STAGE TO EL CENTRO
Following is an article
from the San Diego Historical Society’s Periodical (1) that appeared in
the Winter 1969 issue entitled “The Stage to El Centro” by Orin Zink:
“Did you ever ride in the
LIMITED SAN DIEGO & IMPERIAL VALLEY STAGE?” Not likely, unless you were residing in the San Diego region
in the period from 1911 to 1916. That
“Limited Stage” was only one of the many stage lines that have served
this area during the past 114 years.
However, that particular stage line has a unique place in local
history, as it was the first or at least one of the first lines to make
use of the then new fangled automobile.
Before embarking on the
story of this little stage line, it might be of interest to touch briefly
on the stages that ran in and out of San Diego during the years before the
coming of the automobile.
The first of which there
is record was the arrival in San Diego of the Overland Stage from San
Antonio on August 31, 1857. It
was one of a fleet of Concord Stages owned by James E. Birch.
A mammoth celebration was
staged on its arrival at Old Town, San Diego; and that great event was
given due publicity by John Judson Ames, in the Sept 5, 1857 issue of the San Diego Herald. Ames
described the trip from San Antonio to San Diego as having been made in
the “unprecedented” time of 34 days.
He also stated, “the event created the greatest enthusiasm, and
was hailed with a salute of one hundred anvils, the firing of crackers and
the general congratulations of the people.
It undoubtedly constitutes an epoch in the history of the Pacific
Coast of the Union, which will be remembered with just pride, long after
the mails will have been transported on the great continental railroad,
the first rail of which, may be thus said to have been laid.”
San Diego had reason to
celebrate. Mail arrived from
the East Coast in only a few weeks, when it took months for a letter to
arrive by steamer.
The Overland Stages
proved their worth and it was not long before additional stage lines
entered this new and lucrative field.
One of the earliest was the stage line from San Diego to Ft. Yuma
owned by John G. Capron. Old
residents of San Diego still remember the beautiful Capron home which
stood on the northeast corner of Twelfth Street and Broadway.
Seeley & Wright also
were pioneer stage operators. They
operated in the 1860’s, 1879’s and early 1880’s between San Diego
and Los Angeles. It took two
days to make that tiresome trip. Their
first stage office was in the Franklin Hotel, and remained there until
that hotel was destroyed in the Old Town fire in April 1872.
After that it quite likely was moved to the Casa Bandini. This building was acquired by A.L. Seeley who added a story
and converted it into the Cosmopolitan Hotel.
The first stages were drawn by six horses or mules, but as roads
improved and distances shortened, four horses and sometimes only two were
When gold was discovered
in Julian, new stage lines were set up to serve that area.
One man who ran a stage line and about
whom little has been written was Samuel W. Hackett, a retired sea
captain. From 1878 until 1886
he operated a stage line from San Diego to Temecula.
After the turn of the
century the horse drawn vehicles began to be replaced by automobiles.
This change happened almost over night when it became apparent that
“Dobbin” was on his way out. Reluctantly, the ill-smelling, animal-scaring automobiles
began to be accepted. At
first they were merely playthings of the “well-to-do.”
They were so much faster than horse drawn vehicles, and some of the
earliest could go at the neck breaking speed of 25 miles an hour!
One of the first San
Diegans to recognize the possibilities of the automobile was Charles
Wesley Grise, a machinist. He
had been quite successful in his own profession, and was a bit reluctant
to give up a trade that for years had provided a good living.
However, a fast stage line to Imperial Valley was needed, so Grise in 1911 bought a Cadillac touring car, hired a driver and started a stage line to Imperial Valley - a business venture he was destined to remain in until 1914. He called his line the ‘LIMITED SAN DIEGO IMPERIAL VALLEY STAGE.” The fare was $15.00 one way, or $25.00 round trip. Tickets could be bought in San Diego at “Bell’s Cigar Store,” 1315 Broadway, San Diego. The advertised schedule as follows:
VALLEY AUTO STAGE DAILY TIME TABLE
Leave San Diego
“ Campo 11:00 A.M
12:30 P. M.
1:00 P. M.
1:14 P. M.
4:00 P. M.
also leaves San Diego for El Centro at 4:00 P.M. daily.
The departure time given
quite likely was fairly accurate, but the arrival time listed was for the
gullible. Fairly good time
could be made by the drivers until they hit the mountains, then anything
could happen and usually did.
The “fabric” tires
then in use were mounted on “clincher type” wheels.
If you got a flat, you jacked up the wheel, removed the casing with
tire irons usually fashioned from old springs, and patched the tube.
If the hole in the tire was large, you inserted a “boot” made
from an old tire. Then you
pumped up the tire with a hand pump and held your breath, hoping the patch
It was not uncommon for a
driver to have six or seven punctures or blowouts. When that happened it was an expensive trip, with a set of
tires selling for around $200.00.
Mountain Springs Grade at
that time was a nightmare. Rock
slides were common, and the stages carried dynamite to remove large
boulders that blocked the road.
The first stages were
touring cars, and folding seats were added to accommodate seven
passengers. At first luggage
was tied on the running boards and on the hood.
Later a luggage rack was installed on the back.
In 1915 Grise’s
“Limited Imperial Valley Stages” acquired a new name, the “Pickwick
Stages.” With Grise still
acting as manager, a three-way partnership was formed which later was
dissolved in 1917.
Pickwick continued to
operate until the 1930’s when the Greyhound Company bought the Pickwick
-Reprinted from the San Diego Historical Society-
Click on the above picture to see them larger.