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Tidewater history is subject of museum program
Ben Cantu holds an old railroad lantern once used in Manteca.

Just 25 years ago trains ran where the Tidewater Bikeway cuts through the heart of Manteca from Lathrop Road to Spreckels Avenue.
The railroad was a start-up to challenge the lock-hold that the Southern Pacific Railroad had on freight and passenger services – including the rates charged – up and down the San Joaquin Valley. The plan was to run a competing line from Stockton to Los Angeles to free farmers and cities alike from the monolithic grip of the Southern Pacific.

The line got as far south as Hilmar.

Today, much of the actual Tidewater tracks have disappeared although the line along French Camp Road that cuts into Escalon is still used by the Union Pacific today to servcie several packers and wineries. The last remaining Tidewater Southern rolling stock – a diesel engine is – still in service on the Stockton Terminal & Eastern.

“I remember seeing Tidewater trains still running in the 1970s,” said retired Manteca senior planner Ben Cantu.

Cantu is among a few faithful who have kept the history of the Tidewater alive. He is the business agent for the Tidewater Southern Railway Historical Society. He will provide a free presentation complete with slide show on the railroad during Thursday’s 7 p.m. Manteca Historical Society meeting at the Manteca museum, 600 W. Yosemite Ave. The meeting is free and open to the public.

The railroad society has been in place for 19 years and operates a model track that is a work in progress in Building One at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in Stockton. The rail society meets Thursdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the fairgrounds to work on and operate a model layout version of the Tidewater complete with notable landmarks including a replica of the Spreckels Sugar factory.

Bicyclists and walkers today cover the ground that once hosted a vital Manteca economic link to United States markets.
Manteca itself wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for a decision by Southern Pacific Railroad to locate a station here.

Southern Pacific
was first railway

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 were on four-hour availability 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.

The Southern Pacific and Tidewater tracks ran parallel in Manteca from a point midway between Alameda Street and Center Street to Spreckels Avenue.

There were eight fruit packing sheds at one time along the stretch of competing railroads.

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.

Manteca purchased the 3.4-mile section of the Tidewater right-of-way within the city limits to create the bike path and a 35-acre urban green belt.
Manteca as well as San Joaquin County eventually envision extending the bike path south into Ripon in the right-of-way between Highway 99 and the Union Pacific tracks.

The county in the 1990s passed on a chance to buy the remaining Tidewater right-of-way between Lathrop Road and Stockton. The 3.2-mile segment still has a raised rail bed and can be seen from the Calvary Community Church.

The city opted to eliminate the raised bed and make a meandering path to provide more privacy for neighbors and to make the Tideway Bikeway more interesting.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail