The Coming of the Railroad
In 1887 the Southern Pacific Railroad came through the Santa Clara River Valley, and the rest, as it is said is history. Luckily, some of it was recorded for us. In the 1930s, Charles Jarrett did a series of interviews he titled, “Who’s Who In Fillmore, Meeting the Old Timers.” He interviewed Judge C. C. Elkins, Hugh Warring, Fergus Fairbanks, and many others. Two people he interviewed, Hartley Sprague and Harry Peyton, told about their experiences with the railroad coming to our area.
Harry Peyton was born in Quebec in 1858. When he was twelve, his family moved to Vermont where he lived until turning twenty-one. Over the next few years, he worked his way through the fields of Minnesota and North Dakota and working as a carpenter for the Northern Pacific Railroad. He eventually came to Los Angeles (via New Orleans) and there went to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad as a carpenter. His first work began on the siding near Camulos. Peyton said that he built water tanks at Piru and several section houses (dormitories for railroad personnel) along the route. He is also credited with constructing the Fillmore Southern Pacific depot from the prefabricated panels which arrived on flat car.
According to Mr. Jarrett’s article, Southern Pacific didn’t feed its workers very well, so the workers often bought food from local farmers and ranchers. That is how Mr. Peyton met Miss Haidee Atlee. When his work on the railroad was done, he left briefly for Oregon, but the memory of Miss Atlee stayed with him and he returned to marry her in 1888. Some of their descendants are still living in the area
Hartley Sprague’s family came to the valley in 1871. His father, Frederick, is remembered for two things – building the first school in the area and being convicted of the murder of T. Wallace More, owner of Rancho Sespe. Those stories have been told elsewhere so we’ll concentrate on what Hartley related to Mr. Jarrett about the coming of the railroad to the Sespe.
“(In 1887) the rails crept slowly down the valley. Finally, the tracklayers reached Fillmore and the engineers built a wooden bridge across the Sespe west of town. Mr. Sprague admits he was very skeptical when he examined the structure and was convinced that it would never carry the weight of a locomotive. Days later he was riding up a trail north of Fillmore when he saw black smoke to the east. Stopping his horse, he sat and waited until the chugging little engine finally appeared and crawled along to what he though was certain doom. Nearing the bridge, the engineer throttled down to a snail’s pace and a few minutes later, the doubting rider – far up on the side of Oat Mountain – breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the puffing little trailbreaker proceeding on towards Santa Paula.”
The wooden bridge was later replaced.