Western Trips

Western Trips

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rails, Tales, and Trails

For those wishing to learn more about the historic Central Pacific Railroad, the western link of the famous transcontinental railroad, Western Trips has discovered two well researched sources. One is a book and the other a film. Each accompany the other.

central pacific railroad
The book Rails, Tales, and Trails, is now available. It is a guide to the historic sites of the Central Pacific Railroad, built by hand in the 1860s. The part of the book featured in this article talks about the Auburn, Ca. area.
Rails, Tales, and Trails will tell you what you need to know for a self guided trip to the historic sites of the Central Pacific Railroad, built by hand in the 1860s.
Below is the excerpt from the book which is meant to accompany the film "The Hidden Wonder of the World, the Transcontinental Railroad from Sacramento to Donner Summit." The film won the Award of Excellence from the Sacramento County Historical Society.
Both the book and the film were created by author Bill George and Nimbus Marketing. For more information about obtaining this award winning film and book visit website www.transcoshow.com.

c p huntington locomotive
C.P. Huntington locomotive
About The Film
For the first time the hidden wonders of one of America’s greatest construction and engineering feats are revealed on camera. Come along and visit the abandoned granite tunnels, stunning trestles, gigantic cuts and breathtaking scenery traversed by the Transcontinental Railroad. 

People come from all over the world to see these hidden sites. Now you can travel to the summit of the Sierra Nevada and marvel at how the master engineers and builders of the 1860s accomplished this heroic deed.
Perfect for history, railroad and travel fans!
An Excerpt from Rails, Tales and Trails


Elevations Between 1,000 and 1,400 Feet
I-18 Exit at Elm Street 

Auburn is a beautiful little town tucked right next to the freeway.  Its hilly streets offer wonderful vistas, and it is a great town for walking especially if you can catch a glimpse of a train chugging on one of the trestles, knowing they have done this for almost one- hundred and fifty years.  If you take the I-80 exit at Elm Street, you will be in Old Town, which dates from the Gold Rush.  Old Town took a bit of a hit in 1865 when the Central Pacific reached Auburn and bypassed Old Town and built a depot on a hill about a mile and half away.  Most businesses packed up and relocated to the new depot area, leading to two downtowns for this small town. Both offer nice restaurants, antique stores and pleasant hilly hikes. Today you will find a perfect replica of the old depot with offices occupied by the Chamber of Commerce at 601 Lincoln Way.  The railroad did not just disrupt business, it had a huge impact on people, many of whom blamed the railroad for disrupting their quiet, pastoral lives.  One of the CPRR’s “villains” was big, blustery hard-hearted, one-eyed James Harvey Strobridge. Immortalized over time as the construction boss who browbeat and bullied workers, Strobridge was accused of pushing them past exhaustion to accomplish tasks thought to be impossible.  Strobridge has been portrayed as one of the toughest guys in American history, even depicted in one television series engaged in axe-handle battles with workers to keep them in line.  But Strobridge had a softer side.  When the railroad reached Auburn in May, 1865 it caused immediate and unbeatable competition for the California Stagecoach Company, which laid off its station manager, Samuel H. Whitmarsh.  With two children to support, and no job, Whitmarsh fell into depression and shot himself through the head.  The “cruel” Strobridge, in the midst of construction, adopted the boy and the girl.

It was at Auburn that the railroad first began to employ Chinese workers in large numbers. They are memorialized with a 22-foot high monument that was sculpted by a local dentist and never fails to draw attention from tourists. 

A true wonder, Bloomer Cut

End of Herdal Drive, Auburn

From eastbound I-18 take the Maple Street exit in Auburn and stay straight. Go through the stoplight and continue on Auburn Folsom Road. After about 1 1/4 miles, turn right onto Herdal Drive. Park where Herdal Drive ends at Quinn Way and take the walking trail heading east. Bloomer Cut will be about 300 feet ahead.
From eastbound I-80 take the Maple Street exit in Auburn and stay straight. Go through the stoplight and continue on Auburn Folsom Road. After about 1 1/4 miles, turn right onto Herdal Drive. Park where Herdal Drive ends at Quinn Way and take the walking trail heading east. Bloomer Cut will be about 300 feet ahead.The cut was once regarded as the Eight Wonder of the World. It is located in Auburn in a quiet residential neighborhood, west of downtown. It is a rocky trail that rises and falls so be sure to wear hiking shoes. You can climb to the top of the cut and peer down the vertical side and see the railroad tracks. ">It was one of the first engineering challenges the railroad faced. On February 22, 1864, workers began the dangerous and exhausting job of cutting a wedge through a tough, rocky hill.  The hill was described as consisting of “boulders embedded in cement.”   Look at it today and you can see how the cut sides of the hill have withstood the vagaries of time with very little erosion.  The cut is an engineering marvel and a testament to the strength and determination of the laborers who built it.  The workers used black powder to blast through the hill—building a tunnel without a top.  The cut is 800 feet long, and the workers excavated more than 45,000 cubic yards of earth and rock, using shovels, picks and wagons. The work could be dangerous, as evidenced by what occurred to the project’s hands-on construction chief, James Harvey Strobridge.  He was working in the cut when a powder charge went off; his injury cost him the use of an eye.  Strobridge was back at work the next day.

You can still see the marks from pick and shovel. The railroad still runs on the original route today, and trains barely squeeze through the narrow passage. 

Bayley House

From Auburn take Highway 49 south and east about 6.7 miles past the town of Cool

This is a 20-minute drive down a winding road featuring hairpin turns, over the American River and through the beautiful Auburn State Recreation Area. Stop by the river and look around,you will notice the Foresthill Bridge, at 731 feet above the riverbed the fourth highest bridge in the U.S.  There are also some nice, short hikes along the river. Continue on Highway 49 and you will come to three-story brick building, standing all alone, on the right-hand side of the road.

Like just about everybody and their proverbial brother, businessman A.J. Bayley wanted a piece of the speculative action the railroad offered.   He believed the rail route would follow a well-known wagon freight route, so he built a grand 22-room hotel alongside what he thought would be the railroad.  Visions of dusty tourists getting off the train and paying top dollar for a respite at his hotel jumped in his head.  Those hopes were dashed when Theodore Judah put the road on the other side of the canyon you just drove through. Bayley finished his “hotel” using 300,000 bricks, which a local writer said made it out  “like the veritable sore thumb.”  Its doors opened in April 1862, but with no train traffic its commercial future was doomed, so Bayley lived there.  Bayley survived the debacle and built the Grand Central Hotel and resort near Truckee this time along a thriving tourist rail line, so his concept played out if the timing did not.  Unfortunately the Bayley House is boarded up so you won’t be able to see the ornate wooden staircases and other affectations of 1850s-era wealth, and over time the scoffers dubbed it “Bayley’s Folly.” 
Here you may enjoy a wonderful drive, spectacular scenery, and can forever tell friends you were in Cool, California. You can even make up a catchy story about how Cool got its name, since no one really knows.  

See our Western Trips article...A Visit to Truckee CA and It's Historic Hotel

central pacific railroad film

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips. Rails, Tales, and Trails book excerpt and video jacket image copyright Nimbus Marketing)


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