Louis L. Janes was the driving force behind creating a railroad at Mount Tamalpais. Mr. Janes was the director of the Tamalpais Land & Water Company. Sidney B. Cushing, president of the San Rafael Gas & Electric Company, was named the railroad president. Albert E. Kent gave the railroad the right-of-way through his property in Corte Madera Canyon for $10,000 in stock in the corporation.
The Mill Valley and Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway introduced gravity cars in 1907. The gravity cars traveled from the east peak of Mount Tamalpais down to either Muir Woods or Mill Valley. When the gravity car route to Muir Woods became active, the name of the train line was changed to the Mount Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway. Each gravity car had an operator, known as a gravity man, who sat in the front right seat of the car and controlled the car's braking system to ensure that the vehicle did not exceed a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour. The gravity cars glided down Mount Tamalpais and were towed back up to either the east peak summit or Mesa Station by a steam locomotive, where the gravity cars were made ready for their next run down the mountain.
The rail configuration did not provide the steam trains with the ability to accomplish a 360° turn on the route. Instead, the locomotive engines pushed the passenger cars up the mountain and pulled the passenger cars down the mountainside. This method of travel provided better viewing opportunities for the passengers as they ascended the mountain. It also ensured that smoke and particles from the locomotive smokestack did not disturb the passengers during their ascent to the summit. And most important, the configuration of pushing passenger coaches up the mountainside prevented coach breakaways. In 1915 the railroad carried an average of 700 passengers per day during the summer.
There were no passenger lives lost during the railroad's operation. However, two men employed by the railroad died while at work. One was scalded to death when a locomotive of which he was the operator overturned on a descent of the mountain. Another man was killed during a collision of two trains in the Mill Valley train depot.
In 1913 a fire raged on Mount Tamalpais for five days. Soldiers from the Presidio of San Francisco were called out on the first day of the fire. Before the fire was contained, more than 7000 firefighters were engaged in the fight.
The "Tavern of Tamalpais" was a restaurant and hotel built by the railroad at the railway terminal at the top of Mount Tamalpais. The building burned down in 1923. It was quickly rebuilt, in a less elegant style and smaller. It was also configured to service both train and automotive visitors. As automobiles became more popular and affordable, the number of railroad passengers who traveled to the top of Mount Tamalpais decreased. In contrast, the number of cars driven to the east peak of Mount Tamalpais increased.
A significant fire began on Mount Tamalpais on 2 July 1929. That fire proved to be the deciding factor for the permanent closure of the railroad in 1930. However, the primary reason for shutting down the railroad was not the fire; instead, it was the proliferation of the automobile. The railroad transportation era gave way to the new age of gasoline-powered cars. The train tracks were pulled up and sold. Most of the locomotive engines were sold to tree logging companies located in northern California and the states of Oregon and Washington. Two locomotives were sent to the Republic of the Phillippines.
THEN This is a picture-postcard view of Horseshoe Curve, located in Blithedale Canyon near Mill Valley. The train line ceased operation in 1930, and the tracks were then removed. Government authorities required that the twenty-two train trestles on the train line be taken down for safety reasons. Water pipes were installed on the ground to allow continued water flow down the creek beds, and fill dirt covered the creek openings. A fire road, bicycle route, and pedestrian walkway became the primary use of the former railroad right of way. This trestle was positioned over the Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio Creek.
NOW This is a recent view of the Horseshoe Curve. The photo was taken on 28 July 2013.
Mesa Station was located on the lowermost portion of the Double Bow Knot. The Double Bow Knot was where the train tracks wound back and forth, paralleling themselves five times to climb 168 feet in an area 600 feet wide. This photo of the Double Bow Knot was taken on 27 June 2004.
THEN This is the West Point Inn as seen in 1904, the year of its construction. It was built to provide railroad visitors with an overnight stopover and restaurant. This is the westernmost location of the train line.
NOW This is West Point Inn today. The inn is still operational; there are five detached cabins, a communal kitchen, and seven guest rooms on the second floor of this building. There is no electricity, and you need to bring your own food and supplies.
THEN This is a photo of the replacement Tavern of Tamalpais. It was constructed in 1924 after the original tavern, and the dance hall were destroyed by a brush fire in 1923. The dance hall was not rebuilt. The fire lookout station at the summit of the east peak can be seen. This photo is circa 1924.
The Heisler Locomotive Works, located in Erie, Pennsylvania, finished the construction of locomotive car No. 9 in March 1921. The 72,000-pound locomotive was purchased by and shipped to the Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway in 1921.
As automobiles became less expensive and more popular, a vehicular road was constructed from Mill Valley to the east peak of Mount Tamalpais. Cars and roads quickly became the bane of railroads. The number of people using the Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway decreased, and traffic by gasoline-powered motor vehicles to the mountaintop increased.
The railroad's revenue was diminishing, and the railroad began to experience cash-flow problems. In 1924, the railroad found it necessary to sell locomotive car No. 9 to the Siskiyou Lumber Company in Macdoel, California. Siskiyou Lumber Company paid $9,750 for locomotive car No. 9. Between 1924 and 1950, Siskiyou Lumber Company used car No. 9 for its own needs, and in addition, Siskiyou Lumber also leased locomotive car No. 9 to various lumber companies located in northern California. In 1950 Siskiyou Lumber Company sold locomotive car No. 9 to the Pacific Lumber Company, located in Scotia, Calif. When Pacific Lumber ended its steam train operations in 1953, it put locomotive car No. 9 on display outside its headquarters building, where it remained for approximately 68 years.
In January 2007, Pacific Lumber Company filed for bankruptcy protection. On 29 July 2008, a judge's order led to the transfer of Pacific Lumber Company's assets, some of which, including locomotive car No. 9, went to the town of Scotia. In early 2018 the Scotia Community Services District put locomotive car No. 9 up for sale in a sealed-bid auction.
This is not to say that the Friends of Mount Tam, the Marin History Museum, and the Mill Valley Historical Society had not tried many times over the past 60+ years to purchase locomotive car No. 9. The Pacific Lumber Company always said no to its sale.
The auction took place in February 2018. The Friends of Mount Tam, the Marin History Museum, and the Mill Valley Historical Society gathered their combined resources and bid $56,240 for locomotive car No. 9. Their offer was the winning bid. Locomotive car No. 9 has been removed from Scotia and is now at an undisclosed indoor location. I expect that by 2024, locomotive car No. 9 will be on public display in Mill Valley.
Here is a post about the Mount Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway that I published on the Internet in July 2013.