The History of MSVRR: Our Past and Present

History of the Real Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad

by Norman E. Hansen

The Founders

The Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad was the Salinas Valley's first steam-powered railroad to service Monterey. It was chartered by members of the Patrons of Husbandry, also known as the Grangers, on February 26, 1874,among who were such notables as David Jacks, C.S. Abbott, Alfred Gonzales, Robert McKee, the Monrass Family, Francis Doud, Peter Zabala, Jesse D. Carr, James Bardin, John Abbott, J.B.H. Cooper, Cas McFadden, George Pomeroy, Judson Parson, B.V. Sargent, F.S. Spring, William Ford, and many more. All totaled there were 72 stockholders. Their goals were nothing less than to build a narrow gauge railroad from Salinas, California to Monterey, California and thus break the monopolistic hold on the Salinas Valley, which the Southern Pacific (S.P.) enjoyed. Savings on the shipment of freight were estimated to be as much as $200,000 per year over what the S.P. was charging the citizens of Monterey County. The S.P. immediately countered by lowering their rates and extending a line from Castroville to Monterey.

Establishing the Line

Work began on a Monday in April 1874 with no ceremonies by C.S. Abbott. John F. Kidder was retained as the Chief Engineer and Superintendent of Construction already having done surveys for a prior railroad proposal. Track gangs reached Salinas on October 9th with only a few items yet to be completed. Captain Kidder left on the 10th to make surveys for a proposed narrow gauge railroad out of Hollister, California. On January 11, 1875 directors were elected confirming Carl S. Abbott as president, David Jacks as Treasurer, and Joseph W. Nesbit was confirmed as Superintendent of the railroad. By the 16th of January, John F. Kidder and his assistant C.P. Loughridge had left for Grass Valley, California having finished the survey for the Hollister and San Juan railroad project.

Many obstacles

On January 19th a 'Northern' hit the Monterey Peninsula with a force unlike any in remembrance, and by the 26th the approach trestle to the Salinas River bridge would be long gone. Trestle work would be washed out two more times during the life of the railroad, and the engine house would burn down on September 1, 1877 badly damaging both engines. Fortunately no other equipment was in the fire. Mr. Nesbit had resigned from his position to accept the position of Superintendent on the Santa Cruz and Watsonville Railroad in February of 1875 with Alfred Gonzales taking over as Superintendent, and David Jacks would leave in June having perpetrated a short-lived attempt at shifting control over the railroad. Jacks was supported by Cooper, Ford, Robinson, Sergeant, and Jesse D. Carr who was proposed as the new President. The action was defeated by a boycott of the meeting. C. S. Abbot, and Alfred Gonzales who were instrumental in boycotting the meeting would find themselves pitted against each other in 1879 in a fight for control that would go all the way to the State Supreme Court.

The final fate

Two work cars were removed from the roster of the M. & S. V. railroad in 1877 possibly going over to the Santa Cruz railroad. On September 4, 1879 it was announced by the "Salinas City Index" that the Southern Pacific had purchased the Monterey and Salinas Valley railroad with the office being transferred from Salinas to San Francisco. Work was immediately begun on ripping up the track with all the narrow gauge property, rolling stock, rails, & etceteras going to the Nevada Central at Battle Mountain, Nevada. Combine Car No. 1 arrived on the property on December 20, 1879, and the mortgage on the M. & S. V. was sold at public auction on December 22, 1879 by the Pacific Improvement Co. who was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Southern Pacific. The Pacific Improvement Co. was charged with the construction of the Hotel Del Monte. Control of the railroad was handed over to the Monterey Railroad Company.

An epilogue

Mr. Joseph W. Nesbitt, former Superintendent of the Monterey and Salinas Valley railroad had taken up an offer on San Luis Obispo and Port Hartford railroad and as reported by the "Salinas City Index" for Thursday, January 10, 1878 after an illness of three weeks, died at his residence on January 7, 1878 at the age of 45 years.

Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad Historical Society Founding

The Monterey Salinas Valley Railroad and Historical Society (MSVRR) was founded in 1993 as a model railroad club by a group of railroad enthusiasts who wanted to share their passion for the historical significance of the railroad to the development of the Monterey Bay region with children, youth and families. In the beginning, the organization simply built and operated HO-scale trains and provided educational opportunities for local schoolchildren.

In 1998 the historic Railway Express Agency building became available and the MSVRR entered into an agreement with the City of Salinas to renovate the property, and the adjacent rare 1918 S-10 super-heated Southern Pacific Switcher steam locomotive in exchange for rent. Over the years, the organization acquired many historical railroad artifacts along with a vintage wood 1916 Southern Pacific caboose, a 1923 wood-sided refrigerated car, and a 1924 Railway Post Office/Railway Express Agency (RPO/REA) car.

These gifts plus the interest and enthusiasm expressed by visitors, inspired club members to begin work on an interactive museum (the Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad Museum) open to the public that focuses on the history of Monterey Bay railroads and their importance in creating the “Salad Bowl of the World”. The all-volunteer group has been steadily working on the Railroad Museum and is currently open to the public one weekend a month.

The Railroad Museum hosts educational tours for local schools and community groups at no charge, as well as operating sessions where kids and teens learn about the logistics of moving freight by rail and road. The organization participates in the 1st Friday Art Walk, hosts National Train Day, and participates in Salinas Founder's Day.

The Railroad Museum celebrates the connections between train transportation and the amazing history of Salinas, the Valley and the Monterey Bay region. Many Railroad Museum members are highly involved in the process of building the museum and conserving the donated artifacts, their enthusiasm and dedication is a direct result of youth mentoring taking place as part of the model railroad aspect of the museum.

Locals and visitors to Salinas benefit through the experiential displays and programs that allow a deeper understanding of our heritage, history, and the connections between past, present and future value of the railroad. Our programs inspire civic involvement and enhance the core curriculum in schools.