Some account of the works of the Cajon Irrigation Company – A Ditch 15 miles long and 8 feet wide and capable of Irrigating 10,000 acres of land – Expensive Fluming – Costly Tunneling – Great Importance of the Enterprise

(Anaheim Semi-Weekly Gazette, May 29, 1878)

In a recent letter to the Gazette I gave some account of the great enterprise of the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Company. In this letter I will endeavor to describe the enterprise scarcely inferior to the work first mentioned in point of importance, utility and engineering skill. One pleasant afternoon last week, in company with a friend, I visited the ditch and went over the whole work. We first paid our devoirs to W.M. McFadden, the worthy Secretary of the company, who cordially extended to us his ample hospitality, and at whose residence we remained for the night. On the following morning, accompanied by our genial host, we went over the ditch and carefully examined the entire work. The workmanship displayed in its construction is admirable and worthy of much praise. This company had more obstacles to encounter than the Santa Ana Irrigation Company, and overcame them bravely. Stockholders may be assured that when this work is completed they will own an irrigating ditch second to none in this county.

The main ditch is 15 miles in length and 8 feet in width on the bottom, has a carrying capacity of 4,200 inches of water, miners’ measurement, with a fall of 30 inches to the mile, and is capable of irrigating 10,000 acres of land. There will be three main branches, one leading towards the northern part of Orangethorpe and terminating near the residence of J. Guinn, another passing through the eastern part of Orangethorpe and terminating for the present near the ranch of Col. Davis, while the third branch will irrigate the land north of Anaheim and part of the town itself. The main ditch will terminate not far from the Cajon school house. Upon all water gates padlocks will be secured, and the gates locked when not in use, and the keys kept by the zanjero. The managers of this ditch propose that only those persons who pay for it shall have the privilege of using the water.

The water will be taken from the river about three miles above the place where the Santa Ana ditch commences. No dam has been deemed necessary at present as, at this point, the river flows directly into the mouth of the ditch. We were informed, however, that a dam would be constructed some time next fall. Much of the ditch has been blasted through solid rock, and flumes aggregating over 3,000 feet in length have been built. Over 265,000 feet of lumber have been used in the construction of the 12 flumes. The frame work of these flumes is made of Oregon pine and is strong enough to sustain the weight of a heavily loaded railway train. The boxing and mudsills are made of redwood.

There is one large culvert, the only one under the ditch. It is made of redwood, is 120 feet long, 4 feet wide by 3 feet deep, and 8,000 feet of lumber were used in its construction. In one place a large “fill” has been constructed, which is 115 feet long, 120 feet wide on the bottom, 24 feet wide on the top, and 26 feet high. Whenever a wash comes down from the hills, the water brought down in this way is generally carried off by means of over-shoots, thus protecting the ditch from injury. The engineers have had many obstacles to encounter. The water is brought through deep cuts, expensive tunnels (one in particular blasted through solid rock) and costly flumes.

The gentlemen who are the contractors and builders of the fluming and carpenter work are Dean & Mackey, who have done a very good job for their employers. The estimates have been made by E.T. Wright of Los Angeles, and he has given very good satisfaction. E. Barricklow is the foreman. He has the confidence of his superiors and the respect of the workmen. The present Board of Directors consists of J.W. Shanklin, President; E.W. Shanklin, Treasurer; W.M. McFadden, Secretary; H. Hedtebrink, and R.H. Gilman.

Work was commenced on the ditch some time last August, since which time it has been pushed forward as fast as possible under the circumstance. There are at present 65 men employed on the ditch and 24 horses and mules are being used. The work has been constructed as economically as possible.

Perhaps a brief history of the building of this ditch will be as interesting as the details of its construction. In 1873 the Legislature of this State enacted the Bush irrigating law, enabling the people of Los Angeles county to vote a tax for the construction of an irrigating ditch. By the provisions of this bill Los Angeles was divided into irrigating districts. In 1875 commissioners were appointed for District No. 1, viz: R.H. Gilman, W.R. Olden and Geo. F. Miles. In March, ’75, they began to build the ditch 6 feet wide on the bottom and 2 feet deep. After this ditch had been constructed 8 miles, another district was formed, known as No. 2. It was proposed to make the ditch 2 feet wider and one foot deeper. The estimates of the engineer in charge of the second ditch fell short. After six months labor the work on the ditch was abandoned because the funds were exhausted. A number of citizens did not pay their tax. They said the law requiring them to do so was unconstitutional. Shortly afterwards, C.B. Polhemus, agent of the Los Angeles and San Bernardino Land Company, organized a joint stock company, allowing those who had paid taxes to receive stock in lieu thereof. A friendly suit of condemnation was brought against the former holders of the ditch, and the thing went by default. After the Land Company got possession of the ditch, things remained in statu quo for 2 years, or more. No assessments were levied or work done upon the ditch, the Land Company claiming that the deed of right of way which they held from Senor Yorba was not sufficiently plain and was also objectionable in other respects. In January 1877, the ditch was entirely abandoned by the Land Company for over six months, and they, consequently, forfeited their title to it. June 20th, 1877, the Cajon Irrigation Company having been regularly organized, incorporated according to law, and took possession of the ditch. Up to the present time they have expended over $22,000. The cost of repairing the old ditch was over $8,000.

The rates established by the company are as reasonable as could be expected. The full stockholders pay 25 cents an hour in daytime and 15 cents at night for 1 head (100 inches of water, miner’s measurement, is considered a head). Partial stockholders pay double rates. Non-stockholders pay quadruple rates. The stock of the company is divided into 300 shares, the par value of each being $100. At present there are about 22 stockholders. The ditch will be completed about the 1st of July, at which time it has been arranged that there shall be ceremonies fully commensurate with the importance of the occasion. There will be a barbecue, public dinner, speeches, and music. The directors are fully determined to have some thing more than a “basket picnic.” Thus this important enterprise, commencing under great disadvantages, and meeting serious obstacles and many difficulties in its prosecution, gradually nears completion. While many persons, who ought to have interested themselves in this work, have looked coldly on, with feelings of indifference, a few brave, resolute, public-spirited men have “put their shoulder to the wheel,” and pushed the work steadily forward towards completion.  [s] Croydon

["Croydon" was the pen-name of E.F. Webber, a local teacher, who wrote several features for the Gazette in the late 1870s. Portions of the Cajon ditch can still be seen on the north side of the Santa Ana Canyon. --P.B.]