The San Diego and Arizona Railway (Review)

The San Diego and Arizona Railway (Review)

ou might have seen, HERE and HERE and HERE, all about my trip to La Mesa Club in San Diego to run operations circa 1951 on a huge HO scale railroad. While there, I often find myself with an hour or so of downtime before the next train. Often I’ll wander the other layouts of the museum (at night, it’s both quiet and spooky) and look around. Two of them (one HO, one N) have this crazy-high elbow trestle over a Mars-like gorge, with the tracks receding along ledges and pop-tunnels. Quite an amazing scene.

It was only on my last visit (see the HEREs above) where the thought popped up – Does this place actually exist? After all, the two layouts are mirror images. Turns out it does.

And the museum has a gift shop. And they have books. And they had the one about this railroad, The San Diego and Arizona Railway.

So in 1917 or so, San Diego was feeling pretty put out that LA was getting all that railroad attention and they were overlooked. Enter rich moneybags John Spreckels, who figured the best way to go would be to get to Eastern California for a link-up with the Southern Pacific Railroad direct (rather than side-tracking off LA trackage). His slightly mad scheme – a line across the hellish hot and damn near vertical American/Mexican border, with a zillion trestles and tunnels in slide-happy slopes. So this book covers (with minimal text and a lot of interesting pictures) the inception, construction, staggering operations, constant repairs, and eventual downfall of this very interesting line.

From a railroad perspective (which I have) I found it very informative. However, I’d have liked to have a more detailed map – towns don’t mean anything without one. I really never got a grasp of what was where and where the heavy grades (and that towering trestle) were. There was one map, an old railroad map from the initial plans, but that didn’t give me much to go on (the font was something like 1). With that, I could have more-easily followed the progress.

Also, I’d seem something on a side-wall of the museum, pictures of when the line was threatened by Mexican banditos/revolutionaries. That whetted my interest, but sadly there is not much mention of the entire affair.

But yes, overall a good book about an interesting (and totally impractical) railroad that was a struggle to build and leaked red ink from day one.

Maybe you wall-builders should take note.