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Rail traffic constant through California for 160 years

Rail traffic constant through California for 160 years

February 14th, 2018 by David Wilson in Local News

The first train arrived in California May 14, 1858, according to the 1980 Moniteau County history book. According to Jeff DeGraff, Union Pacific Railroad, in 2018, the rails see an average of 20-25 trains per day. Among those trains are four Amtrak trains (two in each direction) and 20 or so freight trains. The line that passes through California connects Jefferson City with Sedalia. The freight trains are generally westbound through this area. There are mixed manifest trains, empty coal and grain trains, and auto trains that use this route.

When the first train arrived, California was the end of the line. About two months later, on July 26, the railroad was completed to Tipton. A short time later, the tracks were completed to Pacific City, which was the end of the Union supply line during the Civil War. That town was incorporated as Syracuse in 1868.

Just after the end of the Civil War, the railroad reached Kansas City, but damage by Confederate raiders and money problems caused the system to be taken over by the state.

Although the Missouri Pacific was supposed to reach the Pacific Ocean, the furthest point was around Pueblo, Colorado. That was of little importance, though. Other railroads were built, allowing the transport of freight and passengers to the Pacific. It was not determined how many trains ran through California in the early days, but it is likely there was only one a day during the Civil War and doubtful that there were more than two-a-day for several years.

As the older residents may remember, California was an important train stop many years for water, fuel and freight. The current lake at Proctor Park is still known by many as the Railroad Pond. That moniker stuck simply because that is what it was built to be. The old frame building, just south of the present Rohrbach Shelter House, contained the machinery to pump the water from the lake to the railroad water tower. The tower was located just south of the tracks on the west side of what is now South East Street.

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The original city hub, dating from the 1830s, was located in the vicinity of the business district in the area of the Moniteau County Courthouse. The Jefferson City to Boonville stagecoach station, known as the Wood Hotel, was on the site of the present Moniteau County Jail. When the railroad came through, a second city hub began developing, closer to the depot and the freight sidings. That led to California for many years being known as "The Little Twin City."

How things have changed. The number of trains passing through the city, and the length of those trains, has increased tremendously. More than a century ago, the trains actually stopped in California to pick up and drop off freight, passengers and mail. Now, with many more trains coming through, it is rare to have a train drop off freight, and they never stop for passenger traffic.

That is what happens with progress. The river traffic, freight wagons and stagecoaches gave way to rail traffic. In turn, the roads were improved, which led to bus transportation and automobile transportation. As the roads were paved and additionally improved, even the bus transportation to California ceased.

Now residents travel by motor vehicles and freight is largely transported by trucks. What is next? We'll have to wait and see.