Author Statement

This website is a constant work-in-progress, with articles updated regularly throughout the site. Much of the information comes from local railroad fans such as yourselves. If you have information regarding local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, leave a comment on the appropriate page or email me at This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, November 27, 2015


Carnadero Station on the 1939 San Juan Bautista USGS Map.
In the open fields to the south of Gilroy sits the lone remnants of a little-used railroad station that goes by the name of Carnadero. Named after a Spanish word that means either "bait maker" or "butchering place", a likely reference to a nearby tributary of the Pajaro River called Carnadero Creek (or Uvas Creek), Carnadero Station first appeared in Southern Pacific Railroad records in 1871. Early that year, the railroad completed its track through the area on its way to Hollister and Tres Piños at the southern end of the Santa Clara Valley. Soon afterwards, Carnadero Station was established as the northern end of the Santa Clara & Pajaro Valley Railroad, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific that intended to head first to Pajaro and then to Salinas. By 1873, the SC&PVRR became the main line of the railroad and the route to Tres Piños became a branch, which was cut back to Hollister in August 1942 (receiving approval for said truncation in March).

The area around Carnadero is the former Rancho Cañada de Las Uvas (Rancho Canyon of the Grapes), originally owned in 1842 by Lorenzo Pinedo. It was later sold to Bernard Murphy and it passed to his son Martin John Charles Murphy in 1860. It was his family that still owned the land when the railroad passed through. Pinedo and Murphy were both famous for growing grapes in the region, a practice that began in the mission days. Thus if any industry operated out of Carnadero, it was probably this. In contrast, the "butchering" reference in nearby Carnadero Creek actually dates to the Portola Expedition and, therefore, predates any later land usage. Local agricultural and pastoral farms sprang up along the railroad track in the area, so it should not be surprising to find a freight platform at Carnadero in 1899. What precisely was shipped out from this point is not known, but the numerous buildings are shown to sit alongside the tracks, Carnadero Avenue, and Carnadero Creek from the 1913 to 1939 USGS survey maps. Some maps even suggest an unincorporated township resided along the state highway which was about a mile away from the station.

For many years the station saw a lot of passing trains, but by the 1930s service to the stop had all but ceased. Except for some freight and local passenger customers, the station does not appear to have attracted any significant groups. Picnickers preferred more scenic spots such as Sargent or Chittenden, while most freight customers could just as easily go to Gilroy three miles to the north. The station remained on timetables but only as a flag-stop. When the double-track was installed from Gilroy to Sargent, any siding or spur at Carnadero was removed and none is ever shown on USGS maps. The truncation of the Tres Piños Branch to Hollister in 1942 also likely reduced active traffic at the stop. Although Carnadero remains a registered station on Union Pacific Railroad timetables, it is unlikely that it receives regular customers and there are currently no facilities at the station to permit freight or passenger loading. It seems to remain a stop only because of the Hollister Branch.

Official Railroad Information:
Carnaderos was established around June 1871 along the mainline of the Southern Pacific Railroad track. In November 1871, the route to Pajaro was opened with its junction to the main line at Carnadero. In August 1873, the Pajaro route became the main line and the other route became the Tres Piños Branch (Hollister Branch from August 1942 to today). As of 1899, Carnadero had a C-class freight station, which implies a siding or a spur and a small freight platform but no formal service. The presence of a station structure at any time in its history is not known. The station was located 83.2 miles from San Francisco via San José. By 1937 a double-track running from Gilroy to Sargent passed through Carnadero, probably replacing the siding or spur that was originally there as it is no longer referenced. A phone was the only listed service at the stop and no passenger or freight stops were scheduled, although the station served as a flag-stop for all passing passenger trains. Little has changed at Carnadero since 1940 and it still remains an officially-registered Union Pacific Railroad station and the junction for the Hollister Branch.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.976˚N, 121.543˚W

Carnadero Station is located at the break of Carnadero Avenue, a dirt road south of Gilroy. Take the Bolsa Road exit on State Route 101 and head south on Bolsa Road—Carnadero Ave will be on the left (east). Beside the tracks is a large clearing on either side of the road and the triple-track junction of the Hollister Branch with the mainline. It is unclear what the ownership status of the surrounding property is so caution is advised. As usual, this is an active track so do not trespass on or across the tracks.

Citations & Credits:
  • Nanney, Duncan. Personal correspondence.
  • Robertson, Donald B. Encylopedia of Western Railroad History: Oregon, Washington. Caxton Press, 1986.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Miller & Nema

Miller as located on the 1917 USGS Map
At the absolute southernmost end of the Santa Clara Valley sits the mostly forgotten—although still technically active—station of Miller. The station most likely dates to the earliest years of the Santa Clara & Pajaro Valley Railroad (soon the Southern Pacific Railroad) when the tracks passed beside Henry Miller's ranch in 1870. Miller was in fact Heinrich Kreiser, a German immigrant who stole the identity of a man named Henry Miller. Miller became a major cattle rancher in and around the Bay Area. At the Bloomfield Ranch south of Gilroy, Miller built a 44-room mansion in 1888 which acted as the center of a small railroad community. Around it were built livery stables, a blacksmith shop, granaries, a general store, and a train station. Miller also owned a mansion on Mount Madonna for many years.

Bloomfield Ranch, date unknown. (King Library)
Bloomfield Mansion at Miller's with a cattle herd in front. (Calisphere)
By the turn of the century, Miller's was a major cattle and agricultural shipping point in the area and the Miller family land stretched in all directions. At the top of the long siding at Miller's, the Southern Pacific designated a new station that went by the name of Nema (Spanish for "letter seal"—origin unknown). From this site a long spur went to the west to the base of the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. The precise purpose for this spur is not presently known but the existence of a reservoir in the hills and the amount of oil located in these hills just to the south may act as clues. The fact that the tiny town of Miller's Station was located here suggests that Nema may have become a new station point for Miller, despite Miller remaining a stop along the main line. Today a private ranch still sits at the end of this spur site, although the tracks are now gone. Unfortunately very little can be found on Nema Station. The stop shut its doors in 1941 with the spur torn up a few years earlier.

Bloomfield Mansion at Miller's
Much more is known about Miller's Station, which became Miller in the late 1900s. Miller himself was one of the largest land owners in California by the time of his death in 1916. His estimated value was at $40 million. Following his death, his grandson George Nickel reincorporated the family company, Miller & Lux Corporation, into a holding and land development firm. A few members of the family continued to farm for many more years, but they appear to have lost influence in the lower Santa Clara Valley, selling its remaining assets in 1930. The family sold the rest of their holdings over the course of the following thirty years. The station has surprisingly remained on timetables continuously since 1870, although there is no longer any spur at the station and it is doubtful that it has been used for many years. A long freight shed alongside the tracks marks the site of the original station point.

Official Railroad Information:
Miller's Spur was an early station along the Southern Pacific Railroad's main line. When precisely it appeared is not presently known to this historian but it seems likely it was an original stop. In 1899, it occupied a long stretch of track between 84.2 and 84.4 miles south of San Francisco via San José. Sometime soon afterwards—no later than 1905—the northern end of this track was renamed Nema. Miller's had a A-class freight platform but had no other facilities listed at the site. It's spur sat on the west side of the tracks and was initially fairly short but by 1899 it stretched 0.2 miles and had become a long siding. By 1937, Nema sat at 84.1 miles south of San Francisco while Miller was at 84.4. An 18-car (~900 feet) spur ran along the western track. At Nema, a 28-car (~1,400 feet) spur ran to the southwest, ending immediately to the east of State Route 101. Extant USGS maps show that this spur forked at the end and included two additional spurs along its length, one staggered on either side of the track. According to the 1939 USGS map, Nema's long spur was removed entirely in the late 1930s. In 1940, both stations were demoted to "Additional Stations" although it appears nothing else changed; Nema was still listed as having a spur, although the length was no longer noted. Nema was formally abandoned on December 15, 1941. Miller remains in use officially, although it seems unlikely that it has seen service for many years. Both stations's spurs have long since been removed and no trace of them remains. The double-tracks from Gilroy pass directly beside the old freight building.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.958˚N, 121.545˚W (Miller)
36.963˚N, 121.544˚W (Nema)

The site of Miller Station is currently inaccessible to the public. It sits along a long stretch of double-track about 500 yards south of the crossing of Hollister Road over the tracks. Currently a long freight shed marks the site of the spur, although all trace of the spur itself appears to be gone. Nema Station, meanwhile was located just north of this crossing, with the spur paralleling Hollister Road on the north side. It crossed the road just at about the site of the highway on/off ramp. The farm that the station serviced still exists today and is located at the southeast corner of Highway 101 and Hollister Road. The Garlic Shop is across Hollister Road from this site.

Citations & Credits:

  • Igler, David. Industrial Cowboys: Miller & Lux and the Transformation of the Far West
  • Nanney, Duncan. Personal correspondence.
  • Salewske, Claudia. Images of America: Gilroy. Arcadia, 2003.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad agency books and employee timetables, 1899-1940.

Friday, November 13, 2015


Corporal on the 1955 USGS Map.
It should come as no surprise that the Southern Pacific Railroad had some fun when they named Sargent's northern neighbor "Corporal". This location is the newest station covered by Santa Cruz Trains, opening services only in January 1949. It never operated as a services passenger or freight stop but rather appears to be more of a stop of convenience due to its location at the southern end of the Gilroy double-track and the northern end of Sargent's trackage limits.

Unfortunately, the newness of this station does not help in identifying its purpose. The close proximity of many oil wells in the region, including some that are still active, suggests that this may have been a secondary oil-loading area located closer to the wells than Sargent 0.6 miles away. Alternatively, it could have originally serviced a short-lived agricultural or pastoral facility that is no longer in the vicinity, although this seems less likely. Third and most likely, it serves as a waiting point for trains switching from the double-track to the single line through Chittenden Pass, although the limited use the line sees does not imply a high chance of collision in this area. Newspapers do not mention the stop and even many maps do not include it. Further research is required before the original purpose of Corporal Station is definitively known.

Official Railroad Information:
Corporal first appeared in Southern Pacific Railroad records on January 23, 1949. It is located 86.4 miles south of San Francisco via San José. The station was only ever a freight stop although for a while waiting passengers could flag passing trains informally. The station had no services except a station sign and a phone. The stop served as the northern end of the Sargent freight area and still serves as the southern end of the Gilroy Double-Track. The stop marked the beginning of the Automated Block Signal system to Castroville as well as the start of the centralised traffic control system to Logan. In 1996, the station was taken over by the Union Pacific which adjusted the milepost location to 83.1. The station is no longer in use but is still a registered stop on UP records.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.928˚N, 121.548˚W

Access to the Corporal site is surprisingly easy if you are heading southbound on State Route 101. Take the exit just after passing over Tar Spring Creek and the railroad tracks. From there, turn north and stop just before going under the freeway. At this location, you can see the double-track cutting off and heading north while the Sargent double track cuts back into the mainline (although it is now disconnected). A sign for Corporal is still in the area. The remnants for the grade crossing are also under the freeway since the concrete highway was once the original Highway 101. Considering these are still active tracks, caution is advised and do not trespass onto the tracks themselves.

Citations & Credits:
  • Nanney, Duncan. Personal correspondence.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad employee timetables, 1949 to 1990.

Friday, November 6, 2015


Sargent's on the 1915 USGS survey map.
Unlike so many stops along the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division, Sargent Station has been there since the beginning. The area began life in 1835 as Rancho Juristac, a 4,500 acre Mexican land grant owned by Antonio and Faustino German. Even in its earliest days, it was known for its oil field, which gave the land the nickname La Brea. In 1856, James P. Sargent, a New Hampshirite, along with his brothers Jacob, Roswell, and Bradley, purchased Rancho Juristac, renaming it Sargent's Ranch. By the time the property was confirmed by the California Public Land Commission in 1871, railroad tracks were already terminated beside the conveniently-named Sargent's Station. For the next three decades, this would be the stop that people detrained from for the six-mile stagecoach ride to San Juan Bautista.

Throughout much of its life, Sargent's served a triple purpose: it was an oil site requiring tanker cars to regularly haul out oil of various types, it was a sugar-beet plantation requiring regular shipments of beets to Watsonville and Spreckels, and it was a local passenger and freight station servicing the locals that lived on and around Sargent Ranch. To support the station, a siding was added which slowly extended in length until it reached a maximum extent of approximately 2,000 feet. By 1937, a double-track was extended from Gilroy and terminated just south of Sargent's. The station included a full passenger and freight office, telephone service, a class-A freight platform and beet-loading equipment, a train order register, and a water tower.

Firstly, oil had been known to be on the property since Mexican times and in the mid-1860s the first test wells were drilled in the hills over the Pajaro River. By the early 1870s, a number of wells on Sargent's Ranch were producing black gold, making the property quite valuable to its owners. In 1906, harder asphaltic oil (tar) was found in the soil and became a staple export for many years with over 780,000 barrels of assorted types of oil shipped out of the station making it the most profitable oil field in the Bay Area. In 1883, gold and silver was even discovered on the property, although not in significant enough quantities to warrant extensive extraction. Oil continued to be extracted from the ranch into the 1940s, with the last well closing in 1948

Secondly, the sugar-beet empire of Claus Spreckels spread up the San Juan Valley ending around Sargent, where the family and its tenants grew large crops of beets beginning in the early 1900s. This industry continued, albeit not through Spreckels, well into the 1950s and perhaps as late as the 1970s.

A structure at Sargent's, possibly showing the station although this building does not reflect the design of other Southern Pacific structures in the region. (Sargent Quarry)
Finally, the size of the station and the ranch, as well as its proximity to the river, made it an ideal vacation spot. Besides the locals who used the station regularly for transport and freight, visitors came regularly in the summer months to enjoy the beautiful ranch property. A small town located around the station supported both a hotel and a saloon, and there was an open-air dance pavilion for picnic parties. The area also supported hunting of all types and the nearby river was a popular fishing spot for vacationers.

The beet-loading tower sitting beside the abandoned spur at Sargent.
Threats to remove Sargent from railroad timetables date to as early as 1905 when Betabel was slated to be the new beet-gathering hub, but plans failed when the San Juan Pacific Railway made Betabel redundant. The station remained and grew over the years, with sugar-beets taking over as the primary good shipped out of the site. When precisely this product ceased being shipped from there is not known, but relics of the old beet conveyors still remain at the station site today.  The station almost became a hub for a branch line that would pass through Pacheco Pass in 1907, but plans for the route fell through. In 1908, the agency permanently closed down, although passenger and freight service was still permitted so long that it was prepaid. After petitions to the government, the post office was allowed to remain opened however, meaning that passengers still had a waiting area for trains. The Spreckels Sugar Company, Watsonville Oil Company and Sargent Estate all were also allowed to operate out of the station structure for many more years. In October 1942, the station structure was finally torn down.

The Sargent family continued to maintain the property until 1956 when the last member of the family died. Attempts to develop the property failed many times before the property was transferred to a debt-collection agency. The majority of the property is now used for cattle grazing and hay farming, although there is a proposal by Sargent Quarry to repurpose a corner of it for gravel quarrying.

Official Railroad Information:
Sargent's first appeared in railroad timetables as early as 1869 as the terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Extension of the line began the following year. By 1899, the stop had a freight and passenger agency office, a class A freight platform, telegraph services, and a four-car siding (~125 feet). The station was located 87.1 miles from San Francisco via San José. By 1937, the double-track from Gilroy terminated just south of Sargent (the "s" being removed from the name) while the spur had become a nearly 4,000-foot-long siding. A water tower was also now at the site while telegraph services were replaced with telephone. A train-order registry was kept at the station house. Many services began to disappear by the mid-1950s with only phone service remaining as of 1963. The siding, however, had been lengthened to 4,500 feet, but the double-track, though still remaining, appears to have gone out of use at this time. As late as 1974 the station was still listed as an official freight stop with an active phone and 4,395-foot siding, but it seems the station structures themselves had gone out of use. Officially, the station remains in Union Pacific Railroad records, but evidence from the station suggests that the stop has long been abandoned and both the siding and second track are overgrown and disconnected from the main line.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
The tracks at Sargent with the oil field in the background.
36.923˚N, 121.547˚W

The site of Sargent Station is accessible via a rarely-used right turn off of State Route 101 just south of Tar Spring Creek where the highway passes over the railroad tracks. Taking the exit, immediately turn left to parallel the tracks. A short distance down the old cement road will reveal the ruins of the station site, with a loading ramp and three heavily-graffited structures still standing on the right immediately by the still-surviving triple tracks located there. While accessing the structures is probably not going to bother anybody, remain off the tracks—the track furthest from the station is still in active regular use by the Union Pacific Railroad.

Citations & Credits:
  • "History". Sargent Quarry.
  • Santa Cruz (Morning/Evening/Weekly) Sentinel, 1869 to 1956.

Friday, October 30, 2015


Betabel station on the 1915 USGS Map.
Claus Spreckels was the king of the sugar-beet business in the San Juan, Pajaro, and Salinas Valleys at the turn of the twentieth century but he had a problem: many of his fields were nowhere near a local railroad. Enter Betabel Station. When the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division mainline was first constructed through the Pajaro Valley in 1871, it skirted the northern side of the Santa Cruz Mountains before cutting south to Salinas from Pajaro. Unfortunately, this stranded many of Spreckels' fields in between. For many years, nothing was done about this issue and the local farmers just had to regularly cart their goods to Chittenden or Sargent stations along the mainline. Spreckels successfully financed for the lower Pajaro Valley (i.e., the Watsonville area) the Santa Cruz Railroad by 1876 and he constructed in the Salinas area the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad in 1897. This left the San Juan Valley the only major area without railroad service as of that year.

Betabel was the short-term solution to this problem. The station, named after an uncommon Spanish name for a sugar-beet, first entered the scene at some point in 1896. By 1897, it had become the primary shipping hub for all San Juan Valley sugar-beets farmers. The station, inconveniently located on the north bank of the Pajaro River and above the confluence of the San Benito River into the Pajaro meant that a long spur was required that crossed over the confluence via a truss bridge and stopped immediately beside the county road (modern Betabel Road), making delivery of goods especially easy for farmers. While the stop does not appear to have had any offices, it was classified as a class-B station which meant it had a freight platform and, most likely, a holding spur or siding. The 1915 USGS map shows the long spur and the tracks appear thicker in the area between Sargent Creek and the stop, suggesting there was a siding there.

The truss bridge over the Pajaro River at Betabel, c. 1897. (History San José)
The station remained predominately a beet shipping station for the entire first decade of the 1900s. In 1903, a grower's association was founded to negotiate rates for using the Betabel spur, with a threat to discontinue their contract with Spreckels if their demands were not met. Things apparently went well for the next year, rumours abounded that the Southern Pacific planned to abandon both Chittenden and Sargents stations due to the increased importance of Betabel to the line. A month later, the real reason for this was revealed: oil was discovered in the hills above Betabel. According to the Sentinel, the Watsonville Oil Company had constructed an oil refinery at Betabel (although it seems more likely it was at Rialto/Newria slightly to the west). In any case, the plans to abandoned Sargents were made certain that year, but that station remained on timetables for years afterwards suggesting there was at least some local resistance.

By December 1905, news was quickly spreading that the Southern Pacific Company intended to extend a line south to San Juan Bautista to better patronize the farmers in that area. There was already an SP line to Tres Pinos, but it went away from the farmers. Where this proposed line was to branch off from was open to speculation, but one excited reporter in February 1906 called the short spur across the Pajaro River both the "Betabel branch" and the "Betabel line", implying it would be extended into a full SP branch. Further speculation in November 1906 suggested that Betabel would be converted into a formal passenger and freight station acting as the regional hub and the gateway to the Betabel branch line to San Juan Bautista.

The primary purpose of Betabel promptly fell away once the San Juan Pacific Railway came into being in 1907. This line, which linked nearby Chittenden with San Juan Bautista via the western edge of the San Juan Valley, essentially made Betabel's original purpose redundant and ended any desire for the Southern Pacific to extend their own line to San Juan Bautista. The history of Betabel disappears from records after this point, except as the occasional reference point for road construction projects and railroad-related murders. The sugar-beet industry there ended abruptly in 1907 while the oil industry closed shop within a few years due to pollution to the Pajaro River, as discussed in the Newria article. Betabel remained on railroad timetables, a little-used industrial flag-stop, until around 1944. When its spur was removed is not known—the station may have remained in use until the early 1920s as a shipping point for locally-grown fruits, but a truck company offered their services in 1921 which promptly ended this service as well.

Official Railroad Information:
Betabel first appeared in Southern Pacific Railroad agency books on January 1, 1897. It was listed in 1899 as a class-B station, implying the presence of a freight platform and siding or spur, although no other services were listed there. A 1937 employee timetable reports that it had a 26-car (1,300 feet) siding and telephone services at the stop. It was located 89.0 miles from San Francisco via San José and 11.4 miles from Watsonville Junction. By 1940, the station had no scheduled stops, passenger or freight, although it was available as a flag-stop. The station remained in records until 1944, although it seems to have been out of use for many years by that time.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.897˚N, 121.562˚W

The site of Betabel Station is a marked by a hedgerow located 2,000 feet south of the Betabel RV  Resort near the southern end of Betabel Road. The hedgerow itself is the former spur line. The switch for the spur was on the west bank of the Pajaro River beside the current Union Pacific mainline track which is today marked by a locally-used dirt road. There is no legal access to this site or even this side of the river and trespassing is not advised.

Citations & Credits:

  • Southern Pacific Railroad employee timetables and agency books, 1897 to 1940.
  • Chino Champion, 08/27/1897.
  • Santa Cruz (Morning/Evening) Sentinel, 1903-1917.
  • Oakland Tribune, 1921.
  • Nanney, Duncan. Personal correspondence.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


At the southernmost tip of Santa Clara County near the junction of Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey Counties, and along the northern bank of the Pajaro River midway between Gilroy and Watsonville once sat the minor industrial stop of Newria. It was here, in this remote area east of the tiny hamlet of Chittenden's, that the Standard Oil Company opened up an oil processing center under its subsidiary company, the Rialto Oil & Refining Company of San Francisco.

The endeavour began in April 1904 when the Watsonville Oil Company completed a pipeline to oil wells near Chittenden on the ranch of James P. Sargeant. The Watsonville company had been founded around 1896 and may have been prospecting in the hills around Chittenden since around that time since a lease from the Clara Land & Lumber Company dates to 1901. The original purpose of the wells was to fuel the steam trains and electric streetcars used by the Southern Pacific and the Watsonville Transportation Company in Watsonville and Pajaro. To process the oil, a small refinery was constructed beside the railroad tracks along a four-car spur, presumably in the large meadow on the south side of the mainline tracks at Newria. By July 1904, three oil wells were in operation here producing enough oil to fill three standard-gauged tanker cars per day. More wells were being drilled through to at least the end of the year. The newspapers at this time call the station "Rialto", although Southern Pacific Railroad records call it "Newria" from January 1905. Because of the presence of another Rialto in Southern California, it seams reasonable to assume that this site was named "New Rialto" or "NewRia".

Rumours published in the Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel in June 1904 stated that "it is the intention of the Southern Pacific company to make Rialto a station of importance and that in the near future both Sargent and Chittenden will be abandoned and all the business of the company for that section of the valley be transacted at Rialto." However, this seems very unlikely considering Chittenden was located directly alongside the road and the mainline track. In contrast, Newria was tucked away along a remote stretch of track beside which was only Sargent's farm.

Unfortunately for the Southern Pacific and the Rialto Oil Company, popular discontent intervened. Despite the initial popularity of the oil field and the wealth it was brining to nearby Watsonville, pollution began to seep into the Pajaro River almost immediately. It appears that Little Pescadero Creek, which ran just south of the refinery, was doubling as a wash from the wells up on the hills above Newria, and the runoff was fouling the water near town. In December 1905, the people of Watsonville took the Rialto Oil & Refining Company to court in Santa Cruz, accusing it of pollution and injuring the health of people and grazing stock. While the prosecution had no problem finding witnesses, the defense found virtually none. On January 4, 1906, the Newria refinery closed its doors permanently. Interestingly, the trial may not have dealt the company its death blow, at least not directly. Instead, it appears that the plant may have failed to pay its rents to the Sargent family and was also unable to pay its legal fees for the trial. Regardless, the company closed its doors permanently and Newria became a thing of the past.

During the 1906 earthquake, multiple slides were reported in the Newria area. This was only made worse the next year when terrible late winter storms crippled the mainline in the area. It can be supposed that this double-damage further decreased the likelihood that the facility would resume operations. Newria disappeared from Southern Pacific agency books in January 1908, leaving barely a memory behind of what was supposed to be the central rail hub of Chittenden Pass. It is possible that the Watsonville Oil Company continued to drill wells in the area until 1948, when the company was abandoned, but refining of that oil was done elsewhere and a stop was no longer required in the area.

Official Railroad Information:
Newria first appeared in Southern Pacific Coast Division agency books on January 1, 1905, as a private freight stop. It only remained on timetables for a scant three years, disappearing in the January 1908 agency book. It is not clear to this historian if Newria ever appeared in employee or public timetables, but considering the nature of the stop, this seems unlikely.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.898˚N, 121.575˚W

The site of Newria is on the north bank of the Pajaro River just west of Sargent Creek and east of Pescadero Creek. The site is only accessible by following the railroad tracks from Chittenden to the west, which is both highly dangerous and illegal. The station site is at the foot of a grassy hill and beside a large meadow created by a sharp bend in the adjacent river. Chittenden Road (CA 129) is directly across the river on the south bank.

Citations & Credits:

  • Santa Cruz Weekly, Morning, and Evening Sentinels, 1904-1907.

Friday, October 16, 2015


For around twenty years, there sat on the east side of Elkhorn Slough along the mainline of the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division a station that went by the simple name Lyda. Despite appearing on railroad timetables, albeit without any regularly-scheduled stops or associated facilities, literally nothing is known specifically about this stop except where it was located. Even the name is a bit of a mystery. It first appeared in Southern Pacific Railroad agency books in July 1916 and it disappeared from records between 1937 and 1940.

Speculation is really all that can be said about this station. The name may derive from a local property owner or from the actress, Lyda Borelli, who was very popular in the mid-1910s. The purpose of the station, being located on solid land and surrounded by Elkhorn Slough, was probably as a duck-hunting lodge much like the Miller's Gun Club located further to the south. Remnants of a nearby pier have been discovered, although this specific pier appears to be more recent than the 1930s, but it does suggest that boating also occurred in the area, probably related to the gun club. That being said, the stop may have just as easily catered to the farm located on the east side of the tracks, although there does not appear to be much evidence for an industrial stop there and any industrial stop on the mainline would have had a spur or siding, neither of which Lyda had. The fact that the railroad had been built over forty years before the stop first appeared discounts the option that it was simply a private flag-stop for the local property owner—that arrangement would have existed since the installation of the tracks. One last option is that Lyda was involved in some capacity as a nitrate shipping site for material mined out of the nearby Azevedo Pond, although this seems unlikely for the 1910s.

Unfortunately, as has been the case with several stops in and around Santa Cruz County, this station remains a bit of a mystery and will likely remain that way until Monterey newspapers are made more easily available (i.e., outside of microfilm collections in public libraries) or somebody comes forward with new information.

Official Railroad Information: 
Of the official railroad information accessible to this historian, Lyda only appears in one agency book and on one timetable. The agency book shows it first appearing in July 1916 at 104 miles south of San Francisco along the mainline. The timetable lists it in March 1937. It does not appear in the 1940 timetable. On the 1937 timetable, the station is shown to be 103.6 miles south of San Francisco via Watsonville Junction, Gilroy, and San José. Its nearest stations are Watsonville Junction to the north and Elkhorn to the south. No services or facilities are noted at the station nor was there a siding or a spur.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.85˚N, 121.76˚W

The site of Lyda Station is located along Elkhorn Slough, opposite a privately-owned field on Elkhorn Road. The right-of-way through this area is still in regular use by the Union Pacific Railroad but there are trails that follow alongside the tracks for those wishing to visit the site. Access is made most easily from Kirby Park to the south, at which point one follows the tracks northward alongside the slough for almost exactly one mile. The tracks will bank to the right once and then straighten out. When it does this a second time you are at the approximate location of Lyda. All of the land on the west side of the tracks are a part of the Elkhorn Slough Preserve. From Google Maps satellite view, it appears that nothing remains of the stop except, perhaps, a tiny clearing immediately to the east of the tracks and a small mound on the west side where a station shelter may have sat.

Citations & Credits:

  • Nanney, Duncan. Personal correspondence.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad documents.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Miller's Gun Club

Location of the Miller property beside the tracks near
Moro Cojo Slough, 1922 assessor map. (UC Santa Cruz)
In the early 1870s when the Southern Pacific Railroad first passed into the region of the lower Salinas Valley, it passed through Bolsa Nueva y Moro Cojo Ranch and over Moro Cojo Slough via a short bridge and fill with no stations or stops of note. This rancho had been founded in 1844 from the merger of three smaller land grands and was created for María Antonia Pico de Castro. The name means "new pocket and lame moor", which is a reference to the marshlands and the little pockets of solid land mixed throughout. Even after the railroad passed through the land, the situation remained unchanged and no stations were established between Elkhorn and Castroville.

Then, in 1906, on a site just to the north of the slough on the southeast side of Dolan Road, settled the Watsonville Rod & Gun Club. This establishment had been founded two years earlier along Elkhorn slough but it was able to lease 800 acres from the Miller and Griffin families, among others, beside the less popular Moro Cojo Slough. The group renamed itself "Miller's Gun Club" with Miller acting as president. They erected in the area a 18' by 28' clubhouse and sleep-out where up to twelve hunters could rest for the night. A six-horse barn was also build beside the clubhouse. The group met most Wednesdays and Sundays during duck-hunting season and was affiliated with the Santa Cruz Gun Club which leased the property immediately next door.

The history of the gun club becomes rather muddled after 1906, although it is known to have existed into the 1920s. When precisely Miller's Gun Club arose as a railroad stop is also sketchy. It was never a formalized stop, instead functioning as a private flag-stop for the club members. As such, it was located roughly 0.2 miles south of what would become the Moss Landing spur; however the two never coexisted. It was more properly located 2.3 miles south of Elkhorn, which was also primarily a gun club stop, albeit one with official station status from the railroad. Because of the scarcity of sources that mention the stop, it seems likely that it only appeared on select passenger timetable lists and was never published in Agency Books or employee timetables. In any event, the station disappeared by the end of the 1920s if not earlier. It likely had no platform, station structure, or even sign due to its private status.

A new Watsonville Rod & Gun Club still exists today, although its relationship with the former club is not presently known.

Official Railroad Information:
None presently known. Information derived from a working survey of the stations and stops compiled by Jim Fergusson.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.796˚N, 121.753˚W

The site of Miller's Gun Club stop is located on the southeast corner of Dolan Road where it crosses over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Access to the tracks themselves is illegal and the access road running beside the tracks are privately owned. However, the site of the stop can be seen from the bridge as a small farm equipment lot beside a dirt road.

Citations & Credits:

  • Fergusson, Jim. "California Railroads (1) – SL 181: Passenger Stations & Stops". [PDF]
  • Hall, Frank. They Came to Shoot: A History of CA Duck Clubs and Wetland Conservation.
  • Nanney, Duncan. Personal correspondence and on-site exploration.
  • Woolfolk, Andrea. Elkhorn Slough Reserve. Personal correspondence (via Nanney).

Friday, October 2, 2015

Lake Majella

The Lake Majella "V" that straddled the small collection yard for the quarry.
Source: Southern Pacific Railroad assessor's map, noting stations and tracks.
At the lonely end of the Pacific Grove Extension which lengthened the Southern Pacific Railroad's Monterey Branch sat Lake Majella Station. The purpose of the extension was always to reach the rich glass sands of Lake Majella, although the railroad advertised that it intended to connect Carmel to its railroad network. This latter feat was never accomplished and so the tracks ended in the bogs and 400-foot-high sand dunes of the tidal swamp that sat beside Moss Bay.

The main industry at Lake Majella was high-grade glass-quality quartz crystals, i.e., beach sand. This part of the Monterey Peninsula was blessed with sand dunes and those dunes located immediately around the tidal lake were composed entirely of this valuable product. Sand was processed at an on-site quarry where it was washed, dried, and bagged. The bags were then loaded into waiting freight cars that parked upon the two spurs, both of which acted as the end-of-track. The tracks extended deep into the area to an unrecorded terminus. In later years, bulldozers pushed the sand into hoppers which fed conveyor belts which then sent the sand to the processing plant. It was an efficient system where Southern Pacific boxcars waited beside the main processing center to export fully-processed product. Over the years, the sand was exported for sanding the railroad tracks, for use in glass for reconstructing San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, for ceramics used in electrical devices, for roofing paper, for soap, and even to refill beaches elsewhere. In other words, it was a very popular commodity, which is probably why the operation continued until 1978.

The Del Monte sand processing center at Lake Majella, c. 1945. An SP boxcar sits in front of the facility, awaiting its load of sand bags for shipment out. Photograph by Julian P. Graham. (Pebble Beach Company – Lagorio Archives)
Railroad service to Lake Majella was opened around the start of 1890 and some form of sand quarrying would continue at the end-of-track until the truncation of the line to Seaside in 1978. Unsurprisingly, the primary purpose of the stop was for freight, and passenger service was limited to select local passenger trains that  first year. The stop never featured on the Del Monte line or any other seasonal excursion services. Whether there was a passenger shelter at Lake Majella in those first two decades is unknown. The Pacific Improvement Company, a Southern Pacific subsidiary, appears to have operated the sand quarry until around 1906 for use with its railroad grading and track maintenance, but following the San Francisco Earthquake, the quarry was spun-off as a subsidiary, the Del Monte Sand Company.

Lake Majella tracks, showing an otherwise unlisted spur at right beside a hopper, 1949. Photo by Art Lloyd.
1898 Hotel Del Monte map. (Monterey Public Library)
The passenger shelter that was eventually constructed at Lake Majella was of the same style as that at Asilomar, suggesting that both were installed around 1913. Passenger service beyond Pacific Grove was always informal, but the presence of a shelter suggests that there was at least limited use there, probably by the quarry employees and the few locals who lived near there. The shelter was located along the eastern spur near Sunset Drive. It was a + -shaped ("Greek Cross") structure with a square peaked roof upon which the station sign was affixed. Identical shelters in the area were at Asilomar, Brackney, and Newell Junction.

The sand dunes at Moss Beach beside Lake Majella.
Despite the industrial nature of the Lake Majella area, the dunes themselves were considered by many to be quite picturesque and became a popular place for picknickers and artists otherwise spending their days at nearby Asilomar Conference Center. Boating and fishing in Spanish Bay were popular in early years, especially since the scenic Point Piños lighthouse was within sight.  The area was also heavily wooded with pines and cyprus trees originally, although most of that was later logged out. In later years, these dunes would become a rallying call for conservationists critical of the Lake Majella quarry. Their preservation was one of the chief reasons why the sand quarrying operation at Lake Majella finally ended.

Lake Majella before heavy industry and development drained the lake and cleared the forests.
From the 1940s, the Hayward Lumber Company, which still exists at the site of Lake Majella Station, received loads of lumber freight via the railroad. They were the last customers that used the Pacific Grove Extension, receiving goods into early 1979. The abandonment of this section of track was approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission on December 29, 1978. Within a few months, most of the tracks to Seaside were pulled, although some were buried. Lake Majella only briefly was returned to nature. Not long after the closure of the sand quarry, The Inn at Spanish Bay, a part of the Pebble Beach Resorts consortium, was opened as a luxury resort and golf complex. Some of the dunes still sit uncomfortably around Spanish Bay, mostly between the resort and the Asilomar Conference grounds.

Official Railroad Information:
Lake Majella first appeared on Southern Pacific timetables in 1890 at the end of the Pacific Grove Extension.  The station was located 130.0 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Pajaro Junction, Gilroy, and San José, and it was also 0.1 miles from Asilomar. Agency books at the turn of the century listed the station as having a class-A freight platform, which means it also included a spur, but no other services were listed. This situation never changed. The spur was listed initially in the 1920 as a 51-car-length (~2,550 feet) stretch of track, however this listing disappeared in later years, possibly because the switch was more closely located at Asilomar, being just to the south of that stop. Passenger service to the stop continued until around 1940, when the stop became strictly for freight. The stop remained in frequent use until 1978 when the line was truncated to Seaside.

The sand quarry at Lake Majella, c. 1960. Photo by Pat Hathaway. (Fine Art America)
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.616˚N, 121.934˚W

The site of Asilomar Station is now Hayward Lumber off of Sunset Drive. Lake Majella itself is now the Inn and Links at Spanish Bay resort, with the core hub of activity located roughly within the residential subdivision on the east side of that complex. The western spur of the track paralleled Crocker Road to the east and is now visible, albeit somewhat overgrown. The eastern spur ran through the east side of Hayward Lumber. Both tracks crossed Sunset Drive with their present right-of-ways flanking the Pacific Grove Self-Storage facility and the adjacent shopping center. Both spurs undoubtedly continued directly to the Lake Majella quarry, but unfortunately the Gold Links at Spanish Bay has developed over any remaining trace of those right-of-ways.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, September 25, 2015


Down the track 1.6 miles from Pacific Grove and its relatively large freight yard was the much smaller Asilomar flag-stop, the last passenger station along the line. Unlike all of the other stops along the Pacific Grove Extension of the Monterey Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division, Asilomar was a late addition, only added as a stop when the Asilomar Conference Center first opened its doors in 1913.

A group of camp girls at Asilomar, June 1916. Photo by Heidrick Photo Studio. (State Parks)
The inside of the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall, c. 1920. (State Parks)
In the late 19th century, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) began operating in the Monterey Bay area. In 1897, a group of women representing the Pacific Coast Field Committee of the YWCA decided that it was interested in holding an annual retreat somewhere in the area, choosing  the Hotel Capitola near Santa Cruz for its venue from 1900 to 1911. In 1912, Hotel Capitola burned to the ground and the women were forced to look elsewhere for a conference center. That year, a tent city was erected in Livermore for the conference, but all of that material was later transferred to a property in Pacific Grove. The Pacific Improvement Company, the real estate subsidiary of Southern Pacific Railroad, donated 30 acres to the women at a field near the beach. They were required to build substantive structures within the first ten years of the lease, and they had to pay all property taxes for the land. Julia Morgan, a female architect from San Francisco, was hired to build the conference center, while Phoebe Apperson Hearst (mother of William Randolph Hearst) provided much of the funding and materials. The name Asilomar was chosen after a contest was held among attendees that first year. It's name means "refuge by the sea". On August 7, 1913, Asilomar was officially dedicated. Ellen Browning Scripps expanded the facility in 1916 by purchasing 20 more acres from the Pacific Improvement Company. It began operating year-round after that, although the summer was always its busiest season when the YWCA ran camps for girls and leadership conferences.

Asilomar Station shelter with luggage trolly, c. 1920. 
Naturally, the railroad came soon afterwards. The Pacific Grove Extension already passed beside the conference center, terminating just 0.1 miles away at Lake Majella and Moss Beach. Asilomar Beach was the name given to the beach next door which sat upon the YWCA land. As early as 1913, the railroad delivered passengers to Asilomar, although the precise date that regular passenger service began is not known to this historian. By the early 1920s, the station functioned as a seasonal passenger stop, although it probably offered flag-service year-round, and an occasional freight stop. The specific nature of the freight at Asilomar is not known, although it likely was related to the business at Lake Majella. Indeed, Asilomar acted as the switch for an 8-car (~400 foot) spur from as early as 1928. This spur was primarily for cars loaded with sand from Moss Beach. A D-class freight platform was also there, although no other services were offered for freight. The siding at Asilomar grew over the years, eventually maxing-out at 30 car-lengths (1,500 feet), although this was likely split between the siding and a spur, the latter of which is visible in some photographs. The spur seems to have been short and removed in the 1940s as the track-length condensed to 27 car-lengths (1,325 feet), which it remained until the line was abandoned.

Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall, built in 1913. (State Parks)
Passenger service was offered via a seasonal passenger agency and telephone office, although the specific nature of this station is not presently known. The Great Depression had an effect on Asilomar and the YWCA, no longer able to pay its debts, was forced to close the facility in January 1934. The Depression, though, meant that nobody wanted to purchase the facility, so the Asilomar Committee continued to maintain the grounds during these years. Passenger service to the stop continued until 1940, but the original station structure, if ever there was one, was replaced with a small generic passenger shelter in the early 1930s. With the closure of Asilomar, the shelter sat abandoned beside the tracks, the station only catering to the random passenger flag and freight. The shelter was dismantled or relocated at some point in time, although somebody has since built a recreation of the original and installed it near the station site. Railroad service past Asilomar continued intermittently until 1978 when the tracks were reduced to Seaside. The right-of-way in this area has since become a public bike trail.

Asilomar Station in 1974 with a pair of sand hoppers parked on the tracks in the distant background.
In 1936, David and Paulsen Visel ran Asilomar as a motel until 1940, after which the National Youth Authority used it as a training came. World War II caused the center to be converted into an overflow motel for visitors to Fort Ord and the Presidio. By 1947, the YWCA had regained enough funds to reopen the conference center, finally making money like it never had before. It has been in continuous operation ever since. In 1956, Asilomar became a California State Park, with its conference center leased to the Pacific Grove Association. In 1969, Pacific Grove transferred its lease to the new Pacific Grove-Asilomar Operating Corporation, a special company specifically established to keep Asilomar operating while protecting its surrounding environment. The property was more than doubled in size to provide a better conservation area around it, and now there is an ongoing program in place to maintain the dune habitat on the beach, which are now called the Asilomar Dune Natural Preserve. In 1987, the original structures at Asilomar were declared National Historic Landmarks.

Asilomar Station on the conference
grounds today.
Official Railroad Information:
Asilomar Station was located 129.9 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Watsonville Junction, Gilroy, and San José. It was also 0.1 miles from the Lake Majella end-of-track. It was established around 1913 and was operated seasonally. Freight service to the station was in place by 1926 and catered primarily to the Lake Majella/Moss Beach sand quarry. To support this industry, a siding of 1,325 feet was erected, with a shorter 3-car (~175 foot) spur built across from the passenger shelter. Originally, a passenger agency office and telephone were at the shelter. The office closed when passenger service ended around 1940 and the shelter was relocated to within the conference grounds. The station itself remained on timetables, sometimes as a full stop, often as an Additional Station, until 1978 when the line was truncated to Seaside.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.619˚N, 121.933˚W

The site of Asilomar Station is roughly where the bike trail crosses over Sinex Avenue, just outside the main entrance to Asilomar Conference Grounds. The shelter structure has been rebuilt and sits near the site of the original structure with a sign atop its roof.

Citations & Credits: