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History of the Central California Traction Company Railroad

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CCT passenger train north of Lodi, circa 1910. Wilbur C. Whittaker collection. Provided by Dave Stanley

The Central California Traction Company (CCT) corridor boasts a century of rich history in providing transportation services through the Central Valley. We would like to thank Modesto-based historian Dave Stanley for sharing his extensive research on the CCT Line with the Central Valley Rails to Trails Foundation.

Following are excerpts from The Central California Traction Company by David G. Stanley and Jeffrey J. Moreau.

 

Old timers in Sheldon and Wilton who grew up in the rural areas of Sheldon and Wilton always spoke fondly of the Central California Traction Line. This railroad entered their lives in 1909 and became their window to the world. The Traction Line was an amazing electric railroad that ran the 48 miles from Stockton to Sacramento. As you can imagine, it opened up a new source of danger for the parents who lived near that electric line.

Old time residents of the area who were children in those years remembered well the stern warnings of their parents to stay away from the dangerous tracks. That third rail carried electricity, and for most of them, electricity was something new in their lives. Dared by schoolmates and pals, though, or sometimes, just curious to see if they could do it, they jumped across that wood-covered rail. Their parents, of course, usually did not know of their dangerous game, and it is probably well that they didn’t. To our knowledge, none hit the rail, for if they had, they would have been electrocuted on the spot!

Originally, the Central California Traction Company planned to run a line southward from Sacramento through rural farms and grape vineyards all the way to Modesto. It was anticipated that most of the San Joaquin and Sacramento County communities would be connected to the main tracks by branch lines. The first purchases in 1905 were for electric cars, car motors, air brake equipment and track materials. Streetcar lines in Stockton opened in May 1907, and a gold spike ceremony was held on August 31 in front of the Lodi Hotel. In 1909, the railroad was completed to its terminus in Sacramento. The cost was nearly one million dollars.

Overhead wires were used in Stockton, Lodi and Sacramento as the power source for the electric train. In the rural areas, power was transmitted by a wood-covered third rail, energized at 1,200 volts. The Central California Traction railroad was one of the first in the United States and the first in California to use high-tension direct current. Previous voltage had been 600 volts or less.

By 1914, the electric line operated 36 daily passenger trains. The first cars were painted red, but later Pullman green became the popular color, and in the 1930’s, yellow emerged as the official color. The wooden cars were attractive and equipped with both trolley poles and third rail shoes so they could run in the cities as well as the country.

The doom of the electric train and its passenger service, though, was signaled by ever-increasing popularity of the automobile and subsequent highway improvement. People just quit riding the train when they could get to their destination with a fancy new car, and they could follow their own timeline instead of having to follow the train schedule.

The Central California Traction Company finally gave up the battle after years of declining revenues. The last interurban passenger run was made on February 4, 1933. The original owners, the Fleishackers of San Francisco, tried to sell the California Traction Line to the Southern Pacific. This resulted in a power struggle among Southern Pacific, Western Pacific and the Santa Fe Railroad with all three vying for control. A 1936 decision allowed joint operation of the Central California Traction by all three railroads.

Electric power costs to maintain freight service proved too costly, so in 1947, the Central California Traction railroad lost its uniqueness and trolley power was abandoned. The pantographs came down for the last time when the system was converted to diesel. In 1979, the Central California Traction Company provided three runs of freight service six days a week: The Lodi, The Local, and The Fruitridge Switcher.

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Northbound train leans into Blake’s Corner, between Walmort and Dillard in May, 1998. Dave Stanley Photo

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A Grant Line resident remembered the opening of the CCT Line with much thankfulness for the way in which her life was enhanced by modern transportation.

We had stations in Sheldon and Wilton.  When we could ship there, we would haul those cans of cream there and leave them to be picked up.  The little train came along and took them to Stockton.  In the 1920’s, there was a regular real estate boom in Wilton after the coming of the Traction Line.  It was just so wonderful to have that train.  We would go into Sacramento and shop all day and come home at night.  It only took one hour to get there.  It was just wonderful!

The Traction Line crossed the eastern part of Sacramento County, with stops at Alta Mesa, Dillard, Wilton, Sheldon, Japanese Ranch, Old Barn, and others all the way into Sacramento. The train became known as the Milk Train because it brought fresh milk to both Sacramento and Stockton from the dairies along the way from Alta Mesa to Sheldon. Chicken ranching boomed and fresh eggs were also shipped along with the day’s milk.

Excursion rates were available for city folks who just wanted to picnic in the rural area. You could make connections at Herald if you wanted to travel on to Ione and other foothill towns.

People who had been previously isolated, especially those south of the Cosumnes had their social contacts expanded and their economic base broadened. Truly, it was wonderful. That is what the railroad did for people who lived in our rural areas. The whistle of the train as it comes rolling down the tracks brings back memories, but the memories are mixed depending upon how the railroad affected our lives.

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CCT Excursion train heading south at Blake’s corner, south of Dillard Road 6-4-39 - Note electric third rail - 1200 volts  D.C. Bert Ward Photo. Provided by Dave Stanley

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Old Alco RS-1 #80 on Cosumnes River Bridge Northbound.(1977) Dave Stanley Photo

For a detailed description of the Traction Line from the November 1979 issue of Railfan Railroad Click Here

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