The San Joaquin and Eastern Railroad

The San Joaquin and Eastern Railroad connected Gordon, CA (north of Fresno) and the Southern Pacific Railroad with Big Creek in the foothills of California, with a total line length of just over 57 miles. (Right of way)

Online Archive of California, "Scene of San Joaquin Eastern Railroad" at Huntington Lake, CA 1918. A.C. Mudge Photographer.

It first started operating in 1912, and was part of the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project, where it transported men and supplies to project camps in order to complete the dam. Despite its singular purpose, it was a common carrier railroad, and thus freight and passengers unrelated to the project used the railroad as well. It also served the logging industry in the region and provided a critical link between the forested mountains and the mills and markets in the San Joaquin Valley.

4491 Steam Shovel, 9-27-1918. Photo: Huntington Museum, part of an incredible photo album of the San Joaquin & Eastern!

The line was considered one of the most crooked lines in existence, with an incredible number of tight curves along its track, and yet in spite of this it was a standard gauge railroad. It had 1073 curves, 5.3% grades and 43 wooden trestles, and as such was well known for its scenic routes, and was considered one of the most challenging narrow-gauge railroads in California.

The revenues of the line only matched 22% of it’s cost, and once the hydroelectric project was complete, the line was abandoned in 1933.

A great NOT-documentary YouTube video of the what some of the right of way looks like today is embedded below: 

Further Reading: The Railroad That Lighted Southern California The Story of the Edison Big Creek Project - San Joaquin and Eastern by Hank Johnston.

Thanks as always for reading!


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