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Street Railway Review

The Pasadena & Mt. Wilson Railway;-Cable, Trolley and Storage Join Forces and Mount a 6o-per cent.
grade-Without exception the Steepest Railway in the World-A Tiny Mountain Brook
furnishes all the Power-The road owned by one Man.

T HE millennium of traction motive power would seem to be approaching, for on a lofty mountain in the far west a road is now nearing completion in which the rival claims of cable and trolley join hands, and even the storage battery becomes an indispensible link in the strange chain of combined forces. With a further disregard for the established order of things, the steam engine, boilers and belts are

wholly ignored, and, as if in keeping with the surrounding stupendous exhibition of nature in rugged mountain and ever widening, valley. the inventive genius of man has come close to nature's heart, and a little mountain stream, which one may cross at a single step, is coaxed from it's tiny channel between the rocks and made to furnish power which shall transport enraptured sightseers to the very mountaintop itself.
     The combination mentioned stands out conspicuous as the only one of its kind on the continent, and displays so ingenious, interesting and curious features that a few words descriptive of the place and the needs which have been mother to the invention, become quite necessary to a complete understanding of the work.
     Seven miles to the east of Los Angeles, the metropolis of southern California, is the beautiful little city of Pasadena, and, two miles further on, the valley is lifted in the air on the rapidly rising foot hills of the Sierra Madre mountains. Of this historic range one peak towers above the rest like a mighty sentinel. It is Mt. Wilson, whose bold, majestic apex rises 6,000 feet above the blue waters of the Pacific, only a few miles distant. This eminence has long been one of the most favored resorts, but the means of reaching it were so arduous that, of those whose health a brief sojourn at the peak would most benefit, few have felt able to endure the danger and hardships of the journey. Not withstanding the difficulties 4,000 visitors annually have traveled the two narrow trails which lead to the resort hotel, a veritable mecca, at the top.
     The only transportation was by burros, or "Rocky Mountain canaries," as they are affectionately called a little further east. These diminutive creatures, with ears wide spreading as the sails of a windmill, and with a monotony of drab colored coats, which make them as much alike as peas in a pod, furnish sure though slow conveyance, for they seldom move faster than a walk. But they are reliable and, with utter disregard of consequences, will gather their four hoofs on a single square foot of rock, and, with a traveler on their backs, turn half around and climb in an angular direction; while the breathless rider has sought to make himself as small and light as possible as he peers over some precipice whose walls stretch down some two thousand feet or more of sheer descent. However, the burro has had his day, save for an occasional adventurer who may make the ascent by trail, but who will be very certain to come down by rail; for the first section of the new road is already finished and in three months more the track will touch the summit. The foregoing will sufficiently suggest the difficulties which have so reluctantly yielded to the irresistible march of man.

     The generating and transmission of power on this line present several


     The road starts with a trolley system at Altadena, a quiet little village at the foot of the mountains, and there connects with the Los Angeles Terminal Railroad. Nothing unusual in construction appears here. For the first two miles a gradual grade of 7 per cent is encountered, bringing the visitor to the Rubio Canyon, a rugged mountain gorge. Here the road is confronted by a bold, cone shaped mountain, like a huge inverted sugar bowl. Here also the character of the road


System, but without change of cars here or at any other point on the line. Thus far the route has been a single track, T rail construction with the ordinary overhead, wiring. The cable section, however, is double tracked, and continues so to the summit of the cone, called "Echo Mountain." The average


and the car speed on this portion of the road is only four miles an hour, which, however, is quite enough for many people, to whom the six minutes consumed in making the ascent seems as many hours. The length of this section is 2,600 feet, with a vertical rise of 1,600 feet, making it the steepest railway in the world; the Mt. Pilatus rack road in Switzerland being next in order, with a grade of 48 per cent. The car is raised by an endless cable, which passes around. a horizontal terminal sheave at the bottom, which is carried on a weighted frame, and serves also the additional purpose of tension carriage. Two steel cables are employed-a traction rope 1¼ inches and a safety rope 1½ inches in diameter. The grip for traction cable is placed beneath the front platform and the safety grip under the middle of the car. The moment the traction rope is released the safety grip instantly closes on the other rope making descent impossible, as a glance at the illustration will clearly indicate.

At the top the traction rope is wound three times around a driving drum. This drum is geared to an electric motor, and here the cable, overhead wire and storage systems are united in a remarkable unity. At this station are 300 storage cells, and they play an important part. The car motor and the motor which drives the cable are shunt wound; both may be converted into generators at will, and when the car descends the incline or a grade, serve the double purpose of a brake and economy of otherwise wasted power. This energy, which is usually lost, is here carefully husbanded. The moment the car motor ceases to require energy, the conditions are reversed, and gravity is made to give back a part of the price paid in ascending. Having brought our electric cable car safely to the summit, let the reader now go back a little and seek the advantage and necessity of the storage batteries. As already mentioned, falling water is the initial power. On the line of the road is a mountain stream which never freezes and which has an undiminished flow throughout the year. It gathers its sparkling waters from melting snows and living springs on the topmost heights, and has a descent, gradual in places and precipitous in others. It follows, however, a nearly straight line from summit to base of the mountain, where it is cut up and distributed through the many irrigating systems which mark the valley every where with their miles upon miles of narrow ditches. Vested rights of the people below made it impossible to divert the stream or store it in a reservoir, hence it was decided to flume it from a place far up on the mountain through steel pipes.
     Although the volume of water is quite small, the vertical descent of 1,400 feet affords a pressure of 600 pounds to the square inch as it emerges through a half-inch orifice, impinging itself in all undershot stream against the buckets of a tangential wheel. So great is the force of the escaping water, one cannot cut it with the stroke of an ax, which instead of cutting through the stream is thrown violently from the hand. At present but one of these wheels is in operation, but two more will be added, making in all three such stations on the line, at altitudes of 1,400 feet apart. The shaft of each wheel is coupled direct to a generator, and the water from the first wheel is piped to the second and discharging there to the third, where it escapes into the natural bed of the stream. As the wheels and generators are expected to operate continuously during the 24 hours, the supply of water for irrigation is unaffected. Should, however, the wheels be stopped, the water would again follow its own natural channel through the rocks, cut centuries ago. While these water wheels and generators are placed at altitudes about 1,400 feet apart, the distance between any two is several miles, and no one wheel and generator exerts force enough in itself to meet the requirements for operating its own section of road. Hence storage batteries are employed as reserve reservoirs of power, not only at the station from which the cable is driven, but at intervals along the whole line. As the necessities of travel are met with only two continuous working hours per day, it will be seen there are 22 hours in which to store the batteries, during which time no other demand is made on the generators. Should any ordinary accident disable even all three generators, it is expected the batteries would still be sufficient to operate the system the necessary two hours, or one working day. In case the batteries became wholly exhausted, the full 24 hours would be required to again fully recharge them.
     Turning our attention again to the cable division of the road, we find some very interesting calculations in transmission and retransmission of electrical power which has been worked out by A. W. Decker, the electrical engineer, who has had immediate charge of this branch of the construction. According to his calculations, 15 horse power is required to operate the cable and raise one empty car when counterbalanced by the gravity power of the other empty car in its descent. Hence under the present arrangement of driving machinery, one car must always take the descending cable in order to raise the ascending car. Should, however, the ascending car carry its full load of 24 passengers, an additional 30 horse power is necessary, requiring a total output of 45 horse power to raise a loaded car against one empty. If, however, the ascending car be empty and the descending car loaded, the conditions would reverse, and instead of drawing from the batteries the loaded car would not only establish the equilibrium but would in addition move the cable and return 15 horse power to the batteries. This principal of return power will prevail over the whole line, so that, Mr. Decker estimates the power given back by the cars moving down grade will equal fully 40 per cent. of the total amount required to operate the system.
     As to the construction of the road itself it is surprisingly free from deep cuts and trestles. In an air line from the mountain top terminus to the base of the range the distance is about 4¼ miles. The road, however, after leaving the top of the incline at Echo Mountain follows a serpentine route by easy though almost continuous grades to the summit, traversing a distance of 10 miles. The grades average only 7.5 percent and the curves are in


no case less than 80 feet radius. The line is single track with occasional turnouts, with the exception of the 2,600 feet of double track cable at the incline.


while making the ascent has been pronounced as unsurpassed by travelers who have been in all parts of the world. Many distinguished men have journeyed to the summit. Only recently President Elliot, of Harvard, made the trip


and selected a site for the great astronomical photographic lens, of which so much is expected. He pronounced the view as unequalled by any he had ever seen. The great valley for 60 miles stretches out before the vision like a vast garden, the orange groves and vineyards dotted here and there by villages, from which steeples rise as if to catch the eye while as a border on the west, sky and ocean meet in a rim of rich blue, tinged silvery in the centre by the sun, and bending like a crescent to frame half the picture. To the south the rocky ribs of the San Jacinto range are lost in the blue haze of the horizon.
     On Echo Mountain below the line of winter snow, the air is soft and pleasantly, uniformly cool, freed from the languorous warmth of the valley. It comes floating in gentle waves with the odor of orange blossoms and the sweet perfume of rose gardens, of eucalyptus and almond, and a thousand different flowers. Turning and looking toward the summit is presented the wildest mountain scenery, in strange and striking contrast to the peaceful picture of the valley below. The path of the road here and there in serpentine form presents a continuous panorama of succeeding wild and thrilling scenes, shutting from the sight of the passengers an harmonious view of green orange orchards and rose gardens. The route plunges across a saddle dividing two canyons flanked on one side by a solid wall of granite extending fifteen hundred feet below, and as many above, and upon the other by a thickly wooden slope almost as precipitous.
     There is no perpetual snow in the higher altitudes of these mountains, though it lies on them during the four winter months, at times to a depth of six feet. In these


altitudes the air is cold, light, dry and stimulating, and its invigorating influence is at once felt. It is somewhat rarefied and of phenomenal clearness. It is remarkable that the alternating red, white and blue flash-lights of the lighthouse on the island of South Catalina in the Pacific Ocean, 60 miles distant, can he seen with perfect distinctness. This point, the terminus on Wilson's Peak, will be reached in one hour after leaving Altadena.
     In the scheme of the railroad is included the erection of two elaborate hotels. The first is now under way on the top of Echo Mountain, and will be an all-the-year around house. This altitude is above the fog and below


the snow line, and will be especially patronized by persons suffering from pulmonary and bronchial afflictions. The second hotel will be built on Mt. Wilson, and will probably not be in operation during the winter months, though this will be determined later on. Besides the Harvard station on this mountain, there will also be the astronomical observatory of the University of Southern California that will erect a lens surpassing in size that of the Lick telescope.
     The total cost of the completed road and the hotels is placed at $600,000. The construction of the first section and the first hotel is being paid for by the proprietor himself, without having placed a security upon the market. The remaining portion of the road will be built with money raised from the sale of bonds. It is estimated that the annual revenues of this road will be that of about 60,000 fares, though 20,000 will pay expenses and allow a good interest on the investment. This calculation is not prodigal when it is considered that the road will certainly constitute one of the special features patronized by tourists to Southern California, and that this tourist travel now amounts to 100,000 yearly. The income derived from this source is separate from that to be yielded


by the adjacent resident population, which amounts to 200,000 of the most active, and many of them the most cultured citizens in the land.


     This article would be incomplete without a mention of the man who is the soul of the enterprise. Professor T. S. C. Lowe, who has not only planned the technicalities of the road and fathered the project, but has wholly assumed the undertaking financially.
     Professor Lowe is now past his sixtieth year, and culminates a life-time of successful exploits with this mountain railway. He has successively been an inventor of mechanical devices and chemical compounds.
     Professor Lowe came into public distinction first as the originator of balloon service for military observation aiding General McClellan during the civil war, which fact may partly account for his ambition to run a railway as nearly straight into the air as possible. He came to California a few years ago, leaving paying business relations in the East. Since his coming to Pasadena his ever-active mind has brought about the building of his own beautiful residence, the establishment of public gas works and an artificial ice factory, besides owing several buildings and holding positions of financial trust.

T. S. C. LOWE.

     Professor Lowe is, without doubt, one of the foremost factors in the progress of southern California, and, if a mans age is to be counted by activity, we must set down his years at thirty instead of sixty-odd.
     A life of intense energy, breadth of intellect, generosity of sentiment and unwavering trust in his science has brought Professor Lowe wealth, fame and position, socially and intellectually.

Street Railway Review 1892, pgs. 682-687

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