A Trip to Mount Lowe in 1898
By William B. Garner
Pacific Railroad Society, Inc.
Previous to her marriage to my father, my mother, Anna Speed, wrote a letter on August 1, 1898, to her cousin, Will Berman, in Grimsby, England. Among other news, including some about the war with Spain, she wrote of a trip to Mount Lowe. Her English cousin worked for the London & Northeastern Railway (LNER) for years, and his son retired from British Railways a few years ago. During my early years of working for the Santa Fe, I exchanged with Will Berman copies of the Santa Fe Magazine for copies of his LNER magazine, thus learning much about their railways and the terms they used. The excerpt from the letter about my mother’s trip to Mount Lowe is as follows:
“I went to a church conference in Los Angeles and stayed with a friend. The day after the conference ended, fifty of the delegates took a trip up Mount Lowe. It is the highest point in the ‘Sierra Madre’ range and is named after the man who has made the place so famous. It is 6,100 feet above the level of the ocean. The view when ascending and descending is just grand.
“We left L.A.; the railroad ran along by well-kept orchards until we got to the foothills where we changed to the electric cars which took us through the canyon, the road in some places being cut through solid rock, this road leading to a place called Rubio Canyon where we changed cars again to the ‘Great Incline Road.’
“This extends from Rubio Canyon, 2,220 feet above the sea, to Echo Mountain, 1,300 feet higher. It is 3,000 feet long. From here we had the grandest view, as nothing obstructed our view from the verdant valley which lay far below us. On reaching Echo Mtn. we had to change again to the electric car which bore us to our destination. We all took our lunch and had a picnic. We stayed there ‘till about three in the afternoon, when we boarded the car and were soon winding our way among the tall pine trees, now and then catching a glimpse of the valley far beneath us. We at last reached Echo, where we had about 20 minutes before going down the ‘Incline.’
“I must tell you why this is called Echo Mtn. It derives its name from the marvelous echo thrown back from the sides of the main range across the great chasm that lies between. While we were there, a very small cannon was fired, and the reverberations were something wonderful; they resembled a peal of thunder gradually dying away in the distance. Another attraction there is the great searchlight which was exhibited at the World’s Fair and afterwards at the Midwinter Fair in San Francisco.
“From this point we again took the ‘Cable Incline.’ This is a remarkable piece of railroad engineering. The cars are permanently attached to an endless cable and they pass each other halfway. Two cars run on the road, one at each end of the road, each starting at the same time. It was a queer-looking sight when we were going and coming – it happened that there was no one on the one that passed us – to see the car going along with not a soul on it. They are so arranged that passengers are always on a level.
“After descending this wonderful piece of road, we were soon on our way to the city. I don’t suppose you can imagine what a grand pleasure this would be from the description I have given you.”
Note: I went to school one year in Pasadena in 1922-23. One day I rode the Pacific Electric out to Rubio Canyon and saw the “Incline,” but for some reason this dummy did not take the ride up the mountain. Now that it is too late, I have certainly regretted it.
I do not know how this letter came to be among an aunt of mine’s things or how it was returned to this country. My grandfather and grandmother did go back to England for a visit, and it may have been that this cousin gave it to them to bring back. The stationery on which the letter was written is also interesting. It had an American flag with 30 stars on it and a small picture of a battleship superimposed on the lower part; the ship was probably the U.S.S. Maine.