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The Pacific Coast Company

by Gerald M. Best


Pac. Coast cover

The Pacific Coast Company was a fascinating rail-marine operation which served the West Coast from San Diego to Alaska. Its rail components were both narrow gauge and, later, standard gauge railroads, and from its inception in the late eighteenth century, it was an important factor in the growth of California and the West.

The earliest part of the system began as a horse-drawn rail line near San Luis Obispo, from which a full-fledged narrow-gauge railroad developed. Complementing the railroad was a fleet of the coastwise steamers which dominated California's north-south transportation in the 19th century.

Another horse-drawn railroad was in San Diego, and a third rail operation was at Seattle, consolidating a group of small railroads. Later it became a gateway to the city for Northern Pacific, the Milwaukee Road, and Union Pacific, as well as connecting with the company's steamships. The Seattle line, last survivor of the Pacific Coast Co., was finally absorbed into the Great Northern Railway in 1965.

This flourishing and extensive transportation empire reached its zenith in 1915, with rail feeders for a fleet of 78 steamships ranging along the California coast and serving Alaska as well.

The book contains numerous historic and rare photographs, as well as roster information on the equipment of both rail and ship operations. Out of print since 1983, the first edition of this book has become difficult to find from used book dealers, so its return to print is welcome. Careful printing and use of the original page negatives has permitted an edition of quality equal to or better than the original.

The story is well written and extensively researched. It's a readable and informative tour through some intriguing Western history. Reviewers' comments on the first printing:

Comments from some reviewers

"Best has organized the history into a readable and beautifully illustrated volume. Best's handsome book--and a better regional study would be hard to conceive--is solid throughout."

-- Trains magazine

"Best tells a unique story ranging from southern California to Alaska with dependable text matter as well as good pictures."

-- Railroad magazine

"The book is well illustrated, contains maps and rosters of rolling stock, and the writer has carefully included enough of the local color and setting to make history of greater interest than a mere recitation of facts."

-- Bulletin,Railway & Locomotive Historical Society

And recent reviews of the new printing:

"Anyone with a serious interest in Western railroad history has to regard the reprinting of The Pacific Coast Companyas long overdue. It's a landmark book in railroad history, perhaps as much for its comprehensiveness and clarity as for the subject matter itself." (full text of the review also available)

-- Richard Hendrickson in Railroad Model Craftsman magazine

"With well-written and informative text, plus 10 maps and nearly 200 photographs, the late author presented a thorough look at this important operation. The Signature Press reprint is of excellent quality and presents the original Howell-North version without significant alterations. Historians and fans of railroading in California will welcome this opportunity to acquire this long out-of-print book." (full text of the review also available )

-- Vintage Rails magazine

Also available: Several full reviews of this book as well as the Table of Contents for the book.


Particulars: The Pacific Coast Company, by Gerald M. Best
List price: $49.95, hard covers
Size: 154 pages, 8.5" x 11"; 10 maps, 193 B&W photographs
ISBN: 0-9633791-1-9     Publication date: October 1, 1997