductor Riese attempted to evade the second arrest, and leaped from his engine while it was on the move and mingled with the crowd. His effort to conceal himself was unavailing, for Constable Boswell had seen him give the engineer a signal, and promptly sought him out and placed him under arrest.

Phil Hyde, the engineer of Jack Smith’s train, who had come to this city as a special bring up reinforcements of officials from Tiburon, led the officers a merry chase during the afternoon. There was a wholesale arrest of engineers, firemen, and conductors going on, and Mr. Hyde heard that a warrant was out for him. He had an advantage over the other railroad men in that he knew the peace officers personally, and when he saw them coming toward him he made his escape easily and avoided a ride in the neatly painted wagon which had contained some of his fellow engineers and road officials.

[ The police patrol was kept busy and as was also a hack in making trips to and from the crossing. One man put in the hack by Boswell escaped just in time to board the southbound passenger train.]

Both railroads had the busiest day of their existence yesterday. From the time the first picks where struck in the earth until President Foster’s arrival there was no time lost by either side. When actual hostilities were note being engaged in, each side was planning to get ahead of the opponents. The game played at the crossing yesterday was in some respects similar to that of chess, and in many ways it resembled a football contest, with brawny men on either side, bucking the center and the line repeatedly. Especially were the football tactics resorted to when an attempt was made to take the electic road’s jack by force. This was a decisive struggle, and came almost being successful on the part of the steam road’s men.


During the afternoon the electric road people attached a heavy wire cable to the flat cars on the west side of the track, and attempted to pull them over and throw them out of the way. Their first pull resulted in the breaking of the heavy four-ply wire cable. Before a second pull could be made, the steam road men had anchored their flat cars to the battleship-locomotive No. 12.

Frantically the men of the steam road worked to get their chains in position to hold the flat car, and after a wait of more than an hour, it came to their minds that the 6 o’clock train was due shortly, and that with the locomotive anchored to the flat car it would be impossible to move the fighting machine and not delay the United States mail. Then began a frantic unwinding of the chains binding the locomotive, and a digging beneath the rails on which the locomotive stood.

The object of this digging was apparent when the chains that held the locomotive captive were placed beneath the rails. It did not seem to occur to those in charge that the mail train could not run over the huge knots of chain across the rails any more than it could run over the other locomotive without being wrecked, and the work proceeded to the finish. Then when President Foster ordered the tracks cleared and the ditched cars replaced on the rails, these chains were unwound, and the work had gone for naught.


More special trains were run over the California Northwestern railroad yesterday than for many months past. In addition to the two locomotives equipped for drenching the crowd with steam which were on the ground, engines and section men were brought from all directions. There were given special orders, and with white flags flying they came in rapid time.

The heavy freight engine, No. 23, with Jim Ahern at the trottle and Sam Riese in charge, was ordered to cut off the freight train which it was pulling to this city and hasten down without them. This resulted in no freight being hauled from the north yesterday at all. The engine cut off its cars at Cloverdale, and picked up five section crews en route to this city to add to the fighting force of the California Northwestern.

Engine 9, with Phil Hyde at the helm, came in from Tiburon about noon, having run to this point under special orders. It brought superintendent Hunter and others to the scene.

The last special to arrive was that bearing President Foster and one hundred and fifty fighting men, whom the president termed “big husky fellows.” Arthur Foster, the President’s son, and an under-sheriff and deputy sheriff of Marin county also accompanied the special….President Foster’s train was known to be en route to the City of Roses long before it arrived, and when its whistle was heard in the distance there were many who went down to meet it. [ It was rumored that Sheriff Taylor and his deputies from Marin county were coming to assist the officers here. This was not credited, however, and proved untrue.] It was reported here that seventy-five stevedores had been brought to this city, and that they would fight at the drop of the hat. This increased interest in the president’s special.


A representative of the Republican was among those on the train before it came to a stop. President Foster, accompanied by his son, stepped out of the private car, and was immediately handed a telegram. He read it, and replied “Tell them no.” The windows of the other coach containing the “fighting men” were pulled down, and no glimpse could be gained into that coach. That it was filled with men was apparent, for before coming to a standstill and having the blinds pulled down according to orders there were heads sticking out of every window in the coach.

President Foster walked up into the crowd at the crossing and there sought the peace officials of the county. Marshal Severson was on the ground, but Sheriff Grace could not be found. In the conference between Marshal Severson and President Foster the latter made a threat even to arrest Sheriff Grace if the railroad property was not protected.

President Foster said to Marshal Severson in tones which were heard by the crowd: “Mr. Marshal, I have come here to urge the protection of my property, and am on a peaceable mission. My company does not wish trouble with anyone, but shall insist on its rights being respected and its property being kept free from molestation. If you have sufficient force here I want you to clear this place of all persons excepting my men, and if your force is insufficient, I have with me one hundred and fifty men who will clear it at once. They are big, husky fellows, and are able to clear this place even without your assistance. We have come here not to resist you in your efforts to keep the peace, but to assist you. Now, Mr. Marshal, I shall expect you to do your duty in protecting my property, and if you do not do it, I have men with me who will place you and even the sheriff of Sonoma county under arrest for not doing your duty.”

During President Foster’s talk the crowd made many side remarks, several calling on the marshal to arrest Mr. Foster for obstructing the county road.

Marshal Severson and his officers at once began clearing the crowds back, and forced men occupying positions on the flat cars alongside the tracks to get down from them and away from the scene. This was no easy task, and as fast as the crowd was cleared away in one place they returned in another.


Finally President Foster grew insistent and told the Marshal that unless he cleared the crowds and kept them back he would have the officer placed under arrest.

President Foster was in position to carry out this threat to the letter. With him he had brought up in his special car Under Sheriff G. E. Ortman of Marin county, and Deputy Sheriff Lon Agnew of Marin county was picked up at Petaluma. These two men were clothed with authority, in case of necessity to arrest the marshal and his assistants, and also Sheriff Grace. Deputy Agnew had been up to Ukiah, where he had gone to get an escaped prisoner, but was returning to San Rafael without his man. He was a passenger on the south bound train, and was stopped at Petaluma by telegraphic messages and returned with President Foster on his special.


Shortly after making his first speech to Marshal Severson and the crowd, President Foster held a telegram aloft and in a loud voice declared to the people that he had been notified that the electric railroad had asked for an injunction against his company to prevent them interfering with the crossing, and that a restraining order had been issued against his company returnable Monday next at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He declared that he was in favor of law and order, and did not intend to go contrary to the orders of the courts.

He declared that he had come to the City of Roses to show the people here that the president of the road would go where any of its employees were sent, and that his interest in Santa Rosa and Sonoma county were as great as ever. He declared he owned considerable property in the county and that some day he expected to make his home in Imperial Sonoma.

Mr. Foster had scarcely landed before he gave orders to his men to remove the locomotives back from obstructing the main line. Then came orders to replace the ditched flat cars on the tracks and proceed to clear the tracks and not obstruct the crossing or interfere with the electric road officials. [Later when the train with the President and officials of the road and the men going south passed the crossing there was a mingled demonstration of applause from the assemblage there.]

That the steam road had made abundant preparations for all kinds of battles yesterday is apparent. Four of their locomotives were taken to the shops at Tiburon and fitted with the steam pipes for drenching the crowds which assembled. These locomotives were Nos. 9, 10, 12, and 13. Only two of these were brought into action yesterday. No. 9 has been kept on the siding at Fulton for several weeks past, and steam has been kept up at all times to be ready for instant action. No. 10 is the locomotive which plies between Cloverdale and Ukiah, and she was fitted with pipes and was ready to come down at a moment’s notice, until she was compelled to go down to the shops for repairs. This engine came north last evening pulling the regular evening passenger train. With these four locomotives the steam road was prepared to give a battle such as had never before been fought by railroads. The publication of the use of these steam pipes in the Republican had warned the general public of their intended use, and no great damage was done by them.


Had the hosts of war not been called off when they were, the Northwestern would have been facing an alarming proposition with its engines. For the many hours of the day steam was kept up to a high pressure in order to use it on the crowds to keep the engines in readiness for any emergency which might confront them. When the afternoon passenger train passed south, engine 12 went around that train and came up in the rear to protect the crossing the minute the passenger train had gone by. At this juncture it had an opportunity to take water, but Engineer Garcia’s steed, No. 13, was becoming low on that necessary article for generating steam, and could not have withstood the strain much longer. The same condition confronted other engines.

[ ..]

“Admiral” Barrows, who gained his title from the locomotive battleships which played hot steam and water on the crowds, was everywhere in the fight yesterday. He had gravel shoveled onto him, into his face, and rocks thrown at him, but like a true warrior he never faltered. He kept in the midst of the “scrap,” and gave his orders to his men. Whether on the bridge of one of his war vessels, or in the conning tower, it was the same with him. Mr. Barrows was twice arrested for his participation in the melee.


The position of Engineer Eugene Ellison was anything but pleasant during the morning hours. Many rocks were thrown into the cab, one going through a window and shattering it.

[There was no cessation when the steam whistles from the factories announced that the noon hour had arrived. People were too interested and the opposing forces were in the thickest of the memorable fight to lay the crossing. Many men employed in various establishments spent their dinner hour in watching and cheering on the electric railroad men with the task. Dinners were forgotten.]

The electric railroad officials were thoughtful of their men, and during the afternoon passed around huge baskets of sandwiches to them. Of these the men partook freely, as they had been at work all morning and could not leave the scene at noon to partake of the noon day meal. This morning Auditor Rowe was busy paying the bills for the refreshments served, but it was a cheerful task for him. The company provided liberally for its men and the crowd cheered them for so doing.

Auditor Rowe stated this morning that there had been a conference the night previous to the railroad fight between representatives of the two companies. At that conference the electric railroad people had submitted a proposition to the steam road that if the case was decided in their favor they would agree to put in the crossing and pay all bills, and would enter into a contract to maintain the crossing at all times in a manner satisfactory to the California Northwestern. The officials of the steam road would have nothing to do with this proposition, as they had made arrangements to fight if the decision went against them. Their efforts were put forth in a losing cause, and the crossing is in despite the opposition offered.

The King of France marched his men up the hill and down again.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 1 and 2, 1905, Press Democrat, March 2, 1905 as indicated

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