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, August 18, 2017

Stations: Los Gatos

Los Gatos was not always the gem of the foothills. It began in 1840 as Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos (corner of the cats), a reference to the high number of bobcats and cougars that often descended from the mountains and attacked cattle there in Spanish colonial days. To the south of the modern township, near modern-day Vasona Park, a single adobe home owned by José Hernandez and his family was the only permanent structure until James Alexander Forbes purchased a parcel of land from the Hernandezes in 1854. Forbes built a flour mill on the property along Los Gatos Creek, and around the mill grew a small settlement of employees, lumberjacks, stagecoach drivers, saloon keepers, and so on. In 1861, John W. Lyndon began buying land across the creek from the mill. His Ten Mile House became the center of the western settlement, with the mill acting as the center of the eastern town.

Painting of the original Hernandez family adobe on Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos. [Los Gatos Public Library]

Los Gatos was still hardly a large community, however. Lexington just to the south beyond Cats Canyon was in decline by the mid-1870s, but it still had at least an equal population to Los Gatos. But the tide quickly turned thanks to the advent of the railroad. In 1876, the South Pacific Coast Railroad was founded to bridge the gap between the Bay Area and Santa Cruz.

Los Gatos Hotel in 1890. [Los Gatos Public Library]
By 1877, the tracks reached Los Gatos. After a failed venture to cross Los Gatos Creek near the Forbes Mill that year, the railroad reassessed conditions and decided the next year to run the railroad straight through the west part of town dominated by the Ten Mile House. The only problem was that Lyndon's hotel was directly in the way of the proposed route. The railroad and proprietor negotiated an agreement: the railroad could have the property, if they moved the entire hotel across the street. This the South Pacific Coast eagerly did and the was renamed the Hotel Los Gatos. The hotel stood on the site until a fire destroyed it in 1898. It was rebuilt in splendor the next year as the Hotel Lyndon, which remained on the site until 1963.

Hotel Lyndon in the 1930s with multiple rows of tracks visible in the foreground. [Los Gatos Public Library]
For two years from 1878, west Los Gatos became the terminus of the railroad as construction continued further to the south. A small freight yard was built just to the north, and passenger and freight depots were built on the former hotel site.

President Benjamin Harrison speaking at Los Gatos, May 1, 1891. [Los Gatos Public Library]

With the completion of the Mountain Route in 1880, Los Gatos became connected to a thriving freight and passenger network, with all manner of goods passing through the town including fruits, vegetables, and lumber. Tourists flocked to the growing town, as well. President Benjamin Harrison stopped by on May 1, 1891, while on a rail tour of California.

A busy day at Los Gatos depot with the new Hotel Lyndon, built in 1899, visible at right, c. 1901. [Bill Wulf]
Although Los Gatos itself was not a freight-heavy station, it often served as a holding yard for materials passing in both directions down the line, and there were numerous small businesses located in the town wishing to use the line as a freight service. The Sacred Heart Novitiates winery on the hill above town regularly wagoned barrels of wine to the track for export to markets. Many other businesses had freight spurs and sidings further to the north. The station more importantly served as an important water refuelling stop for steam locomotives before they began their long climb up the Santa Cruz Mountains, where water was only available at Wright's Station, Tank Siding, and Felton.

As late as 1947, two tracks were still used at Los Gatos, while a third fell into disuse. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Due largely to the tourist traffic, Los Gatos supported three long sidings alongside the mainline at the depots during the narrow-gauge era. On busy days, all three sidings would be filled with tourists enjoying the town and nearby Memorial Park before heading to the beach in Santa Cruz. When the tracks were converted to standard-gauge, the trackage at the station was reorganised and one siding was removed. One siding ran from the freight yard to the end of Santa Cruz Avenue, while a second siding began at Main Street and ended just before the longer siding.

A celebration on April 15, 1900, for the arrival of the first standard gauge train to Los Gatos. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Standard gauging of the line began in 1894 and reached Los Gatos the next fall. The first standard-gauge freight train arrived September 7, 1895, but it was another five years before the first standard-gauge train came to town, on April 15, 1900.

The three main tracks at Los Gatos after the standard-gauge conversion. Note that the third rail is removed, but a guard rail for the third rail remains visible in the center track. [Los Gatos Public Library]
The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake greatly damaged the route to Santa Cruz and delayed the final conversion of the tracks to standard-gauge, which was done while the route was repaired. Thus, from 1895 to 1909, all tracks in Los Gatos had a third rail and the town served as the transfer station from narrow- to standard-gauge rolling stock.

The original depot, modified with standard Southern Pacific Victorian-style additions, c. 1910s. [Los Gatos Public Library]
The depot itself underwent numerous remodels over the decades. At some point in the 1890s, Victorian-style elements such as a bay window and larger windows were added. In 1924, the simple South Pacific Coast structure was massively overhauled and converted to a Spanish Revival stucco exterior. The structure survived the end of passenger service but was finally demolished in 1964 and the site turned into a public park.

Los Gatos depot structure as it is demolished, 1964. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Passenger service continued after the route to Santa Cruz was abandoned in 1940. The northern section of the original route was rebranded by Southern Pacific as the Los Gatos Branch.

A Southern Pacific train awaits a bus from Santa Cruz at Los Gatos, 1941. [Bruce MacGregor]
The automobile decisively ended the future prospects of the short post-1940 commuter line. Saturday service was the first to end in 1953. Standard Oil, one of the line's freight patrons, ended usage in 1958. The next year, all passenger service ended and the line was cut back to Vasona Junction. All remaining freight—primarily Sterling Lumber and the Novitiates winery—had to deliver goods by truck.

The last Saturday service train to Los Gatos, 1953. Weekday commuter service continued until 1959,
at which point the line was cut back to Vasona Junction. [Los Gatos Public Library]
The day after the last passenger train ran—on January 25, 1959—the Central Coast Railway Club and the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce sponsored a round trip excursion from Los Gatos to San José, which culminated in a spike-pulling ceremony at Los Gatos to mark the end of formal rail service to the town. It came eighty-one years after the track was first installed on the site of Lyndon's hotel. The right-of-way, which ran parallel to Santa Cruz Avenue, was converted into much-needed parking to support the bourgeoning businesses along the growing downtown.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Right:
37.222˚N, 121.983˚W

The site of Los Gatos station is now the Los Gatos Town Park. In fact, a portion of the original track was retained and cemented into a portion of pavement near the original depot site. Other relics of the railroad remain, too, to the south along Santa Cruz Avenue. On the right side of the road, just before it descends under Highway 17, a semaphore signal block with protruding piece of track sits, although the place is often used as a homeless camp now. Another piece of tracks juts out of the hillside just before this spot.

  • Kelley, Edward, and Peggy Conaway. Images of Rail: Railroads of Los Gatos. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing 2006.
  • Los Gatos Public Library.
  • Whaley, Derek. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA: 2015.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Los Gatos Freight Yard

Los Gatos sat at a unique position along the South Pacific Coast Railroad's original line. It marked the southern extent of the non-mountainous portion of the railroad's primary route. It also was never supposed to happen. The original route was intended to cross Los Gatos Creek near Bentley Avenue, but when blue clay was found, the right-of-way was transferred to the west side of the creek. This benefited Los Gatos tremendously, though. By placing the right-of-way between Santa Cruz Avenue and University Avenue, there was sufficient space for a small freight yard. And a freight yard was desperately needed on the northern side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Thousands of board feet of lumber passed through the station daily, while other agricultural goods and products also often stopped at Los Gatos.

A train approaching the Los Gatos Freight Yard from San Francisco, 1918. The crossing is Elm Street and the photographer is standing on the roof of the Opera House at Main and University. [A Centennial, Bruce McGregor]
Originally, the entire yard was sandwiched between Main and Elm Streets, behind the row of buildings that lined Santa Cruz Avenue. During the first 25 years, while the yard was narrow-gauge, a turntable sat beside a locomotive house that could hold the local switch engine and its tender. Initially, the yard only had a single spur to the Los Gatos Fruit Packing Company, but around 1890 a second one was extended to the Lyndon & Sylverson lumber yard to the east of the engine house. The tall water tower sat just beside the engine house on main line. The main track split into three parallel sidings that all ran south over Main Street until uniting again just before reaching today's State Route 17. A planing mill and box factory that passed through multiple hands over the decades was the only freight patron located directly in the yard grounds.

Sanborn map showing the narrow-gauge Los Gatos freight yard at its height, 1895. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
The conversion to standard-gauged tracks was gradual and began around the turn of the century. By 1904, the transition was complete and the freight yard was substantially rearranged as a result, encompassing a grand total of 5,204 feet of track space for parking railroad cars. The turntable was moved to the former site of the planing mill, directly beside Elm Street. The engine house, meanwhile, was enlarged to supported two locomotives with tenders on parallel spurs. The new, larger water tower was now south of the engine house, but still beside the mainline. The remaining yard tracks more closely resembled those from before, with a short spur built for the lumber yard east of the mainline. But the lumber spur would eventually be extended two blocks to the Hunts cannery on Los Gatos-Saratoga Road (now State Route 9) and it would become a siding.

Sanborn map showing the standard-gauge Los Gatos freight yard, 1904. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Map]
Over the following years, the freight yard continued to expand in small ways, eventually reaching a top yard size of 9,322 feet by 1912. The sidings to the south  eventually expanded to support five sets of rails, although all of these eventually merged with the mainline before reaching Cats Canyon. Meanwhile, the spur to the cannery across Santa Cruz Avenue was removed around 1907 and the line to the old Forbes Mill no later than 1918, although it was out of service from 1907. This certainly made for a cleaner yard overall. It is unclear when the turntable and engine house were removed, but it may have been as early as the 1910s since they do not appear in photographs from the 1920s. The installation of the wye at Vasona around 1907 meant that local trains could turn without the need for a turntable. With their removal, the yard became significantly less important to local railroading. Two pairs of tracks remained active until the end of the line in 1959, with remnants of at least two others paved over rather than removed outright. These were used primarily by the Standard Oil Company, the Sacred Heart Novitiates' winery, and Sterling Lumber Company, the latter two of which remained patrons when the track to Los Gatos was pulled.

Los Gatos freight yard in 1928. Former site of turntable and engine house at left. [John & Barbara Baggerly]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.223˚N, 121.983˚W

The site of the freight yard is still publicly accessible today along Station Way, which is a nostalgic name for the series of parking lots that run behind Santa Cruz Avenue between Main and Elm Streets. The only remnant of the freight yard remaining is the relatively open space between these two streets.

Citations & Credits:

  • Kelley, Edward, and Peggy Conaway. Images of Rail: Railroads of Los Gatos. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.
  • Whaley, Derek. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Freight Stops: Los Gatos Manufacturing Company Spur

Los Gatos Manufacturing Company with trestle,
c. 1900. Photo by Alice Lola Hare. [Clyde Arbuckle]
Los Gatos would have been little more than a picnic stop had it not been for the economic development brought to the area by a Scotsman, James Alexander Forbes, beginning in 1852. In 1854, Forbes built the Santa Rosa Brand Flour Company mill, which was the first flour mill in California and built to service the gold miners. Constructed along Los Gatos Creek, the mill reflected Forbes' hope to utilize water power to run the mill stones. The town of Los Gatos grew up around it, initially called Forbes' Mill and later Forbestown. Unfortunately, Los Gatos Creek proved to be a mild stream that could only power the turbines during the winter. The end of the Gold Rush and the rise of flour mills throughout the state in the later-1850s spelled doom for Forbes' endeavor.

After three unprofitable years, Forbes went bankrupt and left Los Gatos in 1857. Gustave Touchard, one of his creditors, took over the mill but he also failed to turn a profit. For almost ten years, Touchard sold portions of the land away to aspiring townsfolk, leaving the care of the mill to more capable men. In 1866, William H. Rogers, an accomplished miller, took over operations and finally started to make money after upgrading the water turbines and machinery.

Los Gatos Manufacturing Company mill in 1887 with railroad trestle visible at bottom-left, c. 1880s. [Clarence Hamsher]
After bringing in William S. McMurtry and J.Y. McMillen, Rogers renamed the mill the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company in 1869. Their operation was initially successful, prompting an expansion of the facility in 1880. The company built a large, stone, two-story grain warehouse annex on the northern side of the building beside the railroad spur, visible in all of the photos of the mill on this page. The mill reached peak efficiency during these years, with 200 barrels of flour milled a year on a system that ground 25 tons of grain per day. At one point, the company built a wollen mill next door, but a discontented Chinese laborer burned this down the next year.

The Main Street bridge with the South Pacific Coast Railroad tracks passing underneath, c. 1882. [Farwell Family]
The spur for the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company Spur was one of the first built on the southern end of the South Pacific Coast Railroad's route between San José and Los Gatos. That is because it was not originally intended to be a spur. The tracks were first installed in 1877 as the main line. The line later passed underneath the wooden Main Street bridge, opened in May 1882, which was designed to allow a train to pass underneath, and continued until the bottom of the hill on which the Sacred Heart Novitiates now sits. At this point, the railroad discovered blue clay deposits, which undercut the line so severely, that a new route was required. Working backwards, they split the line just north of Bentley Avenue and converted the original route into the manufacturing company spur. The new mainline continued to parallel Santa Cruz Avenue and crossed the street near the southern end of Cats Canyon.

Main Street bridge with a South Pacific Coast locomotive and flatcar parked at the end, c. 1882. [Clarence Hamsher]
Extant photographs from the 1880s show a curving narrow-gauge trestle bridge crossing Los Gatos Creek as it heads into the mill complex, which was on the east bank of the creek. The tracks originally passed through the complex, with a spur built that stopped beside the main warehouse. The lithograph below shows this arrangement. The main track then continued beyond, under the Main Street bridge, to terminate near the original site where the tracks washed out during construction. Here, blue clay was quarried for at least two decades for use by a local limestone company. The entire track functioned more or less as a 0.6-mile-long extension of the Los Gatos freight yard, and was classified as such since it never appeared in railroad timetables or station books. Nonetheless, the spur at the mill was capable of holding up to 10 boxcars of flour, making it the first profitable freight patron in Los Gatos.

Santa Rosa Mill beside Los Gatos Creek, c. 1880s. [Clarence Hamsher]
In 1887, a lack of nearby wheat resources combined with a fire at a portion of the facility spelled the end to the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company. The buildings were taken over by the Los Gatos Ice & Power Company, which began using them as a power plant for the town of Los Gatos. An ice house was built at the end of the railroad spur and the annex was turned into a warehouse. The Los Gatos Lime Company, likely to better exploit the blue clay deposits, built a small limekiln and warehouse facility on the west side of Los Gatos Creek in the late-1880s and extended a short spur off the main spur to support their operation. This operation was closed no later than 1894, which probably marks the end of the blue clay quarry and its spur. Indeed, by 1895, only one spur still reached the old Forbes Mill and it ended at the ice house. The company was renamed that year the Los Gatos Ice & Electric Light Company. New ice storage facilities were installed and another spur placed, but in a different location than before. The electric plant continued to run until around 1905, but ice storage eventually moved across the creek to the Union Ice Company structure near the freight yard. By 1904, the spur was probably not being used, and it was certainly removed no later than 1907, when the entire Los Gatos freight yard was upgraded to standard-gauge.

The Los Gatos Manufacturing Company in its heyday, c. 1885, showing the annex building at left and the spur tracks
at right heading into the loading area and beyond to the blue clay quarry. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Forbes Mill Annex today as the Los Gatos History Museum,
2013. [Google Street View]
In 1911, a new spur was installed along the old line to the limekiln, which was now owned by the Los Gatos Lime Quarry, founded by J.W. Taylor. This company, however, processed rocks from the Lyndon quarry near Lexington. The spur may have remained in place as late as the 1930s, when the Lyndon spur to the south disappeared from timetables. At the former Forbes Mill, the electric company was replaced by the Los Gatos Gas Company, which in turn was purchased by Pacific Gas & Electric in 1912. The remaining portions of the mill were demolished in 1916, except for the annex building, which PG&E continued to use until 1955. It was repurposed by the city as a youth center in 1971 after over a decade of disuse. Then, after that venture failed, it became the Forbes Mill Museum in 1982, the predecessor of the History Museum of Los Gatos.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.222˚N, 121.980˚W

The Forbes Mill annex still survives today as California State Historic Landmark #458, a status it gained in 1950. All other remnants of the mill and railroad are gone. It now sits along the Los Gatos Creek Trail off Church Street. The re-routing of Los Gatos Creek to facilitate Highway 17 in the 1950s significantly changed the terrain in the area. Originally, the trestle, which headed out from the annex on the right, would have gently banked northward over the creek. Development in the area has hidden most of the historic right-of-way, but two small plots of land that resemble a right-of-way show that the spur continued until a junction with the Southern Pacific mainline near Bentley Avenue and University Avenue.

Citations & Credits: 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Freight Stops: Los Gatos Canning Company & Hunts Cannery

South Pacific Coast boxcars sitting on the spur awaiting pickup at the Los
Gatos Canning Company, c. 1900. [John Baggerly]
For most of its existence, the Silicon Valley was known better for its crops than its computer technology. Fruit-growing was an established pastime, and in Los Gatos, it was one of the chief commodities of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Therefore, when the South Pacific Coast Railroad passed through town in 1878, it only made sense to utilize this newfound access to the national rail network to export the region's most profitable goods. It took three years before the town's patrons decided to build a fruit-packing plant in town, and another year before the corporation was formally founded as the Los Gatos Fruit Company in 1882. The usual suspects—town pioneer J.W. Lyndon and other prominent Los Gatos settlers—provided the joint stock backing the company, but the organisation was short-lived. The plant was built between Santa Cruz Avenue and Lyndon Avenue, across from Elm Street. However, the original company was forced to close shop in 1886 due to a recession.

Sanborn Insurance map showing the Los Gatos Fruit Packing Company, 1891. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]

The company was eventually purchased by D. L. Beck & Son and reformed as the Los Gatos Fruit Packing Company, which retained George H. Hooke as the property manager. Two Sanborn fire insurance maps of the site reflect this period. They show a railroad spur jutting northwest from the mainline into the primary facility. It passes between the packaging plant and a warehouse, where boxcars could be loaded. Beyond the end of the spur was the primary drying facility, where fruit was received for processing and then dried before being sent to the packaging room. Other out buildings were scattered around the property for various purposes.

Sanborn Insurance map showing the Los Gatos Canning Company grounds, 1904. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
In 1894, George Hooke purchased the company and renamed it the Los Gatos Canning Company. Hooke began to quickly redevelop the facility. A seasonal stream that ran through the property was culverted around 1895, while the railroad spur was lengthened to the back of the property. Three large warehouses as well as cooking rooms, boxing rooms, and other structures were installed throughout the site until virtually no ground was visible. The photograph at the top of this page shows the facility during this time. At its height, Hooke managed to package 50,000 cases of fruit a year and employed up to 300 people during packing season. The facility packaged a range of fruits including peaches, apricots, apples, cherries, pears, and plums, much of which was shipped abroad. Because of the seasonal nature of the facility, women and teenagers were often employed at the facility.

Los Gatos Canning Company storefront along Lyndon Avenue, 1900. There is a spur with a branch is visible behind wall, although maps do not corroborate this additional track's existence. [Los Gatos Public Library]
In 1895, the tracks in Los Gatos were dual-gauged in anticipation of the full standard gauging of the line, which would take over a decade to complete. The cannery was one of the chief advocates of the track changeover and likely completed the process by 1900, and this may explain the slightly altered alignment through the facility. The great earthquake of April 1906, however, led to the cannery moving locations and changing ownership, thus abandoning the new spur.

Sanborn map showing the Hunt Brothers Packing Company along Santa Cruz Ave, 1908. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Workers at the canning table at Hunts' cannery, c. 1907. [Los Gatos Museum]
Likely due to earthquake damage to the primary facility, the Los Gatos Canning Company relocated to Amedee Delpech's vacant Los Gatos Winery on the corner of Santa Cruz Avenue and the Los Gatos-Saratoga Road (Highway 9). Delpech had built his winery in 1900 but died in 1903, after which his widow sold the building. Soon afterwards, Joseph H. and William C. Hunt, owners of the Hunt Brothers Fruit Packing Company (modern-day Hunt Foods), purchased the company. The winery already had a short spur behind the structure along the Southern Pacific tracks, but the cannery soon upgraded that spur into a full siding and built a freight platform beside the fruit storage warehouse. This new cannery was smaller than the former facility, but undoubtedly more modern and streamlined. By 1908, the railroad supported the new industry by extending one of their yard sidings an additional 0.4 miles to reach the new plant.

Sketch of the Hunt Brothers cannery on the Southern Pacific tracks north of Los Gatos, c. 1910. [Los Gatos Museum]
For roughly twenty years, Hunts remained at the site packing and canning all sorts of local fruits. But the Great Depression led to the quickly closure of the facility. The plant went quiet after 1930 and, after a decade of use as a simple warehouse, was sold to W.J. Gould in 1942, who in turn sold it to Seagrams distillery in May 1943. The Hunt cannery was the only packing house in the Los Gatos area at the time and its closure signalled the end of an era.

Undated label from a Los Gatos Canning Company product. [Peggy Conaway]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.224˚N, 121.983˚W (Original site)
37.229˚N, 121.980˚W (North Los Gatos site)

The site of the original cannery along North Santa Cruz Avenue was eventually repurposed for commercial uses. The Los Gatos Cinema opened up on part of the property and newer buildings have been added since. Gardino's Ristorante Italiano and Gilley's Coffee Shoppe now sit where the spur once passed into the cannery. Much of the rest of the property is open space for parking, with an annex—Howley Hall—of the St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church sitting atop the site of the original fruit drying plant.

The later cannery structure can still be explored as the Los Gatos Shopping Center, located on N Santa Cruz Avenue just north of Los Gatos-Saratoga Road (Highway 9).

Citations & Credits:
  • Bowdidge, Robert. "Bad Years in the Valley." Robert's Vasona Branch Blog. 13 January 2012.
  • Bowdidge, Robert. "Hunt Brothers Packing Company.Packing Houses of Santa Clara County. 2013-2017.
  • Bruntz, George G. History of Los Gatos: Gem of the Foothills. Fresno, CA: Valley Publishers, 1971.
  • San Jose Evening News, 23 September 1942.
  • San Jose News, 10 June 1932.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Railroads: Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company Railroad

The Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company in Davenport, first opened in 1905 and was initially serviced by the Ocean Shore Railroad, although the Coast Line Railroad, a Southern Pacific subsidiary, essentially took over operations in 1907 by placing their tracks between the Ocean Shore's and the refinery. Yet neither of these railroads were directly involved in the mining of limestone from the quarry above Davenport. Over the autumn of 1905 and winter of 1906, 300 men carved a right-of-way 3.5 miles long above San Vicente Creek. The journey to the quarry was rough, with sharp turns and deep cuts atop a steep gorge. A total of eight redwood trestle bridges crossed gulches and ravines and they were not entirely stable. The elevation difference between the base and the top of the grade was 550 feet, leading to a maximum incline of 2%.

SCPC #1 on a high trestle bridge, January 10, 1907. [Alverda Orlando]
The company built the railroad at the same time as the rest of the facility in 1905 using standard-gauge tracks, making it, at least technically, fully compatible with the adjacent Ocean Shore and Coast Line railroad lines. Why none of the lines connected is unknown, but perhaps there was simply no need for the two railroad lines to cross over onto the other's track or perhaps there were legal issues. A 129-foot grade also separated the two lines. The two tracks never joined throughout the history of the private railway.

SCPC #2 outside the tunnels to the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company quarry, c. 1910. [SCPC2]
Two custom Porter 0-4-0 locomotives operated on the line, one a 35-ton model built in 1906, the other a 45-ton locomotive, brought in to supplement the first in 1909. Within the quarry itself, a separate tiny narrow-gauge network of cars shuttled around, transferring their loads to the waiting standard-gauge trains. The first upgrade of the line occurred in 1913. Since the route had first been constructed, the rickety, cheaply-built bridges had frightened crews. Thus, the company decided to fill all eight trestles, with material probably gathered from the original construction of the line and nearby quarry refuse. Nonetheless, the task was not completed until 1916.

Electric train on the mainline heading down the hill, c. late 1920s. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
The entire railroad was overhauled in 1923 when the cement company purchased a narrow-gauge railroad from the Gastineau Gold Mining Company in Thane, Alaska. To support the new system, all the tracks had to be narrow-gauge, so, in as little as two days in 1924, all the tracks were shifted to new places on their old ties. Meanwhile, two 18-ton 1914 Baldwin electric locomotives replaced the original steam locomotives. Electric wires were strung overhead to power the trains. At the quarry, four battery-operated locomotives shuttled the 65 mine cars around the area.

Birdseye view of Bella Vista just below the glory hole, c. 1940. The railroad line passes directly through town. The large machine shop can be viewed at right, obscured by the trees. [Alverda Orlando]
Bella Vista was located just before the quarry across from the confluence of Mill Creek into San Vicente Creek. It was first established around 1920 when a hostel was erected for single quarry workers. It could house up to fifty employees and was operated by Frank Bellangero and Gino Catterni, as well as the former's wife, Angelina. The food served at the hostel was highly praised and compared to upper class fare in San Francisco and elsewhere. Over the years, the settlement grew. Throughout the 1920s, improvements were made to the hostel, expanding its capacity to 100 men. Small four-room homes were also built to support families, while mail deliveries from Davenport became a regular occurrence. A road was also built from Davenport to reach the town, although the company preferred people travel by rail. However, the lack of telephone service to the settlement meant that many visitors came to the village. The idyllic location was situated under the redwoods with a view of the ocean, hence its name. At its height, the houses in the town sported manicured yards, well-tended gardens, and sturdy structures. While most of the refinery workers lived in New Town, just north of the plant, most of the miners and quarry workers probably lived here.

Streetcar near Bella Vista, with a siding visible beside it, 1968. Photo by Robert W. Brown. [Industrial Railway Record]
For the first three decades of operation, transport between Davenport and the quarry was via rock hoppers or flat cars, depending on the weather. But as more families settled in Bella Vista, this became untenable. In 1942, the company folded to popular demand and purchased an electric interurban streetcar for passenger use. The car was originally from the Pacific Coast Railroad that ran between Santa Maria and Guadalupe in the 1920s. It was little used in the decade before it was purchased, and the company had to restore it to operational status when it purchased it. The car was never very attractive, but it did its job well enough for the people working and living on the line.

Map drawn of the railroading operations near Davenport, 1968. Designed by Robert W. Brown. [Industrial Railway Record]
A railroad worker tightening a plate outside the machine
shop. The two quarry entrances can be seen in the
background, c. 1960. [Lonestar Industries]
The railroad by 1968 had a surprising amount of trackage. At the base, beside the refinery, the mainline split between two spurs, one of which forked twice more resulting in five total spurs. The spur closest to the refinery went into a transfer facility that conveyed the limestone into the plant. Two holding spurs sat beside it, while a final pair of spurs ended in the engine house, allowing the locomotives to be parked safely at night. Along the route, there was a stop at a shale quarry and another at the railroad's powerhouse. Just before the quarry itself, at a site known as Bella Vista, the track split off along a tiny spur and two longer sidings. Two tracks passed into the glory hole, where transfers with the mine cars could be made. Another spur ended inside the railroad's maintenance shop, which was originally located in Bella Vista until 1962.

Quarry battery locomotive hauling mine cars, 1968. Photo by Robert W. Brown. [Industrial Railway Record]
The Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company was purchased by Pacific Cement & Aggregates in 1956. Plans soon were put in place to replace the railroad with an automatic conveyor system, but such a conversion did not occur immediately. However, on March 7, 1962, a landslide decimated Bella Vista, forcing the residents to relocate to Davenport or Santa Cruz. The lack of residents living on the railroad line undoubtedly made the decision to abandon the route much easier when Lonestar took over operations in August 1970. The original limestone deposit was tapped out and the company had to mine higher up the hillside, out of reach of the railroad. With little fanfare, the tracks were removed and the railroad was sold to a private party. Cement continued to be shipped out via the Southern Pacific tracks until the closure of the plant in 2011, but railroads would never again transport the limestone from the hills to the sea.

The Route Today: 
Very little remains of the original right-of-way. Portions of the tracks were taken over by service roads or the conveyor, while others were abandoned and allowed to overgrow. Google satellite images show virtually none of the right-of-way still intact.

SCPC #2 outside Chicken Kitchen in Stockton, c. 1990s. [SCPC2]
SCPCC #2 remains in service as a tourism locomotive. In 1924, it was sold to the Henry J. Kaiser Company quarry in Oroville. It remained in service until 1967, when it was purchased by Chicken Kitchen restaurant in Stockton. It sat outside the store, advertising the restaurant until 2006. During this time, it earned the nickname "Chiggen." It was restored to service over a period of eight years and is now at the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie, Washington. It briefly visited Santa Cruz in 2014 on its way to its new home.

SCPC #2 cruising north to Davenport on a special excursion, July 11, 2014. Photo by Elrond Lawrence. []
Citations & Credits:
  • Brown, Robert W. "Santa Cruz Cement." The Industrial Railway Record 21 (1968): 314-316.
  • Gaudinski, Julia. 'The Other Railroad in Davenport." Mobile Ranger. 2014.
  • "Home of 'The Chiggen'". Santa Cruz Portland Cement Co. #2
  • Orlando, Alverda. "The Wildest Ride in Town: Davenport's Cement Plant Railroad System." Santa Cruz History Journal 2 (1992): 17-24.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Freight Stops: Sacred Heart Novitiate Winery

Novitiate Winery main structure, c. 1900. [John Baggerly]
Perhaps an unlikely patron of the Los Gatos freight yard was the Sacred Heart Novitiate Winery that for over a century has overlooked Los Gatos. Originally, the ranch of Harvey Wilcox sat atop the hill, but in 1886 the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) purchased his 40-acre orchard, which already contained a small vineyard and many orange trees, to house their new facility. An initial structure was erected in 1888, followed by the large cement building still extant, which was completed in 1893. The Jesuits of Santa Clara College (now Santa Clara University) partially constructed the winery to fund a nearby seminary school for the college. The wine produced at the Novitiate was intended for use in the Eucharist, but other types of wine were quickly developed. The winery employed almost exclusively seminary students—novices—from the nearby seminary college. Work at the winery was a form of devotion, and students were encouraged to pray and remain silent during work hours, but could enjoy the evenings freely. The primary and oldest building of the winery is a three-story, gravity-flow winery that remains in use today. Other support structures, such as the large administrative building, also remain in place, albeit heavily modified.

Birdseye view of the Sacred Heart Novitiate, with Los Gatos and the railroad station visible in the background, c. 1900.
When precisely the winery began shipping out wine via the local railroad is unknown, but it could date to as early as 1888 and was definitely in use by 1919. No rail service ever made it to the base of the Novitiate property, although it came close along the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company spur that terminated just before the Main Street bridge. It seems more likely that the wine was carted across the bridge and loaded at the freight depot, and this was definitely the case after 1909 when the old spur was removed. Waiting boxcars would sit on one of the team tracks at the depot and ship out on passing trains or, after 1940, with one of the daily mixed trains. No special facilities were built for the Novitiate except possibly a loading mechanism of some kind to gently load the cases of bottled wine onto the cars.

Sacred Heart Novitiate campus with vineyards, 1897. Photo by Hill and Tucker. [Novitiate]
Novices working in the Novitiate vines in 1953. Photo by
Margaret Bourke-White. [California Province Jesuit Archives]
When Prohibition hit in 1919, the demand for altar wine jumped exponentially, causing the winery to expand. Over the course of the next two decades, the Novitiate began purchasing available nearby land, including 250 acres from the Harry Tevis estate in 1934. This property became Alma College, a new home for the seminary that was once at Santa Clara College. A total of 83 acres were dedicated exclusively to wine manufacturing and grape growing. The total volume of wine reached over 100,000 cases per annum. However, the soil had degraded during this period of expansion and the grape stock began to decrease in quality. Student numbers also began to decline, making it more difficult to recruit students for the hard work of tending the vines and winery. At its height, 120 students 14 priests resided at the Novitiate, but numbers dropped drastically beginning in the 1950s. Meanwhile, the population of Los Gatos was growing and rail service was replaced by truck in 1959.

Los Gatos freight yard team track near the freight platform, c. 1940. [Railroads of Los Gatos]
Alma College was eventually relocated to Berkeley in 1968 to become a member school of the Graduate Theological Union. It is now the Jesuit School of Theology. The winery remained in limited operation for another eighteen years, after which it was leased to various local wine-producers. In 1997, Rob and Diana Jensen, who had been running a small vineyard on their property since 1993, purchased the Novitiate grounds and began to produce their home label Testarossa (Italian for "red head," in reference to Rob's hair color) at the vineyard. Their primary products are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, of which they produce around 30,000 cases annually The continue to operate within the historic structures, although they also have upgraded the buildings extensively for efficiency, and health and safety. It remains the fourth oldest continuously operating winery in California.

Right-of-way north of downtown Los Gatos, with the Novitiate Winery on the hillside to the far left, c. 1950s.
Photo by Charlie Ward. [Railroads of Los Gatos]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.214˚N, 121.981˚W

The site of the Novitiate is now known as Testarossa Winery, but the location remains the same and can be accessed via Prospect Avenue. The property can be visited and hired out for special functions. The Sacred Heart Jesuit Center and the Novitiate of the Sacred Heart church sit next door and also can be visited.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, July 7, 2017

Freight Stops: Los Gatos Lumber Patrons

Railroading in the Santa Cruz Mountains was always dominated by the lumber trade. From 1875 until 1922, the lumber industry commanded every single local railroad branch line. But even after the route over the mountains was demolished in 1940, lumber remained important to the town of Los Gatos.

Los Gatos was essentially founded as a lumber town. The spiritual successor to Lexington, located a few miles south in the Los Gatos Creek valley, the town was founded partially as a location to ship lumber collected in the Santa Cruz Mountains from towns such as Glenwood and Laurel. As such, a lumber yard was needed and a rather large one arose on both sides of the tracks along Elm Street, possibly as early as 1878. This yard was owned by the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, founded by the Dougherty brothers, who harvested vast tracts of land in the San Lorenzo Valley and Los Gatos Creek region. They shipped all of their finished lumber over the South Pacific Coast Railroad line, which formally opened through Los Gatos in May 1880 (although tracks to Los Gatos were in place by late 1877).

The Dougherty firm operated largely through partnerships and their Los Gatos operators were no different. Their partner there was the Lindon & Silverton Lumber Company, which moved into the lot no later than 1888 and opened a box factory and planing mill. The box factory and planing mill were built immediately west of the railroad right-of-way through Los Gatos with an attached barley and grain mill. Goods were loaded directly onto boxcars waiting on the main track. A large lumber yard sat along a spur west of the fruit packing spur where awaiting lumber could be loaded onto freight cars.

Sanborn Fire Insurance survey map showing the Los Gatos Planing Mill, 1888. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
By 1891, the planing mill was open, though all signs of the barley and grain mill disappeared. The lumber yard moved to a more convenient home east of the mainline along a new spur built specifically for the yard and planing mill. When the line was standard-gauged in 1903, the spur was extended further north. 310,000 board feet of lumber could be stored alongside the track here. The planing mill was seasonally open. A second mill owned by Tice and Gregory was just across Mullen Street, though there was no spur supporting this smaller facility.

Sanborn Fire Insurance survey map showing the Los Gatos Planing Mill, 1891. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
In 1895, the facility passed into the hands of the Western Mill & Lumber Company, which slightly enlarged the mill and gave up on box-making. The vast lumber yards across the tracks were expanded to support more lumber and a second small lumber yard was placed just beside the engine house to the west of the main line.

Sanborn Fire Insurance survey map showing the Los Gatos Planing Mill, 1895. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
The planning mill did not last long. By the time the route was standard-gauged in 1903, the mill was gone. Sanborn maps dating from 1905 and afterwards show the new turntable and roundhouse sitting on the site of the mill. The lumber yard remained on the west side of the tracks and the spur was enlarged into a longer siding that lasted until the end of the line in 1959. In 1918, the Noah Adams Lumber Company purchased the property. Adams was certainly established by 1900 and quite likely earlier, although it was based out of Oakland, not Los Gatos initially. By the late 1910s, the Adams firm had purchased a number of lumber mills including ones in Auburn, Winters, San Lorenzo, and elsewhere in Central California. Although they remained in business until at least 1944, their Los Gatos facility was sold to the Sterling Lumber Company in 1922 for unspecified reasons.

Southern Pacific visibility photo taken from Elm Street looking south down the right-of-way, with the
 Sterling Lumber Company visible at left, 1928. [Museums of Los Gatos]
The Sterling Lumber Company was founded in late 1906 following the San Francisco Earthquake in Berkeley. Over the following years, the company made a habit of buying out small lumbering concerns across the West Coast, including in Oregon. Their main base, though, was always in the Bay Area, with offices and yards erected situated in San Francisco, Mountain View, Los Gatos, Salinas, Oakland, and elsewhere, totalling sixteen properties in California by 1927. Unfortunately, the origins of the company name are unknown and appear to be unconnected to the founders of the corporation.

Sterling Lumber Company entrance along the railroad right-of-way, 1930. [Museums of Los Gatos]
Due to the numerous photographs from the time and the fact that it survived into the 1950s, the Sterling Lumber Company is probably the best-remembered firm to use this large lot in downtown Los Gatos. Southern Pacific Railroad visibility photographs in the 1920s and 1930s prominently show the lumber yard alongside the tracks. The company loaded lumber onto cars that were parked on a team track (spur) that sat across from the entrance gate. The end of the spur was across the mainline track and a long siding, but the scarcity of customers along the line meant that loading and unloading of goods would have rarely been impacted by passing trains. No platform or other loading facility seems to have been built for the company.

Sterling Lumber Company along the right-of-way, 1930. Elm Street is in the distance [Museums of Los Gatos]
Sterling Lumber Company remained at the site in Los Gatos until 1956, when they sold the property to a local developer who built the Old Town Los Gatos Shopping Center. The lumber yard was converted into a parking lot for this new venture. The railroad tracks were subsequently removed in 1959 for use as additional parking.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.223˚N, 121.983˚W

The site of the Sterling Lumber yard was across the street from the Old Town Los Gatos Shopping Center on University Avenue, between the road and the current parking lot that runs behind North Santa Cruz Avenue. The site is now occupied by the Steamers's Grillhouse, the Gap, Sur la Table, Banana Republic, and Francesca's, all of which were built in the early 2000s.

Citations & Credits:
  • Kelley, Edward. Images of Rail: Railroads of Los Gatos. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.
  • Oakland Tribune, 1900-1964.
  • San Francisco Chronicle, 1896-1930.
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps, 1888-1922.