- Emily Pan
Pacific Coast and Southern Pacific Railraods
Updated: Jan 3, 2021
Railroads were crucial to transportation within San Luis Obispo County, as well as communicating with the State and Country. The Pacific Coast and Southern Pacific Railroads strengthened the transportation system in San Luis Obispo County; however, this task could not be completed without the help of the Chinese laborers.
Wharf and narrow gauge railroad (Photo Courtesy of Elliot Gong)
Pacific Coast Railroad
John Hartford, W. S. Chapman, W. L. Beebee, and L. Schwartz make plans to:
build a new wharf at the northern end of San Luis Bay
construct a horse car line from Port Harford to Avila
fare was ninety cents one-way, or $1.25 round trip
build a narrow gauge railroad from Avila to San Luis Obispo
the San Luis Obispo Railroad Company is formed
Ah Louis is the labor contractor
A rival is found in the Santa Maria Valley Railroad Company
wanted to build a railroad from San Luis Bay to Santa Maria Valley
bought land parallel to San Luis Obispo Railroad company
acquired Chinese laborers with prior experience on building the Central Pacific railroad to work
way better than the ranch hands used by the Norcross on the San Luis Obispo Railroad line
San Luis Obispo Railroad Company and Santa Maria Railroad Company merge
John Hartford sells the wharf and horse car line to the newly formed company for $30,000
Railroad from Avila to San Luis Obispo is completed
costed $180,000, plus $30,000 paid to Hartford
fare was eight cents per mile for passengers
fare was fifteen cents per ton, per mile for freight
Railroad to Arroyo Grande begins construction
Chinese track layers laid the tracks
Only 25 Chinese men were hired
They did not come into contact with the Whites
While Chinese labor was used on the railroad from Avila to San Luis Obispo, the railroad company tried to hire only White laborers to work on this segment of the railroad
The railroad is extended to Santa Maria and then Los Olivos
The name of the railroad company is changed to Pacific Coast Railway
The railway between Port Harford and Avila is rebuilt because the old horse car line was out of date
Chinese were the laborers
The Pacific Coast Railway is completed to Los Olivos
Chinese labor was used to build the railraod, as well as build structures such as hotels
Likely contracted through Ah Louis
Southern Pacific Railroad
Plan to build a railroad that runs through San Luis Obispo from San Francisco to Los Angeles
Work on the railraod progresses rapidly, south of Soledad
1500 Chinese laborers worked on the railroad
Railroad company announces they would "give employment to all white laborers desirous of working on the railraod extension from Soledad" (Ochs).
One-third of the county's population work on the railraods
Work is temporarily halted in Templeton
The Tribune prints a letter from the Southern Pacific Railroad company saying that if citizens would like the railraod, they must also provide the land
The response was favorable, so work continued out of Templeton
In October, 150 Chinese laborers and 100 White laborers worked on the railraod
In December, 800 Chinese laborers and only a handful of White laborers worked on the railroad
Chinese cooks were also present, feeding the laborers
There were so many Chinese laborers at the time because their contract with the Southern Pacific Railroad company was about the expire, but the company wanted the railroad finished by them through Santa Margarita.
This is because the Chinese were being paid $1.10 per day, but the company suspected the Chinese would demand $1.50 per day, a pay rate the company did not agree to.
Instead, they wanted to hire White labor instead - but the Whites were paid the larger amount.
From then on, evidence shows that the Chinese were still hired as cooks, but the press and railroad company made no mention of Chinese laborers, so whether or not Chinese laborers were hired to work on the railraods from 1890 on remains a mystery. Ah Louis said his laborers worked with the Pacific Coast Railway, but never mentioned the Southern Pacific Railroad Company.
To learn more about the Chinese Contribution to the San Luis Obispo Railraods, you can watch Elliot Gong's video featuring professor emeritus Dr. Dan Krieger and read more here. There is also evidence here that the Chinese built these railraods from Howard Louis and the Southern Pacific Railway Company. Interested in researching more? You can head over to the History Center of San Luis Obispo County, where the information from this blog came from.
Ochs, Mary "Master's Thesis" Cal Poly SLO, 1966, Ch. 4