Throwback Thursday | Prof. T.S.C Lowe’s Railway to the Clouds

Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | News | Rubio Pavilion, Mount Lowe Railway

Thaddeus Lowe built a magnificent “railway to the clouds” in our local San Gabriel Mountains (known as Sierra Madre Mountains) to reach his resort hotels on Echo Mountain (Echo Mountain House and Chalet) and further up the line on Mount Lowe (Ye Alpine Tavern).

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | News | Pamphlet – Holiday Celebration honoring T.S.C. Lowe

Passengers arrived at Rubio Canyon in electric streetcars then transferred to the incline cars – the first stop on the Mount Lowe Railroad line.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | News | Rubio Canyon, Mount Lowe Railway

Rubio Canyon featured an amazing wooden walkway that reached deep into the canyon and climbed up the canyon’s solid granite walls with a latticework of steep stairways. The wooden stairs that allowed tourists to climb up to a series of waterfalls for close up views.

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At Night the wooden boardwalk was lit by Japanese lanterns transforming the canyon into a fairytale-like wonderland.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | News | The Great Incline, Mount Lowe Railway

The Great Incline begins at the transfer point at Rubio Canyon Station; tourists leave their electric trolley car and climb into the incline car (“white chariot”) taking them up the steep incline. The direct ascent is 1,325 feet to the top of Echo Mountain.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Rubio Pavilion Station (bottom of the incline)
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | News | The Great Incline (mid-way point)

In the photograph above, Thaddeus Lowe himself is guiding this tour riding in his “white chariot.” He is pointing his cane at a point of interest in the valley below while the Echo Mountain Chalet appears in the background.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | news | Echo Mountain Station (top of the incline)

The incline car pictured above rests at the top of Echo Mountain to pose for a group souvenir photo. The boys just had the thrill ride of their lives ascending on 3,000 feet of track with a 62% grade up the incline. The Echo Mountain House is less than a minute walk from here.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | News | Echo Mountain House, Mount Lowe Railroad
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | News | Ye Alpine Tavern, Mount Lowe Railway

The terminus of the Mount Lowe Railway is the Ye Alpine Tavern (later named Mt. Lowe Tavern). Guests of the rustic tavern enjoyed a variety of activities, including tennis, hiking, and horseback riding.

At Mount Lowe’s Inspiration Point nearby there are a row hollow-tube scopes trained down on points of interest below. One of them has a sign below that reads “Ostrich Farm” a popular tourist attraction in South Pasadena (Cawston Ostrich Farm).

Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.