The Get Out And Push Railroad

Feb 8, 2023 0 comments

For a very short five years, Wilmington, Los Angeles, was connected to the Willmore area of Long Beach by a street railway, initially pulled by a horse and later by a steam engine. Officially, it was called the Wilmington & Long Beach Rapid Transit Railroad, but it was more popularly known as “The Get Out and Push Railroad” (G.O.P.R.R.) because the railway’s underpowered locomotive frequently required assistance from its passengers for overcoming steeper sections of the route.

The Wilmington & Long Beach Rapid Transit Railroad after it was fitted with a steam engine. Photo: University of Southern California Libraries / California Historical Society.

The line was built by Judge Robert M. Widney to transport potential buyers to a new tract of land which he and his partner W. E. Willmore were developing in Los Angeles County. Widney and Willmore had acquired the land, consisting of over 10,000 acres, in 1882, with the goal of transforming it into a new town. The development was called “The American Colony Tract”, but later it was decided to call the town Willmore City. This town was to have 80-foot-wide streets running east and west, and 100-foot-wide streets running north and south. Aside from residential lots, lots were to be set aside for parks, churches and schools.

Initially, immigrants who arrived to Wilmington from Los Angeles by the daily train were conveyed to the site of Willmore City in a horse and buggy. But soon it became evident that improved transportation was necessary, and Judge Widney thought it would be straightforward and cost-effective to construct a horse-drawn streetcar line across the salt flats connecting Willmore City to the Southern Pacific tracks near Wilmington.

A proposal was made to the County of Los Angeles for the right of way, and this being granted, Widney immediately established a company to build the railroad. Widney wanted to make the railroad his personal business. He therefore purchased all the company’s stock, worth $3,000, except for four shares with a combined value of just over $160.

Robert Maclay Widney.

The route of the proposed railway ran from Willmore Station, on the Southern Pacific line near Wilmington, for three and a quarter miles in a more or less straight line to Willmore City. Widney made all of the plans for constructing the railroad himself, and the actual work of building the line was done by three carpenters and their assistants. Construction began on September 1882. Three by four inch redwood ties were laid six feet apart and notched at both ends to hold the rails of three inch pine scantlings which were laid in the notches and spiked to the ties. Widney designed the little open cars, and had them built in Willmore City by one of the town's pioneer carpenters. The iron wheels were cast by a foundry in Los Angeles.

Widney had set a date for an auction of the lots at the end of October. With the help of a few extra workers, the line was completed just in time. On the day of the auction, Widney organized a special six-car train from Los Angeles to Willmore Junction to bring in potential buyers. Despite this train “filled to overflowing with enthusiastic passengers,” many people couldn’t get a seat and were obliged to wait for the regular train.

When Widney saw the crowd get off at the Willmore Junction, he realized that his horse-pulled railway would be inadequate. Even his carpenter, who had helped build the road, was afraid the wooden rails would break under the weight of the crowded car. So Widney hired several farm and lumber wagons to haul some of the passengers to the site of the auction.

The first batch of passengers started out for Willmore City, but before the town was reached the wooden rails broke, and the male passengers were forced to get out and push. Thereafter, the American Colony Railroad was popularly called the “Get Out and Push Railroad.”

Widney managed to sell only 36 lots that day. That November, nine houses were completed, but only six families arrived to live in the town. During the dreary winter of 1882, the residents of the town felt as if they were living on an island, and communication with the outside world was rather tenuously maintained by Widney's little railroad. During that winter, a few improvements were made to the railway. The route was made straighter, the number of
ties was doubled, the pine rails were overlaid with stripiron, and two new passenger cars were added.

The following winter was unusually wet, and floods washed out the railway line twice. With Widney making poor progress with the sale of the lots, the project was abandoned, and the land was sold back to the original owners, the Bixbys. However, Widney retained possession of the railroad.

The new owners changed the name of Willmore City to Long Beach and began an extensive advertising campaign to establish Long Beach as a summer resort. The company also constructed a new hotel, a five-story building which rose above the bluff just south of the present Lincoln Park, and Widney extended his horsecar line to the door of the new hotel. During the summer, the horsecar made two daily round trips from the hotel to Long Beach Junction on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Eager to increase the capacity of the railway, Widney decided to upgrade the line to a steam locomotive.

Construction of the new railroad began on September 1885, and by October enough tracks were laid to facilitate a trial run. But when the small steam engine was put to test, it was found that the 100 pound of steam pressure the locomotive generated was not enough to move the cars without a little help with a pinch bar. Even after the line was completed the next year, the issue with the underpowered locomotive persisted and so did the nickname, “Get Out and Push Railroad.”

In the History of Long Beach and Vicinity, Walter H. Case wrote:

The little engine was a very primitive affair. It was so constructed that it had to be started with a metal bar, and was covered with a wooden jacket which used to catch fire when the boiler was hot enough to make a good steam. Then, since the water in the boiler had to be used to extinguish the fire, the steam would go down and the engine refuse to run ... It ran fairly well on level ground, but on a rise it was apt to stop entirely till the male passengers got out and applied the iron bar with considerable force.

Soon after the railroad was completed, the Los Angeles Times published a humorous song which was to be sung to the tune of Paddy Duffey's Cart:

Oh, sing a song of railroad, / Likewise the iron hoss,
Of all that run beneath the sun, / The Long Beach is the boss;
With a thirteen-cat-power engine, / That starts with a big pinch-bar,
Oh, everyone gets out and pushes / On the G. O. P. R. R.

Two streaks of rust, a ballast of dust, / Amid a two-foot right of way,
We blister space at an awful pace, / Two miles and a half a day;
With rails of cold rolled hairpins, / And a shoebox for a car,
Oh, everybody get out and push, / On the G. O. P. R. R.

Despite the poor performance of the little steam engine, the railroad served its purpose as it was faster than the old horsecars. The residents of Long Beach also found the little open cars, “with seats all around and a place in the center for baggage, a very convenient mode of transportation.”

In 1887 the line was taken over by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The light rails were taken out and replaced with standard rails. Before the end of the year, the Long Beach Railroad was completely absorbed by Southern Pacific and trains were running directly from Los Angeles to Long Beach. Passengers no longer had to get out and push.

# Franklyn Hoyt, “The Get Out and Push Railroad”, The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly


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