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, December 15, 2017

Picnic Stops: Sunset Park

Of the series of picnic stops developed by the Southern Pacific Railroad in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Sunset Park, located just north of Wright, was probably the most popular and infamous. Despite suggestions to the contrary, Sunset Park was a very short-lived tourist resort, only thriving for about ten years. The first picnic stop along the line was Grove Park, in Los Gatos, and that was replaced in around 1888 with Forest Grove, located roughly 1.5 miles to the north of Wright. But the railroad owned neither of those locations and felt inclined to purchase a property that it could manage itself.

A picnic train on the spur across from Sunset Park, c. 1900. Note the Japanese lanterns. The purpose of the large structure behind the train is unknown. [Vernon Sappers]
Picnickers walking beside a train toward the swing
bridge to Sunset Park, c. 1900. [Vernon Sappers]
In January 1896, the railroad settled on a small, 35-acre maple grove situated above the main town of Wright on the west bank of Los Gatos Creek. The railroad tracks did not go here but they did pass through the original Wright townsite across the creek, which had been rehabilitated in 1893 to deal with the repair and restoration of the Summit Tunnel. The track was extended slightly and a pedestrian swing bridge was installed across the creek to connect the detraining area with the grove. A restaurant and clubhouse were built in the trees beside the grove, and a dancing pavilion was erected as well. Many different activities were advertised for vacationers, including deer hunting, fishing, tennis, boating, and swimming. The creek itself was dammed seasonally for the latter two activities. Japanese lanterns marked the property on all sides and are one of the key means of identifying photographs of the park.

Southern Pacific worked hard to market Sunset Park. They cut their rates from $5.00 to $3.00 for roundtrips from San Francisco or Oakland. The excursion trains they sent to the park could each take roughly 500 tourists separated into ten passenger cars. Once at the park, the railroad would sell beer and fresh foods such as French bread, gourmet cheeses, imported cured meats, and barbecued lamb. At night, electrical lighting in the lanterns illuminated the grove while live music was performed for dancers.

Sunset Magazine, originally a marketing tool of Southern Pacific, noted in 1898:
"At Sunset Park, the pavilion accommodates with ease one thousand dancers, and among the redwood groves are romantic pathways along which, in shady nooks, permanent tables and benches are placed for the convenience of small parties."
A train parked on the Sunset Park spur, probably in its first year since there are few amenities. [Vernon Sappers]
Locals posing beside a Sunset Park excursion
train outside Wright. [Vernon Sappers]
The locals were unsurprisingly able to exploit the park to its fullest. Although Southern Pacific never built any hotels or cottages within their property—and indeed never intended the site to be used for anything other than afternoon and evening activities—local businesses set up rental cottages all around the hills above the grove and a new large hotel was built in Wright to support the summer tourism. During summer weekends, thousands of visitors would come to Sunset Park aboard special excursion trains that would crowd the sidings and spurs at Wright, while many groups hired out Sunset Park for its annual gatherings.

Sunset Park quickly got a reputation about it. Due to the ruggedness of the environment, people let their inhibitions drop. Drunkenness, rowdiness, and other societally frowned-upon activities were common at the park, and obnoxious revellers littered the entire right-of-way from Wright to Alameda in the late evenings as the merrymakers returned home. Often, conductors would literally shove the worst offenders off the slow-moving train in punishment for their lack of respect for the train or other passengers. The grove itself became quickly unmanageable as many tourists would take natural souvenirs, decimating the local flora and forcing the railroad to hire gardeners to maintain the place.

Sunset Park advertisement, appropriately shown
with bottles of liquor atop it. [Bruce MacGregor]
By 1903, the location was becoming to much of a problem for the railroad and the company leased it to a concessionaire. However, the standard-gauging of the tracks to Wright in May of that year meant that excursion trains could now go directly to Sunset Park from anywhere in the Bay Area. For a brief three years, Sunset Park rivalled any other tourist destination in the region, including the Hotel Del Monte in Monterey. Yet problems continued. A derailment in July 1904 and collision in August, both in Cats Canyon, sparked anger and fears among vacationers. Furthermore, residents in Wright were becoming upset that so many drunken people were vandalizing their town.

Southern Pacific finally decided in January 1906 to stop all such excursions through the isolated Santa Cruz Mountains in favor of a more accessible and less populated location on the New Almaden Branch. The new picnic stop, also to be named Sunset Park, was scheduled to open in summer 1906, but the San Francisco Earthquake in April of that year delayed plans somewhat. Outside Wright, the spur for Sunset Park became the new end-of-track for passenger trains while all the other spurs and sidings were repurposed for construction duty since the San Andreas Fault had shifted the tunnel six feet from its original alignment. Any thoughts of tourism to the area came to an end and the two hotels in town were both turned into tunnel worker dormitories.

Overview of the area around Sunset Park, which was located just to the left of center in this photo. The large hotel built to support tourists from Sunset Park is located at right, c. 1908. Photo by Frank Herman Mattern. [Greg De Santis]
  For a long decade between the completed repairs of the Summit Tunnel in summer 1893 and the earthquake of April 1906, Wright thrived as a tourist haven and summer resort, with the popularity of Sunset Park bringing hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Santa Cruz Mountains. But it was a fleeting moment. After earthquake repairs were completed, the Sunset Park spur was removed, the grove abandoned or sold to a local resident, and the town began its inexorable decline.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.138˚N, 121.950˚W

The site of Sunset Park's spur is easily accessible. It can be found at the bottom of Wrights Station Road across the bridge to the right. Cathermola Road marks the right-of-way here, but there is no actual trace of the stop that survives. The maple grove is presumably across the creek, but all of that property is owned by the San Jose Water Company and trespassing is not allowed. Whether the original maple grove survives is currently unknown.

Citations & Credits:
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • MacGregor, Bruce A., and Richard Truesdale. A Centennial: South Pacific Coast. Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing, 1982.
  • Stephen Michael Payne, "Resorts in the Summit Road Area, 1850 – 1906" (Santa Cruz: Public Libraries, 1978). From A Howling Wilderness: A History of the Summit Road area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, 1850 – 1906. Santa Cruz, CA: Loma Prieta Publishing, 1978.
  • Sunset: Southern Pacific Company Passenger Dept.Vol. 1 (Southern Pacific Company, 1898). 
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Stations: Wright

Of all the inevitabilities that the South Pacific Coast Railroad faced on its descend up Los Gatos Creek, one was that the right-of-way would have to pass through the land of Reverend James Richard Wright, who owned an entire stretch of the creek basin north of Austrian Gulch. Fortunately for the railroad, Wright saw great opportunity in the arrival of steam to his neighborhood. Wright owned a fruit orchard and a stagecoach stop called Arbor Villa and the railroad would accomplish two things: allow him to cheaply ship fruit out of the valley and bring potential tourists to his frontier hotel. But the coming of the railroad did much more in the end—it turned the little settlement into a thriving backwoods resort area.

People visiting Wright on a push car, c. 1880. Photo by Rodolph Brandt. [Bancroft Library]
In 1877, grading crews for the railroad reached the area and began calculating their final path over the Santa Cruz Mountains. A gully located on the west bank of Los Gatos Creek and within Wright’s property was chosen as the site of the Summit Tunnel, the largest bore along the line. Early the next year, a Chinese labor camp was established beside the hole while a small village popped up on the opposite bank of the creek. By the end of 1878, the hamlet would include a kitchen, maintenance sheds, a turntable for the construction trains, a small saloon, a general store, smithy, and accommodations for visitors to the site. By 1879, intermixed with those official visitors were curious Bay Area tourists, who took trains from San Francisco and San José to watch the action and enjoy a picnic in the woods along the tracks to the tunnel. To support the increased traffic, sidings were added on both sides of the creek and an extra spur was installed near the tunnel. In 1879, a station structure was built near the tunnel’s portal, within which the post office for Wrights was located.

The town of Wrights on a busy market day, with box cars being loaded, c. 1895. [Los Gatos Public Library]
As soon was the tunnel was opened to through traffic on May 10, 1880, Wrights began its rapid transition into a thriving—and optimistic—resort town. Homes quickly appeared on the surrounding hills while small hotels and resorts popped up throughout the area. Across the creek at the primary settlement, A.J. Rich began construction of a new township that would place Wrights on the map. But before he even got started, the entire town burned to the ground on July 4, 1885. Within a year, new buildings sprang up on the opposite bank of the creek, beside the tunnel portal and depot, and the second town of Wrights began its life. The area became a gathering place for local farmers, ranchers, and fruit-growers to load their goods onto trains bound for Bay Area cities. A souvenir book produced by the San Jose Mercury in 1895 describes in detail this period:

The Rich Fruit-growing Section in the Surrounding Mountains. Fertile Soil and Grand Scenery. Private Residences and Summer Resorts. Natural Gas and Mineral Springs. 
Wrights Station, though a small village, is an important shipping point, as it is the depot for the extensive fruit growing sections in the surrounding mountains.  Travelers on the cars receive little intimation from what they see along the route or at the station, concerning the rich and beautiful section which crowns the mountain above the heavy belt of timber which covers the hillside, and reaches down into the stream which rushes through the canyon. The roads which leave the little space of open ground by the depot to enter the leafy tunnels through the woods furnish no suggestion of the vine-clad slopes, the towering redwoods, the green fields, the cozy homes and bending fruit trees which adorn the great territory above and beyond.  The beauty of this section can scarcely be described. There is a wealth of resource, a grandeur of scenery, and a fertility of soil that challenges description. 
The Great Mountain Fruit Region The amount of fruit shipped indicates in a  manner of horticultural wealth of the county.  There are in the vicinity about 3, 200 acres being of various varieties.  The fruit raised in this section takes on a richness of flavor which is always noticeable. It is is firm in texture, also, and its keeping qualities therefore , pronounced.  The in season, about two carloads of green fruit are shipped daily.  The brush is being cleared from the northern side of the canyon, and the land planted to vines.  When these come into bearing the output of the vicinity will be very materially increased.
Soils and SpringsThe body of  the soil consists largely  of disintegrated sandstone and clay, and has the appearance, particularly on the hilltops, of the "white ash" soil of the Fresno raisin district.  It is rich in plant food, and never lacks moisture, as the rainfall in this section is always sufficient for all needs.  Springs emerge from the mountain sides in numerous places, some of which are mineral, and from every steep ravine rushes a sparkling stream.  The atmosphere is always cool, influenced as it is by breezes from the coast. 
The Flow of Natural GasWrights Station has a resource which may yet prove to be of great importance.  When the great tunnel was being driven through the mountain by the railway company a strong flow of natural gas was encountered, and an explosion followed, which resulted in the death  of thirty-two Chinamen. The main leak was subsequently stopped, but gas still escapes in small quantities.  The extent of the supply is unknown, but is probably great enough to warrant developments.
Grand Scenery and Picturesque HomesThe scenery is everywhere beautiful, and within the past few years people in search of sites for homes have climbed on mountain sides, searched out the springs, and made winding roads around the knolls, up the canyons, and to the very summits. The brush has in many places been cut away, and trees and vines cover knolls and hillsides.  White houses stand on projecting points far above the canyons, or nestle in groves of trees on the benches.(From Sunshine, Fruit and Flowers: Santa Clara County and its Resources—Historical, Descriptive, Statistical)
In 1896, a freight depot was installed across the creek to support the thriving industrial culture at Wrights, and in the first decade of the twentieth century, a water tower was installed to provide water to large trains. A school was built the next year to educate the young children of families that had moved to the area. Wrights remained an important upper Los Gatos Creek industrial hub until the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

Photo by Frank Herman Mattern of Wright Station, 1905. [Greg De Santis]
The final thirty years of Wright, as it was formally renamed in 1904, is a story of declining fortunes. The earthquake forced Southern Pacific to seek newer picnic areas elsewhere along their lines, shifting the focus away from the Los Gatos Creek region. Meanwhile, most locals were forced to reassess their options regarding the profitability of local agriculture and began the long process of relocating to more profitable and accessible areas of the state.

The final location of Wright depot, 1908. Photo by Frank Herman Mattern. [Greg De Santis]
After the earthquake, few revenue and tourist trains went to Wright during this time because of the activity surrounding the repairs of the Summit Tunnel. Because of damage sustained to the tunnel, Wright’s depot was relocated across the creek and, after 1908, slightly further north on that same side of the creek.

Wrights Station Hotel and the Squire General Merchandise store, c. 1910.
For the next decade, Charles Henry Squire’s general store served as the center of the town, with a hotel across the tracks from it and a few other smaller businesses and homes rounding out the community. Across the tracks, the station sat isolated across from a dilapidating pair of narrow-gauge passenger cars that had served as the tunnel repairs shops from 1906 to 1908.

Postcard showing Wright with wineries on hills behind, c. 1915. [Ken Lorenzen]
The start of Prohibition in 1920 bankrupted the local wineries, which were some of the only freight patrons still using the station by that time. The local fruit orchards, which had thrived at Wright for two decades, had mostly given up on commercial growing due to severe competition in the Santa Clara Valley. Also in 1920, the Glenwood Highway (State Route 5) was completed, which diverted much of the traffic away from Wright, which at that time sat on a lightly-used San Jose-Santa Cruz road. Accordingly, the Southern Pacific Railroad cut back all the excess trackage at Wright and began using them only as passing sidings for passenger trains. In 1923, Squire’s general store, a centerpiece of the town for over two decades, shut its doors. Five years later, a lack of pupils caused the Wright School to close, too.

Wright a few months after the line was abandoned, 1940. The tracks sit under an overgrown landslide.
The end came on July 16, 1932 when the depot at Wright closed. In 1936, the entire town was purchased by the San Jose Water Company to make management of their properties on either side of Wright easier and to reduce creek pollution. Two years later, on May 25, the passenger and freight depot buildings were demolished, leaving only a sign on a post to mark the stop. Since the post office was located in the station by this time, it too closed. All the remaining buildings in town, except a few residences, were similarly removed by the water company. By 1940, only 50 people lived in the vicinity of the station. When the line between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz was irreparably damaged on February 26 of that year, few people in the Wright area cared. The line was abandoned, the station scrubbed from timetables, and the location became a secret hidden by the water company. To mark the final finis on the town, Arbor Villa burned to the ground that summer, erasing the last commercial business associated with the once-dominant settlement in the Upper Los Gatos Creek basin.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.138˚N, 121.947˚W

The original site of Wright’s is easy to access—it is located at the bottom of Wright Station Road, which is off of Morrill Road on the Summit. Look for the row of mailboxes, which sit roughly where the depot structure once was located. There is virtually nothing of the town left except a few concrete foundation blocks and the old bridge that has sat across Los Gatos Creek since around 1914. The San Jose Water Company patrols this area frequently so people are advised not to leave their cars alone for prolonged periods of time. While the road itself is public access, the shoulders are not. The original site of the town, across the creek, is visible across the bridge to the south. The later site of the station, also across the creek, is unfortunately now behind a razor-wire security gate and trespassing is not encouraged. Wright Station Road is now a dead-end road—the three listed roads in this area are not open to the public.

The only remnant of Wright today—a row of mailboxes where once stood the depot. [Brian Liddicoat]
Citations & Credits:
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railroads. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Bridges: Upper Los Gatos Creek

The five miles of trackage between Lexington and the Summit Tunnel at Wright was some of the most rugged terrain the South Pacific Coast Railroad encountered on their ascent into the Santa Cruz Mountains, although one must remember that there were few trees in the right-of-way since most had been logged over the preceding two decades. Besides the frequent obstacle that Los Gatos Creek presented to railroad graders, there were also numerous large and small feeder creeks that descended from the adjacent mountains and required bridges to cross. While some of these were later filled and culverted, most remained and one even survives to this day. Photographs of all of these myriad bridges do not survive, but enough exist to give an idea of the type of engineering work required of the South Pacific Coast and the Southern Pacific Railroad that followed it.

In summary, all of the bridges between Lexington and the Summit Tunnel were built with narrow-gauge tracks in mind and required upgrading by the Southern Pacific to support the larger gauge of their rolling stock. The bridges were all initially constructed in 1877 and most, if not all, were built using standard trestle designs. Trestles in the Santa Cruz Mountains were all constructed of large redwood posts, usually between three and five, held together by connecting pieces of lumber, called bents. Atop this structure sat an open redwood deck with ties and tracks. In some instances, decks alone could suffice to span a short gulch, with only abutments on either side supporting the span. In a few instances, usually where there were no firm places to install posts, a truss bridge of varying types may be installed. These essentially inverted the trestle work by lifting it off the ground. A truss is a mathematically-calculated series of bends designed in such a way to redistributed weight to the ends of the structure, which would rest on abutments or piers. In later years, many of the trestles were replaced with either fills or prefabricated open-deck plate-girder bridges which would rest on concrete piers and abutments. However, a number of redwood trestles still survived, either through upgrades or through outright replacement. Relics of nearly all of these bridges survive beyond Aldercroft.

Through the basin that today houses Lexington Reservoir, the railroad never crossed Los Gatos Creek. However, it did have a number other important obstacles to overtake. The first was Limekiln Canyon, located directly across Los Gatos Creek from Lexington. This was initially built as a standard redwood trestle and the only known photo of it is from this time. It was certainly replaced around 1900 with a studier, standard-gauge structure but whether that was a trestle or some other construction is unknown.

Limekiln Canyon trestle with the future Alma Bridge Road in the background, 1895. [Bruce MacGregor]
Smaller bridges undoubted leapt over other small canyons and gulches between Lexington and Alma but the next significant obstacle was the Conoyer Creek—later renamed Soda Springs Creek—bridge. This was a relatively short bridge that spanned a deep gully via a standard redwood trestle. Due to the short span of this bridge, it was probably converted into a fill with a culvert during standard-gauging. The inundating of the valley in 1953 by Lexington Reservoir destroyed any evidence of this bridge.

The Soda Springs Creek bridge in the foreground with Alma in the trees behind, c. 1890. [Bancroft Library]
South of Alma, a more problematic area was encountered that required significant trestlework. The grade ran along the eastern side of the valley but had to maintain a continuous incline to reach Wright. But a repercussion of this was that the route had to pass beside the expansive Hendrys Creek floodplain. Hendrys Creek sits today at the southern end of Lexington Reservoir (when it is full) and the canyon that causes the creek to drain is one of the widest in the region. The railroad had to build a long redwood causeway trestle across these flats to reach the solid land on the other side. When the line was standard-gauged, this bridge was simply replaced with a wider version, perhaps even keeping the old pilings in place. A proposal in 1910 would have bypassed this bridge, replacing it with two bridges that would have been situated more in the center of the floodplain, but the plan never came to fruition. After the railroad was abandoned in 1940, the bridge was repurposed to support water pipes from Lake Elsman. It remains the only intact Southern Pacific Railroad bridge in this area visible to the public without trespassing and can be viewed just to the south of Aldercroft Heights Road along Alma Bridge Road.

A modern view of Hendrys Creek trestle, 1977. [George Pepper]
Beyond Aldercroft, explorers today enter into the restricted domain of the San Jose Water Company. It is not advised to hike through this area and it is certainly not recommended that one parks a car anywhere on Aldercroft Heights Road. That being said, remains of virtually all of these bridges survive and some are quite spectacular. Between Aldercroft and Wright, Los Gatos Creek was bridged five times, while there was also once a significant bridge over Hooker Gulch over Aldercroft Heights Road.

Following the right-of-way south toward Wright from Aldercroft, the tracks crossed Los Gatos Creek just beyond Aldercroft around a curve. This was one of the shortest crossings over the creek. What the original bridge looked like is unknown, but the standard-gauge replacement was a prefabricated open-deck plate girder span mounted atop two concrete abutments. It was probably the first or second bridge to be upgraded along this stretch owing to the older style of the abutments. At some point in the 1950s, a permanent dam was installed beneath this bridge with an accompanying concrete spillway and fish ladder which was named Rylan Dam. Clearly the water levels once were higher on both portions of this dam since the fish ladder today has no inlet and lets out on solid ground. At one time, both ends would have been submerged. When Southern Pacific crews removed the plate girder span in 1941, they left the piers and dam in place. The water company in 2010 recently built atop the piers and installed a pipe bridge in place of the train bridge, using the old foundations to supplement their additions. This addition was added through a helicopter air drop operation. Overall, the concrete remains remarkably intact leaving a beautiful scene for trespassers to find hidden in the woods of Los Gatos Creek.

Rylan Dam today, looking east, with the trestle abutments on either side holding aloft a pipe, 2013. [Derek R. Whaley]
Less than half a mile to the south, the right-of-way passes back to the east bank of Los Gatos Creek over another bridge. The original narrow-gauge structure here was a series of truss bridges over a trio of redwood piers supplemented by wood abutments on either bank. The creek is shallower here, so the the trains would drive through the trusses rather than ride on decks above the spans. When the line was upgraded around 1901, the redwood was torn up and replaced with two hexagonal concrete piers flanked by concrete abutments that held aloft an open-deck plate girder bridge. Although the piers and abutments for this survive, the water district chose a slightly different path for their pipe from Lake Elsman and they have only repurposed the northern abutment for their uses. The other three remaining parts sit unused in the creek bed.

A crossing over Los Gatos Creek between Aldercroft and Eva, 2002. [George Pepper]
The railroad continued to run on the east bank of Los Gatos Creek for over a mile at this point, but before it reached Eva, it crossed Hooker Gulch, a crossing which passed over not only the gulch itself, but the creek that ran down the gulch and the public road to Wright (now Aldercroft Heights Road). The construction of the original bridge is unknown but probably appeared much as the later bridge appeared. When the line was upgraded to standard gauge, a concrete abutment was built on the northern side, beside the road, and a short plate girder deck bridge was installed over the road. South of that, a trestlework causeway left to the opposite embankment, beside the creek, reuniting the line with a long fill and solid ground. Thus, this was very much a hybrid construction unlike most of the other bridges in this section of the line. The abutment still survives above the road and sawed off piers can still be followed all the way to the overgrown grade directly opposite. This is the only other bridge visible from the road without trespassing. It can be viewed by driving down Aldercroft Heights Road and looking toward the north when the road turns west suddenly through a narrow gap beside a small creek and embankment.

Hooker Gulch bridge abutment above the road, 2002. Pilings are visible opposite this spot. [George Pepper]
The railroad crossed Los Gatos Creek three more times before making a final dramatic turn into the Summit Tunnel at Wright. All three are completely inaccessible to explorers due to the fact that they lie behind the severely protected San Jose Water Company gate and also require a good measure of bush-wacking. The first is located just past the site of Call of the Wild. It is the least photographed and very little is known about its current condition. From the scant evidence, it seems that the later iteration of this bridge had only a single hexagonal pier that has since collapsed and been ground down to nearly its foundation to allow for a modern automobile ford to be built around it. Remnant pilings on one bank suggest at least some trestlework was used to bridge the creek here, although an existing concrete abutment implies that a plate-girder bridge completed the span. Further investigation is required to determine the final structure of this bridge.

Remnants of bridge immediately south of Call of the Wild, 2002. Abutment visible in trees on hillside. [George Pepper]
The style of the second bridge closely resembled that of the first but two hexagonal concrete piers suggest it supported a full plate girder span across the creek. The bridge brought the tracks back to the east bank to allow for a more gradual turn into the Summit Tunnel. Like the previous bridge, the piers have been left to rot, with one collapsed on its side and all evidence of the other entirely erased.

The single remaining concrete pier a bridge between Call of the Wild and Wright on Los Gatos Creek. [Brian Liddicoat] 
The final bridge between Aldercroft and the Summit Tunnel was located between the Summit Tunnel and the later location of Wright Station on the east bank of Los Gatos Creek. This is the only bridge in the Los Gatos Creek area that its entire history is known since it appears in many photographs of Wright. The first bridge was a standard trestle design without any embellishments except a footpath that ran along the northern side of the track.

The original trestle over Los Gatos Creek at Wright, c. 1880. [Derek Whaley]
When the standard-gauging of the line began, Wright was the last place to receive an upgraded bridge. Around 1902 the original narrow-gauged structure was replaced with a sturdier bridge. The new bridge was composed of redwood timber piers and abutments which upheld a Warren truss upon which the trains would cross. Following the earthquake, a narrow-gauge service track was added to the inside curve of the bridge, replacing the footpath that originally ran beside the bridge on that side. This remained in place until 1908, when repair crews finished upgrading the Summit and Glenwood tunnels.

The bridge over Los Gatos Creek at Wright, February 22, 1907. Photo by Frank Herman Mattern. [Greg De Santis]
Around 1910, the bridge was replaced a second time, this time with a much more modern style. New circular concrete piers were installed, reinforced with the latest quality of rebar and a open deck plate girder bridge was set atop the piers. Photographs of this final bridge seem to be lacking, probably because the popularity of Wright as a town and vacation area substantially declined following the earthquake. Nonetheless, it is this final version that survives today and is visible to those who can find them in the woods near north of the Wright townsite. A warning still printed on the base of one of the piers reads "Danger: Keep out from under bridge as rocks etc. might fall from passing train." Once an important warning for anglers and adventurers, this message now stands as a reminder that these hills were once alive with the rumbling passage of steam trains.

The two piers of the final bridge over Los Gatos Creek outside of Wright, 1977. [George Pepper]
There were at least three other small crossings along the route include two on either side of Alma bridging gulches and one between the final third and fourth Los Gatos Creek crossings that passed atop a small creek. Remains of this latter bridge survive and it appears to have been an open deck bridge like the others, although the name of the creek is unknown and only a few remnants in the creek suggest there may have been a pier built for it. Numerous culverts also survive along this route. The upper Los Gatos Creek basin was certainly one of the most rugged portions of the entire South Pacific Coast line and the fact that so much of it survives today is a testament to the durability of Southern Pacific engineering.

Citations & Credits:
  • De Leu, Cather & Co., "Santa Cruz - Los Gatos Rail Corridor Feasibility Study: Draft Final Report", prepared for the Joint Policy Board (December 1994).
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • MacGregor, Bruce, and Richard Truesdale. South Pacific Coast: A Centennial. Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing, 1982.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Curiosities: Proposed Routes Out of the San Lorenzo Valley

Lumber companies, residents, and railroad firms operating within the San Lorenzo Valley were never very content with the limited extent of their railroads. As early as November 8, 1876, a company was incorporated by the board members of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad entitled the Felton & San Lorenzo Railroad with the expressed purpose of extending their existing narrow-gauge railroad line from Felton to the headwaters of the San Lorenzo River eight miles north of the future site of Boulder Creek. The reason for this venture was to provide a more functional replacement of the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Lumber Company V-flume, which ran between those points, but the boldness of the directors went further. They also wished to run a line up Bear Creek for seven miles and Boulder Creek for ten miles, thereby replacing not just the primary flume, but two of its major feeder lines. This would have revolutionized the lumber industry within the San Lorenzo Valley a full decade before a similar project came to fruition. Unfortunately for the optimistic board, there was no money for the project. Most wealth firms had already paid for the flume and short-line railroad to Felton and they were still awaiting more significant dividends. The project was shelved and the board began looking for other means to building the route.

It would be the South Pacific Coast Railroad that would ultimately come to the rescue. After purchasing the flume and Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad companies, they began the process of upgrading the entire system. One obvious thing that needed replacement was the flume. On June 21, 1883, a subsidiary entitled the Felton & Pescadero Railroad Company was founded by the South Pacific Coast with the explicit intention of connecting Felton to the small seaside town of Pescadero in San Mateo County. Their original goal, however, was to reach Boulder Creek, which they accomplished on April 26, 1885. For whatever reason, the South Pacific Coast stopped construction at Boulder Creek and never crossed Bear Creek and continued to the north. Within two years, the South Pacific Coast consolidated all their holdings and leased their entire network to the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Felton & Pescadero Railroad became the Felton—and later Boulder Creek—Branch of their vast octopus and thoughts of building a railroad to Pescadero died again.

The "Dinky" locomotive with the Boulder Creek & Pescadero livery, c. 1913. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
 In early 1888, the privately-build and operated Dougherty Extension Railroad began operating north of Boulder Creek. Initially, this route was intended solely for the purpose of connecting lumber mills and timber tracts to the Southern Pacific yard at Boulder Creek, but by 1897, rumors began circulating in local newspapers that Southern Pacific intended to take over the Dougherty track and extend it to Pescadero. Commentators, forgetting recent history, began conflating the old Felton & Pescadero Railroad with an imagined Boulder Creek & Pescadero Railroad, and suddenly, the Dougherty line found itself with a new name and inexplicably decided to run with it. When the railroad's single locomotive returned from the maintenance shops in Newark in March 1903, the abbreviation of "B.C. & P. RR" was written on the side of the tender.

Approximations of the various routes proposed to branch off from the Dougherty Extension Railroad, 1905-1917.
Interest in such a line greatly increased in 1902, when California Redwood Park (Big Basin Redwoods State Park) opened up to the public. Access to the park was difficult, with the only road being one from Saratoga Gap. The next year, the California Timber Company formed to harvest eight miles of timber along the headwaters of Waterman and Pescadero Creeks. They, too, would benefit greatly from a railroad line that bridged the two watersheds, although the timber company seemed uninterested in actually building the line.

Meanwhile, along the coast, multiple competing railroad firms had been come and gone since the 1870s with proposals to connect Santa Cruz to San Francisco along lines that would pass directly beside the town of Pescadero. Only two companies, however, actually built tracks. On April 15, 1905, a Southern Pacific subsidiary, the Coast Line Railroad Company, was incorporated with the expressed goal of building a line between Redwood City and Boulder Creek, presumably by linking up with the Peninsular Railway at Congress Springs. As part of this project, a twenty-mile branch line was planned to connect Pescadero to Boulder Creek. A month later, the Ocean Shore Railroad Company was incorporated with the goal of connecting San Francisco and Santa Cruz via a coastal route, with a branch line up Pescadero Creek to Boulder Creek. The Ocean Shore got a head start and built a line up to Scott Creek prior to the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The Coast Line finally completed a route to Davenport the next year but never made any progress toward Redwood City. Although neither railroad would make it past Scott Creek, much less to Pescadero, the future was unknown to the competing firms in 1906.

In 1903, surveyors for the Southern Pacific Railroad led by C.S. Freeland headed into the Pescadero basin surveying for a line that could connect Pescadero and Boulder Creek. By July, a route had been agreed upon for the relatively low coast of $500,000, half of which would be paid for by the California Timber Company. Freeland would conduct two more surveys, eventually determining that a single, 2,000-foot tunnel located at the end of Feeder Creek six miles north of Boulder Creek would be the optimal place to enter the Pescadero watershed. However, the Ocean Shore also sent out surveyors and did their own studies. In 1905, an engineer for the company mapped a route to Boulder Creek from Pescadero, which included a short branch along the ridge to Big Basin. The newspapers at this time also spoke frequently of an electric line that would run up Boulder Creek and beyond to enter Big Basin from the south, an idea that would be repeated frequently over the next decade.

The 1906 earthquake, perhaps surprisingly, was not the primary reason why these proposals all came to nothing, although at least one source suggests the Southern Pacific survey maps burned in the fires that consumed San Francisco (no known survey maps of this proposed line by the Ocean Shore exist either). After the earthquake, priorities briefly reoriented toward restoring service along existing lines and standard-gauging the various Southern Pacific tracks in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but both the Ocean Shore and the Southern Pacific remained optimistic about the prospects of a line north of Boulder Creek to Pescadero. In 1907, it was announced by Southern Pacific that the Dougherty tracks would be standard-gauged and that two lines would be constructed, one to Pescadero and one to Congress Springs via a track to be installed along King's Creek. The newspapers also spoke of a great struggle between the Southern Pacific and the Ocean Shore over which railroad would win the bid to buy the Dougherty line. But just as these projects were beginning to seem likely, a financial panic struck the United States in late 1907 that decimated the lumber industry for the next two years. All plans to connect Boulder Creek to Pescadero were shelved and the Ocean Shore Railroad up the coast ran out of money, leaving twenty-six miles of right-of-way unfinished between Tunitas Glen and Scott Creek, between which points sat Pescadero, still without rail service.

For the next decade, speculation and proposals for a route over the mountains continued to appear in local newspapers but none of them came to fruition. In 1908, rumors circulated that the F.A. Hihn Company, tired of the battling Southern Pacific and Ocean Shore railroads, planned to build a standard-gauge line to its mill on King's Creek, which the columnist hoped would lead to an extension of that line to Mayfield near Palo Alto. But Hihn ended up selling his firm to the A.B. Hammond Lumber Company in 1909 instead, and the new owner had little interest in such an expensive project. Also in 1909, the Sentinel speculated that the Southern Pacific-owned Peninsular Railway, primarily an electric streetcar line, would eventually be extended to Big Basin and the Dougherty line via Saratoga and Congress Springs, although it is unclear whether this reflected any actual statements by the railroad. In 1910, the California Timber Company expressed plans to extend their railroad to Pescadero Creek themselves, but they also decided against it. The company shut down operations in 1913 and the Dougherty line went dormant except for short excursion runs between Boulder Creek and the new Wildwood subdivision.

One final serious proposal was entertained in 1912 which would have connected Boulder Creek via a track up King's Creek to Vasona near Los Gatos. Although company officials denied this report, one did explain that such a route would only be possible as a modern electric line due to the severe grade along portions of the proposed right-of-way. The total length of the line was estimated to be 20 miles. At the same time, the representative stated that an extension of this line to Big Basin would be likely. But this line had a condition that the railroad representatives deflected and it ultimately ended any hope for a route out of the upper San Lorenzo Valley. The only real reason the Southern Pacific was still entertaining the idea of a line out of the valley was because the Ocean Shore Railroad continued to advertise their plans to link their disconnected tracks and build a line up Pescadero Creek to Big Basin. If any sign of this were to occur, then Southern Pacific would respond accordingly. But until that time came, which it never did, Southern Pacific felt comfortable waiting. They could get the lumber to market via the existing line and the Pescadero basin remained untouched by either railroad. For Southern Pacific, the status quo was the best and cheapest option.

One last gasp occurred in February 1917, only months before the Dougherty line would be scrapped, when news leaked that the major lumber concerns in the Pescadero basin planned to consolidate and extend the railroad six miles beyond the end-of-track to Pescadero Creek. Whatever happened with this lumber concern is unknown. The United States' entry into World War I in April 1917 caused demand for scrap steel to skyrocket and the eight miles of track north of Boulder Creek were cashed in by the remnants of the California Timber Company. The line disappeared, its ties still rotting along large portions of the route as evidence of something that could have been so much more. The Santa Cruz Lumber Company, which located its mill atop Waterman Gap in 1923, eventually built its own eight-mile track down Pescadero Creek, but it remained an isolated line, detached from any larger railroad project.

Citations & Credits:
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • San Francisco Chronicle, 1900-1917.
  • Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, 1900-1917.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1900-1917.
  • Whaley, Derek. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Stations: Call of the Wild

The meadows and forested areas along upper Los Gatos Creek were considered by many to be some of the most picturesque lands in all of California. The fact that the South Pacific Coast Railroad decided to build its route through these lands made them only more popular. Two decades after Forest Grove and Eva had been founded 0.3 miles to the north and a five years after the San Francisco Earthquake, a new mountain retreat emerged on the east bank of Los Gatos Creek at its confluence with a seasonal stream, located one mile north of Wright's Station.

Boys hiking past Call of the Wild station, c. 1910s. [Gil Pennington]
Around 140 acres of this area had been purchased by Harry Ryan in 1906. Ryan was a frequent attendee of Josephine McCrackin's Monte Paraiso off Summit Road. McCrackin had served as a reporter for decades and advocated for the preservation of old growth redwood groves such as those at Big Basin and Big Trees. Visitors to her home included the photographer Andrew P. Hill, famous authors such as Ambrose Bierce, Samuel Clemons, and Bret Harte, and other late nineteenth century luminaries of the Wild West. Another friend of McCrackin's was Jack London, who otherwise lived in Los Gatos. Ryan and London were good friends who worked together and often vacationed in the Santa Cruz Mountains during the summers. When Ryan purchased his property, he asked London for permission to call the retreat "Call of the Wild Ranch and Sawmill," after London's famed book of the same name. Apparently London agreed.

Call of the Wild station structure, c. 1910s. [Beal, Highway 17]
Second growth redwoods at
Call of the Wild, c. 1910s.
[Los Gatos Public Library]
Call of the Wild quickly became a seasonal residential subdivision, much like those located throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains. A small sulphur spring was discovered on the property and became an advertising draw for prospective buyers. As people began moving into the subdivision, Ryan renamed the property "Call of the Wild Summer Resort & Subdivision." In 1926, he built a large ranch house on the property for his own private use, and other amenities likely accompanied it.

The residential area was not directly along the Southern Pacific Railroad's right-of-way. In fact, it was across Los Gatos Creek and nearly half-a-mile away up a hillside. But the marketing potential of having a train stop for the subdivision was too high and the railroad granted Ryan a flag-stop in summer 1911. In March 1912, Ryan completed construction of a small station shelter for visitors to the area. It was designed to appear as a rustic log cabin to match the theme of the resort. Somewhat unusually, an American flag was used as the signalling flag to notify passing trains that a passenger wished to board. Around this time, the railroad installed a passing siding so that excursion trains could drop off passengers without impeding traffic. This may have also been used by Ryan for the portions of his property that he retained as a ranch, but no evidence suggests the stop was used for freight purposes. The county road to Wright and the Summit passed immediately beside the station.

Call of the Wild station structure in disrepair after it was abandoned, July 9, 1939. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
Call of the Wild as a stop survived until the end of the railroad line in February 1940. Tracks in the area were damaged by the winter storm. Few people used the stop, however, especially after the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s. The station structure was abandoned in June 1933 and fell into disrepair. The siding may have been removed at this time or slightly earlier, but it was certainly gone by 1939. Only around forty people lived in the area at the time the branch line closed, suggesting Ryan's subdivision mostly failed and upper Los Gatos Creek remained largely unpopulated, as it is today. The San Jose Water Company purchased the Call of the Wild station site around 1936 but did not demolish the station structure until after the line was abandoned. Ryan died in 1958 and the remaining portions of his property were parcelled off. His ranch house was converted into a family residence within the subdivision and still survives today.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.151˚N, 121.959˚W

The site of Call of the Wild is visible just beyond a fence owned by the San Jose Water Company near the southern end of the drivable portion of Aldercroft Heights Road. Nothing survives of the station except a clearing and trespassing is not advised. The original trail that crossed Los Gatos Creek and travelled up to the subdivision is now lost. The subdivision itself still survives in a reduced state on Call of the Wild Road off the Old Santa Cruz Highway. The heart of the old community is at the end of Pineridge Way along Highland Way and Loma Prieta Way. The former path to the station is a largely-undefined property off Call of the Wild Road just before the turn for Pineridge Way.

The site of Call of the Wild, at right, along the former Southern Pacific right-of-way, May 2014. [Derek R. Whaley]
Citations & Credits:
  • Beal, Richard A. Highway 17: The Road to Santa Cruz. Pacific Group, 1991.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Stations: Forest Grove & Eva

Los Gatos Creek near Eva, c. 1907. Photo by
Frank Herman Mattern. [Greg De Santis]
As the route of the South Pacific Coast Railroad ventured up Los Gatos Creek toward Wright, the railroad sought venues where they could host parties and events. At first, they turned to Grove Park in Los Gatos and Alma, but around 1885, H. E. Casey & Company purchased a tract of land on the east bank of Los Gatos Creek near its confluence with Hooker Gulch, possibly as a freight stop. The railroad set up a stop they named "Casey's."

It is unclear how Casey & Co. used the stop but, after the Southern Pacific leased the South Pacific Coast in 1887, W.T. Fitzgerald, general passenger and freight agent for the narrow-gauge sub-division, purchased the portion of Casey's land near Los Gatos Creek for use as a picnic stop for the railroad. In 1889, Casey's was renamed "Forest Grove." The new stop was first used, possibly as a test, in April 1888 by a Presbyterian group visiting from Brooklyn. Over the subsequent decade, the stop became the railroad's primary annual corporate picnic site and hosted thousands of visitors. Presumably a structure of some sort was built at the site that was known as Forest House, most likely a small hostelry, although there appears to be no actual mention of this building in newspapers or railroad advertisements from the period. Eventually, a half-mile-long passing siding was built at the stop to support waiting passenger cars. The opening of the purpose-built Sunset Park picnic area outside of Wright in 1896 signalled the end of Forest Grove as the official Southern Pacific picnic stop in the area.

Los Gatos Creek near Eva, c. 1907. Photo by
Frank Herman Mattern. [Greg De Santis]
W. R. Sterne of Los Angeles purchased the picnic grounds at Forest Grove in 1899. Hooker Gulch was dammed before its confluence with Los Gatos Creek, creating a small seasonal swimming hole. Sterne built beside the lake the Eva Vista Hotel, which signalled the final renaming of the stop to "Eva." H. R. Judah, another passenger agent for Southern Pacific purchased the stop in 1901 and continued expanding the venue. The meadow was converted into a tent city and a restaurant was built to support it.

The San Francisco Earthquake ended Eva's brief stint as a mountain resort. A landslide buried the lake before the start of the summer season and tourist trains did not use the line again until 1909. Just when the tide was changing, a fire leveled the Eva Vista Hotel in 1912. Its twenty-five-year history as a picnic stop came to an inglorious end.

Meanwhile, Casey & Company had sold the lower part of their property but retained mining rights to the upper parts of Hooker Gulch throughout this entire period. Copper was discovered in 1900 and Casey finally began drilling in 1917, five years after Eva had ceased to function as a location for tourism. Despite attempts to mine the hills for copper, gold, and silver, no venture ever succeeded. In 1929, Dr. H. C. Adair began prospecting in the area and found that much of the minerals were mixed heavily with pyrite, making extraction costly and unprofitable. Adair searched for more profitable veins in the late 1930s, discovering a profitable gold vein which he successfully extracted in 1938. But the income was not enough to continue mining the gulch.

A short commuter train passing the former site of Eva, July 9, 1939. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
Eva was abandoned as a railroad stop in August 1937 and the siding was probably torn up around this time. The only existing photograph of the stop was taken in July 1939, two years after service to the location had ended. With the disastrous storm of February 1940, the line was abandoned and the tracks at Eva were pulled. Nobody lived in the area at that time and its importance to the railroad was forgotten.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.153˚N, 121.960˚W

The location of Eva is now owned by the San Jose Water Company in a severely-overgrown portion of the right-of-way. Access to the site is not restricted, though technically trespassing, but attempting to go to the site is not recommended due to the heavy presence of poison oak in the area.

Citations & Credits: 
  • Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, 1888.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1888-1903.
  • Whaley, Derek. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Stations: Oil City & Aldercroft

People cruise down California State Route 17 every day, speeding over Moody Gulch without a second thought. Over a century earlier, in 1879 and 1880, dozens of Chinese construction workers for the South Pacific Coast Railroad lost their lives in the Summit Tunnel when methane and coal deposits ignited within deep, black bore. What do these disparate things have in common? Oil. The upper Los Gatos Creek basin has a lot of it.

Oil well on Moody Gulch above Aldercroft, 1930. [San Jose News]
In 1861, lumberjacks working for David B. Moody found pools of oil floating in Los Gatos Creek. It quickly became a land rush as oil prospectors from across the western United States crowded into the hills, competing for space with the numerous lumber mills which were still quite active in the mountains above Lexington. Some semblance of reason return in April 1865 when the Santa Clara Petroleum Company began drilling the gulch. However, it was the nearby Shaw & Weldon Petroleum Company that actually hit pay dirt shortly afterwards. Neither could pull enough oil to make a profit and both closed within a few years. In 1878, the Pacific Coast Oil Company established a deep well in the Moody Gulch oil field. His company would eventually average ten barrels of oil per day—a low yield but enough to make it one of the more profitable oil operations in California.

The installation of a well in 1878 was no coincidence. The South Pacific Coast Railroad had just finished constructing its route to Los Gatos and grading work had already commenced along the line to Wright's Station. Across from the bottom of Moody Gulch, the McMurtry family owned a large parcel, a portion of which they donated to the railroad for its right-of-way. It seems likely this was a commercial investment. The stop was soon named Oil City after the famous Pennsylvania oil field, and there may have been some hope that a thriving oil town would appear at the site. In the end, though, Oil City remained just a freight stop, never appearing on any timetable. The site probably had a platform for loading and there may have been a siding or spur since there is plenty of room for one, although one is not mentioned in the surviving records. In any case, the Pacific Oil Company immediately began using the location to ship out its oil. Oil was piped to a tank beside the tracks and then it was barrelled and loaded onto flatcars. The company built a refinery in 1879 on Alameda Point to refine the oil for public consumption. In 1888, the San José Gas Works took over the operation, which finally shut down seven years later. It is estimated that 98,000 barrels of oil were extracted from the Moody Gulch oil field in the 77 years that companies operated in the region. Later attempts to extract oil from the gulch failed to produce profitable quantities.

Aldercroft flag-stop just across Aldercroft Heights Road, 1938. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
By 1900, the Southern Pacific Railroad decided to give up on the woebegone dreams of the previous generation. It renamed the station at the base of Moody Gulch "Oleoso," a fanciful Spanish rendering of the English oily. The station was renamed a third time in 1903 to "Aldercroft," possibly a reference to the alder trees that grew in the area. Indeed, it signalled a change in purpose for the region. By the turn of the century, the region was becoming known more for its orchards and vineyards than its oil. House values were on the rise as the local community became a popular hub for those wishing to move out of the Santa Clara Valley but remain nearby. In December 1903, the station first appeared on employee timetables as a flag-stop and it became a full station early the next year. In 1914, a 2,200-foot platform was installed for local agricultural customers while a shelter was erected for passengers. The passengers derived from the local Aldercroft Heights subdivision and the location probably brought few tourists, who would have been encouraged to visit other locations along the line such as Eva, Glenwood, and Big Trees.

Aldercroft was abandoned by the Southern Pacific Railroad after the February 26, 1940 storm that crippled the entire line. Although it remained an active stop, few passengers patronised the railroad there and it proved an insubstantial loss to the railroad. The last oil company closed in 1938, although it does not appear to have used the railroad by this point. Construction of State Route 17 forced the open wells to be capped and a large earthen fill was built atop the top-most wells due to the highway's construction.

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

The location of Aldercroft station is visible from the junction of Alma Bridge Road and Aldercroft Heights Road. If one looks south along the San Jose Water Company service road, the clearing on the other side of the fence is the station site. Nothing except an old semaphore foundation and the right-of-way itself remains. Access to the site is not permitted.

The site of Aldercroft today, just on the other side of the San Jose Water Company fence. [Brian Liddicoat]
Citations & Credits:
  • California Division of Mines & Geology, Bulletin, Issues 19-20 (1900).
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA: 2015.