Steam Train, Niles Canyon
Shown above is one of the steam engines of the Niles Canyon Railway. In the 1910s, Niles Canyon was the center of American film-making long before anyone had heard of Hollywood. Niles Canyon was the location for films by Wallace Berry, Chester Conklin, Bronco Billy, and Ben Turpin. Charlie Chaplin made many movies here including his masterpiece, The Tramp. Over 300 westerns were shot here.

After statehood in 1850, Californians were eager to link San Francisco with the rest of the country via rail. The federal government became enthused with the idea in 1861 when the silver riches of the Comstock Lode were needed to help finance the Civil War. So in 1862, the Central Pacific Railway began building eastward from California while the Union Pacific began building westward from Omaha. The government agreed to pay $16,000 to $48,000 for every mile of track laid and soon the two railroad companies were in fierce competition.

At first, things went slowly for the Central Pacific. Working against the western slopes of the Sierras, they only laid 50 miles in two years. One problem was the mostly Irish immigrant workers, only one in ten of them lasted more than a week in the harsh conditions. As an experiment, the railroad hired 50 Chinese workers. They proved to be such hard workers that immediately thousands more were imported directly from China to work on the railroad. Unlike the white workers, the Chinese provided their own food of rice, vegetables, and tea. This proved a much healthier diet and avoided the scurvy that had plagued the other workers.

By 1869 12,000 Chinese were working on the railroad and their hard work meant the Central Pacific gained 500 miles (and millions of dollars) more than originally planned. By the time they met the Union Pacific on the Great Salt Lake Basin, the Chinese workers had bored 18 tunnels of at least 1,000 feet long. Right at the end, the Chinese laborers laid more than ten miles of track in less than 12 hours, a record never broken. Despite their efforts, the Chinese were not allowed to attend the Golden Spike ceremony at Promontory Point.

[ MAP N-17 ]


Blogger rudyfan1926 said...

The Great Train Robbery 1903 was shot in New Jersey. NJ was the "Hollywood" prior to the general move west in 1914-1916. GTR 1903 was an Edison film.

GW "Broncho Billy" Anderson was a founder of Essanay and Essanay had their studio in Niles and much of the Broncho Billy series was shot in Niles as you correctly relate.

8:10 AM  
Blogger FogBay said...

Thanks, corrected.
My information came from 'Secret San Francisco' published by ECW Press, which incorrectly states the film "was shot in nearby Niles Canyon."

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for all the time and effort that went into this site. I've loved the photos and learned so much, and will be sure and visit the new site.

4:19 PM  
Blogger dutchbaby said...

Imagine how demoralizing it must have been to not even be allowed to attend the ceremony!

7:54 AM  

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