The History of Beard
The Beard family story in the railroad town of Modesto began long before the “Comedy Car” first pulled from Modesto and Empire Traction Company depot at the 11th and “F” Street station on its first run – more than one hundred years ago! This epoch starts within ten years of the great California gold rush. Elihu Beard, a farmer in the dry hills near Waterford, CA, fought a generation-long battle for irrigation as the 19th century ended. At the beginning of the 20th century Elihu’s son, Thomas Kennan Beard (T.K.), constructed dams and canals feeding new valley farms. Irrigated fields led to an abundance of produce and the need for transportation for both farm goods and the flood of new families moving to the area – before the age of highways and automobiles.
In 1909, the city of Modesto was served only by the Southern Pacific Railroad (since merged into Union Pacific). The Santa Fe Railway (now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe) paralleled the Southern Pacific through the San Joaquin Valley, but the closest it came to Modesto was at Empire, 5 miles to the east. The residents of Modesto desired competitive rail service; therefore, on March 23, 1909, Modesto Interurban Railway was organized to construct the same 5 miles of main line that connects Modesto and Empire today. For a brief period in 1911, the Tidewater Southern Railway (which later became part of the Union Pacific) operated a motor passenger car over the Modesto Interurban Railway, but regular service by the Tidewater Southern was never established.
It was on October 7, 1911, that Modesto and Empire Traction Company was incorporated to become the operating company for the Modesto Interurban Railway. On November 1, 1911, scheduled passenger service between Modesto and Empire began. Initially, passenger service was the backbone of M&ET's business; however, freight business became increasingly important, and in 1917 passenger service was discontinued. By 1922, rail interchanges had been connected with the Southern Pacific and the Tidewater Southern, in addition to the interchange with Santa Fe. An industrial zone was formed, and M&ET's freight business grew with the development of the food processing and agricultural industry in Modesto.