THE 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 used.

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:


IMPERIAL VALLEY AUTO STAGE DAILY TIME TABLE

                        Leave San Diego                 8:00 A.M

                        Arrive Jamul              9:00 A.M

                                 Dulzura               9:30 A.M.

                                 Potrero                10:30 A.M.

                                 Campo             11:00 A.M

                                 Warren’s Ranch        12:30 P. M.

                                 Boulevard           1:00 P. M.

                                 Jacumba            1:14 P. M.

                                 Mountain Spring       1:45 P.M.

                                 Dixieland                  3:15 P.M.

                                 Seeley                  3:35 P.M.

                                 El Centro                   4:00 P. M.

Stage 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 would hold.

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 holdings.”

-Reprinted from the San Diego Historical Society-

Click on the above picture to see them larger.

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