Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Details -Jue Joe on the Southern Pacific Railroad

Ok this portion of the Jue Joe story involves a little history detective work !
But first I would like to start this post with a few images of the Chinese railroad experience and a nice video tribute to pioneer Chinese immigrants like my great grandfather.

After leaving St . Helena , Jue Joe went to Oakland and was hired to work on the Southern Pacific Railroad . Chinese workers gathered at Oakland's long wharf and were transported by rail to job sites.

According to Jue Joe's sworn affadavit to the immigration officials his home was St . Helena in 1892 or 1893 . Auntie Soo-Yin reports that Jue Joe arrives in Chatsworth in 1893 to work as houseboy on a large wheat ranch . So we can assume that between 1892 to 1893 Jue Joe worked on the railroad laying tracks and then left his labor camp and ended up in Los Angeles. I at first assumed that Jue Joe worked on the San Joaquin section of the Southern Pacific that went over the Tehachipi mountains through Saugus and down into the San Fernando Valley and on to Los Angeles. But some research on railroad history reveals that that entire Sacramento to Los Angeles line was completed in 1876 . It does not seem possible that Jue Joe worked on this portion of the line as he arrived in San Francisco in 1874 and was in Marysville when the railroad was completed. Railroad history is quite complete and we are able to determine the exact time when different portions of the railway lines were completed and when Chinese were employed there . I think the answer to the puzzle is that Jue Joe must have been employed on the coastal portion of the Southern Pacific Line . Sections of this line were being built from the South and from the North . In 1892 the most difficult portion of the line was being built on the Cuesta grade in San Luis Obispo and large Chinese crews were employed between 1892 and 1893 to complete that section . This last difficult section was necessary to connect the already built northern and southern sections of the Southern Pacific Coastal route. The line ultimately stretched from San Francisco down the coast , through San Luis Obispo , then down to Oxnard , then inland through the Simi Valley through Santa Paula , Fillmore , and then ending up in Saugus/Newhall and then down into the San Fernando Valley through Burbank and on to Los Angeles , with a branch line from Burbank out to Chatsworth .
Later , a more direct line was created through the Santa Susana mountains via tunnels directly to Chatsworth bypassing the Simi Valley /Saugus connection .

Here is a picture of the Chatsworth Train Depot in 1893 . Sign reads Los Angeles to San Francisco 497 miles .
My theory is that Jue Joe actually worked on the Coastal route of the Southern Pacific and then ended up in Chatsworth in 1893 . He could have been transported by rail with other Chinese laborers from Oakland to the railroad work sites near the Cuesta grade. If he worked the Cuesta grade section around San Luis Obispo in 1893 , he could have left the labor camps there , traveled a short distance by horse , or stage to Goleta where the Southern section of the railroad was already completed and could have bought a ticket on the train and taken it all the way through the Simi Valley , to Saugus and then on to the Chatsworth depot.

So we have followed Jue Joe's history to Los Angeles. What happens next ?
The Los Angeles portion of his history is full of loose ends . Maybe Auntie Soo-Yin can clear some of them up , so we can create a time line of Jue Joe's travels . How long did he work as a houseboy on the Chatsworth wheat ranch ? What were his businesses before he returned to China in 1902? In his 1906 immigration statement on return to America he states his US home town as El Monte . When did he live in El Monte? , was he farming there before going back to China ? What years did he own his saloon in Los Angeles ? When did he start potato farming in Van Nuys and Chatsworth ? before or after he went back to China ? When did he start his Van Nuys Asparagus farm ?

By the way 1893 is also the year that Jue Joe's friend Otto Brant starts his Title Insurance Company in Los Angeles . So both Jue Joe and Otto do show up in Los Angeles about the same time .

ps. 8/10/2010 :: Further research has caused me to change this original theory of the time line of Jue Joe's work on the coastal route of the southern pacific railroad. I now think that Jue Joe worked on this railroad sometime between 1886 and 1889. In 1889 the railroad reached Santa Margarita just before the Cuesta Grade portion of the route. Chinese laborers were discharged and no work on the railroad was done for 2 years while condemnation proceedings were under way in the San Luis Obispo mountains to allow work to resume . I think that after work was suspended in 1889 , Jue Joe was discharged with other Chinese laborers and he found his way to downtown Los Angeles and found work as a houseboy for Otto Brant around 1889 to 1890 . After working for the Brant's for 3 years he went to work in Chatsworth as a houseboy with the Johnsons in 1893 . More information on this new theory is explained in this post.


  1. JR: You are absolutely correct! Jue Joe worked on the Coastal Route of the Southern Pacific RR. When San Tong spoke of his father's railroad period he said to me, "...Oxnard," more than once. According to San Tong his father had said, "It was hard from San Luis Obispo to Oxnard." I also heard the word, "Oxnard," from Uncle Guy years later as he recalled what he'd heard of this period. I had often wondered why San Tong and Jue Joe had such intimate knowledge of those coastal cities, from San Luis Obispo to Simi Valley. Eventually, father and son farmed in some of those places: Oxnard, Simi, Fillmore to name a few. I remember a conversation San Tong had with Corrine while riding in my car in San Francisco. He told her that, "Pa had farmed up near the Bay Area as well." Then my father named some places that I can't recall now (probably in the Stockton area), but I do remember how surprised I was. Corrine seemed very interested in hearing about their father's activities. She said to San Tong, "I didn't know that. I wish I had paid more attention when I was young." Then she told my father that Lansing (deceased) had a parcel of land up north that was still undeveloped, and not knowing the value of Lansing's land, she asked my father to take a look at it and to tell her whether she should sell it or not. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  2. HOUSEBOY ON CHATSWORTH WHEAT RANCH: Neils C. Johnson was the nephew of John Neely Johnson, California's fourth Governor. He came to Chatsworth with his wife, Ann, around 1870. Ann was the first white woman to settle in the San Fernando Valley and to start a children's school at their 2-story house. Johnson was very prominent in his community and very old by the time Jue Joe came to work for him as a houseboy, according to San Tong. I assume that Jue Joe must have worked there for 2-4 years at most. This is because the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1882 required "merchant" status, not "laborer" status in order for a Chinese to remain in America. Of course, Jue Joe had the protection of a very powerful political figure in Johnson. Also, Otto F. Brant borrowed money from Jue Joe on a number of occasions while starting up his real estate businesses in Los Angeles. And he began borrowing from his friend Jue Joe while Jue Joe was a houseboy, according to San Tong. This indicates that Jue Joe had had enough time to build up his personal savings. San Tong always said that his father worked as a houseboy when first arriving in SFV. But on one occasion he'd said that Jue Joe worked as a houseboy after he'd returned from Sum Gong to find his brother Jue Shee had sold his produce business. I always assumed that San Tong was speaking of the Johnson ranch and thought that this could not be so. I told my father that in 1893 Jue Joe was 33-years old and houseboy work was plausible. But in 1906 Jue Joe was 47-years old and that's too old to be a houseboy. My father replied, "No, no, you're wrong. Your Ah Goong (Jue Joe) was not ashamed to do any kind of work and at any age. It was the 2nd time he returned from China that he was a houseboy." Neither one of us referred to the family's name that my father was talking about. Each of us assumed that we were on the same page in regard to the family who had hired Jue Joe. Now, I wonder if Jue Joe had worked in the household of one family at a different time, or in 2 families at 2 different times.

    BUSINESSES BEFORE 1902: Ambitious as Jue Joe was, he gained real business knowledge from his mentors: Otto F. Brant (title insurance), Harrison Otis and Harry Chandler (L.A. Times), N.C. Johnson (rancher); and their friends in the land syndicate: William Mulholland (water commission), Moses Sherman (the Red Cars), Henry Huntington (railroad), Lewis A. Grant (Santa Fe RR and California Bank), Lankershim, to name a few. Jue Joe wanted, as they did, to make a dream come true. He also had the Exclusion Law of 1892 (1882 renewed) sawing at his neck. So he had to start a business fast. Or, at least be a part of one, as in "paper partnerships." Jue Joe, with help from Otto, tried to lease 20-acres in Van Nuys, then successfully leased 40-acres in Chatsworth, and later 60-acres in Reseda at today's Balboa and Roscoe Blvds. He farmed potatoes. That was his main crop. He probably added a few other minor crops. Then he drove a team of horses hitched to a buckwagon ladened with produce over Cahuenga Pass to the L.A. Plaza, which served as an early produce market. Later, when the Produce Exchange on San Pedro Street was built, Jue Joe leased a warehouse there. It was to Joe's neighbor at the Produce Exchange that Jue Shee sold his brother's business, after Jue Joe had returned to China in 1902 to marry. In that year Jue Joe was 42-years old. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  3. EL MONTE IN 1906: I do not recall hearing that El Monte was a place of actual domicile for Jue Joe. (On his farms he usually had a bunkhouse for workers, and he would stay in each one as he made his rounds of his ranches.) It could have been the domicile of his cousin Lee Bing who resided in L.A. Jue Joe's immigration deposition brought out that Lee Bing lived in L.A. Because Jue Joe had lost everything he had to start from scratch and probably stayed for a duration in someone's home. El Monte could have been the home of a Chinese friend, or a "paper partner," or even the home of Otto F. Brant. Or it could have been the domicile of Otto's friend Thompson. Mr. Thompson was a saloon bouncer who became Jue Joe's partner in a saloon they bought together, which was located diagonal from the old L.A. Times building. My father said Thompson was a very rough looking burly man and he spoke roughly. Auntie Soo-yin.

    SALOON YEARS: It would have been not long after Jue Joe's return in 1906. He lost his "merchant" status and would have had to acquire a business that did not require time to build up, in order to regain "merchant" status. Jue Joe had reconnected more closely with Brant. My father San Tong told me that Brant introduced Thompson to Jue Joe and Thompson had been Brant's enforcer whenever things got rough in the title business. The saloon was in full swing by 1918 when San Tong arrived in Los Angeles. He remembers that Jue Joe took him to the saloon to see it and that the saloon looked just like in a Western movie. It had a long counter with a brass bar to rest your boot on when taking a swig. He said when he and Jue Joe walked in, his father said to everyone, "Drinks on the house--meet my sons!" Then Jue Joe got behind the counter, poured beer from a tap and swirled each glass around, then he slid each glass down the counter to his customers. There was a back alley that served as a drunk tank for those who got out of hand. Thompson did the honors of escorting those folks out there. The saloon was probably ongoing while Jue Joe continued his farming ventures. I say this because when we were moving to the Northridge house, after Dorothy's eviction notice, San Tong and Guy found an unopened bill for 2 kegs of beer for the saloon. The date of the bill was 1920, I think. It probably lay unopened by Jue Joe because he most likely asked Thompson to buy him out in 1919, so he could use the money to buy the Van Nuys ranch. The 300-acre Van Nuys ranch on Vanowen Street was purchased in 1920, according to what Guy told me some years later. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  4. POTATO FARMING IN VAN NUYS AND CHATSWORTH: Jue Joe probably started to farm on his own around 1896. He had time to save up money to lease land by then. He also had time to gain experience in dry farming, etc., in order to know what he was doing. Otto Brant's land syndicate had gained considerable control by then, affording Jue Joe access to choice plots. The 40-acre Chatsworth farm was in operation at the time San Tong, San You, and Leong Shee arrived in 1918. The trio were living in an apartment on Ferguson Alley, and Jue Joe was at his Chatsworth farm most of the time. When the boys learned how to take the Big Red Car called the "L-line" to the end of Whitmer St. in the Valley, they had to walk over half a day to Jue Joe's ranch in Chatsworth.

    VAN NUYS ASPARAGUS FARM: I think the Van Nuys ranch was purchased for the purpose of growing asparagus in 1920. If Jue Joe had started with potatoes it would have ruined the soil for other crops. That is my theory. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  5. San Tong described Jue Joe's saloon to me: It was housed at ground level in a building on 2nd St. and Broadway--and the street's level was raised above the old Los Angeles Times building. I recently saw a photo of the L.A. Times building after the 1910 bombing and you could see the raised street level. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  6. Jue Joe's saloon, housed in a corner of a building diagonal to the L.A. Times building across the street, was closed in 1920. This is because Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933. Auntie Soo-Yin.