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Railroads and Railways of the Mojave Desert

California Southern Railway



Perris and its Railroad
by Richard V. Dodge

Printed in DISPATCHER November 15, 1959 Issue 29

Tails! You lose!

The railroad officials left the decision of the choice of two routes to the toss of the coins. The coins were the amount of subsidies the town of Riverside and other communities, including the Temescal Tin Mines, could raise to warrant the building of the California Southern Rail Road from Laguna (Lake Elsinore) via Temescal Wash and Riverside to Colton. That route would be over seven miles longer than the proposed line via Box Springs.

As the sums subscribed were considered to be inadequate. Box Springs won. Chief Engineer J. 0. Osgood received a telegram on December 1, 1881 to adopt the latter route.

Fred T. Perris, who was in charge of the surveying, and his party were withdrawn from the line location in Cajon Pass and set to work on the Box Springs route. Riverside residents bemoaned "Mr. Nickerson (of the Santa Fe)wags the dog, head and tail, and locates the road three miles out on the barren plain (through Highgrove).

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, controlled by Boston capitalists, was headed west. Its rails had reached Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1880. It was being extended south towards El Paso. The company had formed a partnership with the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway to build the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad on the authorized 35th parallel of latitude route from a junction at the present town of Isleta west to the Colorado River and into California.

Subsidies offered by the towns of National City and San Diego to make San Diego Bay the "Pacific Coast Terminus of the Santa Fe Route" were accepted. The California Southern Rail Road was organized in 1880 to build from National City in a generally northeasterly direction to the town of San Bernardino and on to a connection with the Atlantic & Pacific in California.

The California Southern was constructed from National City north to San Luis Rey, now Oceanside, by the end of 1881. Just north of Oceanside, the line curved to the right, following up the Santa Margarita River, to Fallbrook Station, in the valley about two miles north of the town of Fallbrook. Then it continued up through the rugged Temecula Canyon to the townsite of Temecula, 78 miles from National City. The track was laid up the valley to Elsinore Station, later called Elsinore Junction, near the south end of the lake, 93 miles from National City. There the rails curved to the right, up San Jacinto Canyon, generally known as Railroad Canyon.

At a point about 11 1/4 miles, by rail, from Elsinore, the latter being about l 1/4 miles south of the townsite, a station was established named Pinacate, which, being translated, means "stink bug". This station served the nearby gold mines, the principal ones being the "Good Hope" and the "Virginia".

According to Southern California History book, the village consisted of: a railway station, with a post office, two stores, a blacksmith shop, a wagon shop and a photograph gallery.

Rail laying continued north until the supply of steel was exhausted at a "point of rocks" about 3 1/4 miles north of Pinacate. Train service was established on May 1, 1882, leaving Point of Rocks at 11 a.m. and arriving at San Diego at 2:40 p.m. The fare was six cents a mile or $6.10 one way.

About this time, settlements began to be established around a point a mile or so north of Pinacate. There was no Riverside County then. All the surrounding territory was the northerly part of San Diego County. The highest point in San Diego County was the top of Mt. San Jacinto, elevation 10,500 feet, and the lowest was on the "Colorado Desert, now Imperial Valley", around Salton Sink, 246 feet below sea level.

When more rails arrived, having come around Cape Horn on the bark "Sarah Scott", track laying was renewed over the mesa, down Box Springs Grade, "nestled in the eastern hills", to East Riverside, now Highgrove, and on to Colton. There connection was made with the Southern Pacific Railroad. The first train from National City arrived at Colton on August 15, 1882. The fare was then reduced to five cents a mile.

In November, J. 0. Osgood resigned as Chief Engineer and Fred Perris was appointed to the position in the following year. After completing the road to San Bernardino on September 13, 1883, Perris again turned his attention to the task of conquering Cajon Pass.

In March of that year, a cloudburst in Railroad Canyon washed out 300 feet of track.

Then came the great floods in February 1884, the wettest season of record. Even dry San Diego received 25.97 inches and the rainfall at Fallbrook was over 40 inches. The California Southern's roadbed was mostly shambles. There was practically no track left in Temecula Canyon and scores of other sections, including bridges, were washed out. It was some time before concerted attempts to restore service were made. By September 18, 1884 trains could run from San Bernardino to Temecula. During the first week of January 1885, the line through Temecula Canyon was re-opened.

Pinacate Station! Some call it Perris. A new townsite was platted in 1885, named Perris, to honor the Chief Engineer of the California Southern Railroad.

Fred T. Perris was born in England about the year 1836. His family first moved to Australia and Fred came to the United States in 1852. He worked on the Union Pacific Railroad in the 60's, then settled in San Bernardino in 1874. He was chosen as a delegate in 1880 to the conference with Boston capitalists on the proposed building of the California Southern Railroad. He invited attention to the attractions of the San Bernardino area.

He surveyed all the lines in the Southern California network and equipped the shops.


In the 1889 History, Perris boasted: a brick school house, two good churches, two hotels, a large general supply store, a good grocery, a hardware store, a drug store, a good physician, two milling establishments, two blacksmiths, two livery stables, a meat market and a saloon. The outstanding feature was the railway depot.

Construction progressed on the line between San Bernardino and Barstow. The last spike was driven in the pass on November 9, 1885, joining the California Southern with the Atlantic & Pacific and all points east. Incidentally the Atlantic & Pacific operated over the Southern Pacific's track, under a deferred purchase agreement, between The Needles and Mojave, through Barstow.

The first passenger train with through cars from Kansas City left Barstow on Sunday, November 15, and an east-bound train departed from National City that night. Pinacate - Perris was now a station on a transcontinental main line, the Santa Fe Route, to the Pacific. In addition to the through trains daily, a mixed train daily except Sunday was operated.

A branch from Highgrove to Riverside was put in service in January 1886 and the rails were extended to Arlington.

J. N. Victor, Superintendent, officially announced that on April 1, 1886, Pinacate Station will be closed and a new station, 3/4ths of a mile north of the old one, named Perris, will be opened.

In 1887 Timetables, the train numbers were opposite to the present practice. East and North bound trains were assigned odd numbers, west and south bound, the even ones.

Train number 3, the Los Angeles Express, passed through Perris at 11:52 p.m.; Train Number 4, the San Diego Express, at 12:33 p.m. Numbers 5 and 6, the Night Express, went through at 5:12 a.m. and 11:00 p.m., respectively all daily. In addition, there were second class trains numbers 30 and 31 - Through Freight and 32 and 33 - Way Freight.

The California Southern's charter did not provide for the construction of branch lines. Separate corporations were set up and the roads which were built were operated by the California Southern, at first.

The Riverside, Santa Ana & Los Angeles Railway took over the line from Highgrove to Arlington and built from there to the present station of Atwood, over the Olive District to Orange and Santa Ana by September 15, 1887 and from Orange to Redondo Junction August 12, 1888.

The San Bernardino and San Diego Railway completed the line from Santa Ana to Los Angeles Junction, now Fallbrook Junction, on the latter date. This formed the second route to Perris: California Southern from San Diego to Fallbrook Junction, 43.3 miles; San Bernardino & San Diego Railway to Santa Ana, 48.7 miles; Riverside, Santa Ana & Los Angeles Railway to Highgrove, 42.6 miles; and again on the California Southern Railroad south to Perris, 18.3 miles, (Mileages per 1959 Timetable)

A branch line had been projected from Perris through Winchester and Hemet to San Jacinto, 19.4 miles. This trackage was built by the San Jacinto Valley Railway and was opened to traffic on April 30, 1888.

These, except the California Southern Railroad, and the other corporations building the "branch" lines were merged into the California Central Railway Company in June 1887.

Stricter economies, forced by the collapse of the great Land Boom, resulted in the consolidation of the California Southern Railroad, the California Central Railway and the Redondo Beach Railway in 1889. The new corporation was named: Southern California Railway Company.

The completion of the "Surf Line", between Fallbrook Junction and Los Angeles, had pushed Perris, and also San Diego, off the main line. Southern California Railway Timetable number One, dated February 23, 1890, still listed two trains through Perris, but both daily except Sunday and marked "Accomodation". Number 5 from San Bernardino ran through Perris at 1:20 p.m. en route to Oceanside and Escondido; number 6, returning, arrived at 4:20 p.m. Number 10 left San Jacinto at 5:25 a.m.; Perris 6:45 a.m. and arrived at San Bernardino at 7:40 p.m. Southward, number 11 went through Perris at 7:55 p.m., arriving at San Jacinto at 9:10 p.m.

Mother Nature dealt another staggering blow in February 1891. "All railroads are washed out." About five miles of track in Cajon Pass were destroyed. Hardest hit, as usual, was Temecula Canyon. "The expense of rebuilding the Temecula branch is tremendous". An alternate route was investigated from Temecula to Vista and over to the Escondido branch but nothing was done about it. The portion of the railroad through Temecula Canyon to Fallbrook Station was officially abandoned January 28, 1892.

This cut off Perris, Elsinore and other communities in the northerly part of San Diego County from direct rail service to the county seat. There was compelling agitation to form a new county, taking over portions of San Bernardino and San Diego Counties. Riverside County came into being in March 1893.

The damage to the tracks in Railroad Canyon was repaired and the branch was again operated from Perris to Temecula.

In the following years, the water supply, furnished by the Bear Valley Water System, failed. This resulted in an exodus of farmers and ranchers, moving to Riverside and elsewhere. It took many years for Perris to recover from this loss.

A long spur had been constructed to Alberhill from Elsinore Station in July 1896, 7.76 miles, according to the Chronological Development table, and the latter station was renamed Elsinore Junction. This established rail service direct to the town of Elsinore.

Another spur, from Lake View Junction, 0.8 miles north of Perris, was built east to Lake View and was opened to operation November 1, 1898, 8.02 miles. It was abandoned in February 1937.

At intervals, propaganda for the restoration of the track connection through Temecula Canyon would flare up. In March 1902, for example, "Riverside gives publicity to the report that the Santa Fe Railroad is about to commence the rebuilding of the Temecula Canyon line from Fallbrook to Temecula in Riverside County."

In June 1904 the Southern California Railway was leased to The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway and complete acquisition of the former was effected in January 1906.

In 1910 the train numbers were changed, using odd numbers from San Diego to Los Angeles, as at present. In that year, the cut-off was built from Atwood through Placentia to Fullerton, 5.1 miles.

When the construction of a dam in Railroad Canyon was proposed, the spur to Alberhill was extended to a junction with the now Third District at Porphyry, just east of Corona, 14.37 miles, including trackage at Porphyry, March 5, 1927. Then another section of the old main line of the California Southern was abandoned, from Perris, through Railroad Canyon, to Elsinore Junction. No longer is Perris a junction point but just a way station on the San Jacinto District.

The final section of the California Southern line to be abandoned, from Elsinore Junction to Temecula, succumbed in February 1935.

There is much arable land around Perris and it continues to be an important shipping point, especially during the annual "spud rush", when a diesel switcher is assigned to the Perris area.

But now Perris is renowned to many enthusiasts chiefly for its Railroad Museums, with exhibits of by gone eras in transportation, being assembled and maintained by the Orange Empire Traction Company, the Mt. Rubidoux Chapter of the Pacific Railroad Society and other groups, including the Railway Historical Society of San Diego, Incorporated, all non-profit organizations, near the old Pinacate Station.

R.V. Dodge 10-5-1959

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