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1856 Welsh 60-Pound Iron "Pear" Rail, Sacramento Valley Railroad, Folsom, California

1856 Welsh 60-Pound Iron "Pear" Rail, Sacramento Valley Railroad, Folsom, California

This eight inch length of Welsh made 60-pound iron "pear" rail came from the Folsom terminus of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, California's first railroad, of which Theodore D. Judah, the future "father" of the CPRR*, was Chief Engineer. It was part of the 2,250 tons of this original construction iron imported from England that made up the road when the twenty-two mile line opened for business on February 22, 1856. The problem with iron rail – which was a relatively soft material compared with steel – is that it tended to fracture relatively easily with even normal use, and this example was obviously no exception. The "pear" shape commonly used in the design of iron rail made in this era was to provide additional strength between the web and head to help make it more durable.

Of this example of original SVRR rail, which was recovered in 1997, G.J. "Chris" Graves notes:

"Folsom was connected to Placer County for many years by what is known as the Rainbow Bridge.  Built in 1917, it is a wee structure with one lane in each direction. With the building out of western Placer County, however, a new bridge was eventually needed. About 1997 or so, a new 4-lane American River Bridge was constructed south of the Rainbow Bridge the footings of which crossed the old SVRR grade. Bob Minshew, President of the Folsom, El Dorado & Sacramento Historical Railroad Association, asked the contractor, Granite Construction, to be on the watch for any old railroad stuff, and at about 12 feet under the current surface they found four or five sticks of 1856 rail from which this example came.

"It is conventional wisdom to allow the SVRR to be the first railroad in the West. There were, however, conventional railroads operating on the western banks of the Mississippi River in 1855, and a couple of unconventional railroads – Union Plank & Wharf Walk at Arcata, a 'mining railroad' in Placer County with mules or horses as motive power, and a portage railroad in the Cascades."
(Notes: G.J. Graves comments that "The Placer County railroad was powered by mules, it ran from Auburn Ravine to a gold mine, I have searched and searched for it, all that area is now is orchards.  Been plowed so many times no remnant remains, at least I couldn't find it.  It is mentioned, if I recall correctly, in the Placer County History, along with the guys name that owned it.")

It is also interesting to note that many of the men who would become key figures in the Civil War such as Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, George B. McClellan, and others were deeply involved in the development of the nation's railroads during the 1850's. Graves points out that another, General William Tecumseh Sherman, who was then a San Francisco banker, was a Vice President of the SVRR. Sherman and Capt. Joseph Folsom (briefly the road's President before his unexpected death on July 19, 1855, at age 38) had been classmates at West Point. -BCC

NOTES: Of Judah and the SVRR, Chris Graves notes: "It is the people that make it interesting, so here is the skinny on Mr. Judah... Charles Lincoln Wilson was a transportation fellow. Prior to becoming President of the SVRR, he owned a steamship company in San Francisco that ran up an down the Sacramento River as well as a toll road and a few bridges in San Francisco. It was Wilson who lobbied the California Legislature to change the oppressive railroad financing laws [Railroad Incorporation Law of 1852 (and Amendments of 1853)]. The SVRR was originally to run from Sacramento to Folsom (then called Negro Bar), cross the American River at Folsom (Ashland Station was the name of the depot on the North side of the river), then on to Marysville. Wilson contacted Silas Seymour, at one time the Chief Engineer of the New York and Erie RR. [Seymour was also later a consulting engineer to the UPRR.] Seymour, an owner of the Louisville and Nashville RR and supervisor of the Buffalo and New York City RR, introduced Wilson to Judah. Judah already had two brothers in California, so he was ready to move."  (8/16/02)

*The SVRR was acquired by the CPRR in August, 1865, which reorganized and consolidated the line with the Folsom and Placerville railroads in 1877.

1856 Welsh 60-Pound Iron "Pear" Rail, Sacramento Valley Railroad, Folsom, California

Courtesy of the Bruce C. Cooper Collection.

> Property Rights of Rail Lines: In the mid 1860s the City of Sacramento evicted the Sacramento Valley RR from Front Street and river access. Officially this was because of issues between the SV and the City. But for context, the Central Pacific had been formed and started construction, and the City administration was much more politically associated with the owners of the CP, including CP President and Republican California Governor Leland Stanford ... The owners of the SV were Democrats. Railroad attorneys had a right to be concerned [about whether railroads actually owned their rights of way or just had a revokable permission to use the land]. —Kyle Wyatt [from the R&LHS Newsgroup]

> ... the Union Wharf and Plank Walk Company, later the Arcata & Mad River RR (in 1881), which built a horse-powered railroad from the town of Union (later Arcata) to the end of a wharf in Humboldt Bay.  It was incorporated on Dec. 15, 1854.  The company converted to steam in 1875.  This is generally considered the first railroad in California ... —Kyle K. Wyatt, Curator of History & Technology, California State Railroad Museum

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