The One Man and a Mule Railway at Mount Lowe

The One Man and a Mule Railway













While Thaddeus Lowe lost control of the Mount Lowe Incline Railway in 1897, he was not the only man to take an interest in making a living in the mountains above the San Gabriel Valley. Lowe’s loss of control of his enterprise and the court ordered receivership placed temporary control of the line in the hands of Jared Sydney Torrance, a South Pasadena resident and founder of the city of Torrance in what we now know as the South Bay. Torrance was quite entrepreneurial and thought a mountain railroad might be a good investment, but soon began to know Lowe’s troubles when he could not make the incline profitable after several years at the helm.

In 1901 Henry Huntington came into the picture by forming and buying several railway lines. The Los Angeles Railway Company was one of Huntington’s enterprises, which ended up buying the Pasadena and Mount Lowe Railway. Those, in turn, were transferred to the Pacific Electric Railway, along with the Los Angeles and Pasadena Electric Railway.

The Pacific Electric Railway would certainly make Los Angeles take notice with all the expansion and development that they would undertake in the years to come, but the Mount Lowe line would hardly ever prove profitable. Fire and wind would ravage the top of the incline, burn down Echo Mountain House, the Chalet, and burn down the power house. Rubio Pavilion would be lost to a flood and a landslide in the canyon at the base of the incline.

While all this was going on and World War One was looming on the horizon, a man named Ed Tobin would soon be making his small mark on the landscape of the Mount Lowe Incline Railway. While most will not be aware of a man named Tobin, many will be familiar with his concept of the One Man and a Mule Railway.

Ed Tobin was a Chicago, Illinois native born to Irish immigrants in 1891. He most likely had a pretty normal childhood, but was the son of an inventor of sorts. Thomas Tobin, Ed’s father, invented a vulcanized rubber horse shoe that would keep the hoof clatter down to a minimum back in the days when the milk trucks would deliver their goods on cobblestone streets at some hour just before sunrise.

In 1917, at the start of WWI, Ed Tobin left his father’s horseshoe business and forges and enlisted in the Army. Here he would serve for two years, until his medical discharge in 1919. Back in those days medical discharges were commonplace, especially for tuberculosis, which Tobin had contracted.

Following his honorable discharge, Tobin made his way west in search of better climates and opportunities. After stopping in New Mexico at a sanitarium for his health, he traveled to Los Angeles, then to Pasadena, and ended up at Alpine Tavern at the end of the Mount Lowe Incline Railway.

When Tobin checked in to Alpine Tavern he was not the only one there for his health. Mount Lowe Daily News editor Wallace Meador was recuperating there and became a good friend, as did Ed Zetterwall, commonly believed to be the man who came up with the OM&M Railway idea.

It was not long until Tobin realized that his government pension would not be enough to sustain him in the lap of Alpine Tavern luxury. In those days, the cheapest commercial rate for staying at the Tavern was $15.00 per week. Meals ranged from .75 cents for breakfast to $1.25 for lunches or dinners. Showers were free, however hot baths were .35 cents. At this rate, Tobin would have to come up with some changes in his life style.

With some of his savings, Ed Tobin decided to build a cabin out past Inspiration Point, about two miles from Alpine Tavern. While his health would prevent him from doing the work himself, he could afford to hire a few laborers to get the job done. Wallace Meador stated that at that time Tobin could barely walk 150 feet without having to stop and catch his breath because of the severe tuberculosis.

So, by late 1919 Ed Tobin had built his cabin on the outskirts of Alpine Tavern, just past Inspiration Point. While hauling all those materials out to that point, Tobin realized that it would be easier to move the materials along a light rail line, and perhaps after the cabin materials had been moved he could haul passengers out to Morning Glory Point, overlooking Eaton Canyon. Yes, and perhaps he could charge a nominal fee, and thus create an income for himself.

This Scenic Railway sounded like a great idea and the wheels started to turn. Tobin had all the materials for his cabin sent up from Los Angeles on the Pacific Electric Railway and would soon be doing the same thing with steel rails. Just to make sure it was allowable, Tobin applied for and was granted a franchise from the Federal Government to build his horse car line alone the ridge out past Inspiration Point to the east. Tobins’ One Man & a Mule Railway

In the beginning it was pretty easy to get materials to Alpine Tavern via the Pacific Electric. After a while, though, it became obvious to PE officials that something was going on. Where were all the railroad ties and steel rails going? Many employees of the Pacific Electric became tired of shipping all these materials and tried to stop Tobin by refusing to deliver the goods to the Tavern via PERy 1520 along the Alpine Division.

For those of you interested in the 1520, PE built it in 1914 and it was 30 feet long, 11 feet tall, had four GE 800 motors, and was abandoned at Echo Mountain in 1938.

Undaunted, Tobin knew that Alpine Tavern was an official United States Post Office and found out that the materials and hay could be mailed to the Tavern and there was nothing that the Pacific Electric could do about it. The PERy officials finally relented and allowed Tobin to continue to build his Scenic Railway.

The work on the railway was hired out to a few individuals, but Ed Zetterwall was the man in charge of getting everything completed. Zetterwall was not the creator of the railway as many have believed for so many years, but simply the man hired by Ed Tobin to get all the work done.
The line was in limited operation by early 1920 and a mule was put into service to operate the car. Common belief was that “Herbert” the mule pushed the car out along the right of way to prevent dust from being kicked up on the passengers. Joe Tobin, Ed’s son, however, has reported that Herbert ate much of the “slop” from Alpine Tavern and had horrendous flatulence and it is for that reason that Herbert pushed his customers!

Most of the work had been completed, but Tobin had run out of money. A visit from his father would bring the needed funds to complete the railway, and about a year later, Ed Tobin’s father had passed away, leaving him a sizeable sum of money. Inheritance in hand, Tobin chose to sell the OM&M Railway to F. A. Clegg, who would continue to operate the enterprise until some time in 1935, just before the demise of the Tavern and the Mount Lowe Incline Railway, in 1936.

In 1923 Tobin would then re-marry (his first wife died) and build a home in Alhambra as well as build the Ocean Park Scenic Railroad in Long Beach, California, which would be a financial disaster.

One of Ed Tobin’s last inventions would be a water filter, appropriately called the Tobin Filter, to cleanse city water of impurities. Shortly thereafter, Ed Tobin died at 37 years of age in April 1929.


Many thanks go out to Joe Tobin, son of Ed Tobin, and Joe’s wife Peggy, both of whom have become friends and given the Mount Lowe Preservation Society this information and family photos for our archives and for all to enjoy.

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