The Centerville Branch
The Centerville Branch of the South Pacific Coast connected Newark and Centerville (now one of the districts of Fremont). It was a horse drawn branch railroad for its entire 30+ year existence. The existing double track Union Pacific Dumbarton Cutoff between Niles and Newark runs a few yards south of the old branch line on Baine Avenue.
The SPCRR operated a recreation of this line in Ardenwood Historic Farm Regional Park using draft horses to pull a picnic car on 1˝ miles of 3' gauge track until 2015. Many of our ties have had the center worn down by the steel toes horseshoes of the horses.
Since 2015 we have pulled trains behind internal combustion 'critters' -Plymouth industrial switch engines.
We also built a replica of a single truck flatcar used on that line in 1994. This replica has wood pedestal bearings like the original.
The text below is reprinted from Bruce McGregor and Richard Truesdale's book South Pacific Coast, A Centennial
The horse teams yarding boxcars off the ferry "Garden City" at the San Francisco freight slip had worked out so well that Davis, a lover and breeder of horses, began to find other places on the railroad to gently ease the animals into responsible positions. He found no fewer than five, and legend has it there were more: the short, steep branch to the California Powder Works in the Santa Cruz Mountains where horses were shoed with copper nails to avoid sparks; the mile and a half long industrial spur at Agnew that served the Lick Mill and the State Insane Asylum; the yards at San Jose and Santa Cruz that relied on horses when the harvest rush forced all available steam motive power out onto the main line; and the Telegraph Avenue line in Berkeley where a city ordinance forbade the use of steam motive power inside city limits.
But there would never be anything quite so remarkable as the sight that awaited the traveler at Newark when he alighted from the mainline train to make the connection with SPC trains 207, 209 or 211 eastbound to Centerville.
The South Pacific Coast management had leaked news of the proposal to the local press as early as 1878: narrow gauge spurs could be laid into the small hamlets of Centerville and Irvington, east of Newark, if certain individuals were to donate land for rights-of-way, and if the county of Alameda were to willingly give an easement for most of the branchline track along public roads. Irvington did nothing. It took Centerville four years to meet the railroad's terms and conditions. Finally in February, 1882, the company kept its half of the promise. Three trains would run daily between Newark and Centerville, just three miles one way, meeting the 9:38, the 3:36 and the 5:36 mainline trains at the Newark arcade depot. The branch trains would carry the mail and the milk, and box and flatcars would be handled into Centerville in common carrier service. It was just that the branch’s trains would not exactly look like trains. They would look like the switch engines that hauled the cars off the "Garden City" in San Francisco.
It was indisputably the most charming of all the South Pacific Coast's branch lines. Take for example its stations: though they appeared on no public timetable, there were at least three way stations along the Baine Avenue run between Newark and Centerville. One of them, perhaps the Mattos Ranch stop, appears in the rare old 1885 view on these pages. It had to be the most spartan railroad station on the entire narrow gauge: a five foot square platform just big enough to let two people keep their leather shoes out of the muddy ruts of Baine Avenue in the rainy season.
And take for example the branch line's full range of common carrier services: on the platform rests a tin of morning milk, fresh from the Mattos cow, and by the milk rests a mail pouch – one can only guess it was the private drop for the Mattos family – carefully loaded at the Newark post office in the Dugan house and handed aboard the morning horsecar with great regularity.
Or, take for example passenger connections – no traveler from New York would ever discover the location in a public timetable. In fact, it didn't have to be listed anywhere at all. It was the horse that made the decision to stop. It simply reined itself in whenever it saw someone standing by the tracks.
Take for example the branch line’s crew. It began with a man named Christian in 1882, and he is shown in this photograph – nattily attired and posed like he commanded the Santa Cruz Express – the most fashionable branch line conductor in the county.
And finally, take for example the branch line’s books. Christian entered in his own hand two subtotals in a heavy leather volume – one for passengers – 1897 fares at a dime each for the month of July, 1885; one for freight – $11.80 variously broken down into tariffs for eggs and butter, hardware, furniture and quantities of sacked grain – as much, as 17,000 pounds, at a crack, for the month of June, 1885. The branch grossed, therefore, less than $90 a month. Considering Christian's wages were likely the hundred dollars a month that mainline passenger conductors received, the branch clearly had the sort of charm that management would just as soon have consigned to the glue factory.
No such luck. Centerville was headed for a kind of bush league glory as the apricot center of Southern Alameda County, and from 1885 on, business began to steadily increase on the branch. The branch hauled an estimated 300 tons of freight in 1885. By 1898 it was hauling 5000 tons, mostly in dried fruit. The new operator, a gaunt gentleman named Henry Burdick or simply "Old Bones," was turning the tables on the mainline. He made more money per mile using just himself, his teams, and his father, who helped out with the hay ranch they owned near the tracks at Newark, than the through freight business from Alameda to Santa Cruz. He joshed the road crews unmercifully when his two horses snorted under the arcade depot with six boxcars, a load of coal, and the buggy in slow march.
Henry Burdick handled the small business surge like a performing acrobat, tying off the reins loosely to the top of the first brake staff on his train and jumping car roofs to loosen or tighten brakes as speed and load demanded, keeping a pocketful of clods ready for more steam, and an oak staff handy for emergency stops. But trouble was infrequent. The loads usually stayed strung out and riding in parade formation behind the teams. At three miles per hour, Burdick's usual profile was a crossed knee and hands tucked behind his head as he sat a brakewheel for the slow march back to the Newark yards.
At the end of track in Centerville, after the last run tied up around 7 p.m. in the evening, Burdick would catch a beer in the Gregory House bar where the farmers and teamsters hung out. He would retell, for the thousandth time, the story about the Halloween night the buggy was stolen from the Newark yards and hijacked down Main Street. The dispatcher never missed it; Burdick just doubled up on the second trip.
In return, Burdick suffered through the same joke from the Gregory’s regulars, the one about him running the one horse railroad with the two horse branch. Backs were slapped. Hell, Burdick confronted them, they better lay off. He was, after all, famous. He produced a worn, yellowed clipping from inside his coat pocket, unfolded it neatly, and passed it around the bar. The Centerville Branch, it appeared, had made the Oakland Tribune:
Reprinted from the South Pacific Coast, A Centennial ©1982 Bruce A. McGregor and Richard Truesdale