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 author@santacruztrains.com. This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

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. [railpictures.net]
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 Stop: 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.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Freight Stops: Standard Oil Spur

YOU CAN HELP!
If you have information about the Standard Oil Company in Los Gatos,
leave a comment below or email author@santacruztrains.com.

A classic steam locomotive passing the Standard Oil
facility in 1955. Photo by E.H. Chase.
[Railroads of Los Gatos]
The history of the Standard Oil Company is one of a catastrophic failure in 1911 when the original company was broken up due to the Sherman Antitrust Act followed by a century of renewed growth. In the years after the breakup, Standard Oil of California (known as Chevron from the 1930s) began building gas stations across the state to support the growing automobile industry. But how did the gasoline get to the service stations? The railroad. In every major city in California, gasoline storage facilities were installed alongside railroad tracks, and most had dedicated spurs so tanker cars could park without blocking the main track. Los Gatos was no different.

When precisely Standard Oil built its storage facility on the western end of Farley Road on the northern edge of Los Gatos is not precisely known. It was certainly a prominent fixture in the town in the 1950s, and likely dates to the 1930s or earlier considering the condition of the tracks and ties visible in the photographs below.

A rolled pair of boxcars on the Standard Oil spur, 1956. The mainline track is visible at left. [Billy Jones Family]
Scant photographic evidence is available for the location, but the photograph at the top of this page shows large vertical tanks standing beside similarly-sized horizontal tanks at the site, presumably all storing home heating oil and gasoline. The railroad spur that was installed to access the site split from the Los Gatos Branch just north of Farley Road West and then travelled southward parallel to the west side of the tracks until stopping just before Shelburne Way. The crossing over Farley Road is visible in the photograph above. The tracks went directly into the Standard Oil property and stopped at the southern property line. The only facilities that were likely at the stop for the railroad were hoses that could connect to oil and gasoline tanker cars.

A boxcar being reoriented onto the Standard Oil spur, 1956. [Billy Jones Family]
In 1956, a well-photographed derailment occurred on the spur when a pair of boxcars rolled off the tracks and onto an adjacent car. A special crane cars was brought in to set the cars back on the tracks. The cause of this derailment is unknown, but the center photograph on this page shows the tracks covered in dirt, implying they were not used heavily and may have either buckled or had debris that derailed the cars.

Legacy steam locomotive 2248 parked on the Los Gatos Branch mainline beside the Standard Oil spur, 1955.
Photo by E.H. Chase. [Railroads of Los Gatos]
The Standard Oil facility on Farley Road was one of the last three freight customers in Los Gatos when the Southern Pacific decided to end service along the line on January 23, 1959. The spur was removed soon afterwards and the right-of-way was turned into University Avenue. The Standard Oil facility remained in use at the site until at least 1980, with the gasoline brought in via truck. When it was finally decommissioned is not presently known.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.240˚N, 121.975˚W

The site of the Standard Oil is at 805 University Avenue in Los Gatos. The current location hosts a automotive repair mall with an accompanying large parking lot. University Avenue at this point was once the Southern Pacific right-of-way. Nothing survives of the railroad tracks, the spur, or the former Standard Oil facility.

Citations & Credits:
  • Kelley, Edward. Images of Rail: Railroads of Los Gatos. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.
  • Kelley, E.J. Personal correspondence. July 2017.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Stations: Parr's Spur, Bermingham and Bulwer

Portrait of Jonathan Parr [Los Gatos Library]
At the northern end of Vasona Reservoir along today's University Avenue once sat the short-lived Parr's Spur Track. This stop first appeared in Southern Pacific Railroad agency books when it took over the South Pacific Coast Railway in 1887, suggesting it had probably existed since the beginning of the line in 1878, although no South Pacific Coast records indicate any stop there. Jonathan Parr was an early settler in the area, owning 3,000 acres of land on Rancho Rinconada de los Gatos since 1856, when he purchased it from Sebastian and José Hernandez Peralta. Parr was married to Eliza Jane Lowe and had migrated to the United States in 1942 from England. They spent some time in New York and Iowa, producing three children along the way, before heading to California. The family relocated in 1846 in a party that closely paralleled the Donner Party, although they took a separate route into the Central Valley of California. In California, three more children were born, resulting in six total children—three boys and three girls. Most of his land was used as a cattle pasture, since the prune orchards that the region became famous for did not enter the picture until the early 20th century with the advent of commercial canning.

Eliza died in 1866 and Jonathan died the next year. The property was divided between the six children, who received roughly 500 acres each. Much of Los Gatos and Campbell are former parts of this massive property. Sarah Ann Parr, the third child, was married to Harrison DeWitt Albright, an alcoholic and womanizer. The two of them had four children, three of whom survived to adulthood. It was on a portion of her parcel that a railroad stop was erected around 1888 called Parr's Spur. This flag-stop was probably set up much earlier under the South Pacific Coast, but it never appeared in official records so only became official after the Southern Pacific Railroad took over the line in the summer of 1887. It did not survive long. By 1890, the stop was gone from agency books and nothing more was ever said of it. It probably served as a loading stop for cattle shipments, as well as a passenger stop for Sarah and her family. Sarah died in 1893 and it is unclear what happened to her family afterwards. Harrison died in 1905 in a cabin near a vegetable garden outside of Los Gatos, but it appears the Parr family property was already outside of his hands by then.

Portrait of Captain John Bermingham, Jr.
In 1900, a new customer began using the spur. The California Powder Works, which had its primary facility at the mouth of the San Lorenzo Valley near Santa Cruz, erected a powder magazine on the site around that time. The Southern Pacific added the stop to its station books in 1901 and by 1907 it was appearing as a formal station in employee timetables. The new stop was named "Bermingham", after the president of the company Captain John Bermingham Jr. Since the mountain section of track had opened in 1880, the California Powder Works had used the railroad exclusively for the shipment of its powder, but some of that powder was used at the New Almaden mines for blasting, which probably explains the need for a powder magazine here, less than three miles from said mines and quite close to the Campbell switch to New Almaden. The warehouse was not well-prepared for the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, though. During the temblor, the magazine exploded, destroying the entire facility and probably most of the area around it. Wisely, the California Powder Works decided against rebuilding there and the station was abandoned by mid-1909, at the time when the mountain route was reopened to through trains and the stops along the line were reassessed and measured.

Southern Pacific #34 running beside Los Gatos Creek near the former site of Bulwer, March 11, 1939. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
For fifteen years, the old Bermingham stop remained vacant until a new flag-stop appeared at or near the location on November 11, 1924 named Bulwer. Extremely little is known about Bulwer, including the origin of the name. It seems mostly likely that the stop as named after British writer Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton, who popularized the phrase "it was a dark and stormy night..." and was undergoing a revival in cinema and theatre in the early 1920s. The presence of a spur at the stop and the fact that no regular stops were scheduled there suggests that Bulwer served as a freight stop for an otherwise unrecorded local company, likely the adjacent prune orchard-owner. In any case, the station was abandoned by Southern Pacific on August 1, 1938. The tracks through Bulwer remained in place until 1959, when the Los Gatos Branch was definitively abandoned and demolished by the railroad.

Official Railroad Information:
Parr's Spur first appeared in Southern Pacific agency books in 1888, but the spur was removed in 1890. It was located approximately 53 miles from San Francisco via Alameda Point. It never appeared on employee timetables and no other information is known about the stop at this time.

Bermingham, meanwhile, first appeared in the January 1901 agency book. The next year, it was listed as a B-class station, implying a spur or siding and a freight platform. It was also in a section of track that was dual-gauged. The station was added to an employee timetable as "Bermingham (Spur)" in June 1907, listed as 53.0 miles from San Francisco via Alameda Point and 27.1 miles from Santa Cruz. The length of the spur at the station was 677 feet. No other facilities were listed there and the station did not receive any regularly-scheduled freight or passenger traffic, implying it was for private use only. In 1909, the distance from San Francisco was altered to match the new Los Altos Branch and was now only 52.1 miles from San Francisco, this time via Mayfield. The spur was also lengthened to 827 feet. The station disappeared from timetables in 1909 and from station books in January 1910.

Bulwer first appeared on the November 1, 1924 employee timetable at 52.2 miles from San Francisco via Mayfield and 27.0 miles from Santa Cruz. It had no scheduled passenger service. Notes on the employee timetable for April 17, 1938 state that Bulwer was abandoned August 1 of that year.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.248˚N, 121.967˚W

Assuming all three stops were situated at the same site, they were located approximately at the modern-day location of the Vasona Reservoir dam or there around. The most likely locations for the stops would be the modern-day site of Forecepoint and GeneWEAVE on the west side of University Avenue, which is the former right-of-way.

Citations & Credits:
  • Bender, Henry E., Jr. "SP San Jose to Santa Cruz (ex-South Pacific Coast Ry.)." 2013.
  • Conaway, Peggy. Images of America: Los Gatos Generations. Arcadia Publishing, 2007.
  • Oakland Tribune, 1895.
  • "Parrs of Los Gatos: Bringing the family's history together".
  • San Jose Mercury News, 2006.
  • Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, 1905.
  • Santa Cruz Surf, 1906.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad documents, California State Railroad Museum Archives.
  • Whaley, Derek. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Self-published, 2015.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Railroads: Early Coast Railroad Companies

There have been a total of eight known attempts to construct a railroad between San Francisco and Santa Cruz along the coast. What is remarkable is that none of them succeeded, and only two ever even built track. This is the story of those five that failed. (For information on the two that succeeded, see Ocean Shore Railroad and Coast Line Railroad)

Narrow-Gauge Railroad Company (1870-1871)
The first proposal was the simply-named Narrow-Gauge Railroad Company, founded in Fall 1870. This was route optimistically planned to link San Francisco to the Arizona state line via a coastal route of 700 miles. The plans were for the line to pass directly through Santa Cruz County, following much the same route that the Santa Cruz Railroad would take a few years later. From there, it would cross the Pajaro River and pass through Castroville and down the Salinas Valley, much like the Southern Pacific Railroad soon did. However, in November 1871, it was revealed that the railroad was only every a paper company created by the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad to encourage competition with other railroads along the proposed route. No track was ever installed.

San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad Company (1879-1887)
In September 1879, the San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad set to work getting permits to construct a narrow-gauge track from Fulton and Larking Streets in San Francisco and thence down the coast to Half Moon Bay. Approval for the company to begin construction was given by the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors on 6 November 1879. Numerous technical obstacles and lawsuits, most begun by proprietors of commercial businesses along the city routes the railroad intended to take, delayed construction. From mid-1880, reports were regularly issued by the company that the railroad would be completed to the San Mateo County line (which line is unclear) by the end of the year, but this was still the rhetoric in January 1881 and no actual progress had been made. Meanwhile, the railroad company took out multiple mortgages and released additional stocks to try to increase revenue. New York bankers were the company's primary investors, while a New Yorker, Col. Lyman Bridges, was hired to build the route.

Original 1880 stock certificate for the San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad Company. [Pacifica History]
When the Santa Cruz Railroad went bankrupt in 1881, it derailed plans for the San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad to connect to that line through to Pajaro and further south. Some of the primary financiers of the Santa Cruz Railroad were also stockholders in the San Francisco & Ocean Shore, and most pulled their funding. Without a connection through Santa Cruz, the railroad had to reevaluate their plans and plan to build a new line through the city separate from the now-Southern Pacific-owned Santa Cruz route. It was an expensive problem but one for the future.

The company trucked on. On January 22, 1881, a newspaper article suggested that property sales in Pacifica would soar due to proximity to the new line, while industries further from the line along the Central Coast would devalue and disappear. Another article a month later supported this story and suggested that property values were already increasing. Surveyors began popping up all along the planned route, including in Santa Cruz and Pescadero. On May 20, articles of incorporation were filed for the railroad to extend its track to Santa Cruz from Half Moon Bay, thereby confirming that the company planned to build an entirely new route through Santa Cruz County. The entire line was also now planned to be standard-gauge to match the track width of the Southern Pacific. However, construction on the route still had not begun.

Suspicious rumours began circulating in May 1881 that the entire company was secretly owned by the Atlantic & Great Western Railroad, although that line had actually already gone bankrupt the year before. Other rumors spread that the new railroad intended to continue south of Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara and beyond, while in July, the plans for the new California Central Railway leaked that suggesting that the railroad would become a part of a new transcontinental scheme under the direction of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (which in 1879 purchased the Atlantic & Pacific). Col. Bridges, acting as company spokesperson, announced that the route between San Francisco and Santa Cruz should be completed no later than 1883, while other railroad companies (or subsidiaries) were responsible for connecting to this line near Pajaro.

Dire news arrived on December 10, 1881, however. The Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel reported that the rivalry between the Sante Fe Railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad had come to an end. Plans to build the San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad were not immediately abandoned, but the end was imminent. On Christmas Eve, it was revealed that the massive multi-state railroad plan was mostly a rouse, designed to frighten the Southern Pacific into reducing the cost to switch at Santa Fe junctions. However, the railroad really did intend to connect San Francisco and Santa Cruz, but the news of the con spooked the county governments. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to delay granting of the franchise to the SF&OS in early 1882. For the next year, the supervisors demurred, punishing the company for their trickery. But this cost the railroad money and supporters. Desperate, the railroad company attempted to bypass San Francisco by passing through the military property to the north of the city and then down Ocean Beach. But this angered the board more and, on November 22, 1882, they indefinitely postponed development of the railroad within San Francisco County.

The story of the first San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad came to an inglorious end without a single piece of track set. Whispers of the line continued to appear in the newspapers throughout 1883 and afterwards and the company appears to have remained in existence long afterwards, but for all intents and purposes, the railroad was finished. Financial troubles and an unstable stock market in the late 1880s brought the company to its inglorious end.

San Francisco & West Shore Railway Company (1892-1894)
A decade after the collapse of the San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad project, a new company was formed called the San Francisco & West Shore Railway Company to attempt what its predecessors had failed to accomplish. The company was incorporated on March 9, 1892, to build an electrified railway between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, although most expected at the time that the route would eventually continue onward to Santa Cruz and beyond.

Unlike the other railroads, this route's initial plan was to carry freight exclusively, primarily dairy, eggs, and agricultural products from the Half Moon Bay and San Pedro Valley areas. Surveying of the line began immediately after incorporation and, also unlike the other lines, plans were to build a tunnel through San Pedro Point further inland rather than at the tip as the Ocean Shore Railroad eventually did. On November 28, 1892, the mayor of San Francisco vetoed plans to allow the San Francisco & West Shore Railway to build tracks down 25th Street and Potrero Avenue, effectively ending the railroad since the company had no other method of entering the city. The company fought the veto in the state's supreme court, but ultimately lost, although they continued surveying and purchasing materials throughout 1893. Rumors of the line being taken over by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad also cropped up but were ultimately unfounded.

West Shore Railway Company (1895-1899)
West Shore Railway survey map blueprint, 1896. [UCSC Digital Collections]
Established as a direct successor to the San Francisco & West Shore Railway, the West Shore & Valley Railroad was founded in April 1895 to connect the cities of San Francisco and Tulare, north of Bakersfield, via a coastal route through Santa Cruz. By the time the company finally incorporated on July 11, 1895, the name of the company had become the West Shore Railway and the plans were reduced to just connecting San Francisco to Santa Cruz via standard-gauge track. The new corporation purchased all the rights-of-way, surveys, and other material from its predecessor for a cost of $150,000.

How much of this railroad was actually begun is not entirely known. As early as April 1895, reports in the San Francisco Call claimed that "a good deal of the grading has been done. There have also been purchased a large number of ties and other materials...." Furthermore, the article reports that "a complete survey of the line has been made, and all the necessary right-of-way promised."
The existence of a large blueprint for the entire line (half of which is visible at right) published in 1896 does indeed suggest that this operation made it significantly further than its three predecessors, although it seems highly likely that most of this was completed by the 1892 iteration of the firm. Like its predecessors, New York financiers also were brought on to help fund the project and significant capital was raised throughout 1895, but also like them, a lot of the company's funding was promised but never delivered or bound to stocks and bonds of questionable value. Plans were in place to build a major station at 25th Street and Potrero Avenue in San Francisco and a freight yard near the Spreckels refinery there.

Early projections estimated that the track would run for 80 miles and transit times between Santa Cruz and San Francisco would begin at two hours, ten minutes, although they predicted that would become faster as the roadbed settled into place. Like its predecessor, the West Shore Railway was intended primarily for freight usage, although passenger service was not ignored and, indeed, was emphasised in some of their early marketing. The company hoped that the railroad would make the abundance of undeveloped farmland along the coast more accessible, thereby increasing their customer base. Likewise, they expected to reap some benefit from the numerous redwood forests located just off the proposed main line. As of September 1895, the company estimated that the cost of construction would sit at around $2,350,000.

However, the true story of the railroad only began to appear over a year after it had been incorporated. The transfer of the older San Francisco & West Shore Railway to the West Shore Railway was only completed in August 1896, meaning that the new company did virtually nothing in the intervening year. In April 1897, another article discussed the fact that nothing of note had still been done, although the company's president, R.S. Thornton, stated that much had been done behind the scenes. The problem was that portions of the right-of-way remained in private and city hands. One of the most obstinate property-owners along the line was that of D.D. Wilder, who refused to sell or lease his land to the railroad. Others likewise hesitated. Thus, the railroad was quickly suffering the same fate of those that came before.

As the months passed, the same dismissive rhetoric was told: work on the railway would begin shortly; work will begin next month; everything is in place to begin construction. But the tide turned against the West Shore Railway. Estimates on costs were rapidly increasing and not enough locals along the route were interested in subscribing to the company. 1897 and 1898 passed without any actual work being done on the railway, despite numerous statements from the company insisting construction was imminent. The failure of California's Enabling Act in 1899 stalled the railroad—it would have provided necessary funding and other support to complete the route. However, it also provided the company one last opportunity to correct its past mistakes.

On March 25, 1899, plans were released that the entire railroad venture was to be sold to the Vanderbilt Company as a direct competitor to the Southern Pacific along the California Coast. Their goal was to build a route through California that would connect to other non-SP lines out-of-state. For all intents and purposes, the West Shore Railway was to become a different company. But fate intervened again. The board of directors revolted and refused to sell out to the Vanderbilts, and the company essentially died as a result. At the end of 1899—three months after Cornelius Vanderbilt himself was dead—the franchise permit with the City of San Francisco expired and nothing more could be done for the line. The West Shore Railway was defunct.

Bay & Coast Railway Company (1899-1902)
Within months of the proposed buy-out of the West Shore company, a new firm was founded to build a coastal route. The Bay & Coast Railway Company officially incorporated on June 26, 1899 to build a 100-mile track between downtown San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Like the three companies that came before, the Bay & Coast was, at least on the surface, a private company with no ties to other operations. This ended up being its downfall. The railroad desired to run its train directly into San Francisco along a major road, but because of its limited operation range, the county board of supervisors denied them access. After two years of negotiations with the city, their project was finally approved with the requirement that they build $25,000 worth of tracks by late September 1901. They defaulted on this requirement and, after several extensions into February 1902, the franchise was forfeited and the company closed.

San Francisco & Southern Railway Company (1903)
One last railroading enterprise came about on September 26, 1903, with the same optimistic plans to connect San Francisco to Santa Cruz. This corporation was sponsored primarily by Eastern venture capitalists who were relying on the older surveys prepared by the West Shore Railway. Learning from past mistakes, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors required the investors to build a short portion of track immediately to demonstrate good faith before the franchise was to be confirmed. Nothing more was said of the company in the newspapers afterwards.

Citations & Credits:
  • Oakland Tribune, 1881-1883.
  • Sacramento Record-Union, 1881-1883.
  • San Francisco Call, 1895-1901.
  • San Francisco Chronicle, 1879-1883.
  • Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, 1899-1901.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1895-1901.
  • Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, 1871-1883.
  • Vonderlin, John. "West Shore Railway's BIG Plans for the Coastside." Half Moon Bay Memories & El Granada Observer. 4 July 2009.
  • West Shore Railway Company, "Articles of Incorporation", 11 July 1895, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, Santa Cruz Count Records, Folder #235.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Stations: Vasona Junction

A SP train approaching the wye at Vasona Junction, 1940s
[Los Gatos Public Library]
Within the grand scheme of the Southern Pacific Railroad's operations, there was nothing noteworthy about Vasona when it first appeared in the railroad's 1899 stations and offices book. Indeed, the name itself was the brainchild of a local prune farmer, Albert August Vollmer, who petitioned the railroad to set up a flag stop north of Los Gatos so his family could more easily to San José. When asked a name for the stop, Vollmer offered "Vasona," the name of his childhood pony. The stop was located immediately beside Santa Cruz-Los Gatos Road (Winchester Boulevard), 27.8 miles from Santa Cruz. By 1906, just before the earthquake, the stop included a 193-foot-long spur, likely to collect harvested prunes from the nearby orchards.

A SP train in the wye at Vasona Junction in 1949. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Things drastically changed in 1907 when the Los Gatos Branch—popularly known as the Mayfield Cut-Off—was constructed between Vasona and Palo Alto. Suddenly, the simple stop at Vasona became the bottom part of a wye that linked two major branches of the Southern Pacific's Coast Division. To control traffic at the wye, a register booth was erected near the flag stop and all trains were required to stop and record their passage before moving on. Vasona Junction also marked the beginning of an automated block signal system which operated across the Santa Cruz Mountains to avoid accidents in the tunnels and around sharp curves. The entire wye encompassed 2,757 feet of track. Via the new line, San Francisco was only 51.4 miles to the north, a significant reduction from the former route that looped through San José. Most of the wye was in undeveloped orchard lands, and this remained the case for decades.

Registry booth at Vasona, c. 1960s. [Charles Givens]
Painting of Sewall S. Brown fruit plant, c. 1930s. [Robert Bowdidge]
Due to the increased traffic at Vasona, the flag stop was upgraded into a full stop in 1912, with a concrete freight platform installed between the mainline and the upgraded spur track. This location began to appear as a full stop on public timetables in the early 1920s. On the northern side of the wye, the Gem City Packing Company erected a fruit-drying plant and a second spur, seven car-lengths long, was installed to access the facility with a platform setup for easy loading of products. This company processed many of the prunes, apricots, almonds, grapes, and strawberries in the area. The company was later purchased by Sunsweet and then Sewall S. Brown Company. The factory burned down in 1955. Later patrons used had access to the spur for a number of years, but it is unknown whether they used it or not.

A SP train passing through Vasona Junction in 1953. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Once the route through the Santa Cruz Mountains was closed in February 1940, the importance of Vasona Junction declined. Passenger service continued to Los Gatos until 1959, but then the line was cut back. The wye remained in place for five more years and Vasona became the primary stop for railroad commuters from Los Gatos. In fact, a small passenger station was erected at the stop to facilitate this increase in traffic. However, in January 1964, the Los Altos Branch was closed and the ability to commute from Vasona to San Francisco was curtailed—locals would have to use cars and buses if they needed to travel to San Francisco.

A SP engine passing beside prune trees at Vasona Junction, 1955. 'Los Gatos Public Library]
The southern ends of the wye were not immediately removed, but the south-eastern portion quickly deteriorated and even became dislodged. The old registry booth, meanwhile, was rescued by Jim Holmes and relocated to Swanton Pacific Ranch north of Davenport. The tracks of the wye were eventually removed with only the northern curve remaining to allow freight trains to access the Permanente cement plant west of Cupertino. Plans to extend the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) lightrail network to Vasona have been on the books for over a decade, but no progress has been made due to funding.

A SP engine in the wye at Vasona Junction,  c. 1940s.
[Los Gatos Public Library]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37˚15'20.2"N, 121˚57'57.7W

The site of Vasona Junction can be accessed along Winchester Boulevard north of Los Gatos, just before the track's crossing under State Route 85. While trespassing on the track itself is illegal—they remain active rails owned by Union Pacific—so access to the northern part of the former wye is not permitted. Fortunately, there is a new rail-trail that runs parallel to the tracks from Winchester to Wedgewood Avenue, the entire length of the old wye. The western portion of the former wye is now entirely developed over by the Bay Club Courtside tennis facility. The south-western side is the most accessible. It ran parallel to Winchester across from the tennis club and most of the right-of-way still exists as sidewalk. Unfortunately, no trace of the railroad exists along either of these sides of the former wye. The former stop itself is roughly at the location of the Winchester & Albright bus stop outside the Netflix headquarters parking lot on Winchester Boulevard.

The site of Vasona in the mid-1980s beside Winchester Boulevard. The Union Pacific tracks are visible in the distance.
Citations & Credits:
  • Bender, Henry. "SP San Jose to Santa Cruz (ex-South Pacific Coast Ry.)" Unpublished.
  • Bowdidge, Robert. "Gem City Packing becomes Sunsweet Becomes Sewall Brown." Robert's Vasona Branch Blog. 21 November 2011.
  • "Hooked on Los Gatos." Library and History Museum Project.
  • Edward Kelley & Peggy Conaway, Images of Rail: Railroads of Los Gatos. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.
  • Los Gatos Times-Saratoga Observer, 1955.
  • San José News, 1928.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Stations: Mack

The site of Mack on a 1913 US Geological Survey map.
Along the southern edge of Rancho Bolsa del Potrero y Morocojo (or La Sagrada Familia) once sat the simply-named Mack Station of the Pajaro Valley Railroad. This location is named after Charles McIntyre, a New Yorker who travelled to California near the end of the Gold Rush in 1850. McIntyre spent only a year mining before moving on to more profitable ventures, first running a hotel in Sacramento until 1852 and then moving to Santa Cruz County to farm until 1865. In that year, McIntyre began renting land near Castroville on a portion of the John Rogers Cooper's farm. He was there when Claus Spreckels began installing his railroad along the northern side of the Salinas River in 1890. McIntyre likely had no choice in the matter of the railroad since he was only a tenant farmer, but Spreckels still allowed him a stop on the line, naming it "Mack", a derogatory name akin to "Mick" for people of Scottish ancestry, although McIntyre himself was American-born. The stop undoubtedly meant that McIntyre grew sugar beets on at least a portion of his property for shipment out to the Spreckels refinery.

Like many of the stops along the Pajaro Valley Railroad line, Mack does not appear to have survived long for more than a decade or so. US Geological Survey maps from 1912-1913 show at this location a short road branching off from Molera Road which ends at the Pajaro River. There is a single structure at the end of this road which probably represents a building associated with the stop—possibly the McIntyre family's house. The map does not show any siding or spur at the site. When the station was ultimately abandoned is unknown, but the tracks remained in place until 1930 when the Southern Pacific Railroad removed them along the length of the line.

McIntyre lived until January 28, 1910. His wife, Maria Josefa Buelna, a Californio from Pueblo Branciforte, survived her husband by twelve years. Together, they had fifteen children, six boys and nine girls, many of whom survived to adulthood and produced myriad children of their own whose descendants still live in Monterey County today. His death may have marked the end of farming on the Cooper lot for the family, although he may have abandoned farming efforts there at any time after 1890, when the tracks were first installed.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.748˚N, 121.774˚W

The site of Mack is located on the south side of Molera Road just north of State Route 1 and Artichoke Lane. The location is still marked by an agricultural access road that ends at a large barn immediately beside the now-dry riverbed. Nothing of the original right-of-way or station survives at the site.

Citations & Credits:
  • Ingersoll, Luther A. (ed.). Memorial and Biographical History of the Coast Counties of Central California: Containing a History of this Important Section of the Pacific Coast from the Earliest Period of its Discovery to the Present Time, together with Glimpses of its Auspicious Future; Illustrations and Full-Page Portraits of some of its Eminent Men, and Biographical Mention of many of its Pioneers, and Prominent Citizens of To-day. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1893.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Stations: Struve

1913-1914 US Geological Survey map showing Struve.
Like many of the sugar beet-farming families along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, the Struves were actually residents of Santa Cruz County but operated a beet plot in Monterey County. Hans Christian Struve, a natives of Denmark came to California via a long voyage from Denmark to China and then to San Francisco, after which he spent years in the mines of the gold country. Following a few more years harvesting lumber near Redwood City, Hans settled in San José briefly and then moved to Pajaro, where he first encountered the bountiful valley. He returned to Denmark in 1865 to marry Cecilia Marie Storm, and the two of them then returned to California and settled on the the Roche Ranch near Watsonville. Four surviving children were quickly born to them, including Peter, Henry, Edward, and Christina.

The Struves quickly became prominent members of Watsonville society, running a general store in town for a number of years and testing various new farming methods on their property. Their property was a mixed farm, ranch, and dairy. Peter, being the eldest, began working with his father from an early age and in the late 1880s purchased a small farm of his own in the Salinas Valley on a small portion of Rancho Rincón de las Salinas—a virtual island in the middle of the Salinas River near its outlet into the Monterey Bay. This 2,220-acre rancho dated to 1833 and was granted to Cristina Delgado. On this property, Peter began growing sugar beets, probably at the instigation of Claus Spreckels. When the Pajaro Valley Railroad passed through the area in 1890, a special spur was extended out to the island which required a short bridge to cross the narrow river channel. US Geological Survey maps from 1913 and 1914 show that this spur exited to the north, giving credence to the idea that it was built prior to the construction of the Spreckels beet refinery outside Salinas. The stop, simply named Struve, was located roughly 13.1 miles from Watsonville Depot and 14.1 from Spreckels. In addition to the spur, the stop also included a wye, probably due to the location of the stop being roughly half-way down the line.

It is unclear when the Salinas Valley farm stopped producing beets but Peter himself moved back to his family home in Watsonville in 1900 when his father retired (Hans died in 1908). Peter himself continued to operate the farm until 1920, when he too retired. Peter leased all his property that year and moved to a small home in downtown Watsonville, where he died in 1925. It seems likely that the Salinas Valley farm, although the spur remained in place until at least 1914, probably ceased its beet operations no later than 1920 and probably many years earlier. The track was removed no later than 1930, when the Southern Pacific Railroad removed all the track of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad line.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.752˚N, 121.778˚W

The titular ring in Rancho Rincon de las Salinas is mostly dried up now and can be crossed on simple footbridges. The site of Struve Station, once located off Molera Road near its junction with State Route 1, is long gone with no trace of the stop remaining. The right-of-way has been plowed over for agricultural fields, while the farm itself, although still in use, shows no evidence of any century-old relics.

Citations & Credits:
  • History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California's history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1925.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Stations: Ranch

Daguerreotype of John Rogers Cooper, 1851.
[Bancroft Library]
The lower Salinas Valley served as a rich source of sugar beets for Claus Spreckels' sugar refineries both in Watsonville and outside Salinas. One of the most productive farms was Rancho Bolsa del Potrero y Moro Cojo (or Rancho La Sagrada Familia), an early Mexican land grant that was owned by the Cooper family. The original owner of the ranch was Joaquín de la Torre, a Spanish soldier and the alcalde (mayor) of Monterey. In 1829, De la Torre sold the rancho to John Rogers Cooper, a British-born Massachusetts sailor, for $2,000. John had moved to Monterey in 1823 and was baptised on April 14, 1827 under the name Juan Bautista Rogerio, becoming a Mexican citizen three years later. He soon married Maria Geronima de la Encarnacion, the sister of General Mariano Vallejo. Using his land as a base, Cooper amassed both more land and political influence, eventually obtaining the 9,000-acre Rancho El Sur from his nephew, future governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, and nearly 18,000-acre Rancho El Molina in Sonoma. Cooper also opened a general store in Monterey, today's Cooper-Molera Adobe, and became the city's harbormaster in 1851. He eventually moved to San Francisco in 1865, ultimately dying there in 1872.

Ranch Siding on the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, 1912.
The PaRBolsa[US Geological Survey]
Cooper's only son, John Baptist Henry Cooper, continued to operate Rancho Bolsa del Potrero y Moro Cojo after his father's death. He was raised at a missionary school in Honolulu before returning after his father's death to take over the vast family properties. He continued to augment them over subsequent decades, becoming at the same time the chairman of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. His time in both the Salinas Valley and Hawai'i likely brought him into contact with Claus Spreckels, who began constructing the Pajaro Valley Railroad between Watsonville and Cooper's ranch in 1890. The fact that the original right-of-way ended at Cooper's Moro Cojo ranch strongly suggests that it was producing, or planned to produce, sugar beets for the Watsonville refinery.

Eventually, the Coopers came to own three railroad stops along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated line. The northernmost of them, simply named Ranch, was located roughly 12.5 miles from Watsonville Depot and 14.7 miles from Spreckels. It had a relatively long siding that ran along the western side of the mainline. Structures outlined on the US Geological Survey map from 1912 suggest that a beat-loading device straddled both sets of tracks on its southern end. Another structure, possible a barn or warehouse, sat near the northern end of the siding. These certainly were still in place in 1914, and likely existed until the end of the railroad in 1930.

John Baptist Henry Cooper, c. 1890s.
[California and Californians]
The younger Cooper balanced his life between Monterey County and affairs in San Francisco for most of his life. His primary residence was an isolated large ranch on the Big Sur Coast, where he spent much of his later life. After Cooper died on June 21, 1899, his wife, Martha Brawley, continued to manage the family estates. She finally liquidated the family property in 1928, but retained an interest in 8,800 acres in Moro Cojo to grow lettuce and artichokes. This suggests that the farm was no longer using the railroad to grow sugar beets by this date. Her son, John Baptista Rogers, lived on the farm as well, helping his mother manage it. Most of the former rancho remains an agricultural plot today which is owned and operated by the Cooper Land Company, presided over by John Roger Cooper's descendants, the Goodwin family.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.762˚N, 121.788˚W

The site of Ranch is publicly accessible via Molera Road south of Moss Landing. Molera Road is, in fact, the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad right-of-way from Monterey Dunes Way southward. The station was located at the narrowest point between the road and Old Salinas River. There is a loading area to the east of the road and a pull-out to the west. No evidence of the stop itself remains and all traces of the right-of-way have been long since paved or covered by agricultural fields.

Citations & Credits: