Lincoln Highway Association
California Chapter

Minutes for the January 8, 2000 Meeting

Lincoln Highway Garage
Livermore, California

The Livermore Heritage Guild hosted the meeting, and members of both the guild and the association attended. After munching on sandwiches, the meeting started at 12:35 PM.

Tim Sage, chairman of the guild, started the meeting. He introduced the guild and described how the Lincoln Highway Garage was owned by the city and has been maintained by the guild since the late 1970s. Then Mary Salazar, president of the California chapter, introduced the chapter. She mentioned that the guild had just joined the association.

First Speaker: Gary Drummond

Gary Drummond, vice-chairman of the guild, was our first main speaker. First, he briefly talked about the garage. It was built in two parts. The original part in the front was build in 1915 and was originally a repair shop.

Next, Gary talked about the Altamont Pass and Livermore. The Altamont Pass has been well traveled since 1849. Gold rush seekers from San Jose would go through Mission Pass (more recently called the Sunol Grade) and spend their first night in the Livermore Valley. There were only two passes from there to the Central Valley: Altamont Pass (then called Livermore Pass), and Corral Hollow.

The transcontinental railroad survey was conducted in 1853. Robert Livermore was paid $5 for use of his land for the railroad.

Livermore Valley became agricultural wheatland north of what would become the Lincoln Highway, and grazing land south of it.

By the time the Lincoln Highway was routed through Livermore in 1915, the community was growing more concerned about improving the road. The original road had a major traffic hazard: at one point it went down a hill, up a hill, and made a sudden left turn at the crest. This caused several serious accidents. In fact, the road was closed to all traffic in 1915 due to accidents. This prevented Central Valley residents from easily driving to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

The road was finally paved in August 1915. Two great beneficiaries of the highway were Livermore and Altamont.

Altamont was first a rail town. It never had more than 50 residents. Among other things, it had a hotel, the Summit Hotel, and a machine shop, which first serviced farm equipment, then cars. The machine shop is the only structure left.

Gary described an old newspaper article about one of the hot issues of the day: at that time, farm equipment had flanged metal wheels, and it was against the law to ride vehicles with such wheels on the road. So how could anyone drive the equipment across the highway to access the other fields or the repair shop? Gary couldn't find a solution in the newspaper.

The Altamont Pass proved to be a good place to hide during Prohibition. Another newspaper article from the 1920s described two guys coming across some suspicious looking people. After a little poking around, they found 5,000 gallons of whiskey and 14,000 pounds of mash to prepare the alcohol.

Gary said that in 1935, a new Altamont Pass alignment was built, bypassing the old village. The next speaker would disagree on this year.

The last thing Gary talked about was a description of the Lincoln Highway from Hancock's Automobile and Motorcycle Road Book. The instructions for following the road often said, "look for the 'L' sign."

Second Speaker: Wes Hammond

Wes Hammond, a member of the association, was our second main speaker. He concentrated on the Altamont Pass itself. Wes became interested in Altamont Pass in late 1940sóbecause of the railroads that passed through. Over the decades, he has noticed that the landscape of the Altamont Pass has hardly changed.

The Altamont Pass was, and still is, important, as it is the only decent route out of Livermore Valley. Before the big water projects controlled the Sacramento River delta,† the route to the north would be flooded in the winter.

The first travelers through the pass were migrating animals. Then the Native Americans used the pass. The route through the pass was an important trade route between bay and inland Indians. Wes showed us a few Native artifacts.

In 1797, the Spaniards built Mission San Jose de Guadalupe in what is now the Mission San Jose district of Fremont. Hudson Bay trappers came down from what is now Canada through the Central Valley and traded in Mission San Jose. They must have gone through the Altamont Pass, as it was the most obvious route.

As John C. Fremont explored the West from 1844 to 1846, he probably went through the pass as well.

In 1849, the Gold Rush started. Supplies from the Bay Area headed toward Gold Country passed through the pass, and the path probably started to become a road. There may have been a stage line, although Wes hasn't looked into it yet. Not all parties through the pass traveled east. Westward travelers included people from back East, looking to settle in the Bay Area, and disillusioned miners who had given up hope of striking it rich.

In 1859, Wes's great-grandfather, who had left England in 1840, left Utah and settled in Irvington, now part of Fremont. He went through the Altamont Pass.

In 1865, the Civil War ended, and there was more migration to California.

In May 1869, the transcontinental railroad was declared completed. However, there was still a gap between San Francisco and Sacramento, which was filled by a steamship route.

The Western Pacific Railroad, no relation to the later Western Pacific, helped finish the final leg by building a rail line from San Jose to Niles (now part of Fremont) through Niles Canyon and Altamont Pass to Sacramento.

In September 1869, the final spike at Mossdale was driven, and the transcontinental railroad was really finished. At that time, the railroad stop east of Livermore in the middle of a pass was named "Altamont." The Western Pacific was incorporated into the Central Pacific Railroad.

Telegraph companies leased space from the railroad right of way to erect telegraph lines. Naturally, they followed the railroad through the Altamont Pass.

In 1901, the Standard Electricity Company built a power station and a 60,000 V line through pass. The line was split in Mission San Jose to service Oakland and San Jose. As demand increased, it added a substation in Newark.

In 1909, the Western Pacific, unrelated to the previous Western Pacific mentioned above, added a rail line that went between Salt Lake City and Oakland through the Altamont Pass. The line also went through Niles Canyon, just like the old Western Pacific, now Central Pacific, line.

In 1915, the Lincoln Highway was completed through the Altamont Pass.

In 1916, Bobby Hammond drove across the U.S. via the pass in just six days. GM, Carnation, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce teamed up to drive a Carnation milk truck from Seattle to New York to Los Angeles back to Seattle. It probably went through the pass.

In 1918, Goodyear demonstrated the viability of long haul trucking by making four round trips with its trucks across the United States. They went over the pass.

Around 1918 or 1919, the first bus line went through the pass. The line went between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the buses were more like oversized cars.

In 1919, the Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy was launched, to test out vehicles, train soldiers, and to see how feasible it was to transport heavy vehicles across the country. The convoy followed the Lincoln Highway through the pass.

Also in 1919, a second power line was added through the pass. It carried 115,000 V from Auburn across the Lincoln Highway and near old Patterson Pass Road.

Between 1920 and 1925, more speed records driving across the country were set. One of the record-setting trips was by L. B. Miller and C. I. Hansen. They took four days to drive from New York to Oakland. They tried to take a shortcut and take a ferry aacross the Carquinez Strait between Benicia and Martinez, but they missed the last one. So they had to drive all the back up to Sacramento to follow the Lincoln Highway through the Altamont Pass.

In 1928, the federal government introduced the U.S. Highway numbering system. As with all of the named highway associations, the Lincoln Highway Association wanted one number for its highway. It didn't get one. [By this point, the Lincoln Highway was rerouted away from the Altamont Pass. Instead, it went southwest from Sacramento to Vallejo, across the Carquinez Bridge, and then to Oakland.]

From 1936 to 1938, Wes made several trips over pass the himself. At the time, he was about 10 years old. The pass was often packed with cars, and his mother would panic.

In 1938, the new Altamont Pass highway was built, bypassing the village of Altamont to the south. [This date contradicts the previous speaker.]

On a personal note: in 1942, two of Wes's high school friends along with another guy went through Irvington to Tracy. For some reason, they decided to take the old Altamont Pass Road back. They got into an accident, and two were killed.

Currently, Wes is looking into the history of Greyhound and the Altamont Pass, trucking companies which used the pass, and three major military bases which were open during World War II between Dublin and Livermore, along the Lincoln Highway.

On a final note, he showed us a Western Pacific conductor's lamp used for signaling. The lamp dates from the first decade of the 1900s.

One member of the audience asked where the name "Altamont" came from. No one knows for sure.


Tim Sage made a few announcements. He encouraged us to look at the exhibits and other artifacts that people had brought in, and to drive out to the old Altamont Pass and look at the Summit Garage, the only remaining structure in Altamont.


Third Speaker: Antoinette Eaton

Some questions were raised about the garage, such as whether it would be restored or torn down. It turned out that the owner of the Summit Garage was in the audience! She gave an impromptu speech.

Antoinette's great-great grandfather was Robert Livermore. Around the beginning of the 20th century, Antoinette's father-in-law bought property in the Altamont Pass. They held three pieces of adjacent property, on which they built the Summit Hotel, which also housed the post office; a schoolhouse; a church near the schoolhouse; and the Summit Garage.

The hotel eventually became vacant. Over the years, vandals would steal the tile and otherwise damage the building. Fearing the building could collapse at any time, they had the hotel demolished.

The schoolhouse was burned down by a homeless squatter. The church was later demolished.

In 1927, Antoinette's father-in-law leased the garage to Bill Armstrong. After Bill Armstrong left, the garage was closed. Now, a high school student organization has volunteered to restore the garage to the way it looked in the 1950s. Antoinette has no plans to tear the garage down.

Lincoln Highway Association Announcements

Mary Salazar introduced Lauretta Powell, the treasurer; Norman Root, the vice-president, and me to the audience.

Mark Hasham, member of the Nevada and California chapters, showed us an article from the Reno Gazette Journal, announcing a lecture on the Lincoln Highway between Austin and Wendover, which was to be held on January 11 at the Judicial Law College, University of Nevada, Reno. He warned us to watch the weather, as a winter storm was predicted to move through the area around that time.


Tim Sage announced that the lectures were done. It was show and tell time. Mary encouraged us to finish the food! The meeting was adjourned at 1:35 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

 

James Lin
Recording Secretary


Copyright © 2000 by the Lincoln Highway Association. All rights reserved.
Maintained by James Lin <jlin@ugcs.caltech.edu>