In The Pipeline: The ghost of the Red Car trains

I will never forget, several years ago, when a friend directed me down to the beach adjacent to about Ninth Street to discover a vital piece of Huntington Beach history. There, embedded in the ground, are remnants of the old train tracks that supported the Pacific Electric Red Cars that started running here more than 100 years ago.

My son Charles, a USC sophomore who is working on his first history book (which comes out later this year) had an idea recently based on the Red Car trains.

He said, “Dad, a lot of people are familiar with the trolley that ran up and down the coast because of how prominent it was and also because of the many photographs. But there were other train lines through Huntington Beach. How about a column that trace the other routes?”

Great idea, son! And so with his research, I will talk about them in this column.

Some background: As you may know, railroad magnate Henry Huntington ran his trains down here and in exchange, “Pacific City” became “Huntington Beach.” Huntington was smart. He was less concerned about mass transportation and more concerned with making it easy for people to visit places he was developing so that he could increase real estate sales. In the 1940s, Los Angeles actually had more than 900 Red Cars that covered more than 1,100 miles all throughout the Southland (the last Red Cars in Southern California ran in 1961).

Here in Huntington Beach, we had a big depot located right at Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street. That was there until the early 1950s at which point it moved over to Atlanta for several years and then was torn down.

But if we were back in the 1940s, just where could you have hopped one of the trains in and around Huntington Beach?

Here’s how it broke out. Starting in Seal Beach, along the Newport/Balboa line, was the East Side station stop near Seal Beach Boulevard. Then came the Pensla stop, the Bridgeport stop, and the Surfside Colony stop across from what used to be Sam’s Seafood.

Continuing south was the Bayview stop, 23rd Street, Sunset Beach near 16th and Pacific Avenue, the Ninth Street stop and a Fifth Street stop. In the traffic circle, where today Warner dead ends at PCH near Jack in the Box, was the Los Patos stop.

Now you are in Huntington Beach. There was a Bolsa Chica stop either at the old gun club or where the current beach pay station is, we are not quite sure. Just south of Sea Point was the Stolco stop and then the Rocamp stop near Dog Beach.

There were station stops at 23rd Street, 17th Street, 12 Street, Eighth Street, Fifth Street and of course at Main Street.

Beyond that the train stopped at First Street, at the trailer park. Gamewell (PCH and Beach Boulevard) and the Pacific Gun Club. Finishing up in H.B. along the coast were stops at “Nago” (at Magnolia Street and PCH) and finally at Melrose (located at Brookhurst). The trains then continued to Newport Beach.

There were two other lines in Huntington Beach that supported the Red Cars. The La Bolsa line, started at First Street and PCH, and featured four other stops: Westfall (Adams Avenue between Lake Street and Alabama Street), Newland Street (Yorktown Avenue between Ranch Lane and Huntington Street), Holly Sugar Plant (Garfield Avenue and Main) and Weibling (Ellis Avenue between Gothard and Huntington).

Finally the Santa Ana/Huntington Beach line, which also started at First and PCH, traveled diagonally to Beach Boulevard and Indianapolis Avenue, wended east along Indianapolis to Bushard Street and then north along Bushard to Talbert Avenue before heading east to Costa Mesa (with too many H.B. stops to name in this space.)

So now you know at least the partial extent of Red Car traffic in Huntington Beach.

In addition to the track remnants you’ll find on the beach, there are a couple of other telltale Red Car traces. One is a train crossing sign that once stood somewhere in the city of Huntington Beach. I noticed it at an old supply lot not long ago and actually purchased it. It’s a bit cumbersome, and I’m still waiting for somebody with a truck to help me get it to my house.

Also, a stretch of “right of ways” as they were called, the actual paths the trains ran, still can be seen from the La Bolsa Line. The tracks may be gone, but narrow grass medians represent where the trains once creaked along. I photographed a portion of one for this column, from where the Westfall stop was on Adams near Lake.

To enjoy more Red Car history today you can visit the Red Car Museum in Seal Beach or actually ride an old Red Car in San Pedro, where they still maintain a 1.5-mile vintage trolley line.

Do you have memories of riding the Red Cars in Huntington Beach? I’d love to hear them for a future column.


Medal of Bravery

I also want to mention that two weeks ago I visited Harborview Elementary School for a special ceremony. Principal Cindy Osterhout invited me to their regularly held patriotic assembly, the most recent of which featured Fire Capt. Darren Witt, who received the medal of bravery from the Huntington Beach Fire Department for recently rescuing a man from a burning building on his off-duty hours.

Interestingly, Witt used to do the fire inspections at the school before becoming captain so Ms. Osterhout had the students write him cards and letters, which were presented at the assembly.

It was a memorable, heartfelt moment for everyone there and I had the privilege of talking with Witt just before the ceremony. At even the suggestion that he done something special, he just shrugged it off and said, “That’s just our job whether we’re on duty or not.”

Well done.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new “Baseball in Orange County,” from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at