Chapter 2 - When the Passenger Trains Still stopped in Woodland
The Southern Pacific Railroad opened its new passenger depot in Woodland on August 7, 1911 with no fanfare. According to the Woodland Democrat newspaper, “the order to move into the new passenger depot came rather unexpectedly Monday afternoon. The electrician was here and anxious to get away and it was decided to move right away. The transfer was made about 5 o’clock. The new desks have not yet arrived, so it was necessary to move the old ones over for temporary use. As a result, the interior of the office looks rather shabby, as the old furniture is not in keeping with the spick and span appearance of the building. When the illuminations were turned on the building presented a decidedly attractive appearance.”
During the early years of its operation, this depot was heavily patronized and was a stop for many scheduled and named trains on the West Valley Line. Historic photos regularly show large crowds in front of the depot. When the depot opened, John Fingland was the Station Agent. He was assisted by First Assistant Agent, C.A. King and Cashier, F.W. Weaver. The telephone number to the depot was “1”, and up to 14 sacks of mail arrived daily on the morning train.
Initially, there were 12 scheduled passenger trains that stopped at the depot daily, six headed north and six headed south. These included the San Francisco Express, Marysville Passenger, Oroville Passenger, Portland Express, Red Bluff Passenger and motors to and from Hamilton, Tehama and Sacramento. The Shasta Limited went past the depot but did not stop. On Sundays during the summer of 1911 there was a special motor from Sacramento to Orland and return to accommodate baseball fans and other business.
In 1911, the Woodland Democrat documented the arrivals and departures of prominent Woodland citizens at the depot in its “Railroad Notes” column. Among those mentioned as the first passengers at the new depot were well-known local residents George Merritt, P. N. Ashley, Gus Schluer, Clarence Porter, Sheriff Monroe, Miss Mary Bemmerly, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Germeshausen, and Mrs. A.S. Abele.
By 1920, the “Railroad Notes” column had been discontinued and there was little mention of the Southern Pacific depot in the newspaper. However, stories about automobiles and automobile crashes dominated the headlines as cars began to compete with the railroads for travelers. As noted in Shipley Walters’ book, Woodland City of Trees, by 1926, there were eight car dealerships in Woodland with several located on Main Street not far from the depot. The Apartment Auto Campgrounds was located south of depot.
Travel by rail to Woodland remained steady and the depot continued to be used extensively by the public. In February 1922, two new trains, the northbound Dunsmuir Passenger and the southbound Sacramento Passenger, were added to the schedule and stopped in Woodland. These trains were popular with the public. Routine events at the depot were also occasionally documented such as in August 1930 when Woodland police arrested a man on a freight train as it pulled into the depot. A telephone call from Davis alerted them that he was trying to loot a piece of well drilling machinery being shipped on the train to Willows.
The depot was also witness to several historic events. Two presidential candidates stopped at the Woodland depot and gave campaign speeches, Charles Evans Hughes in 1916 and Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. On November 16, 1916, according to an article in the Daily Democrat by Larry Schapiro, Woodland National Guard Company F returned from the 1916 Punitive Expedition in response to Mexican revolutionary Poncho Villa’s attacks on U.S. soil and detrained at the depot to a large public welcome. Less than 5 months later as the United States entered World War I, this same company left Woodland by train, only this time from the Northern Electric depot on Main Street.
As US involvement in World War II became more immanent, the first 3 Yolo County men to be drafted for military service boarded a train on November 18, 1940 after a brief ceremony at the depot. Others would soon follow after the US entered the war. Then on May 20 and 21, 1942, 418 Yolo County citizens of Japanese ancestry were required to board trains to the Merced Assembly Center. The majority were then sent on to the Granada Relocation Center in Colorado for the remainder of World War II. Famed Depression era photographer Dorothea Lange captured this emotional moment in a series of black and white photographs.
After World War II ended, things began to change at the Woodland depot as fewer people travelled by train.