The big day is finally here. It’s June 30, 1888, and you’ve been invited to board Fairview No. 1 for its maiden voyage from Santa Ana to the new town of Fairview.
You’ve been waiting for this day ever since you heard about the plans for the Santa Ana, Fairview and Pacific last year. For a while, not much seemed to happen. Then the grading started in March, and somehow, in three months, they managed to lay 20,000 ties and 30 carloads of rails across the valley.
You and your spouse arrive early at the corner of First and West [Broadway] to admire the craftsmanship of the rolling stock. The steam locomotive is a charming little beaut’, a 0-4-2 tank engine sitting jauntily on the narrow-gauge tracks. Behind it sits large open passenger coaches, bright and full of windows.
“They sure can build trains in San Francisco,” you say.
“And how,” says your spouse. “Very handsome.”
“Of course, they’ll want to upgrade to broad gauge when the line is pushed to Newport in a couple months. But for the ride to Fairview, this is perfect.”
The crowd soon swells to 75 passengers, all dressed in fine clothes and bubbling with laughter and excitement. When you board, you wisely choose a seat on the left side of the car – you don’t want to miss Fairview as it comes into view.
The mood is so jolly and the car so full you can barely hear yourself think. But when the train pulls out of the city and into the fragrant fields and pastureland, you sink back into your seat and relish the view. You’ve written letters about days like this to your relatives back East, partly as a lure and partly, you must admit, as a boast: sunny, mid-70s, a delicious kiss of ocean air…
The train glides along the tracks, past fields of alfalfa and barley and hops, until about two miles south of Santa Ana the train curves abruptly west.
“What’s he growing now?” you say as you pass the Edinger ranch. “Pumpkins? Potatoes? Beets? Some sort of vegetable.”
Along the way, while the train steams southwest along the gently sloping contour of the land, locals gather by the tracks to cheer you on. Curious cows look up from pastures lush with wholesome grain. Even the fallow land, bursting with golds and greens, seems cultivated by the hand of Nature. Off in the East you see, maybe, Gospel Swamp, “The Egypt of Los Angeles County,” famous for its corn.
When the track curves by Fruitland you lean across the car, for the train has begun to follow the sandy banks of the Santa Ana River. It’s so close you want to reach out and touch the cool, calm waters. You begin to daydream, as an infinite expanse of grass and pastureland stretches beyond.
Suddenly your spouse grabs your sleeve. A small town rises up before you, daubed with patches of cypress and eucalyptus, and presided over by the magnificent 3-story Hotel Fairview. Here is the sightly location you came for. The train slows to a stop at the south end of town, past the board and batten buildings along Fairview Avenue, lined with freshly-planted pepper trees. In all, the 8-mile trip took 30 minutes.
“‘Quick times and a pleasant ride’ ought to be the line’s motto,” your spouse says to a smiling stranger.
A great festival soon follows, filled with music and a picnic and the always thrilling anvil firing, where anvils are stuffed with gunpowder and shot into the sky. You visit the famous hot springs, pick up a copy of the Fairview Register, and stop by the Henderson brothers’ general store. Later you admire the construction of the Fairview Methodist Episcopal church, which will be finished in just a couple weeks, and marvel at the natural gas flowing from an artesian well. “By touching a lighted match to the top of the pipe,” you’re told, “it will burn constantly.”
Sooner than you’d like, tired but satisfied, you board the train back to the city. You and your spouse plan more visits to the hotel and the hot springs. Plus, you’ve heard hints about upcoming excursions to Shell Beach, just 20 minutes by carriage from the Fairview station. “And only 75 cents round trip,” your spouse reminds you.
“And don’t forget: one day we’ll be able to ride the Santa Fe or the Southern Pacific all the way to Rocky Point.”
The train curves east through Fruitland, and you start to daydream again. The river is on your left, rolling fields beyond, and the future opens in front of you.
Thanks to Chris Jepsen at OC Archives for his help with additional research on this story.