Back in 1953, Caltrans celebrated its safety improvements along U.S. 101 in the small, coast town of Leucadia in northern San Diego County.

After Interstate 5 opened in the early 1960s, this highway was pretty much frozen in time and still looks like this today. Remaining are some of the eucalyptus trees, now-old guard rails and even many of the 101-era buildings. The City of Encinitas, which now includes this area, has done a great job of protecting this surfing community. It’s featured in the Quintessential California chapter in my Joyrides Around San Diego.

“This 2.2 mile improvement, costing $86,700, consisted of constructing turning lanes at public road connections, and placing steel guard railing along the center division strip and at various locations along the east side of the highway,” reported J. Frank Jorgensen, Assistant District Engineer, in the September-October 1953 edition of California Highways and Public Works magazine, retrieved from “Trees which interfered with this construction, obstructed visibility or were located too close to the pavement for safety, were removed.”

As Billy Joel once sang, “The good old days weren’t always good,” and this wasn’t a good stretch of highway in the years after World War II. The story said there were seven deaths on this road in the year before the improvements were made. There wasn’t as much traffic between the two cities in those days, but imagine all the those cars and trucks running on this stretch of road.

One other unique thing in this photo… notice the passenger train on the tracks to the right of the highway. If I’m not mistaken, it’s a Budd Rail Diesel Car, which Santa Fe used on its San Diegan route from San Diego to Los Angeles from 1952-56.

The good news? The trip from San Diego to LA took just over two hours… try that today! The bad news? The Rail Diesel Cars — self-powered passenger cars — were pulled from service after they derailed at 69 mph, killing 30 and injuring 117. It was tough to travel along the coast in those days. Today it makes a perfect San Diego day trip.


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