The Tres Pinos Monorail
by David B. Simons Jr.
In the March 1958 issue of The Western Railroader, there is
an article titled "Lime Kiln Railroad; the Tres Pinos Monorail."
It seems that over one hundred years ago, a man named J.J. Burt
built four lime kilns in Thompson Canyon. For five years, teams
of horses pulled the production of these kilns to the railhead
at Tres Pinos in San Benito County, California. Thinking he could
cut transportation time, he persuaded Jake Heff of San Francisco
to finance a private railway to move the lime. In 1891, the first
trainloads of the product were shipped to the Southern Pacific
railhead and the conveyance was able to carry twice the load of
a twelve horse team and wagon. The Railroad had offered Burt the
steel rails and track supplies if he would just grade the right
of way, but, seeing more profit potential in a privately run railway,
he took on a project of his own design: He built a monorail (of
The magazine describes his system as being constructed of "4x12
planks laid flat and parallel with a replaceable 4x4 inner lining
at the edges and between these liners a space of about six inches.
Instead of wheels the engine and cars ran on steel rollers, two
to each, and just long enough to reach from outside to outside
of the 38-inch plank roadway. At the center of the rollers was
a steel flange which occupied the six inch space and kept the
rolling stock on the track. That flange was the undoing of the
whole scheme. It chewed out the wooden track so consistently that
repairs more than made up any profit." The entire affair
was homemade with the engine being a steam unit from a tractor
placed on a flat car. It was not very wide, owing to the need
to make allowances for tight clearances. Since it burned soft
coal, the engine never made much speed or power. The train was
reversed by a turntable at each end of the twelve mile line. As
the system was not overly reliable, the teams of horses and wagons
were never done away with and operating both more than ate up
all of the kilns' profits.
"On September 5, 1892, the overheated engine with its water
supply dangerously low, came to Pescadaro Creek. There on the
bridge Engineer Bill Maynard stopped and dropped the suction hose
into the stream and started to pump. It was a thoughtless act.
The cold water coming into contact with the red hot flues and
crown sheet produced an explosion that killed Maynard and scattered
pieces of the equipment over adjacent scenery. The fireman escaped
injury." This effectively ended the operation of the Lime
Kiln Railroad; its backer, Jake Heff realized "that his money
was irretrievably lost and shot himself and Burt went back to
practicing law." The lime kilns eventually fell to ruin and
the wooden track system was sawn up and sold as lumber or was
salvaged by others to frame houses and barns.
The purpose of the story is not to bring down our favorite method
of transit, but to point out the discovery of a long-lost monorail
system. It was an unfortunate ending for an always troubled system.
The nice thing we can learn from it is that luckily, no monorails
are still operated by steam power so this isn't likely to happen
to any monorail trains again soon. Compare the safety record of
monorail and any other form of transit (including walking to your
destination) and which comes out as safer? That's right; monorail.
Compare and save (lives).
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