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Then and Now

July 09, 1989|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer and

In an age of fast cars and freeway commutes, the very thought that residents of the San Gabriel Valley once traveled to and from work on a mule gravity railway seems quite incredible.

In the late 1800s, a 7-mile stretch linking Ontario to present-day Upland became a favorite mode of transportation in the San Gabriel Valley region.

The Ontario and San Antonio Heights Railway Co., completed in 1888 and one of the most novel streetcars in the history of transportation, used mules to haul passenger cars up the incline from Ontario to San Antonio Heights, but on the return trip the mules themselves were treated to a free ride down.

The system was founded by George and William B. Chaffey, who arrived in California from Canada in 1882. The brothers designed a model community of citrus groves, fine homes, churches and schools, and named the community after their native province of Ontario.

The mule gravity line traveled along the Euclid Avenue Parkway from the Southern Pacific tracks toward the mountains, climbing 1,000 feet. The old 1,000-foot marker remains in place.

The original route was from Emporia Street and Euclid Avenue to La Cima (24th Street) where the right-of-way turned west and continued to San Antonio Heights.

Two mules pulled the cars up the gradual incline taking an average of about one hour on the uphill run. At La Cima, the streetcar would turn around. The motorman would set the brakes, slip out a small platform on the back of the coach, unhitch the mules and led them onto the rig. The mule-driven train now became a gravity train going much faster downhill, with stops controlled by the motorman's hand brake.

The streetcar made several stops, but each time it would start again on its own power. The downhill run usually took only 20 minutes.

Acquired by the Ontario Electric Co., the line was electrified in 1895 and became part of the Pacific Light and Power Co., finally merging into the Pacific Electric system. Passenger service to 24th Street was discontinued in 1924.

The team of faithful mules were reportedly sold to a local rancher, who put them to good use plowing the sloping orchards. But, according to local lore, the mules which had always been been free rides downhill, would not budge an inch until released from the plow.

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