Friday, May 22, 2015


1913 USGS Map showing Lapis and its long spur.
The station that began its life in 1908 under the name "Stone" evolved quickly the next year into Lapis Siding. The name may derive from the gemstone, lapis lazuli, although no such gemstone appears to have been found there. The cement manufactured using a mixture Lapis sand is often sold as "Lapis Lustre", although the origins of this word combination are unknown.

The mine was originally operated by Egbert Barker and Andrew Lysander Stone beginning in 1906 to help the reconstruction projects in San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake. Lapis has always been and is still a sand mine. The railroad associated itself with Lapis two years after the mine was established, although it may have operated earlier albeit unregistered. The long spur to the beach wrapped southward in a gentle arc. Originally, there was a siding that ran much of its length and a second siding near its terminus. The spur forked at the end with one spur turning back into the plant. A freight platform was only installed much later. The property changed hands multiple times over the years and by the 1940s, it was being mined by Pacific Coast Aggregates as their Number 10 plant. It was an extensive operation with support tracks that measured over a mile in length from its switch off the Monterey Branch beside State Route 1 (now Lapis Road). The new arrangements of he tracks saw them branching three times, with one spur operating off of a switchback at the beach. The siding along the gentle curve of the track remained in place.

1948 USGS Map showing Lapis Siding and the Pacific Coast Aggregates
Company plant (#10) at the end of a spur track.
Today the facility, now owned by CEMEX, no longer uses the railroad tracks, although the tracks still terminate at the plant. The quarry uses hydraulic pumps to dislodge rock and relocate sediment. It is an extensive operation despite its small size; over 3 million tons of sand are shipped out each year from the Lapis plant. Its primary processing plant is visible today from State Route 1, often with a small spout of steam ejecting above the primary kiln. The site is currently being considered for a desalinisation plant, although political opinion is currently against the prospect.

CEMEX Sand Quarry as seen from above. (Google Maps)

Official Railroad Information:
The station first appeared in 1908 under the name "Stone". The Agency Book for that year records no facilities at the stop. In 1909 it was renamed "Lapis" and was classified as a C-type freight stop with no platform or other services. A platform was finally installed at some point in the 1920s.

Lapis was registered as permanent flag-stop on the Monterey Branch in 1937. It was located 114.8 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Gilroy, and San José, and 13.5 miles from Lake Majella. It had a 23-carlength spur (~1,150 feet) and no other freight services. The station was downgraded to an additional stop by 1940. The spur was greatly lengthened in the late 1940s to 115-carlengths (~5,750), likely representing an expansion of the spur into multiple branches, as shown on the 1948 map above. Passenger service to the stop was discontinued at this time. The station remained on timetables as an "Additional Station" into the 1990s and probably until the abandonment of the branch by the Union Railroad in 1999. Lapis's spur length in 1974 was recorded as 5,635 feet and this seems to closely match the tracks still present on the spur today.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.715˚N, -121.793˚W

The site of the Lapis switch as well as the entirety of the spur is owned by CEMEX. No trespassing is allowed. The switch can be viewed from Lapis Road just north of the CEMEX plant turn-off.

Lapis switch today as seen from Lapis Road. (Google StreetView)
Citations & Credits:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Martin & Neponset

1913 USGS Map showing Neponset just south of the Salinas River.
The northern part of Monterey County has never been heavily developed. With the agricultural wealth of the Salinas Valley, plants more than people occupied the great river basin. Neponset, a Southern Pacific Railroad station located just south of the Salinas River along the Monterey Branch, never belonged to a town. The station was located on the edge of Rancho Rincón de las Salinas (corner of the salt marshes). The grant was originally given to Cristina Delgado in 1833. After the United States annexed California, the rancho was patented to Rafael Estrada. Little is said about the rancho until the narrow-gauged Salinas Valley Railroad passed through in 1872, when the area just south of the river picked up the nickname "Twin Bridges", in reference to the horse and railroad bridges that were built side-by-side (today, there are three bridges over the river here, two for cars and one five-truss span for trains).

When the Southern Pacific purchased the Salinas Valley Railroad, it established a station at Twin Bridges under the name "Martin's Station" and, later, "Martins". Who the name referred to is not presently known by this historian. The local settlement itself appears to have been located on the Monterey Bay slightly to the west, but a freight platform and siding were built alongside the tracks to support the local community. Passenger and freight service both went through the station. What precisely was shipped out of here is not entirely known. Agricultural products undoubtedly were one of the items, but salt from the Salinas River and the beach, or other ocean-related products may also have shipped out from here.

The station was renamed one last time around 1899 to "Neponset", after the Massachusetts town of the same name, which itself was a Amerindian word meaning "little summer place". Once again, the reason for the name is not currently known. Neponset reached its height in the 1920s when a water tower was installed there and its siding reached its maximum length of around 700 feet. Starting in the 1930s, it began to shrink again and passenger service ended during World War II. The station was removed from timetables around 1960.

Today, a small spur, reduced from its original siding, remains at Neponset along the now-abandoned and spiked Monterey Branch. A large industrial park occupies the site adjacent to the station. Parts of the former freight platform and station structure may survive within the facility's parking lot, although this is not clear from Google Maps. Though Neponset is still considered an unincorporated community in Monterey County, very few people live there today and it is primarily undeveloped or agricultural land.

Aerial view of Neponset today. The extant spur is visible in the profile of the driveway at top. (Google Maps)
Official Railroad Information:
Neponset was located 113.9 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Gilroy, and San José, and 14.7 miles from Lake Majella. It included a 14-car siding (~700 feet), a water tank (installed in the 1920s), a class-A freight yard with platform on the south side of the tracks, and supported both freight and passenger service. By 1951, the station no longer supported passenger service and its siding shrunk to only 9-carlengths (~450 feet). The station was removed from Southern Pacific timetables by 1963.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.73˚N, -121.78˚W

The site of Neponset is located along Monte Road, a frontage road beside State Route 1 just south of the Salinas River crossing. The railroad tracks and siding (now a spur) still exist outside a restricted-entry industrial park. The spur breaks off just at the driveway. The station and platform probably sat between the tracks slightly to the southwest of the driveway, the current site of the business's staff parking lot. Neponset Road wraps around the industrial park on its south side.

Citations & Credits:
  • Mildred Brooke Hoover, Historic Spots in California (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990).

Friday, May 8, 2015

Morocojo & Nashua

1948 USGS Map showing Nashua station on Nashua Road
(former Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad right-of-way).
The small settlement of Rancho Bolsa del Potrero y Moro Cojo, also known as La Sagrada Familia or more simply, Morocojo, began life as a Mexican rancho. The original grant was for 6,916 acres on the north side of the Salinas River near its outlet to the Monterey Bay. It was one of the earliest confirmed Mexican land grants in the state, given in 1822 by Governor Pablo Vicente de Solá to José Joaquín de la Torre. Its neighbor to the north was the similarly named Rancho Bolsa Nueva y Moro Cojo.

Torre had been a Spanish soldier and the alcade (mayor) of Monterey before becoming the secretary of Governor Solá. He was married to Maria Los Angeles Cota in 1803. Torre may never have settled on the property and sold it to an Englishman, John Bautista Rogers Cooper, in 1839. Torre later was granted Rancho Arroyo Seco and settled there in the 1840s. Cooper was not just any settler, he was a captain of a ship and the son-in-law of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. He settled on Potrero y Moro Cojo and his property was patented by the United States government in 1859.

This was probably the state of things when the Salinas Valley Railroad first passed through the property in 1874. Cooper had died in 1872 but he left two daughters behind who undoubtedly inherited the land. Whether a station was erected at this time is not presently known to this historian, but it seems possible. The railroad passed directly through the heart of the rancho, requiring a long and disruptive easement, and it seems most likely that the family negotiated a stop for their agricultural products in exchange. The fact that the station was known as Morocojo, the name of the rancho, until 1912 reinforces this point.

When the Pajaro Valley Railroad passed through in 1891, it originally ended at the Morocojo junction with the now-Southern Pacific Railroad's Monterey Branch. Over the next decade, the route was extended to Spreckles near Salinas, with the two railroad lines more or less quartering Rancho Morocojo. Southern Pacific timetables noted the crossing with the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad in its timetables, although there appears to have been little interchange here. The PVCRR did not even note the crossing, placing its Moro Cojo stop slightly to the southeast near a second stop for the rancho named Cooper. The PVCRR maintained a total of five stops within the rancho, although by this point the rancho property had probably been divided into various smaller parcels. Claus Spreckels leased portions of the property to grow sugar beats for his two local refineries and likely used these five stops to make shipments out of the area easier. The Southern Pacific station may have been used for similar purposes by Spreckels, especially prior to 1891.

For another decade, Morocojo remained a stop on the Monterey Branch until the railroad inexplicably in 1912 renamed the station Nashua. Nashua remains even today an unincorporated community in Monterey County, but there is almost nothing there anymore. Presumably more was there in the 1910s-1930s, but it seems doubtful there was ever a thriving town. In the USGS map for 1948, only the station and a few small structures are noted at the site of the junction. It is possible the area was more popular prior to 1929 when the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad shut down. Once the crossing was closed and the right-of-way converted into Nashua Road, the locals only had the Southern Pacific Railroad to haul its goods. With the Great Depression starting at the same time, exports from the area undoubtedly declined, while the rise of the automobile and automated farming likely ended any need for the station. By 1951, Nashua no longer appeared in timetables.

A Google Streetview image of the Nashua Station site. The tracks now sit beneath Nashua Road, the former right-of-way
of the Pajaro Valley Railroad. The signal sits idle, turned away, its crossing gate long removed.
Official Railroad Information:
Mojocojo probably appeared in timetables as early as 1874, when the Salinas Valley Railroad first passed through the area. By 1899, it had a class-A freight platform but no other facilities at the site. It was located 112.4 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Gilroy, and San José, and it acted as the crossing station for the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad. The station served primarily as a flag-stop but did appear on timetables with a schedule. It was 18.0 miles from Lake Majella. Mojocojo was renamed Nashua in 1912.

Nashua was located 112.3 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Gilroy, and San José. The station was reduced to a C-class freight station in the 1920s, although it retained its platform. The facilities there in 1940 included a 14 car-length siding (~700 feet) and both passenger and freight facilities. Nashua as a geographic location appears to have disappeared in the late 1940s as it ceased appearing on timetables in 1951.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.741˚, -121.765˚

The site of Nashua Station is located at the eastern corner of Nashua Road with Monte Road. Today, there is only a field there, with a small maintenance facility located just to the east of it. The railroad tracks no longer cross the road, being paved over in the 1990s, and the signals, still present, are turned away, their bars removed.

Citations & Credits:

  • Still looking for better sources!

Friday, May 1, 2015


The Monterey Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division had its fair share of obscure stops just as the Santa Cruz County sections had, but few are as obscure as Gay. Located only 1.1 miles south of Castroville along the branch, the station first appeared in the late 1940s and persisted for hardly a decade before quietly disappearing. It may have succeeded Nashua as a stop, which had been located about a mile to the south and disappeared in the 1940s (Nashua itself had replaced Morocojo at some point), but the distance between the two stops makes that assessment questionable. In all likelihood, Gay was an agricultural stop named after a local property owner. A long half-mile-long siding at the stop reinforces the assumption. USGS survey maps of the 1950s show such a siding on the north side of the tracks running the length between Tembladero Slough and an irrigation canal. There was never any passenger service at Gay and it seems unlikely that there was any permanent structure there except for a station sign. No evidence of a station or siding remains today and the now-abandoned tracks of the Monterey Branch peacefully pass through the fields without interruption.

Official Railroad Information:
Gay first appeared on the 1951 Southern Pacific Coast Division timetable and disappeared by 1963. It was located 111.5 miles from San Francisco via Castroville and San José. It maintained a spur and siding space for 73 cars (~3,650 feet).

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.746511, -121.755179

The site of Gay is located along the Monterey Branch midway between Castroville Road and Nashua Road immediately prior to passing over an irrigation canal. The site today is in the middle of an agricultural field and is undoubtedly privately owned with an easement provided for the railroad tracks. Trespassing is not recommended.

Citations & Credits:
  • Southern Pacific Coast Division timetables, 1941-1963.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Castroville & Del Monte Junction

Castroville and Del Monte Junction on a 1915 USGS map.
As with so many things located in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, the town of Castroville owes its origins to the Spanish and Mexican periods of California history. The town is unique, though, for having a name derived from one of the most well-known local citizens, Juan Bautista Castro, yet integrating that name into a very English suffix, "ville" (as in town or village). Thus we get Castro's Village. The land for the town was sectioned off from the much larger surrounding Rancho Bolsa Nueva y Moro Cojo (New Bag and Lame Moor), which will receive a much more thorough description in the article on Moro Cojo. Juan Bautista was the son of Simeon Castro, grandson of Joaquin Castro, one of the original Spanish colonists in the area. He founded his town in 1863 in an area more or less surrounded by marshes.

The town's lots were sold at auction to anyone who could build upon them in 1870 and the Southern Pacific Railroad passed through the settlement two years later, in 1871. At the time, this was the railroad's primary route between San Francisco and Los Angeles, though in later years it would become a part of the Salinas Sub-Division of the Coast Division. At the same time, Castro became county supervisor for the region and money began trickling in to help develop the community. By 1875, the town had 900 residents operating out of two hotels, five mercantile stores, three saloons, a flour mill, two blacksmith shops, a newspaper, two churches, and many other structures. A post office was established by 1873, bolstered by the presence of the railroad. Castro hoped to attract the Southern Pacific into turning its small station into a full-fledged freight yard, but Salinas was cheaper and the railroad set-up shop there. For a time, Castroville was just another stop on the route between Gilroy and Salinas.

Castroville developed over the next century as a mostly agricultural stop, with Chinese laborers brought in early on to help in the fields and to clear out sloughs and marshes. Claus Spreckles maintained a number of sugar beet fields in the area, and used both the Southern Pacific and Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad to haul his goods to Watsonville or Spreckles for processing. In 1922, Andrew Molera planted artichokes in Castroville and it has since become their primary industry, known worldwide.

Castroville Station's long freight house in 1948. The hay-day of Castroville is at an end and the station is primarily a stop
along the Monterey Branch and the mainline. (Wilbur Whittaker)
The arrangement of the original station at Castroville is not known to this historian but the freight station present in 1948 is pictured above. The freight building was a long standard Southern Pacific design with a freight loading ramp on one end and the passenger depot just across from the other end. Unfortunately, photographs of the passenger station are not presently available for viewing.

Castroville served as second function beginning in October 1874 as the northern terminus of the Salinas Valley Railroad, which ran to Monterey. This narrow-gauged private road was sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad in December 1879, who standard-gauged it within a few years and merged it completely into the parent company in March 1888.
Sometime around 1913, the popularity of the Monterey Branch, popularly known as the Del Monte Branch for the Del Monte Hotel, grew so large that the Southern Pacific renamed Castroville to "Del Monte Junction". The station reverted back to Castroville in January 1929 when most of the regular service between Castroville and Pacific Grove was replaced by bus service.

The main customer at Castroville was always the agricultural industry, and today there is still one spur to a former local industry located near Commercial Parkway. Other spurs still exist as well, with traces of even more visible on overhead satellite views of the large freight yard. While Castroville no longer has a station structure, it does still function as a holding yard for some nearby businesses, and both a siding and a spur remain operable and in use. Meanwhile, the now spiked track to the Monterey Branch, which still exists in a disconnected state, parallels parts of Del Monte Avenue on its southern end.

Official Railroad Information:
Castroville Station was 110.4 miles from San Francisco via Gilroy and San José and 10.0 miles from Watsonville Junction. It first appeared on the earliest Southern Pacific timetables of the route. By 1899 it had full telegraph and phone service, a class-A freight depot with a platform, and a 6-siding yard with a water tower. In 1940, the yard had expanded to include over a mile of siding and spur trackage. With realignment of the tracks in the late 1940s, the station shifted to 106.5 miles from San Francisco. A wye was added to the stop around 1960. Passenger service to the stop ended prior to 1974, at which time the yard had 6,300 feet of siding and spur space.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36˚N 45' 29.18", 121˚W 44' 38.48"

Castroville Station was located at the northeast corner of Del Monte Avenue and Blackie Road along what is now Cara Mia Parkway. The structure has since been removed. The freight yard itself parallels the entirety of Del Monte Avenue, beginning just south of where State Route 156 crosses the tracks.

Citations & Credits:

  • Clovis, Margaret. Images of America: Monterey County's North Coast and Coastal Valleys. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.
  • Rice, Walter and Emiliano Excheverria. Images of Rail: Rails of California's Central Coast. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Moss Landing

1914 USGS Map showing Moss and the PVCRR trackage.
The small town of Moss Landing located almost precisely midway between Santa Cruz and Monterey near the mouth of the Salinas River began its life as the community of "Moss". The name was not in reference to plant growth, but rather to Charles Moss, who erected a pier at the site for the purpose of whaling in 1866. Moss built the pier with the help of a Portuguese whaler, Cato Vierra. It measured 200 feet and attracted local whalers, fishermen, and salt harvesters. Moss eventually sold the pier to the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, which operated steamships off the Powder Works Wharf in Santa Cruz. The wharf was destroyed in the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and was never rebuilt.

The destroyed pier at Moss in 1906, from the roof of a PVCRR box car.
(Pat Hathaway Collection)
The Southern Pacific Railroad first passed Dolan Road in 1873 when it was constructing its route between Pajaro and Castroville. With no major industry at Moss Landing, which was nearly two miles away in any case, no stop was established for the village. When the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad ran between Watsonville and Spreckels, however, it passed directly through the town. The combination of the pier and the railroad greatly improved the status of Moss and contributed to its rapid growth. In response to this, a post office was established in the town in 1895. The town was renamed Moss Landing in 1917 when the port became a major commercial whaling station. Financial troubles and a lack of purpose shut down the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad in 1928 (the tracks were removed in 1931), leaving the town once again without railroad access. Meanwhile, the whaling business at Moss Landing had mostly declined to a point of nonprofit and by 1931 a fish cannery had been established in the town with commercial fishing taking over whaling. More canneries opened up throughout the 1930s, settling on the inlet between Elkhorn Slough and the bay. This led to the establishment of the Moss Landing Harbor District in 1943, which sought to convert the makeshift port into a more formal harbor. The harbor opened in 1947 but few commercial industries used it since the whale and fishing industries had dried up during World War II. While fishing has continued to bring in limited revenue, it never reached the level of the 1930s. The landing is now a small-craft harbor capable of supporting around 600 vessels at docks and buoys.

Broken PVCRR tracks after the 1906 earthquake. (Bancroft Library)
Things changed drastically in 1949 when Pacific Gas & Electric built the Moss Landing Power Plant at the corner of State Route 1 and Dolan Road. To support this new operation, the Southern Pacific finally turned its eye toward the coastal town, setting up a nearly two-mile-long spur to the facility around 1950. The spur broke off from the end of the long Elkhorn siding and followed Dolan Road on the north all the way into the power plant grounds. Once inside the facility, the tracks split, with the mainline branching off a siding to run beside the gas tanks and stacks. At the same point, two spurs broke off to the south, ending just short of State Route 1. Yet another spur branched off earlier and ran on the north side of the gas tanks, with a fourth spur running parallel to it. The exact purpose for these spurs is not entirely known but it can be assumed that they were used to import materials and export products from the power plant. The plant uses natural gas to generate electricity and its two tall stacks are visible from all corners of the Monterey Bay on clear days. As of 2013, the plant is capable of producing 2,560 MW of energy, though it usually runs slightly below that amount. The plant was sold to Duke Energy (DENA) in 1998 and then sold again in 2006 to LS Power Equity Partners. The next year, Dynergy wholly purchased LS Power Equity Partners.

Moss Landing spur track with the power plant at left and the switch (station point) at right, 1965. (US Geologic Survey)
Official Railroad Information:
The Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad stop for Moss Landing was located 9.8 miles from the company's Watsonville station (roughly 0.1 miles from its switch with the SP at Watsonville) and 17.4 miles from Spreckles. The facilities at Moss Landing included a wye, 42 car-lengths of track (roughly 1,500 feet), and two spurs catering to local freight concerns. The PVCRR allowed passenger and freight service on all of its trains at all of its stops. Moss Landing Station was abandoned in 1928 and the tracks pulled in 1931.

Moss Landing switch as of 2004. Clearly the track is not heavily used
anymore, if it is used at all. (
The Southern Pacific Railroad stop for Moss Landing was located 103.8 miles from San Francisco via Watsonville Junction and San José. it was also 27.4 miles from Santa Cruz. The spur supported 7 cars (roughly 3,850 feet of track) and included both passenger and freight services. By 1954, the stop had become a flag-stop, although all previous services remained available. Passenger service was finally abandoned around 1959. A passing siding was installed at the switch prior to 1963, although this likely was simply the long siding at Elkhorn, which was abandoned as a stop at the same time. The 1987 employee timetable records that the total available trackage at Moss Landing had increased to 13,340 feet of track, although this number likely now includes track which had previously been within the power plant grounds and therefore not included in total track measurements. The trackage is still intact although it does not appear to be in use by the Dynergy or the Union Pacific Railroad.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Pajaro Valley Consolidated station: 36˚N 47' 57.551", 121˚W 47' 9.602"
Southern Pacific station: 36˚N 47' 54.211", 121˚W 45' 10.023"

The site of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad's Moss Landing Station is approximately at the site of the Moss Landing KOA Express park, at the junction of Moss Landing Road and Sandholdt Road. A spur ran beside Sandholdt to the beach while the wye made up much of the center of this jetty.

The Southern Pacific station at Moss Landing is still located just north of the intersection of Dolan Road and the Union Pacific mainline track, where an overpass runs above the tracks. There were never many services there since most activity took place within the power plant itself. Access to both the tracks and the power plant is restricted to the appropriate staff and since the track is still considered active, trespassing is not encouraged.

Citations & Credits:

  • "History", Moss Landing Harbor District.

Friday, March 27, 2015


1915 USGS Map showing Elkhorn.
To most people living around the Monterey Bay, Elkhorn is a slough and nothing more. It's primary settlement is the town of Moss Landing and its power plant is its primary industry. But inland just beyond the boundaries of Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, the small town of Elkhorn still survives with an estimated population of 1,500.

Elkhorn was originally named after elk that were found in the area by the early Spanish settlers. The Southern Pacific Railroad passed through the area in 1872 when it built its mainline between Gilroy and Salinas. When precisely Elkhorn was established as a stop is not known. The station catered primarily to local farms and agricultural firms, with grain being the primary crop in the area. In 1931, oil drilling also was attempted in the area, with dozens of wells being installed along the slough near Elkhorn.

Unfortunately, not much more is known at this time regarding Elkhorn's station or relationship with the railroad. The stop existed into the 1950s. Beginning in 1971, the Nature Conservancy began purchasing land around the slough for use as a nature reserve. Since then, various groups and the state and national governments have organized 1.48 square miles of land as a protected estuary managed by the California Department of Fish & Game. The Moss Landing Wildlife Area extends that protection the region around Elkhorn's station site.

Official Railroad Information:
Elkhorn was located 105.8 miles from San Francisco via Gilroy and San José and 5.4 miles from Watsonville Junction. It included a 64-car-length spur (approximately 2,560 feet long), a passing siding, and the station offered both passenger and freight services. In the late 1940s, the spur was extended to 106 car-lengths (approx. 4,204 feet).

The Elkhorn station point with farm house in the background, possibly a dairy. (Monterey Free Libraries)
The 1899 station book notes that Elkhorn had a class-D station, meaning that it was a freight stop with no platform or spur. Therefore, the spur was only added after that year. Unfortunately, further station book information on Elkhorn is not available at this time.

Elkhorn likely appeared as a stop in the 1870s and remained on timetables until the late 1950s.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36˚ N 49' 28", 121˚W 44' 26"

The site of Elkhorn station is on the main Union Pacific branch line between Watsonville Junction and Castroville. The tracks are completely surrounded by the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and access is restricted, though probably not enforced. An unpaved road off of Elkhorn Road on the south side of Kirby Park is the only access to the station site.

Citations & Credits:

  • Help me find better sources!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Vega & Eaton

USGS Map from 1915 showing Vega Station and Rancho Vega.
Rancho Vega del Río del Pájaro ("Meadow along the River of the Bird") stretched from the foothills outside of the town of Pajaro and the foothills west of Aromas, with the Pajaro River to the north and more hills to the south. On April 17, 1820, Antonio María Castro was granted the rancho by the Spanish government as one of its last land grants in the area. It was confirmed in June 1833 by José Figueroa. Castro, thus, was one of the earliest settlers in the Pajaro Valley. Like many other early settlers, Castro had been a military officer who retired to the area in 1809, after which he rose in prominence in the region as a alternate elector for Alta California.

Following the American annexation of California, Juan Miguel Anzar attempted to claim the grant on behalf of his wife, María Antonia Castro, although he died before the grant was approved. His widow died in 1855 and her second husband, Frederick A. McDougal, and her four children by Anzar fought to gain the 4,310 acres, which was finally rewarded to them in January 1864.

Rancho Vega del Río del Pájaro land grant map, c. 1850. (Bancroft Library)

When the Southern Pacific Railroad passed through the Coast Range and its foothills between Gilroy and the town of Pajaro in 1871, it passed directly through the center of the Vega Ranch. McDougal and his step-children were able to negotiate as part of the right-of-way agreement a freight and passenger flag-stop on their property which was listed under the name "Vega". The area around Vega and in the hills to the southwest evolved slowly into a small settlement of mostly farmers that used the freight platform at Vega station to ship out their goods. Vega School was located to the northeast of the railroad station along the county road that later became San Juan Road (G11).

The stop was never large and the platform likely disappeared in the early 1900s. A freight spur was installed at the station at around this time measuring approximately 650 feet. Whether there was ever a physical station structure at Vega is unknown, though it seems unlikely considering the flag-stop nature of the stop. A shelter may have existed there. The name Vega stuck around into the 1940s when it suddenly and inexplicably became "Eaton", though the nature of the stop did not change. The new name may have been a reference to Orrin O. Eaton, a local landowner who held a favorable reputation in Monterey County for helping to introduce lettuce to the county in 1917. He also may have owned part of Rancho Vega in the 1950s. Eaton station remained on Southern Pacific timetables as an "Additional Stop" into the 1980s and perhaps as late as 1996, when the railroad company was merged into the Union Pacific.

Vega School, designed by William Henry Weeks.
(Monterey Free Libraries)
At the station site today, double tracks still pass in front of the station site and a small assembly area for the local farms still occupies the site of the spur and platform. Railroads no longer stop at Vega and the local community is now considered a ghost town by Monterey County. The school closed its doors in 1950, leaving the schoolhouse, designed by William Henry Weeks, abandoned.

Official Railroad Information:
Vega was registered as a industrial and passenger flag-stop and spur, 97.1 miles from San Francisco via Gilroy and San José. The station sat on the double-track between Watsonville Junction and Logan. Sometime around World War II, the station was renamed Eaton. The spur was still listed in 1951 as capable of holding 13 cars, giving it an estimated length of 650 feet. As with Vega, Eaton was not listed in timetables but rather sat as an additional stop in a separate table.

Agency books list Vega as a class-A freight stop with a platform located on the right side of the tracks, as oriented from San Francisco. No other services were listed and no depot structure was noted.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36˚N 53' 51.506", 121˚W 41' 26.905"

Vega's station was located on the west side of San Miguel Canyon Road. The actual Vega community was slightly to the south along Vega Road in a short hilly section of land.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, March 13, 2015


USGS Map showing Aromas and Sand Cut (at left), 1914.
Near the meeting point of Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Monterey Counties, the small unincorporated community of Aromas sits, literally bisected by Monterey and San Benito Counties along Carpenteria Road. The community began its life in October 1835 as the Mexican Rancho Aromitas y Agua Caliente (translated from Spanish as Little Odors & Warm Water Ranch). The name may have been a reference to the nearby Soda Lake and its sulphur spring, which later became the focus of a short-lived resort. With the American annexation of California in 1846, the rancho became Rancho Las Aromas, a name which stuck thereafter. Despite numerous reports stating that the town descended from an earlier town of Vega, Vega was, in fact, located further to the west, about midway between Aromas and Pajaro.

Rancho Aromitas y Agua Caliente. [Bancroft Library]
The community really came to life in 1871 when the Southern Pacific Railroad built its railroad through Pajaro Gap and Chittenden Pass, following the south bank of the Pajaro River. To get through to Pajaro to the west, a short tunnel was constructed just to the west of Aromas. It seems that the tunnel was either never fully completed or collapsed soon after construction, as it was noted as "Sand Cut" from as early as the 1880s. The site of the cut today is precisely that: a deep cut, overgrown with trees and shrubs on the cut's walls. To the east, meanwhile, vast reserves of aggregate material discovered during excavation of the railroad right-of-way immediately became a quarry for use by the railroad. It would be this quarry that gave new life to the Aromas community, converting it within twenty years into the town as it is known today. A post office under the name Aromas opened in 1894, and the railroad set up a stop on the fringe of the community center probably around the same time. Most of the residents of the town worked at or were related to people who worked at the Logan quarry for Granite Rock. The remainder were educators, shop keepers, and the independent farmers working the surrounding fields.

Crews loading apricot pits onto boxcars at Aromas, c 1920. [Monterey County Libraries]
The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake devastated Aromas, which sat near the fault line, and the original station structure was levelled in the temblor. Boxcars full of fruits and vegetables fell of buckled tracks. The station was quickly rebuilt according to the standard model of the time and life moved on.

The newly rebuilt Aromas Station in 1907.
[Monterey County Library, Aromas Branch]
The railroad's presence at Aromas was restricted to the north end of town, with its two-story station located on the northeast corner of Carpenteria Road at its junction with Quarry Road. A pair of tracks ran beside the station, following a double-track that linked Logan to Watsonville Junction. A much larger railroad station replaced the 1907 prefabricated structure at some point in the 1910s. It included a tall freight storage room with loading ramp and a two-story agency office with the private residence of the agent above a standard freight and passenger office. The office included telegraph services. At least one spur and one passing siding sat across from the station beside the double-tracks, with a siding running alongside the freight platform. The siding length was approximately 1,400 feet long, or the length of 35 trains cars.

Aromas Station, October 20, 1946, as photographed by Wilbur C. Whittaker.
By 1940, Aromas had already become merely a flag-stop, with no permanent agency staff on site. Indeed, only one train was scheduled to stop at the site during that year, although all of them were allowed to stop if flagged. The structure, shown above, was probably converted into a private residence by the time this photograph was taken. The spur and siding appear to have been removed no later than 1951 as neither are noted in timetables after that date. When precisely the station went out of use completely is not presently known by this historian. The town still exists with a population of roughly 2,500 residents. The town supports three schools, a library, and numerous businesses.

Official Railroad Information:
Aromas was located 90.7 miles from San Francisco via Gilroy and San José, and 25.9 miles from Santa Cruz.

Aromas Station from a different angle, October 20, 1946. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36˚N 53' 31.181", 121˚W 38' 36.214"

The site of Aromas Station is publicly accessible and quite easily viewed along San Juan Road (G11), but there is absolutely nothing there to see except tracks passing over Carpenteria Road. All trace of the station structure has been erased and bulldozed over.

Citations & Credits:
  • Margaret Clovis, Images of America: Monterey County's North Coast and Coastal Valleys. Arcadia Publishing, 2006. 
  • Erwin Gustav Gudde, California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Santa Cruz Trains Book Now Available!

History Buffs Eager for New Santa Cruz Trains Book

Link to Book:

March 12, 2015

Santa Cruz, CA

The wait is over for Santa Cruz history fans: local historian Derek R. Whaley’s Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains has just been published as a soft-bound book through CreateSpace. The extensive 330-page book commemorates the 75th anniversary of the last train over the Santa Cruz Mountains and spans almost the entirety of Santa Cruz and Los Gatos history, from the 1850s to the present. Each article discusses a specific community, business, or geographic location linked to the railroad and is supported with full citations and references, maps, historical advertisements, and over 200 photographs, many of which have never before appeared in print. Article topics range from the well-known stations like Boulder Creek and Big Trees to such remote places as Call of the Wild on Los Gatos Creek and the Summit Tunnel.

“This book is the result of over two years of research and the support of many local community members who have provided information and photographs related to the railroad’s presence in Santa Cruz,” says author Derek R. Whaley.

From the back cover:
Once there was an endless redwood wilderness, populated by only the hardiest of people. Then, the sudden blast of a steam whistle echoed across the canyons and the valleys—the iron horse had arrived in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Driven by the need to transport materials like lumber and lime to the rest of the world, the railroad brought people seeking out new ways of living, from the remote outposts along Bean and Zayante Creeks to the bustling towns of Los Gatos and Santa Cruz. Bridges and tunnels marked the landscape, and each new station, siding and spur signaled activity: businesses, settlements, and vacation spots. Summer resorts in the mountains evolved into sprawling residential communities which formed the backbone of the towns of the San Lorenzo Valley today. Much of the history of the locations along the route has since been forgotten.  
This is their story.

Derek Ryan Whaley is a local historian and recent resident of Felton, California. He has been involved in the Santa Cruz historical community since 2010 and is currently researching for his PhD in History at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. His local railroad website is updated weekly with new content relating to local railroad history.

Derek R. Whaley