As train stations go, the $7 million brick and glass transit center that opened last year at Moffat Boulevard and Main Street is a far cry from Manteca’s original depot.
That original depot appeared shortly after the Western Pacific Railroad built a line through the community in 1870 that ran from Stockton to the Stanislaus River near Ripon. That first depot was nothing more than a discarded boxcar. To get a train to stop, passengers had to stand by the tracks and flag it down.
That first depot was located along side the tracks where it crosses Yosemite Avenue. It was located on the original 1,000 acres Joshua Cowell acquired in 1863 at what is today the center of Manteca.
The last train depot to stand in Manteca was built by Southern Pacific Railroad next to Yosemite Avenue where the Library Park is located today. It was torn down in the 1960s.
Manteca’s newest train station is actually built on top of land where the start-up Tidewater Southern Railroad paralleled the Southern Pacific Railroad through town. The Tidewater Bikeway is on the old Tidewater right-of-way.
Tidewater Southern Railroad operated trains into Manteca as late as 1983
The first railroad was the Southern Pacific that provided the vital transit link to ship milk to San Francisco and produce and sugar to the East Coast markets.
The Tidewater Southern was launched in 1912 with the idea of providing a second route to Southern California to compete with the Southern Pacific. That dream, however, was never realized as only 33 of the envisioned 150 miles were built.
The main line opened to freight service in October of 1912 from Taylor Street in Stockton to Modesto. Overhead catenary electrification of the main line began in May of 1913 and was completed in November of that year to allow the running of three green interurban cars.
The Tidewater during its operations ran steam, electric and diesel engines.
The Modesto to Turlock segment was completed in July 1916 while the eight miles from Hatch, located west of Turlock to Hilmar, was finished in July 1917. The 6.6-mile branch line to Manteca went into operation by May of 1918.
The new Manteca line brought freight and passenger service the same year the city was incorporated.
The Modesto to Stockton trip was scheduled at an hour and 45 minutes. This topped the competing Southern Pacific whose passenger trains ran every four hours and required 15 to 30 minutes of travel between the two cities.
The interurban service ended in 1932 but the railroad lived on. Western Pacific obtained it as a feeder line while Union Pacific took control in 1983 when it acquired the Western Pacific.
There were eight fruit packing sheds at one time along the stretch of competing railroads that ran through Manteca.
The Tidewater main line is still part of the Union Pacific system and is used extensively in the Modesto area. The San Joaquin County portion of the line that runs from Escalon along Highway 120 and then up French Camp Road to the Ace Tomato packing shed before heading north into Stockton is still used to occasionally move agricultural products.