Four truths and a fable about the Ontario-San Antonio Heights “Mule Car”

Even people who live in Ontario, California may not know the story of the “mule car” in the median of Euclid Avenue at B St. You can see the mule car behind me in the “Cloudy days at the mule car” video below.

From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw5Uc2VKCI8

(And yes, sometimes the sun DOESN’T shine in Southern California.)

Four truths about the Ontario mule car

There are four things about the mule car that we know as fact.

1. The Ontario mule car began service in 1888

The single-car train line connected Ontario, North Ontario (North Ontario was later known as Upland), and San Antonio Heights (near 24th and Mountain today), and benefited local residents by providing an easy way to travel between the three establishments. As the Historical Marker Database website notes, more and more people settled on the master-planned Euclid Avenue in the years after Ontario was established in 1882, and the train line provided an easy way to travel north and south.

2. The Ontario mule car benefited from gravity

For those who are not familiar with San Antonio Heights, Upland, or Ontario, the northernmost community (San Antonio Heights) is near the mountains, and (according to the Electric Railway Historical Association) there is an elevation drop of 1200 feet over the ten miles from San Antonio Heights to Ontario.

Of course, from the southern perspective of Ontario (see this Pacific Electric Railway page for a picture of the railway looking north), there is an increase in elevation of 1200 feet, which is why the mules were needed to pull the train up the hill. The uphill climb took about an hour.

Once the train reached San Antonio Heights and began its descent back to Ontario, the mules were no longer needed to pull the car.

[O]n the return trip the motive power climbed aboard a tiny trailer and coasted down with the car.

From http://www.erha.org/peeosah.htm

The downhill descent for the passengers (and the mules) took only 20 minutes. We’ll return to this later.

Mule use was not confined to the Inland Empire West. Mules were famously used in Death Valley. By NPS image from [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=124025

Since this is the Bredemarket blog, I can’t let this story pass without discussing the benefits of this system:

  1. Faster travel to on the southbound route to Ontario due to the faster downhill time.
  2. No use of power for the southbound route.
  3. Greater energy on the northbound route due to the rest that the mules received on the southbound journey.

(For additional information on benefits, click here.)

3. After electrification in 1895, the mule-less train line continued service until 1928

After several years, the train was electrified and the mules were no longer needed to power the train. This is when the train celebrated its heyday.

A thirty-acre amusement park was built by the company of San Antonio Heights, with a powerhouse adjoining. Heavy crowds were transported along Euclid Ave. in the early days, for the line connected Ontario with Upland, provided connections between the (Southern Pacific) Station at Ontario and the Santa Fe Station at Upland, and cared for the thongs bound for pleasure-seeking at the Park. 

From http://www.erha.org/peeosah.htm

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any additional information about the original 30-acre amusement park. Today’s “San Antonio Park” has ball fields, BBQ, picnic tables, a picnic shelter/gazebo, a playground, and restrooms, plus the historical San Antonio Heights Railroad Company Waiting Station. Fun, but not THAT fun.

And, of course, this provided benefits to various stakeholders:

  1. The rail line benefited from increased revenue from passengers who wanted to connect from other rail lines to get to destinations on the route, most notably the park.
  2. The park benefited from a convenient way to arrive, something that we seem to have lost today, since neither Ontario International Airport nor Los Angeles International Airport enjoy direct train service. (The Omnitrans 61 bus route goes to Ontario Airport every 20-30 minutes, and some day the Boring Company may establish a train connection.)
  3. Passengers benefited from an easy way to get to this park.

(For additional information on benefits, click here.)

Ownership of the train line passed from the Ontario Electric Company to the Pacific Light & Power Corporation in 1908, and eventually to Southern Pacific in 1912, where it became the Pacific Electric Ontario & San Antonio Heights Line.

Eventually this rail line, like all rail lines in Southern California, ran into hard times because of our growing adoption of motor bus and automobile travel.

Line cut back to La Cima on 4 July 1924; on 1 November 1924, cut back to Upland. On 6 October. 1928, Ontario-Upland Line abandoned…. In the abandonment hearing in 1928, PE produced records which tended to show that this line was hopelessly incapable of earning even operating expenses.

From http://www.erha.org/peeosah.htm

4. Today’s mule car at Euclid and B is a replica

If you visit the mule car at Euclid and B and wonder at how well-preserved it is, that’s because this isn’t the original 1887 mule car, which was lost to the winds of history. This is a replica, built in 1956-1957 and restored in approximately 1974. As the inscription on the plaque notes:

Photographed By Joseph Beeman, April 9, 2006. From https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=37512

In 1956, William Richardson headed a group of citizens to have a replica of the original Mule Car constructed for the city’s 75th anniversary in 1957. With donated funds “a couple of prop guys from the MGM Studios in Hollywood” recreated it, working from old photos. After the 1957 Mule celebration, the Mule Car was stored in the City Yards, abandoned and forgotten.

In memory of their son Donald, who worked for the City of Ontario, Kip and Elinore Carlson and their friends restored the Mule Car and constructed this facility. On April 28, 1974, this Mule Car was dedicated “to the whole community.”

From https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=37512

One fable about the Ontario mule car

There is one thing about the mule car that may or may not be true, but it makes for a good story. Both hmdb.org and erha.org, as well as other sites such as our local Best Western website, tell the story of what happened to the mules after the train route was electrified and the mules were no longer needed.

According to the sources, the mules were sold to a farmer, who put the mules to work on his farm. This worked out for the farmer…half of the time. When the mules were required to plow uphill, they did so with no complaints.

However, according to the story, the mules refused to work downhill.

They expected a ride for the downhill part.

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