Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley had the cloudiest of crystal balls in 1904/1905. First he gave his paper's enthusiastic endorsement for the weakest presidential candidate in the 20th century (which really says something), then a few months later wrote the editorial below, proclaiming that "the so-called flying machine [will never be] useful for any practical purpose." Perdant un jour, perdant toujours.

Finley's swipe at aviation was a comment on a story that appeared in the paper a day before, datelined July 18, 1905: "Professor John J. Montgomery's aeroplane, the 'Santa Clara,' collapsed this morning at an elevation of 3000 feet. Aeronaut Daniel Maloney was hurled to the ground, with the collapsed wings of the 'human bird' falling on him." As the pilot tumbled to his death, a crowd of 2,000 watched on.

To be fair, Finley probably thought that the accident happened at the sort of air exhibition show that was common in 1905 all across America, where locals could pay for an ascension in a tethered hot-air balloon, then watch a parachutist make a jump. A balloon troupe visited Santa Rosa about a month later, in fact, as shown in the blurb below (although earlier that year, Prof. Hamilton wasn't touring with the lovely Miss Carrie, but instead a parachuting monkey named "Jocko").

But the tragedy with the "human bird" was part of no novelty act. More than anyone else, Dr. Montgomery was the father of modern aviation; as early as 1883 he had a glider that could be controlled by its pilot, more than two decades before the Wright Brothers flew with an engine attached to their aircraft. Montgomery invented the word, "aeroplane" and had the first patent for such. (Film buffs may know the story through the 1946 soapy biopic, Gallant Journey.)

Here in July 1905, Montgomery and the pilot of his glider, Daniel John Maloney, an experienced aeronaut in the balloonist/parachutist vein, were demonstrating their aircraft before an audience in the (now-Silicon Valley) city of Santa Clara. The aircraft, named after the town and college where Prof. Montgomery taught, was pulled aloft about 4,000 feet by a hot-air balloon. Cut loose, he was expected to make a graceful, safe, and awe-inspiring bird-like descent that took up to half an hour. Practice sessions earlier that spring in Santa Cruz had gone very well. A picture-perfect trial demonstration at Santa Clara in April boosted confidence. But two discouraging failures followed, including a fund-raiser where the balloon rope snapped about 200 feet off the ground. The audience felt cheated and booed.

On the next test flight on July 18, the largest audience yet watched as the aeroplane was pulled upwards. Montgomery reportedly noticed that one of the balloon's lines had damaged a wing, and shouted orders for Maloney to again abort the flight. His warning wasn't heard, or was ignored.

As reported in the Press Democrat: "Maloney cut loose at 4,000 feet and began maneuvering the aeropane. He circled gracefully for some minutes, having the machine under perfect control. Suddenly the machine swerved, hesitated, and then turned completely over. It righted itself, sank down a considerable distance, and turned over again. Maloney was clinging desperately to his seat, and evidently endeavoring to regain his control, but all efforts were in vain. Again the aeroplane turned in the air, and this time the wings came together and the man and machine plunged straight downward."

A little over two years from that moment, doubters like Finley would have to concede the practicality of aviation when the Wright Brothers made their first public flight in France. Adding a dose of irony to the editor's poor prognostication, in 1911 local pilot Fred J. Wiseman swooped over the farms between Petaluma and Santa Rosa in his experimental aircraft, and as a woman on the ground waved to him, Wiseman tossed something down to her that would become recorded as the world's first airmail delivery. It was a copy of the Press Democrat.


Tuesday's shocking accident at Santa Clara, in which Aeronaut Maloney lost his life while attempting to manipulate Professor Montgomery's aeroplane, again emphasizes the difficulties that attend and must always attend any systematic attempt to navigate the air. Encouraged by the success reported to have been achieved by inventors in different parts of the world, many people have allowed themselves to become enthused to the point of predicting all kinds of impractical results in the line aerial navigation, but it is not at all likely that machines built for that purpose will ever develop beyond the toy stage. The favorite argument advanced in answer to this contention is to point to the things that have been accomplished in other lines, and say that many other inventions once considered equally impossible have been perfected and brought into general use, so why not the flying machine? This argument is manifestly unfair from the fact that the phonograph, the telephone and most of the other scientific attainments that come under that head have been new discoveries -- developments of ideas not only unperfected but also unthought of until such time as accidentally suggested by unforeseen and unexpected circumstances. The flight of the bird, on the other hand, is something man has been endeavoring to imitate ever since the eagle first stretched wing. If it were possible to endow a machine with intelligence and instinct, the successful flying machine might perhaps be numbered among the coming [line illegible] certain. The limited supporting power of the air itself and the consequently light and fragile method of construction that must in all cases be followed, together with the variability and uncertainty of the atmospheric conditions that have to be overcome, promise to continue to baffle human ingenuity in the future as they have in the past, and no matter how highly perfected, forever prevent the so-called flying machine from becoming useful for any practical purpose.

- Press Democrat editorial, July 20, 1905

Would Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley have believed that his newspaper would still be fighting against Fourth of July fireworks more than a century later?

While the returns are not yet all in, the figures so far received indicate that the casualties resulting from this year's celebration of the Glorious Fourth will equal and perhaps exceed those of last year, when 476 persons were killed and 3,973 seriously injured through the foolish custom of making fireworks the principal feature of the country's annual birthday party. In addition to the casualty list, which each year exceeds that of most battles, several million dollars' worth of property is always destroyed by fire, and an enormous sum spent uselessly on a form of amusement that is utterly without rhyme or reason. The things are matter of common knowledge, and slowly but surely the country is coming to a realization of the fact that some better manner of celebrating Independence Day should be evolved. Will it be possible to bring about such a change? If so, who will come forward with a suggestion that will meet all the requirements of the case?

- Press Democrat editorial, July 6, 1905

Telephones were almost commonplace in 1905 Santa Rosa, with an average of about one phone for every ten residents. But that rapid expansion came at the cost of personal service; no longer could you ring the operator and ask for a connection to John Smith -- now you had to use your "Hello Book" (what a great name for something as mundane as a telephone directory!) to first lookup his "number."

It may seem a small thing today, but it was a bit of a milestone in the history of the way we use technology, being probably the first time that an individual was associated with such an abstract thing as a series of numbers.


Good Business is Now Assured -- Growth of the Business in This District is Big

The new telephone directories have arrived and are being issued. This is indeed a comfort.

Santa Rosa now has 800 subscribers to the Sunset Telephone & Telegraph Company and the very latest "central" equipments, and patrons are now assured good service. This, however, is on condition that the parties cooperate to make the service what it should be. With the 800 phones in use it is impossible for "central" to do good work or give any kind of service unless the "numbers" are called for instead of individuals. When only a few phones are used and one or two operators are employed to mention the name may be sufficient, but in such large offices to get a subscriber it is necessary for the party calling up to give the number wanted.

The "Sunset" now has 2,086 phones in Sonoma county, and about 3,000 in this district, which comprises Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake counties. There are 223,539 phones on the Pacific Coast, any of which may be connected with a Santa Rosa subscriber on short notice. Conversations were had last night from here to San Diego, Fresno, Portland and Vancouver, B. C., and in each instance the conversation was carried on almost as well as if the persons were living in Santa Rosa.

There are 2,086 phones in use in Sonoma county divided as follows: Santa Rosa, 800; Petaluma, 700; Healdsburg, 310; Sonoma, 64; Sebastopol, 64; Windsor, 42; Forestville, 26, scattering, 80.

Sebastopol has just had thirty-six phones added and Green Valley has contracts for 200. Next Tuesday subscribers here and at Sebastopol will have a special 15-cent rate as is the case to several of the county towns.

- Press Democrat, July 30, 1905

Both 1905 Santa Rosa papers regularly reported on children, who seemed to shatter bones or suffer terrible wounds with astonishing frequency -- that is, when they weren't narrowly escaping death, disappearing from home, or being jailed. The selection of items below is typical; note that most of the stories are from just two days.


Rodney Lawson, aged 12, and Gus Bonilla, aged 14, of San Francisco, ran away from their homes on Sunday morning, the latter having swiped five dollars and ten cents from his mother for expense money, and started for Petaluma.

While their parents were searching in San Jose and vicinity, a neighboring child received a letter from the youngsters and informed them.

A. L. Lawson, father of one of the boys, went to Petaluma on Tuesday and told the constable his troubles, and a little later the boys were found fishing near Washington street bridge. The officer locked the boys in the city prison and Mr. Lawson took them to San Francisco on the afternoon train.

- Press Democrat, May 4, 1905

Boy Falls Into Vat

John Resso, a two-year-old Italian child, fell into a vat at M. Reutershan's tannery Wednesday, and would have been drowned but for the timely appearance of John Lindsay, who jumped into the vat and rescued the boy.

- Press Democrat, May 5, 1905


While playing with an air gun on Thursday evening a lad named Dannhausen was accidentally shot in the right eye. The eye-ball was penetrated by the bullet and the sight is destroyed. He was brought to M. H. Dignan's drug store where the eye was dressed and a compress applied by a physician. As yet it is not known whether the eye-ball can be saved or not. The boy is about fourteen years old and resides at 418 College avenue with his mother, Mrs. Metta Dannhausen.

- Press Democrat, May 5, 1905


A dozen or fifteen Napa youths bethought themselves of a little joke at the California Northwestern depot yesterday afternoon but unfortunately for them they reckoned without railroad ethics.

The lads were among the picknickers from Napa to Mirabel park and were returning home on the first section of the excursion train. The train passed through the depot here very slowly and the boys hopped off to await the coming of the second section of the train. But unfortunately for them the second section went through town at a fast rate of speed, much too fast for them or anyone else to board the cars and so they were left behind in Santa Rosa for the night. They doubtless caused their relatives some anxiety. If the reader chanced to notice a bunch of boys walking about town last night in twos and threes, some of them wearing khaki and others outing suits, there were the lads who jumped from the excursion trains yesterday afternoon intending to hop onto the second section and got left.

- Press Democrat, May 13, 1905

Child Swallows Chloroform

Hugh Haskell, the three-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Greenleaf Haskell, has fully recovered from the effects of having swallowed an ounce of chloroform which he discovered during one of his childish investigating tours. His mother was busy and he managed to climb up and secure a bottle containing chloroform from the top of the sideboard. Mrs. Haskell did what she could for the child until a physician arrived and took charge of the case.

- Press Democrat, May 13, 1905

Blew Police Whistles

On Monday five young men who on Saturday night amused themselves by blowing police whistles in Petaluma appeared for trial before Judge Green. All plead guilty and were fined three plunks apiece. They went their way and promised to sin no more for they had paid dear for their whistles says the Argus.

- Press Democrat, June 22, 1905

Following the earlier 1905 report of a bicycle kidnapping, we now learn that there was a virtual crime wave of pilfered "wheels" that year, and all because too-trusting Santa Rosans didn't lock up their ride.

Interesting is this aside: "This has long since become a matter of frequent comment among the policemen, newspapermen and others whose duties keep them abroad on the streets in the early morning hours." It's understandable that a cop or two would be on duty all night, but why would a newspaper in a farm town of 9,000 souls have someone prowling the dark streets? This wasn't a city of all-night debauchery, like San Francisco. And what's with counting up all the unlocked bikes? Is this another one of Editor Finley's Queeg-like obsessions?


Hardly a Night Passes but What a Score of Bicycles Are Left Where They Can Be Purloined

Hardly a week passes but several reports are brought to police headquarters regarding missing bicycles. There is no doubt that in many instances the carelessness of the owners of the bicycles is responsible for the loss. There is hardly a night passes but what fifteen to twenty bicycles -- one night recently twenty-four were counted -- are left in racks, or leaning against sidewalks, buildings, and posts on Fourth and other streets. This has long since become a matter of frequent comment among the policemen, newspapermen and others whose duties keep them abroad on the streets in the early morning hours. It is a great wonder that more bicycles are not stolen. Thursday morning, about half past two o'clock, within two blocks on Fourth street, more than a dozen bicycles had been left by their owners in positions as described above. Owners of wheels should not forget that while hardly an instance can be given in which a Santa Rosa resident has been known to steal a bicycle, that at a this time of the year there are many strangers passing through town who would take a wheel, ride out of town either for "keeps" or to give trouble in finding it.

- Press Democrat, June 23, 1905

Pet stuck up a tree? Don't ask your friendly neighborhood cop for help -- unless you want your little furry friend brought down with a bullet.

To be fair about it, raccoons aren't exactly pets like Fido and Fluffy. They're aggressive scavengers and famous for their taste for chickens, which were kept at the time by many Santa Rosa households for eggs and meat. (Disease, however, wasn't an issue; there was no recorded case of raccoon rabies in California until 1936.) More's the question why Officer Hankel showed such restraint when attacked by the dog that the owner couldn't control.

Took Fancy to Policeman

A pet raccoon belonging to ex-Marshal Charles Holmes, kept at the home of his mother, Mrs. Annie M. Holmes, got loose Thursday and created considerable excitement. Mrs. Holmes appealed to the police, and Officer Hankel responded. All attempts to capture the animal were unavailing so the officer shot it.

It was a fine shot but only wounded the pet which dropped to the ground and retreated under the house for safety. Hankel then suggested that Mrs. Holmes release the bulldog to bring the prey from cover. She released the dog but the canine saw more sport in Hankel and drove him into the house where he was kept a prisoner until Mrs. Holmes could capture and chain the dog up again.

- Press Democrat, June 17, 1905


The pet 'coon of Mrs. A. M. Holmes has been recaptured and the honor of Officer Hankel is vindicated. The animal escaped a couple of weeks ago and after all efforts to secure it had failed the officer was summoned. Failing in his efforts to capture the animal he took a shot at the creature which fell from its hiding place in the tree and took refuge under the house.

Hankel was confident he hit the animal but there are always those who feel sceptical of such stories. The 'coon, however, returned Wednesday minus a front leg which was where the officer's bullet had taken effect. The wound is healing and the animal will go through life minus one leg.

- Press Democrat, June 29, 1905

Contributing to poor Mr. Hurst's grump was knowledge that he'd probably be out of a job soon -- by August, the new electric trolley was running down Fourth street and would replace his horse-drawn car.

Jailed for Annoying Street Car Driver

Ross Howe, a young fellow of hoodlum instincts, was yesterday sentenced to serve five days in the county jail by Recorder Bagley. He was convicted on the charge of using vulgar language last Sunday to A. H. Hurst, the crippled old man who drives the street car.

Charles Edwards, who is reported to hail from Petaluma and who is a fit comrade of Howe, also annoyed Mr. Hurst last Sunday whiled the driver was attending to his duties. The old man, exasperated beyond endurance, threw a rock at his tormentor and broke a pane of glass in a Fourth street store window. Edwards has been notified that unless he returns and pays for the damage, he will be prosecuted for malicious mischief. Recorder Bagley is determined that the usual practice of annoying the street car drivers shall be broken up with a few salutary fines and imprisonments.

- Santa Rosa Republican, April 5, 1905

Without doubt, it was the grandest street fight in Santa Rosa's history. As a crowd of about 3,000 watched -- a third of the town's population -- rival railroad crews fought an hours-long battle. Men were bloodied and bruised by rocks, shovels were swung like clubs, panicked horses bolted for their lives, and blasts of locomotive steam threatened to peel the skin off anyone who dared come too close to the great iron machines on rails. But at the end of the day, something positive came from the fracas: Santa Rosa took its first deliberate step into the Twentieth Century.

At right: A scene from the March 1, 1905 "Battle of Sebastopol Avenue," as men from the California Northwestern railroad shovel dirt and gravel on workers from the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway as they attempt to install a rail crossing.

A retouched detail from this image can be found in part 3, "The Generals of the Battle of Sebastopol Avenue," along with an additional picture from the Press Democrat. A photograph of the January confrontation can be found in Santa Rosa: A Nineteenth Century Town (Gaye LeBaron, et. al.) and another picture from the March "battle" appeared in a 1984 Gaye LeBaron column.

The discoloration is from glue used to attach the photo to an album.

Photo courtesy Sonoma County Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

It was 12:45 in the morning of March 2, 1905 when the first electric trolley crossed the railroad tracks at Sebastopol Avenue, marking the end of months of legal and civic debate -- as well as that violent confrontation the day before.

The basic story goes like this: The steam railroad's long monopoly on local shipping and transit was threatened by construction of an electric trolley line, formally known as the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway. To connect downtown Santa Rosa with the trolley already running between Petaluma and Sebastopol, the electric railway (the orange line on map, at right) had to cross the steam railroad's tracks (blue line) at Sebastopol Avenue, shown by the arrow. Claiming there were safety concerns, the president of the California Northwestern steam railroad obtained a court order in January stopping the electric railroad from installing a crossing point.

When the temporary injunction was lifted two months later, both sides sprang into action. Workers for the steam railroad tried to slow or stop electric line workers preparing the crossing site by shoveling dirt and gravel back into their excavation. Rocks were thrown, a horse-drawn wagon dramatically smashed, and then the California Northwestern produced its secret weapons: a pair of locomotives equipped with nozzles that shot steam from the engine on anyone close by. In the middle of this chaos, the director of the electric trolley threw himself on the tracks in front of the locomotive. As steam road workers tried to pull him off, electric line workers rushed to his defense, and the man became a living rope in a tug-of-war.

The Press Democrat perfectly captured the tension: "The roar of the steam and the shouts of the spectators created a sentiment and thrill that was almost impossible to check. It was hardly like an even contest, the men digging for their lives in order to get the crossing in place, armed only with picks and shovels, as compared with the rain of earth from the flat cars and the belching steam from the engines...the slightest coercion at that moment would have started a riot that would undoubtedly have ended in bloodshed. That is what everybody expected."

It's a thrilling yarn, and well told by both newspapers of the day. Alas, it appears that the full Press Democrat account has not survived. The PD was a morning paper, and although two "extra" editions were issued on the afternoon of March 1 as events were unfolding, what exists on microfilm today is the March 2 edition, which was mostly a wrap-up of the previous day's news, lacking the immediacy of the reporting that can be found in the hot-off-the-press Santa Rosa Republican. The account presented below is an unabashedly unscholarly hybrid, with a few snippets from the March 2 Press Democrat interjected at the appropriate spots of the full account from the March 1st and 2nd Republican. These added passages from the PD are shown in [brackets and italics].

There's lots more to this story, including analysis of the special interests on each side, to be read in "The Generals of the Battle of Sebastopol Avenue." An account of the first confrontation in January can be found in "Prelude to the Battle of Sebastopol Avenue." Finally, "The Battle(field) of Sebastopol Avenue," discusses the layout of this part of Santa Rosa in 1905, and includes a contemporary map. But none of that background is needed to enjoy this remarkable telling of the tale:

An Exciting Situation Developed by the Efforts of the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway to Make Sebastopol Avenue Crossing

SAN FRANCISCO, March 1. -- Superior Judge J. M. Seawell this morning rendered a decision dissolving the temporary injunction against the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway, which restrained that corporation from crossing the tracks of the California Northwestern at Sebastopol avenue in Santa Rosa.

The scene at the Sebastopol avenue crossing immediately following the word that a decision had been rendered in favor of the electric line by Judge Seawell, was perhaps never equalled in the history of the city.

The California Northwestern Railway was prepared to prevent the putting in of the crossing, and ran gravel trains down the main and side tracks in an effort to block the laborers who were digging out the ties in the county road.

The engines were fitted with projecting pipes from the pilots which shot scalding steam and hot water right into the crowd of workers regardless of consequences.

As fast as a hole was dug in the crossing the men on the gravel cars dumped in dirt.

Those on the ground shoveled the loose earth out again, making very little headway. In a little while every man engaged at the crossing was covered with soil from head to foot. The steam and hot water wet their clothing and drove the dirt into the fabric.

Not satisfied with the progress made in interfering with the work of the gang for the electric line, the engineers of the steam line's engines drove right on across the county road, keeping up a constant see-saw on the tracks and maintaining a steady cloud of steam in front to clear away the men attempting to put in the crossing.

Then the electric railway people drove two horse teams across the right of way of the steam line. The horses were brought to a standstill between the engines. Even this did not deter the steam line. The engines were shoved right down on the teams. The horses reared and plunged, being frightened at the escaping steam and the tooting of whistles.

It was not thought that the engines would actually crush the wagons, but they did. The drivers had to jump for fear of being crushed. Slowly the pilots came together on either side of the crossing and the wagons were smashed to splinters. Fortunately the horses were released without injury, though the crowd scattered at the thought of the powerful animals plunging through the human mass on every side.

This conduct on the part of the steam railway's officals increased the crowd which was with the electric line in its fight. Rocks and clods of earth were picked up on every hand and flung at the engineers and the train crews who were directing the fight for the steam line.

There were several narrow escapes and the train crews had to duck lively to escape.

After about two hours of fighting back and forth the officers arrived with warrants and arrested the officials of the steam line who were violating the law in having the cars and engines obstruct the county road.

Detailed Story Of the Fight

As soon as the news reached the City of Roses that Judge Seawell had granted a dissolution of the injunction many citizens wended their way to the scene, confident that there would be something doing. There was quite a wait before the electric railroad officials put in an appeaerance, but shortly after they arrived things began to hum in good style.

The California Northwestern railroad had the crossing well guarded. An engine was on either side of the main line with steam up and ready for action. These engines were the ones recently described in these columns, and at the time it was stated that they were for "fighting purposes" when the time came at the crossing. This was strenously denied by the officials of the company, but at the proper moment their use was shown to the public, and the crowds were driven back time and again from the steam which poured in all directions from the steam pipes in front of the locomotives. These had been termed "'Admiral' Barrows' fighting ships."

The big crowd was with the electric people, and they gave voice to it in no uncertain manner. Many times citizens took shovels and assisted in throwing dirt for the electric company, and also protected their men in onslaughts by the steam railroad people.

[ "Stand back boys," someone shouted, and the crowd cleared back a little to let two men ride horses in between the two locomotives encroaching on the right of way. The engines came closer and finally the horses were ridden out of the way. Then the engines backed up. This was repeated once or twice. But the roar of the steam and the general excitement did not let up for a moment.]

When General Manager Downs arrived on the scene in company with other officials of his company he sought out Supervisor Barrows and shook hands cordially with him. He inquired for Mr. Zook, and these gentlemen shook hands in friendly manner. In a courteous way each of these gentlemen informed the other of what they proposed to do in the matter of the crossing, and after this exchange of courtesy the electric men went to work to dig up the tracks of the steam road.

An engine was moved forward, and before this locomotive Director Frank A. Brush, of the electric company lay prostate on the ground. The locomotive was stopped before it struck him, and then ensued a contest between the men of the opposing companies that threatened to rend Mr. Brush limb from limb. The steam railroad men attempted to pull him off the tracks, while the electric men held him on the tracks. While lying prone on the pilot of the engine, Engineer Gene Ellison walked out on the running board of his locomotive and turned on the steam from the pipes recently described in these columns. Mr. Brush's head was directly in line with this steam, and the position becoming unbearable, he finally got up from the ground.

The steam was kept playing on the crowds in all directions and kept them at a distance. The workmen of the electric railroad were unmindful of the steam, and worked ahead in the blinding steam as if nothing had happened. But the men went at their digging and tugging, while the men of the steam road kept throwing sand and gravel on them in a vain attempt to cause them to desist.

On either side of the main line on which the two locomotives were stationed, the California Northwestern had cars of gravel with which to fight the electric railroad people. This they used to great advantage and provoked several fights. One man threw a pick into a bunch of laborers on the cars and struck several men. Shovels were freely used, and rocks were thrown in great numbers. Many of these missiles struck persons, and black eyes, bloody faces and other evidences of the "scrap" which had taken place were found on every side. Foreman Horn, of the electric railroad, probably got the worst "package" of the lot. His face under the eye was badly lacerated, and his eye blackened for a great space. This he bore uncomplaingly, and never retaliated, but kept on working. It was evident he was attempting to see who struck him, in order to repay the blow with interest when the time came.

Superintendent Thorton, Manager Downs, Attorneys Rankin and Lippitt and other officials directed the men of the electric line, who showed no disposition to fight until their ire had been aroused by the treatment received from the steam company's men. As far as everbody was concerned, it was supposed to be a peaceable war, but every few minutes the patience of some of the men would become exhausted, and blows would be resorted to.

While all these fights were in progress and the attention of the steam railroad men was directed elsewhere, the electric people were working ahead patiently. They sought to tear up the steam company's rails, and their intention to force the crossing was manifested in the way they handled things. At 12:21 this afternoon, the outside rail on the east side of the steam road's right of way was forced, and a tie was placed under the end of the rail which was torn up. This brought a huge cheer from the spectators, and as soon as it was discovered the steam road ran a flat car down and ditched it at the spot to further protect the rails. Then back of this flat car the electric people began tearing at the rails. Superintendent Hunter, who had arrived on a special tribe from Tiburon, attempted to stop this procedure, but a great force of men shoved him quickly into the background, and he was powerless to prevent the rail being torn up. The fish plates were removed, but before the rail could be further loosened the big freight engine of the company, which had been summoned from the north, was backed down on the rail.

On the west side of the main line efforts were being made also to tear up the rails. Time and again a jack was placed under the rails to break them, but each time its hold was broken by a bunch of steam road men, who wrestled it from its position. At one time the steam road men attempted to make away bodily with the jack, and were almost successful, when a bunch of electric men bore down on them and rescued their property.

During the morning a wire was thrown over the trolley of the electric road, and the end of the same was attached to the engine which was being handled by Frank Garcia. Great sparks flew from the wire, but no damage was done to the locomotive or anyone aboard it. This was greatly interesting to the crowd, who cheered the electric people to obtain mastery over their opponents.

At one time a huge bunch of ties were piled in front of the locomotives, and efforts on the part of the opposing forces to remove the ties and to prevent their removal were watched with interest by the spectators. Hundreds of people wee on hand at the time the rails were forced, and these cheered lustily, as they saw the rails lifted from the ground. On the west side of the main line a large piece of rail was removed.

Wagons containing sand were run onto the steam road's tracks by the electric road people, and the teams were stopped there. Into these the steam company ran its locomotives and the wheels were crushed and the wagons otherwise disabled. After the wagons had been wrecked, chains attached to the engines were placed about the wheels, with the apparent intention of pulling them from the tracks. This was not done, however. The two side tracks alongside the main line, having been blockaded by the ditching of cars where the rails had been torn up, the attention of both the opposing forces was directed to the rails of the main line.

[ All this time the crowd was growing larger and larger as the news spread of what was transpiring at Sebastopol avenue. All place of vantage were crowded and the thoroughfare on either side was crowded with humanity.]

Street Commissioner White was on hand to prevent the blockading of the streets, and had his hands full attempting to enforce his order in that respect. Constables James H. Boswell and Sam J. Gilliam were present to enforce the crowds keeping the peace, and while there were a number of fights, these gentlemen were unable to reach the parties owing to the crowds which immediately surrounded them. They preserved the peace well under the circumstances, and stoped some of the vicious practices which were being indulged in by both sides at times.

The steam road had all the advantages in the fighting. Their men were on top of the cars, and dumped sand and gravel by shovelsfull on the electric men, much to their disadvantage. Then again the steam men were favored by the batteries of steam from the locomotives, which soused the electric workmen and handicapped them in their efforts. Again the steam road had a lot of men hired to assist in protecting their crossing. These men were well dressed and circulated through the crowd at all times, but at sign of trouble most of them felt suddenly called elsewhere.

A volley of rocks hurled at the men on the gravel cars of the steam road quickly drove these men from their position, but they showed greater pluck than the good clothes men who had been hired to proect the crossing. These men ran almost every time they saw a rock picked up, and sought cover in the coach provided for them at the crossing. One of the steam road's men showed a viciousness seldom seen in the City of Roses, where men sometimes fight, but give their opponent a square deal. The individual stood between the flat car and engine and hurled large rocks from his place of concealment at the electric workmen. Fortunately, for the latter he was too excited to have good aim, and the missiles he threw went wild. Had they struck anyone in a vital spot they would have done great damage.

Sheriff Grace Would Not Act

Attorneys James W. Oates and J. Rollo Leppo called on Sheriff Frank P. Grace this morning twice. At the first call the sheriff was absent, but on the second call they had a personal audience with him. The attorneys requested the sheriff and his deputies to go to the crossing and preserve order and prevent obstruction of the county's highways. This the sheriff refused to do. He declared that if warrants were sworn and given to him he would serve them, but declined to go to the crossing at all. Deputy Sheriff John L. Gist was the only representative who appeared at the scene at all, and he came merely to serve a warrant, and then quickly departed.

Late in the afternoon warrants were sworn out for the arrest of the following electric railway officials... (5 were) charged with obstructing the California Northwestern Railroad.

Of the steam road people there were arrested ... (12) charged with obstructing the work of the electric people. A large number of others were arrested on "John Doe" warrants on the same charges.

The men were taken before Justice Atchinson and released on bail of $25 each. Attorney T. J. Geary appeared for them as counsel in the justice court.

The Electric Line is Finally Across Sebastopol Avenue in Spite of Interference by Steam Road

...When the Republican went to press yesterday afternoon the electric railroad had gained the advantage of removing rails from both the switches of the California Northwestern railroad on the east and west sides of the main line. To offset this advantage the steam road had ditched flat cars into these holes made by tearing away rails and ties.

Acting under orders, the policemen arrested every man found guilty of giving an order which further obstructed the Sebastopol crossing. A sharp lookout was kept for the man who gave the orders, and the official was promptly taken into custody. While the men of the electric road were working on the west side of the main line and had succeeded in getting a large section of rail cut out and removed, Chief Engineer Zook ordered Conductor Riese to cut off his engine, No, 23, and go over on the west side and further block the work. This was done, and the flat car which had already been thrown off the rails was further pushed into place where the rails had been removed,


For this offense Conductor Riese was arrested a second time, and given a second ride in the rubber tired vehicle which is provided by the city for such emergencies.

Conductor Riese attempted to evade the second arrest, and leaped from his engine while it was on the move and mingled with the crowd. His effort to conceal himself was unavailing, for Constable Boswell had seen him give the engineer a signal, and promptly sought him out and placed him under arrest.

Phil Hyde, the engineer of Jack Smith's train, who had come to this city as a special bring up reinforcements of officials from Tiburon, led the officers a merry chase during the afternoon. There was a wholesale arrest of engineers, firemen, and conductors going on, and Mr. Hyde heard that a warrant was out for him. He had an advantage over the other railroad men in that he knew the peace officers personally, and when he saw them coming toward him he made his escape easily and avoided a ride in the neatly painted wagon which had contained some of his fellow engineers and road officials.

[ The police patrol was kept busy and as was also a hack in making trips to and from the crossing. One man put in the hack by Boswell escaped just in time to board the southbound passenger train.]

Both railroads had the busiest day of their existence yesterday. From the time the first picks where struck in the earth until President Foster's arrival there was no time lost by either side. When actual hostilities were note being engaged in, each side was planning to get ahead of the opponents. The game played at the crossing yesterday was in some respects similar to that of chess, and in many ways it resembled a football contest, with brawny men on either side, bucking the center and the line repeatedly. Especially were the football tactics resorted to when an attempt was made to take the electic road's jack by force. This was a decisive struggle, and came almost being successful on the part of the steam road's men.


During the afternoon the electric road people attached a heavy wire cable to the flat cars on the west side of the track, and attempted to pull them over and throw them out of the way. Their first pull resulted in the breaking of the heavy four-ply wire cable. Before a second pull could be made, the steam road men had anchored their flat cars to the battleship-locomotive No. 12.

Frantically the men of the steam road worked to get their chains in position to hold the flat car, and after a wait of more than an hour, it came to their minds that the 6 o'clock train was due shortly, and that with the locomotive anchored to the flat car it would be impossible to move the fighting machine and not delay the United States mail. Then began a frantic unwinding of the chains binding the locomotive, and a digging beneath the rails on which the locomotive stood.

The object of this digging was apparent when the chains that held the locomotive captive were placed beneath the rails. It did not seem to occur to those in charge that the mail train could not run over the huge knots of chain across the rails any more than it could run over the other locomotive without being wrecked, and the work proceeded to the finish. Then when President Foster ordered the tracks cleared and the ditched cars replaced on the rails, these chains were unwound, and the work had gone for naught.


More special trains were run over the California Northwestern railroad yesterday than for many months past. In addition to the two locomotives equipped for drenching the crowd with steam which were on the ground, engines and section men were brought from all directions. There were given special orders, and with white flags flying they came in rapid time.

The heavy freight engine, No. 23, with Jim Ahern at the trottle and Sam Riese in charge, was ordered to cut off the freight train which it was pulling to this city and hasten down without them. This resulted in no freight being hauled from the north yesterday at all. The engine cut off its cars at Cloverdale, and picked up five section crews en route to this city to add to the fighting force of the California Northwestern.

Engine 9, with Phil Hyde at the helm, came in from Tiburon about noon, having run to this point under special orders. It brought superintendent Hunter and others to the scene.

The last special to arrive was that bearing President Foster and one hundred and fifty fighting men, whom the president termed "big husky fellows." Arthur Foster, the President's son, and an under-sheriff and deputy sheriff of Marin county also accompanied the special....President Foster's train was known to be en route to the City of Roses long before it arrived, and when its whistle was heard in the distance there were many who went down to meet it. [ It was rumored that Sheriff Taylor and his deputies from Marin county were coming to assist the officers here. This was not credited, however, and proved untrue.] It was reported here that seventy-five stevedores had been brought to this city, and that they would fight at the drop of the hat. This increased interest in the president's special.


A representative of the Republican was among those on the train before it came to a stop. President Foster, accompanied by his son, stepped out of the private car, and was immediately handed a telegram. He read it, and replied "Tell them no." The windows of the other coach containing the "fighting men" were pulled down, and no glimpse could be gained into that coach. That it was filled with men was apparent, for before coming to a standstill and having the blinds pulled down according to orders there were heads sticking out of every window in the coach.

President Foster walked up into the crowd at the crossing and there sought the peace officials of the county. Marshal Severson was on the ground, but Sheriff Grace could not be found. In the conference between Marshal Severson and President Foster the latter made a threat even to arrest Sheriff Grace if the railroad property was not protected.

President Foster said to Marshal Severson in tones which were heard by the crowd: "Mr. Marshal, I have come here to urge the protection of my property, and am on a peaceable mission. My company does not wish trouble with anyone, but shall insist on its rights being respected and its property being kept free from molestation. If you have sufficient force here I want you to clear this place of all persons excepting my men, and if your force is insufficient, I have with me one hundred and fifty men who will clear it at once. They are big, husky fellows, and are able to clear this place even without your assistance. We have come here not to resist you in your efforts to keep the peace, but to assist you. Now, Mr. Marshal, I shall expect you to do your duty in protecting my property, and if you do not do it, I have men with me who will place you and even the sheriff of Sonoma county under arrest for not doing your duty."

During President Foster's talk the crowd made many side remarks, several calling on the marshal to arrest Mr. Foster for obstructing the county road.

Marshal Severson and his officers at once began clearing the crowds back, and forced men occupying positions on the flat cars alongside the tracks to get down from them and away from the scene. This was no easy task, and as fast as the crowd was cleared away in one place they returned in another.


Finally President Foster grew insistent and told the Marshal that unless he cleared the crowds and kept them back he would have the officer placed under arrest.

President Foster was in position to carry out this threat to the letter. With him he had brought up in his special car Under Sheriff G. E. Ortman of Marin county, and Deputy Sheriff Lon Agnew of Marin county was picked up at Petaluma. These two men were clothed with authority, in case of necessity to arrest the marshal and his assistants, and also Sheriff Grace. Deputy Agnew had been up to Ukiah, where he had gone to get an escaped prisoner, but was returning to San Rafael without his man. He was a passenger on the south bound train, and was stopped at Petaluma by telegraphic messages and returned with President Foster on his special.


Shortly after making his first speech to Marshal Severson and the crowd, President Foster held a telegram aloft and in a loud voice declared to the people that he had been notified that the electric railroad had asked for an injunction against his company to prevent them interfering with the crossing, and that a restraining order had been issued against his company returnable Monday next at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. He declared that he was in favor of law and order, and did not intend to go contrary to the orders of the courts.

He declared that he had come to the City of Roses to show the people here that the president of the road would go where any of its employees were sent, and that his interest in Santa Rosa and Sonoma county were as great as ever. He declared he owned considerable property in the county and that some day he expected to make his home in Imperial Sonoma.

Mr. Foster had scarcely landed before he gave orders to his men to remove the locomotives back from obstructing the main line. Then came orders to replace the ditched flat cars on the tracks and proceed to clear the tracks and not obstruct the crossing or interfere with the electric road officials. [Later when the train with the President and officials of the road and the men going south passed the crossing there was a mingled demonstration of applause from the assemblage there.]

That the steam road had made abundant preparations for all kinds of battles yesterday is apparent. Four of their locomotives were taken to the shops at Tiburon and fitted with the steam pipes for drenching the crowds which assembled. These locomotives were Nos. 9, 10, 12, and 13. Only two of these were brought into action yesterday. No. 9 has been kept on the siding at Fulton for several weeks past, and steam has been kept up at all times to be ready for instant action. No. 10 is the locomotive which plies between Cloverdale and Ukiah, and she was fitted with pipes and was ready to come down at a moment's notice, until she was compelled to go down to the shops for repairs. This engine came north last evening pulling the regular evening passenger train. With these four locomotives the steam road was prepared to give a battle such as had never before been fought by railroads. The publication of the use of these steam pipes in the Republican had warned the general public of their intended use, and no great damage was done by them.


Had the hosts of war not been called off when they were, the Northwestern would have been facing an alarming proposition with its engines. For the many hours of the day steam was kept up to a high pressure in order to use it on the crowds to keep the engines in readiness for any emergency which might confront them. When the afternoon passenger train passed south, engine 12 went around that train and came up in the rear to protect the crossing the minute the passenger train had gone by. At this juncture it had an opportunity to take water, but Engineer Garcia's steed, No. 13, was becoming low on that necessary article for generating steam, and could not have withstood the strain much longer. The same condition confronted other engines.

[ ..]

"Admiral" Barrows, who gained his title from the locomotive battleships which played hot steam and water on the crowds, was everywhere in the fight yesterday. He had gravel shoveled onto him, into his face, and rocks thrown at him, but like a true warrior he never faltered. He kept in the midst of the "scrap," and gave his orders to his men. Whether on the bridge of one of his war vessels, or in the conning tower, it was the same with him. Mr. Barrows was twice arrested for his participation in the melee.


The position of Engineer Eugene Ellison was anything but pleasant during the morning hours. Many rocks were thrown into the cab, one going through a window and shattering it.

[There was no cessation when the steam whistles from the factories announced that the noon hour had arrived. People were too interested and the opposing forces were in the thickest of the memorable fight to lay the crossing. Many men employed in various establishments spent their dinner hour in watching and cheering on the electric railroad men with the task. Dinners were forgotten.]

The electric railroad officials were thoughtful of their men, and during the afternoon passed around huge baskets of sandwiches to them. Of these the men partook freely, as they had been at work all morning and could not leave the scene at noon to partake of the noon day meal. This morning Auditor Rowe was busy paying the bills for the refreshments served, but it was a cheerful task for him. The company provided liberally for its men and the crowd cheered them for so doing.

Auditor Rowe stated this morning that there had been a conference the night previous to the railroad fight between representatives of the two companies. At that conference the electric railroad people had submitted a proposition to the steam road that if the case was decided in their favor they would agree to put in the crossing and pay all bills, and would enter into a contract to maintain the crossing at all times in a manner satisfactory to the California Northwestern. The officials of the steam road would have nothing to do with this proposition, as they had made arrangements to fight if the decision went against them. Their efforts were put forth in a losing cause, and the crossing is in despite the opposition offered.

The King of France marched his men up the hill and down again.

- Santa Rosa Republican, March 1 and 2, 1905, Press Democrat, March 2, 1905 as indicated

Walter Holloway probably didn't believe his eyes that afternoon of January 3, 1905; there, in the middle of the street, was a group of men sawing away at the railroad tracks.

As a conductor on the steam-powered California Northwestern railway, Holloway would've known that there had been months of bickering between his company and owners of the electric trolley, who wanted to bring their own tracks into downtown Santa Rosa by crossing the steam railroad's rails. Although California Northwestern was expecting trouble at the Sebastopol Avenue location, this rogue attack on a spur line recently built for the local brewery caught them unawares.

He alerted his bosses and a confrontation ensued. Then, as winter's early darkness approached, the scene of the action switched to Sebastopol Avenue, where the electric line was trying to push a trolley car across the steam railroad's double tracks. With much drama and the power of a horse and mule team, it was done just after midnight. The following day, the California Northwestern obtained a temporary injunction blocking any further attempts by the electric line to even touch any of the California Northwestern's rails.

This was the first skirmish between the steam and electric railroads on the outskirts of downtown Santa Rosa. If you haven't already read "The Battle of Sebastopol Avenue," there you'll find a summary of the big fight and other background. Also related is "The Generals of the Battle of Sebastopol Avenue," and "The Battle(field) of Sebastopol Avenue," which all provide further details.

The electric line -- formally known as the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway -- had broad support from Santa Rosa merchants and residents, and was already running trolleys to Petaluma via Sebastopol (and by the end of the year, to points beyond; see map at right). By 1905, similar electric interurban systems were operating throughout most American cosmopolitan areas, and a welcome change from the infamously erratic local public transit offered by horse-drawn cars. Santa Rosa was so eager for an electric system that city officials gave J. H. Brush, who bought out most of the town's horse-drawn systems, a 50-year franchise on city transit. (Part of the legal fight was that California Northwestern argued that this no-bid contract was illegal.) His son, Frank Brush, was director of the P&SR electric railway, and was the middleman in the tug-of-war in the battle of Sebastopol Ave. That the trolley was running to Petaluma and points west also meant that it was competing with the California Northwestern, and if there was one certain rule in the old West, it was that the guy with the biggest pair of tracks would always win the fight.

The court order left everything in limbo. For two months, a traveler from Petaluma or Sebastopol could take the trolley up to the steam railroad tracks on Sebastopol Avenue, get out and walk across the tracks to the "Woodworth" trolley on the other side. This would shuttle passengers as far as Second Street, where it hit a dead-end at the brewery's railroad tracks. From there it was a walk of a couple of blocks to the depot, or you could hike six blocks to the department stores and other shops around Courthouse Square. Instead of "mass transportation," it was more of a "mass perambulation" punctuated by short streetcar rides.

Literally caught in the middle of this battle was Grace Brothers' brewery, who simply wanted to efficiently get beer-making stuff into their plant and ship the finished brew out. Only a few months earlier, they had paid $311 to have this railroad spur installed; now, because the short stretch of track was included in the count order, some demanded the city rip out their tracks. A Jan. 10 City Council meeting briefly considered revoking their permit for the rail, but the electric line's manager and director both came to their defense. Brewery head Joseph T. Grace -- clearly not wanting to offend anyone, much less thirsty railroad workers -- attested that he didn't intend to interfere with the electric railway, or cause any trouble, any time.

Also caught in the middle was Sonoma County Sheriff Frank Grace, the brother in the name of Grace Brothers brewery. The much-respected lawman appears to have gone into hiding during the March fracas, except for posturing that he'd serve any warrants placed in his hand. That was actually probably the most politic thing for him to do; because of his personal financial and brotherly ties to the brewery and its controversial railroad spur, any action there -- or even lack of action, if he were at the scene -- might have been condemned as cheap self-interest.

Tying these events into Comstock House history, James Wyatt Oates was the lawyer for the electric railway. Attorney Thomas J. Geary appeared at the City Council meeting for the brewery (although he was also the local attorney for the California Northwestern) and when a speaker called for the brewery tracks to be torn up, the large audience at the Council meeting burst into applause. Geary sneered that they were no better than a mob. "Sonoma county's Democratic boss" was ever the charmer.


Two Trains Run Across Siding -- Would Not Permit Use of Rails So the Car Was Propelled Across on Planks -- Telegram from President Foster

The first electric car entered the city of Santa Rosa at 12:15 o'clock this morning.

It did not come in propelled by electric power or gliding over steel rails. It crossed the California Northwestern track, the much disputed crossing, with its wheels traveling over stout planks and it was drawn by four horses and two mules with half a hundred men assisting. When its wheels rested on the rails on this side there was much cheering and the compressed air whistle was tooted merrily. In other words it was moved across the double track of the California Northwestern, much as an ordinary house would have been.

There was all kinds of excitement at the Sebastopol avenue crossing last night lasting from nine o'clock until the time named when the good car "Woodworth" rested like Noah's ark this side and safe within the city. There the people began to thin out and the crowd, estimated when the excitement was at its height, at five hundred strong, dwindled away.

For some time it has been urged that the electric people should have a car on the Santa Rosa side of the Sebastopol avenue crossing so that passengers could be brought into town by that means. Consequently the company recently set to work, erected their poles, strung their trolley wire and had practically everything ready, but lacked the car. Last night the officials of the railroad decided that they would get a car across the steam railroad's tracks at all hazards and this determinated induced the exciting incidents that followed.

The C. N. W. R. people had anticipated trouble of some kind so that when a couple of rails were laid across the double track of their road, not spiked, it took very few minutes for a couple of large engines, one on each track, to back up and successfully "cover" the crossing. Chief Engineer F. K. Zook of the C. N. W. R. and Superintendent of Construction Fairchild of the electric railroad were both on hand, each one to look out for his respective company's interests. The cars came to a standstill directly across the crossing and nothing could be done.

In the mean time a large crowd had gathered and City Marshal Severson and a number of officers were on hand to prevent a breach of the peace. A hurried message was sent by phone to the City Hall to Street Commissioner White. A Press Democrat reporter happened to answer the phone. "Tell White," the voice came over the phone, "to come to Sebastopol avenue crossing and order an obstruction moved." The Street Commissioner hurried to the scene and courteously asked that the cars and engines "move on."

Finally White [2 words illegible] to Chief Engineer Zook and asked permission to haul the car across the track. He was courteously told that the Chief Engineer was not there to give permission to anybody, but was there to prevent rails being laid and to look after his company's interests. After some more talk a telegram was sent to President A. W. Foster of the C. N. W. R. and when a reply was received, Chief Engineer Zook ordered the trains to pull up a little so as to clear the crossing. Then permission was given to take the car across the tracks on planks but no rails would be permitted.

The planks were brought. The strong aggregation of horse and mule flesh was ordered from Lee Brothers' stables. They were connected with the car by means of a stout chain and the slow work of piloting the car across the Sebastopol avenue crossing was commenced and finally, shortly after midnight as stated, the task was completed.

Once during the exciting episodes of the evening City Marshal Severson suggested to an official of the steam railroad that the cars must not be permitted to block Sebastopol avenue. The Marshal's words seemed to meet with the approval of some in the assembled populace and they clamored that the City Marshal should use his authority as an officer and do some arresting. He was promised all kinds of help from the crowd even to the moving of the freight cars by force.

Anyhow the car has crossed the track and it is a matter of much significance, for as an official of the electric railroad said last night, "we want to run the electric car into Santa Rosa without further delay to the present terminus at the foot of Fourth street. And it was also stated last night that just as soon as possible the car "Woodworth" will be running up the street to the Court House, at least. The "Woodworth" in other words, will take the place of the free bus now being operated by the merchants and will run either between the California Northwestern depot and the present disputed crossing or between the latter point and the Court House.

The excitement, however, commenced yesterday afternoon when some of the employees of the electric railroad swooped down on the California Northwestern switch track which runs into Grace Brothers Brewery. Then with the regulation instruments for such work they commenced to cut the steam road's rails for the purpose of putting in a phlange-way to allow cars to cross the rails having previously laid on either side of the switch.

The cutting of the rails had been in progress several minutes when Conductor Holloway of the Sebastopol train noticed what was transpiring. Railroad Supervisor Barrows was speedily called to the scene and he notified the Superintendent of Construction Fairchild of the electric road that the cutting of the rails must stop. The work continued, however, and then Supervisor Barrows ordered Engineer Donnolly to back some freight cars across the crossing to "protect the company's property."

[5 words illegible] the work did not stop. The switch is on an angle so that it was impossible to have wheels resting on both rails at once. Consequently while the car wheels was covering and protecting one rail the man with the steel cutter hacked away at the unprotected rail. When the cars were moved to and fro the electric railroad's man plied their work as best they could. This did not last long and then the men were called off leaving one rail almost cut through and the other partially so.

Soon a small army of railroad section men arrived and at the order of Mr. Barrows they quickly filled up the holes that had been dug and the incident terminated for the time being. Section men were left to guard the place, all night, however, and at the hour of going to press were still on watch.

The news of what was transpiring spread like wildfire through the city and a large crowd quickly gathered. The movements of the men of both roads were watched with keen interest and there were many suggestions and predictions vouchsafed.

At the Council meeting last night Attorney L. E. Rankin of the Petaluma & Santa Rosa railroad addressed the Council and recalled incidents of the afternoon.

"All that we ask," said Rankin, addressing the Council, "is that you instruct the Street Commissioner to keep the railroad from being blockaded. Under the franchise we hold this is all we ask."


- Press Democrat, January 4, 1905



The "Woodworth" Commenced its Trips Between Second Street and Sebastopol Avenue Yesterday

The electric car "Woodworth" commenced making trips from Sebastopol avenue to Second street at noon on Saturday, and will continue to do so right along now. Today the car will run every few minutes. A motorman and conductor are in charge of the car and no fares are collected from passengers to and from the main system on the other side of Sebastopol avenue for Sebastopol and way stations to Petaluma. Thus the car is reached a little over a block from Fourth street.

The new bridge was used for the first time on Saturday afternoon when the "Woodworth" passed over on its initial trip. It is the intention of the railroad company to take off the free bus now that the cars run within a little over a block of Fourth street.

- Press Democrat, January 9, 1905


The electric trolley wire is in place at the crossing of the California Northwestern's line, although the track for the electric road is not yet laid there. It has already been demonstrated that the California Northwestern people, from President down, are interested to see that the electric line does its work in accordance with the established rules at the place where they wish to cross the steam road; and that the inter-urban road assumes and aquires no privileges to which it is not entitled.

Actuated by this interest on behalf of his employer, the foreman of a Northwestern section gang yesterday, it is said, indertook to measure the height of the trolley wire, presumably to ascertain whether it was sufficiently elevated to let the locomotive pass under. So he threw a metal-ribbed tape-line over the trolley, and then reached out to draw it taut. But he didn't draw.

There's a pretty high voltage in that trolley, and the juice just slid through that metal tape, and into the foreman's mortal part, and tied him into knots. He gave a most excellent performance of the "muscle dance" for a few brief minutes which would doubtless have lasted longer, had not his gyrations carried him so far that the tape slid from the trolley wire, and the circuit was broken.

The foreman breathed hard for a few minutes and then rolled up and pocketed his tape, refusing all calls for an encore of his dance. Doubtless he decree that if the Northwestern wants the elevation of that trolley, it will have to be taken by triangulation.

- Press Democrat, January 11, 1905

Like all good war stories, there's more than one way to tell this tale. You can spin it as a David and Goliath confrontation between plucky local entrepreneurs and big railroad interests, or you can see it simply as an excuse for rival rail gangs to mix it up in a good ol' brawl (that interpretation seems to be a favorite among railroad history buffs). But there's also the perspective that Santa Rosa and Sonoma County transportation issues were the least part of the story -- that this was really a proxy war between one of the West's oldest and most hated monopolies and early Twentieth Century economic and political progressive forces seeking to weaken its grip on the state.

A. W. Foster, president of the California Northwestern, was the railroad baron of the North Bay for over a decade, owning all or part of railroads from Sausalito to Duncans Mills to Willits. He provoked this confrontation by claiming that the electric line had no legal right to cross his tracks, even though that crossing's location would be made on a public street, and had Santa Rosa's enthusiastic approval. What he did next would make his name infamous. While the matter was sitting in the courts, a spectacular secret weapon was made just for the battle to come: four train engines retrofitted with nozzles on the front that could blast steam on anyone in the way. With that stunt, Foster crossed the line from an aggrieved businessman to become something like a James Bond supervillain -- building siege locomotives is hardly the way to win a nice writeup in the history books. There was even an extra evil-ish twist to his doings: Foster no longer owned the railroad that it appeared he was prepared to kill or maim for -- he'd sold it to Southern Pacific in 1902, and was just staying on as president in the interim. (More on Foster can be found in a 1993 Gaye LeBaron column, available in the SSU archives as a PDF.)

That Southern Pacific was the actual owner of the steam railroad line may be the key to understanding the true issues behind the conflict. The electric Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway was founded a year after SP bought the steam railroad, and with money from the San Francisco-based Spreckels group. On the P&SR board was Rudolph Spreckels, who had inherited a deep hatred of the Southern Pacific from his father, "Sugar King" Claus Spreckels. Dad was instrumental in bringing Southern Pacific's main competitor, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, to the San Francisco Bay area. Rudolph was hard to pigeonhole; less a driven businessman than a reformer and progressive activist who happened to control a great fortune. He personally underwrote the investigation and prosecution of corrupt San Francisco officials after the 1906 earthquake, and true to form, wanted prosecutors to go after Southern Pacific's top lawyer, who was viewed at the time as the most powerful man in California because he had many state and local politicans in his pocket (a good book on the graft investigations can be downloaded from Google). Rudolph Spreckels waged many other battles against Southern Pacific in the years following, virtually making harassment of the railroad a side career.

(Here's a Ripley's Believe-it-or-Not aside on Rudolph Spreckels: The man had the worst damned luck with his mansions. Just about a year before this, on March 19, 1904, his grand home in the Sonoma Valley burned to the ground. And just about a year after this, the San Francisco earthquake destroyed his mansion there. Behind privacy screens set up on the lawn, his wife gave birth to their daughter, even as the family was waiting for the dynamite squad to demolish their palatial digs.)

Knowing Spreckels' combined animus of Southern Pacific and willingness to engage in confrontation invites intriguing questions over who really provoked the showdown. When earlier Foster had refused permission for the electric line to cross the tracks, he said that the trolley was welcome to build a crossing under or over Sebastopol Avenue -- a proposal that was dismissed out of hand as being too expensive. But that wasn't true, given the immense wealth that Spreckels brought to the party, not to mention his family's record of easily raising vast amounts of investment capital for railway projects. Given the will and the city's permission, a Sebastopol Avenue overpass probably could have been operable in a few short weeks. Or for that matter, it might have been possible find a spot to cross the steam railroad tracks that would have been agreeable to Foster; if the electric line had detoured to W. Third St. at some point further west, they could have crossed at the California Northwestern/SP branch leading to Sebastopol, and not the all-important main north/south tracks for the entire steam railroad. The trolley could have then reached the depot via a bridge over the creek at Fifth St. -- see map in "The Battle(field) of Sebastopol Avenue".

Then there was the issue of crossing the Grace Brothers' spur. There were at least two nearby bridges over the creek that the trolley could have used and avoided this additional confrontation with Southern Pacific. But reading the accounts reprinted here, it appears that supporters of the electric railway were really looking for an excuse to destroy the brewery's little stretch of track, despite General Manager Joseph T. Grace's repeated insistence that the trolley folks could do whatever they wanted. Maybe the public was irrationally lashing out at anyone presenting any sort of obstacle to the electric, or maybe these were deeper political waters than are apparent today -- Prohibition was right around the corner, remember. Who were the "agitators...brought on by outside interference" that Grace complained about in the item below? Perhaps the confrontation drew a mix of Spreckels' progressive supporters from San Francisco, happy for an opportunity to needle Southern Pacific, and temperance activists, hoping to choke the supply/delivery bottleneck for a brewery.

(Photo to the right: One of two poor-quality pictures that appeared in the Press Democrat, March 4, 1905.)

But what of A. W. Foster? Has history given him a bum rap as the supervillain? Foster may well have viewed the efforts to cross "his" rail lines as a challenge to his legacy before he retired from railroading the following year, but he insisted in the run up to the battle that he was fighting for the cause of safety. That may seem like feeble excuse-peddling today, but the electric train acknowledged this really was an issue once the trolley began to cross the tracks: "When a car approaches the crossing the conductor runs ahead and if there is no steam train in sight he waves to the motorman to go ahead" (Press Democrat, Mar. 3). We learn why from a May 23 a city council item: the the rail crossing was almost three feet higher than the grade of Sebastopol Avenue, and was considered hazardous; the Street Commissioner then suggested that the town should have California Northwestern lower their tracks.

The other half of Foster's safety argument was that the trolley line was welcome to either build a bridge over the Sebastopol Ave. double track or dig an underpass beneath -- again, it sounded like the old man was just being obstinate. But Foster was responsible for all north coast rail to the San Francisco Bay area, and suddenly there appeared workers of unknown skill sawing through the rails and intending to install a homemade section of train tracks on a critical section of the route. If this were your responsibility, wouldn't you be alarmed at the danger this presented?

When Foster finally personally showed up at the March confrontation, he insisted the railroad didn't want trouble. His appearance on stage with 150 "big husky fellows" sounds undeniably thuggish, but appears to have been a clever ruse: Only a glimpse of some men -- and presumably, from just one side of the train -- were seen before the windows were covered. The most detailed version appeared in the Republican: "The windows of the other coach containing the 'fighting men' were pulled down, and no glimpse could be gained into that coach. That it was filled with men was apparent, for before coming to a standstill and having the blinds pulled down according to orders there were heads sticking out of every window in the coach...."

Instead of a legion of thugs, Foster brought forth only a silent pair of Marin County junior sheriffs to back him up. Then he made a speech threatening to arrest everyone including the local cops and the missing Sheriff Grace, waved a telegram revealing that he had actually lost the fight the courts, ordered the trains to back off, and by the way, declared that he loved Sonoma County so much that planned to retire here. It was a remarkable surrender and anti-climax.

Analyzed together like this, Foster's actions seem decidedly undemonic, and well-deserving of a positive historical view. That is, if it wasn't for the Killer Locomotives.

Foster's name is forever linked to the use of steam train engines outfitted as "war machines," and as the contemporary reports attest, it was a remarkable Thing To See. But were the rigged-up locomotives actually deadly, or even very dangerous? Obviously not; there were no injuries reported. When the Petaluma & Santa Rosa director Frank Brush threw himself on the track, "[his] head was directly in line with this steam, and the position becoming unbearable, he finally got up from the ground." Unfazed was the crew closest to the discharge: "...the workmen of the electric railroad were unmindful of the steam, and worked ahead in the blinding steam as if nothing had happened."

If this had been the the high-pressure, superheated steam direct from the boiler, Director Brush would have had been killed or had the flesh of his face peeled off his skull. The workmen would have been burned horribly through their clothes. In short, whether the steam was intended to be lethal or not, it was ultimately only a deterrent to frighten and harass.

(No historic train aficionado am I, but it appears that there were at least a couple of ways that a locomotive of that era could be retrofitted to temporarily produce the stagecraft of a really menacing cloud of steam as described. The easiest way was likely to divert from the steam manifold, which heated the cabins in cold weather and also provided the toot for the whistle. Another candidate would be using some of the low-pressure steam from the cylinder exhaust. Whatever really happened, it appears that loud and scary -- yet relatively safe -- blasts of steam could have been produced without extensive modifications.)

And what was Southern Pacific's role in all these doings? Telegrams were undoubtedly flying fast and frequent between them and Foster. It's interesting that he was immediately handed a telegram as his private car arrived in Santa Rosa, when the Republican's reporter overheard him say, "Tell them no." (It should be noted that the Press Democrat stated that this was the telegram notifying him that the railroad had lost in court, but Foster certainly must have known that before boarding the train to Santa Rosa.)

Enhanced detail from a snapshot of "The Battle of Sebastopol Avenue," March 1, 1905. Five workers from the California Northwestern are shown standing on a flat car and shoveling dirt and gravel on electric line workers below. The man second from right appears to be aiming a sprayer attached to a hose, which is not mentioned in either contemporary newspaper account.

Photo courtesy Sonoma County Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

It's safe to presume that Southern Pacific wanted the crossing defended at any cost. The most hard line statement actually came not from Foster, but from California Northwestern general manager James L. Frazier. Only an overpass or tunnel would be acceptable, he told the Republican, and "...he further stated that it would be only a question of time when all states would adopt legislation compelling this in railroad circles. He stated it had already been done in some eastern states." That may have been true or no (surely there's a rail history buff that knows the answer to this trivia question), but it's doubtful that a regional general manager dreamed up this claim. Far more likely he was parroting a Southern Pacific policy; interurban systems were popping up in towns across the country, and the company had much to lose when precedents were set.

Note also that while Foster threw plenty of obstacles in the way to stop or slow the electric railway, he pounded no war drums. All of his statements -- the public ones, anyway -- had a complete lack of bluster, along with the apologetic tone of someone who felt pressured to do something unpleasant. In his two telegrams (transcribed below) and speech in Santa Rosa, Foster declared that cutting through the railroad tracks was dangerous and illegal, the electric railway was waging a dishonorable PR war against his railway, and Santa Rosa's reputation would suffer if anyone ended up injured or dead.

So does Mr. A. W. Foster merit a gentler historical appraisal? Probably yes, particularly if it can ever be shown that he didn't intend for the tricked-out locomotives to be vengeful, potentially lethal payback for California Northwestern losing its monopoly (and particularly if there's evidence that Southern Pacific, not Foster, was behind the scheme). All of his other actions were benign, even cautious. But unless a trove of original documents surface, we really can only make educated guesses as to his intent; just maybe the worst interpretation was true, and he was really headed to Santa Rosa to find out why there were no casualties from the steam weapons and/or to lead an out-and-out assault by stevedores against the locals. Or for that matter, we have no idea whether the telegram he received as he stepped off the train was sent by Southern Pacific, the court, or even related to the matter at hand; it might even have been from his nine kids back at the sprawling family manse outside of San Rafael, begging Pops to pick up some ice cream before heading home from the mayhem.

A final note of interest is the closing line of the Santa Rosa Republican's feature: "The King of France marched his men up the hill and down again." The writer's intent was to mock Foster with the line from the old nursery rhyme about an ineffectual general. But the verse was more appropriate than they knew; it actually referred to a 14th century showdown between England and France, where British archers using the powerful Welsh longbow kept French calvary from advancing. It was a classic example of new technology trumping the old; a fine metaphor for the 20th century lighter, nimble, electric trains besting that old steam-belching iron horse.


The Battle of Sebastopol Avenue

Prelude to the Battle of Sebastopol Avenue

The Battle(field) of Sebastopol Avenue


The following telegram was received from President A. W. Foster at an early hour this morning:

To the Editor of the Press Democrat and the people of Santa Rosa:

I regret to learn of the unseemly and unlawful conduct of the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railway Company. I am satisfied the thinking people of your city are law-abiding citizens and will not countenance such proceedings. If any innocent party be injured as a result of their action the good name of your community will suffer. We ask nothing but fair play. Your community should know that they have invoked the aid of the court and that they have been delaying action thereon for the purpose of creating an unfair public sentiment against our company. Such action is cowardly, to say the least, and does not reflect credit on their corporation.

Apologizing for trespassing on your space, I remain sincerely yours, A. W. Foster

- Press Democrat, January 4, 1905

In view of the ill advised action of the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway Company people we cannot afford to yield to force and regret that any of the people of Santa Rosa should fail to recognize in our effort to resist vandalism that we are only protecting our property until the court passes upon question involved. Their conduct justifies us in exposing the invalidity of their franchise and consequently their lack of right to occupy the streets of Santa Rosa. They have understood our position since the first of August last and should have taken steps to legalize their own.

- A. W. Foster telegram, January 4, 1905, to general manager Frazier of the California Northwestern, reprinted in both newspapers


"If some of the outsiders who are trying so hard to run things for the new electric road will just confine their attention to their own affairs for a few days," said General Manager Joseph T. Grace of the local brewery last night while discussing the switch proposition. "Things will straighten themselves out very nicely. Most of the new road's troubles have been brought on by outside interference," he added, 'and it is about time for it to stop."


Another well-known citizen gave expression to an opinion pretty much along the same line as Mr. Grace yesterday when he said: "Very little of the talk that has been heard on the streets recently has come from the electric people. It is all outsiders who have been stirring up all the fuss. I have noticed that whenever the electric people have wanted anything here in the way of franchises or anything else and have come up here and said so, they have got it, and simply for the asking. The street talkers who keep themselves so busy stirring up trouble and making and making people mad are only hindering the completion of the [electric railway]."

- Press Democrat, January 12, 1905

Our morning contemporary, in publishing a letter from Manager Bowen of the electric railroad to Joseph Grace, concerning the dispute over the spur track crossing on second street, takes an unseemly fling at what is pleased to term "agitators" meaning the gentlemen who appeared Tuesday night at the meeting of the council to ask that the council take some action with reference to the spur. If men who stand for legitimate public improvements, who pay taxes regularly, who wish to see the city progress, and who are earnestly striving to do what, from their point of view appears right and just are "agitators," then let's have a whole town full of "agitators." Indeed, in that company of gentlemen who attended the council meeting were some of the leading business men of Santa Rosa. They are sane, sensible citizens and would not have appeared unless they believed their cause just. Sneers at such manifestations of public spirit do no good and should be rebuked. Surely this is a free country and men may possess convictions and state them, too, without being called names by newspapers.

- Santa Rosa Republican editorial, January 12, 1905

Want to visit the scene of "The battle of Sebastopol Avenue?" Sorry -- it's completely gone. Yes, the train tracks still cross Sebastopol Ave; yes, you can stand on the exact spot where the steam locomotives equipped with special jets "shot scalding steam and hot water right into the crowd of workers," and where men from the rival railroads engaged in a tug-of-war with the body of the electric railway's director. But while the location remains, the place has vanished. Few other parts of turn-of-the-century Santa Rosa has been so inexorably wiped out as these four blocks directly west of Highway 101, between the Hwy. 12/Sebastopol exit and the 3rd St./Downtown exit.

(By the way: Have you already read "The Battle of Sebastopol Avenue" and "Prelude to the Battle of Sebastopol Avenue?")

The map to the right below shows what it looked like in late 1904. Streets were laid out in a classic grid. Third Street and a few others had a "W" added in front of the name after they crossed the railroad tracks, yet the streets were nonetheless contiguous; you could walk, bike, or drive a buggy the full length of any of these streets without detour. The south side of downtown was defined by Santa Rosa Creek, shown here in bubbly blue. Three bridges crossed the broad creek and connected the shopping and business district to Sebastopol Avenue -- six, if you counted the new bridge for the trolley (not shown here), the steam railroad's bridge, and the bridge seen at far right, which joined Sonoma Ave. to S. Main Street. In sum, it was a small town with something like a modest river running through it, and everything was within easy walking distance.

Contrast that to a modern map of the same area. The impressive waterway is now a trickle of the "Santa Rosa Flood Control Channel." Except for Third, all the east-west streets are chopped in half, both by Highway 101 and the shopping mall. Between downtown and Sebastopol Avenue, Highway 12 further wiped out two of the three bridges. Sebastopol Ave. suffered the worst, with its east and west sides split wide apart by the Hwy 101/Hwy 12 interchange.

Today, a 1905 Santa Rosan who wanted to visit the scene of the battle, wouldn't recognize a single thing. The only possible route from downtown crosses the Railroad/Olive St. bridge, which probably wasn't a pedestrian bridge when it was built in 1904. Someone now can walk along the new Prince Memorial Greenway for the start of the journey -- wonderful it may be now, but that didn't exist in that day, either. Our 1905 visitor likely would be uncomfortable passing under Highway 12 on Olive Street; with the two-story berm beneath the roadway blocking everything to the east, it is like being inside a tunnel. The Sebastopol Avenue that emerges on the other side is forlorn, a concrete gray no-man's-land. Never can you imagine this grim blast zone being once a vital part of downtown, alive with comings and goings. The City of Santa Rosa owes the Roseland community reparations for what has been done at this place.

A footnote: this posting on the geography of the "battle" originated as a series of notes and map doodles intended for personal use to work out what happened where and when. But as I read modern-day retellings of the story, I found confusion abounds. Some descriptions suggest there was only one scene of confrontation, merging the crossing on Sebastopol Ave. with the crossing at the brewery spur a few blocks north. Another frequent mistake is placing the brewery close to the location of today's Chevy's restaurant; in truth, the brewery was exactly where the Hyatt now stands. The December, 1904 Sanborn map shown at right also has an error; no Railroad/Olive St. electric railway bridge is shown, probably because it was too new -- the Oct. 25, 1904 Press Democrat mentions that workers were starting to build the bridge that week. The PD noted on Jan. 9 1905 that "the new bridge was used for the first time" when the trolley began running from Sebastopol Ave. to Second St.

Newer Posts Older Posts Home