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, March 17, 2017

Stations: Cassin

Michael Cassin was an East Coast immigrant to California who settled in San Francisco in 1859. Not long after his son, Charles Michael Cassin, was born on January 10, 1868, Michael, his wife Mary Anne Daly, and their son moved to north Monterey County on a swampy agricultural parcel adjacent to the Pajaro River. During this time, Charles attended Watsonville High School before enrolling in Santa Clara College in the mid-1880s. He graduated in 1888 and spent three years at Notre Dame and the University of Michigan where he became a lawyer. In 1893, Charles co-opened the legal offices of Cassin & Lucas in downtown Santa Cruz. Meanwhile, his father moved off the Pajaro River farm around 1890 and relocated to a cottage in Santa Cruz.

Charles M. Cassin, c. 1890. [Find A Grave]
It must have been at this time that Cassin station was named, although it is highly possible that the family continued to lease after they left. The Pajaro Valley Railroad first carved its path on the outside edge of the Cassin property in 1890, and the stop it planted there was located 4.9 miles from Watsonville and 22.8 miles from Spreckels. The railroad set up one of its longest spurs here, capable of holding 24 cars. This suggests that the Cassin farm produced sugar beets as one of its primary products since the farm was not much larger than its neighbors, who hosted significantly smaller spurs and sidings. Although information is scarce, it is likely that the station hosted a beet-loading dump and a fair-sized staging area, and the stop certainly could be used for passenger service to Watsonville or Salinas as well. How long the farm remained in the Cassin family is unknown to this author, but the railroad spur and stop do not appear on the 1912 USGS map, suggesting they were already removed by that time. At latest, the station and spur were removed in 1930, after the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad ceased operations along the line and the tracks were pulled.

Charles M. Cassin, 1906. [Santa Cruz Elks]
The Cassin family remained prominent in Santa Cruz County even after Michael died in 1907. Charles became a city attorney in 1893 and was active in the Elks Lodge and the Native Sons of the Golden West. He married Josephine Murphy, a Watsonville resident, in 1896 and they had six children together, several of whom have descendants living in the county today. In 1913, Charles moved to San José, leaving his son, Charles Jr., in charge of his Santa Cruz firm. He died in 1924 and is buried near his father in the Valley Catholic Cemetery.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.866˚N, 121.802˚W

The site of Cassin is unremarkable today. The site is located on a private access road (the former right-of-way) squeezed between the Pajaro River and a large field adjacent to Trafton Road. The only remnant of the station left is an irrigation channel that passes immediately beside the former stop. There is no physical trace of the stop remaining in the area and the site is inaccessible to the public.

Citations & Credits:
  • Martin, Edward. History of Santa Cruz County, California, with Biographical Sketches. Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1911.

Stations: Thurwachter

The Thurwachter spur along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad
 right-of-way, 1912 [USGS]
Frederick Thurwachter was one of the many early settlers to move to Watsonville in the 1850s. Born in Rheinpfalz, Germany in 1832 to Johann Thürwachter and Maria Henke, Frederick voyaged to New York in 1850 and lived there until 1854 when he moved to California and worked in the mines for three years. In July 1858, Thurwachter definitively moved to Watsonville where he rented land on a local ranch for the better part of six years. In 1866, he finally purchased a 113-acre farm of his own on Beach Road near the mouth of the Pajaro River. When he bought the property, there was little more than marshy, sandy wastes, but within a short time he converted the entire area into a profitable ranch. Thurwachter was regionally famous for introducing European farming techniques to the Pajaro Valley. He began growing Bellflower apples on fifteen acres with potatoes and barley as his primary cash crops. In the 1880s, the latter two were replaced by sugar beets.

Frederick and Catherine Thurwachter, 1890s. [Flora Vista Inn]
Thurwachter married Catherine Sweeny of Ireland in 1862 and together they had eight children, three of whom survived the century: Margaret Carolina, Ella Teresa, and Frances Louise. The family built its permanent residence on Beach Road in 1872. It was modelled off of Abraham Lincoln's Neo-Georgian Springfield, Illinois home and was popularly known as the "T-Wester House.' The current, heavily remodelled structure is 3,200 square feet and includes two sitting rooms, a central staircase, a hidden stairwell, and four upstairs bedrooms. From 1929 until 1963, the house became famous because of its Monterey cypress trees, which were trimmed into various artistic styles.

People on a horse-drawn tractor on the Thurwachter farm, c. 1890s. [Flora Vista Inn]
Thurwachter is unique in that it had the only Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad stop in Santa Cruz County other than the two Watsonville stops. The railroad's right-of-way ran along the southern bank of the Pajaro River, but directly across from the Thurwachter farm, at the end of an access road that ran perpendicular to Beach Road, a spur line was extended across a bridge over the river. The tracks barely made it into the county, but there was enough trackage on the farm for a few cars to park so that the Thurwachters could load goods. Passing PVCRR trains could then pick up these cars and drop off empty cars for future loading. The spur was probably added around 1900, after the beet refinery was removed to Salinas. Evidence for this is based on the fact that the spur exits to the south towards Salinas rather than to the north. The spur is clearly visible on USGS maps from the 1910s and it leaves a noticeable footprint on stylised maps of the PVCRR route that have been published in recent years. Like the rest of the railroad, the route was abandoned in 1929 when the Southern Pacific Railroad bought out the line. The bridge was probably removed at this time, but the pilings may have stood in the river for many more years.

Large gathering at the T-Wester House, c. 1890s. [Flora Vista Inn]
Frederick and Catherine died only two months apart from each other in 1914. Initially, all three daughters claimed equal ownership of the property, and this lasted into the 1920s as attested by local property survey maps. Eventually, Ella, a confirmed spinster, came to own the whole property, or at least was its sole family occupant. Ella converted the farm from sugar beets to navy bean and lettuce production in the 1930s. She also was the first to introduce blue pod beans into the area. Ella died in 1963 and the home passed to her relative, Roy Folger, who was friends with Ansel Adams, who spent a day photographing the property in 1977. Tim Folger, Roy's son, continued on the farm until 1979, when he sold the property to an agricultural form. Wishing to preserve the home, Tom Mine purchased the house (but not the property) with the intent to renovate it, but costs proved too high. He eventually sold the house to George Mortan around 1988, but Mortan ran into the same problem. Meanwhile, the owners of the farm wanted to get the house off the property so they could use the space for further farming. Mortan finally decided to sell the house for $2 around 1992 via an open raffle. The winner, Darrell Darling, immediately began restoring it and moved north to a new location on San Andreas Road in 1997. Under the stewardship of Susan Van Horn and Brian Denny, who leased the home around 1999, the structure became a bed and breakfast and gained the name The Inn at Manresa Beach, which soon evolved into the Aptos Beach Inn (in 2003) and is now the Flora Vista Inn. It still operates today on San Andreas Road near La Salva Beach.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.868˚N, 121.804˚W

The site of Thurwachter station is today located at the end of a long private access road that breaks off at the intersection of West Beach Road and Rio Boca Road. The site itself is marked by a large utility yard that sits alongside the river. All trace of the bridge has disappeared from decades of storms and the construction of the Pajaro River levee. The street address for the farm is 2083 Beach Road southwest of Watsonville, which places it a considerable distance to the north from the station. The farmhouse is now located on 1258 San Andreas Road as the Flora Vista Inn Bed & Breakfast.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, March 10, 2017

Stations: Williamson

Approximate location of Williamson,
which is unmarked on this 1914 USGS map.
As the Pajaro Valley Railroad followed the course of the Pajaro River to the Monterey Bay, it reached a point where three stations sat in close proximity to each other. The northernmost of these stops was called Williamson, after the farm of William J. Williamson, an Irish farmer and former 49er. In late 1864, Williamson moved to Santa Cruz County and became one half of Brown & Williamson Lumber Company in Watsonville, which he operated until 1874 when they sold the firm to Charles Ford. The next year, Williamson purchased 175 acres of reclaimed slough land near the mouth of the Pajaro River.

Williamson and his family built a large farmstead at 951 Trafton Road soon after moving to the new property. Three generations of Williamsons lived on the ranch. William and his wife, Artemissa Sands, settled in the Trafton District with their two children, Robert Samuel and Caroline. By 1881, Robert had a son, James, and three daughters, Mary E., Ethel, and Inez, who all lived and worked on the farm alongside their mother, Susan Frances Armpriest. After Susan died in 1882, Robert married Mollie Ashton and had a second son, Orman Robert. In addition to a large ranch house, the farmstead included a bunkhouse for the seasonal workers that could hold up to twenty-five men. A Chinese cook, meanwhile, was employed each year to prepare food for the family and workers. Everyone ate their meals together for maximum efficiency. The property also featured a blacksmith shop and wagon repair station.

The farm produced a variety of crops across its vast acres, but its primary products were wheat, oats, and hay. Potatoes, apples and pears were often planted in select areas of the estate, while a small ranch area was reserved for cows, pigs, and chickens. Williamson's operation was broad and relatively inefficient initially, but it had a good reputation among local farmers. Between 1875 and 1900, the Williamson family worked to optimise the farm and it became one of the first intensive agricultural operations in the region.

In 1883, William's son Robert inherited the estate and he began growing sugar beets for Claus Spreckel's new factory in Watsonville in 1888. When the Pajaro Valley Railroad began construction alongside the Pajaro River in early 1890, it passed immediately alongside Williamson's western property boundary. The railroad station likely had a beet-loading mechanism and a small freight platform for other goods. Technically, the site also served as a passenger flag stop for anybody on the farm who wanted a short ride to Watsonville. Sugar beets remained the family's primary crop until the late 1920s when advancements in irrigation allowed them to grow lettuce for the first time. Although sugar beets continued to be one of their products until 1945, these would have been shipped by truck after the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was abandoned in 1930.

The property changed hands a number of times after Robert's death in 1900. His second wife, Mollie Ashton, and Robert's eldest son from his first marriage, James William, cooperatively ran the farm until 1913, when Mollie bought out his interest, as well as the claims of his three sisters, and partnered with her son, Orman Robert Williamson. Together, they became a highly efficient farming operation. Orman joined the local agricultural aristocracy in 1921 when he married Etheleen Learned Trafton, his neighbour to the north. At this point, Orman built a new home across from his parents' house. Both of these homes still exist today. Lettuce and cauliflower became the main family crops until 1958, when the family leased the entire historic property to Louis H. Delfino, who began to rotate in artichokes. Delfino retired in 2000 and died in October 2011, but his family continues to lease the property today.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.868˚N, 121.802˚W

The site of Williamson is not accessible from any road, although the property is off Trafton Road south of McGowan Road. The original right-of-way is now a narrow access road that runs along the eastern side of the Pajaro River levee, while the station itself is unmarked but was located just north of a viaduct at the furtherest western curve of the river. The Williamson family farmstead sits on the east side of Trafton Road below a small hillside—two historic homes sit facing each other across a private driveway south-east of the former railroad stop.

Citations & Credits:
  • PST Consultants, LLC. "Agricultural Resources Evaluation Handbook, Monterey County, California"  (September 2011)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Stations: Trafton

Trafton siding as viewed on a 1914 USGS Map.
The Trafton family were some of the first major East Coast settlers to migrate to the Pajaro Valley, and their legacy was keenly felt over the hundred years after their resettlement. In 1864, the entire family headed out from Boone County, Missouri, but the patriarch, David Trafton, died along the way leaving his wife, Sarah Woodbury, to raise her brood of five children alone. Their youngest son, twenty-seven year-old John Edmund Trafton, became the functional head of the family at this time since he was still unmarried and he became engaged with many different businesses over the course of his life. He quickly accumulated large parcels of land in both Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, on which he farmed and raised all manner of livestock. By the time he died in 1922, Trafton owned over 1,200 acres of fertile land and his estate was estimated to be worth at least $300,000. But Trafton was a bachellor and he gifted his vast estates and wealth to his siblings' children, a total of twenty-seven nieces and nephews. Trafton also donated thousands of dollars to local charities and organisations over his lifetime and helped found the Pajaro Valley National Bank and the Watsonville Creamery Company (likely contributing dairy from his own cattle, as well).

The Trafton family owned farms all over the area, but their original holding was a large parcel between the Pajaro River and modern-day Trafton Road, located specifically along the top half of the large bend in the river just south of Watsonville. In total, this area measures 400 acres, 280 of which are in the floodplain and the remainder on the hills. The Pajaro Valley Railroad snaked its way around this parcel in 1889 with the permission of the Traftons, who benefited by the addition of a 20-car siding and spur located at the north-east corner of their property. The spur sat on the inside curve of the tracks, while the spur broke off from this siding and terminated shortly afterwards, probably with a holding size of roughly 6 cars. This stop was located exactly three miles south of the Watsonville station terminus.

When Trafton died in 1922, his nephew Thomas F. Trafton took possession of the family estate. He began specializing in fruit- and vegetable-growing and chicken raising. Whether he used the railroad access at the back of his property is unknown, but the station remained until the abandonment of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad track in 1929. The Trafton family still holds land in many areas in Monterey County and have held many prominent positions in the community, including Sheriff of Santa Cruz County and Mayor of Watsonville.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.885˚N, 121.785˚W

The site of Trafton station is one of the more recognizable and enduring locations along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad right-of-way. The station was located with the first sharp bend in the Pajaro River as it exited from Watsonville to the sea, now directly across from the Watsonville City Wastewater plant. There is still space at this location for the original siding and spur, now occupied by various storage and fencing supplies along a private access road that runs behind the property. Unfortunately, this location is deep within private property and trespassing is strongly discouraged.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, February 17, 2017

Stations: Pajaro

John T. Porter, c. 1875
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
To the southeast of Petersen station was another stop nebulously named Pajaro. This was actually one of the largest independent sugar beet farms on the entire Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad line. Purchased in 1864 by John Thomas Porter from a portion of Ignacio V.F. Vallejo's Rancho Bolsa de San Cayetano, the 820 acres property originally included the entire modern-day town of Pajaro, hence the stop's name. Porter was a prominent Watsonville citizen, co-founder of the Bank of Watsonville in 1874 and the Pajaro Valley National Bank in 1888. Porter was born and raised in Massachusetts and came to California in 1849 during the Gold Rush. In 1852, he became sheriff of Santa Cruz County and then duty collector for the port of Monterey in 1861. It was during these years that Porter became prominent in the Watsonville-Pajaro area. At first, he used his ranch for cattle, but the loss of his port job in 1865 and a terrible drought that killed off most of his herd quickly put an end to his ambitions. With the little money left to him, Porter became a real estate broker, much like Frederich A. Hihn in Santa Cruz County. He worked with Vallejo to parcel and subdivide his estate, essentially founding the town of Pajaro in the process. When Claus Spreckels began his sugar beet refinery in Soquel in the late 1870s, Porter was one of the first to adopt the new plant in his fields, quickly becoming a partial owner of the Soquel plant. He also specialized in strawberries and other fruits that were not common in the area at the time.

Unsurprisingly, when the Pajaro Valley Railroad project began in earnest in 1889, Porter made sure that it took an especially wide arc into his property before the track made its turn to the south. Porter's stop, Pajaro, was located 1.6 miles from the Watsonville sugar beet factory and hosted a 7-car spur, probably with a northward exit and oriented along the outside edge of the track as it began its sharp curve due south. What specific services were available at Pajaro are unknown, but it seems unlikely that it served as more than a beet-loading dump for passing trains.

Harry Totten (left) and John E. Porter near the Doheny Oil fields near Santa Maria, CA, 1917. [Granite Rock Company]
Lieutenant Governor Warren R. Porter,
1900. [Granite Rock Company]
John T. Porter died on February 13, 1900, and his son, Warren Reynolds Porter, and grandson, John E. Porter, took over the property on behalf of the larger family. Warren became president of both his father's banks in 1900 and also took on the difficult responsibility of managing the farm. Warren co-founded and directed the Granite Rock Company in 1900 alongside Arthur R. Wilson. He and his son remained prominent leaders of the company until 1921, when Warren lost all of his stake in the corporation in a failed business venture, after which Wilson took over as president. In 1906, Warren became lieutenant governor of California, after which he retired in 1911, leaving the estate's day-to-day operation to his children. The Porters were a small but well-respected family and likely maintained an investment in the Spreckels Sugar Company until 1929, when the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad shut down and transportation of beets to the factory in Spreckels became more costly.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
~36.889˚N, 121.758˚W

Like most stations on the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad route, the precise location of Pajaro is not known. It sat between the Pajaro River and Trafton Road, probably in the vicinity of Jackson's Refrigeration. No trace of the right-of-way or station in this area remains since the route has been covered by more recent agricultural plots.

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 Publishing Co., 1925.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Stations: Petersen

Perhaps one of the most ephemeral stops along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was Petersen, located just to the south of the Pajaro River in Monterey County. The stop, situated exactly one mile from Watsonville station, was named after Jens N. Petersen*, a local entrepreneur and one half of Petersen & Porter of Watsonville. Petersen was born in Denmark on May 11, 1873, and immigrated to the United States in 1892 and worked for the railroad for a year before settling in the Pajaro Valley. This means that the stop named after him did not appear until, at earliest, 1893, and probably much later. It is most likely that Petersen station only appeared in 1910 when Petersen purchased 400 acres of land that he called Valley Rancho. On this parcel, he operated a joint farm and ranch for six years before joining with John T. Porter and moving into the foothills, where they jointly ran a 3,000 acre stock-grazing ranch.

Thus, Petersen stop probably only existed between 1910 and 1916, during which time it undoubtedly rotated in sugar beets as one of its regular crops, considering the demand and the dominance of Claus Spreckels in the region. The spur at Petersen consisted of a short, 8-car track that most likely exited to the north to facilitate easy transfer to the Southern Pacific track at Watsonville. That station may have remained on timetables after 1916, but whether it was used by later residents is unknown. Petersen appears to have sold his property in 1916 and his daughters do not appear to have inherited it from him. Petersen died on November 12, 1961 and is buried at the Pioneer Cemetery in Watsonville.

* Note: Petersen's name is variously spelled "Petersen" or "Peterson" in both contemporary and modern records.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
~37.899˚N, 121.756˚W

The precise location of Petersen cannot be determined since all evidence of the stop has been erased by the building of the Pajaro River levee and farming on the station site. It seems most likely to have been located within the parcels to the south of the river if one were to follow the end of Harvest Drive (the former Pajaro Consolidated Railroad right-of-way) over the river. This would place it betweenJackson's Refrigeration station on Trafton Road and the river. All of this land is now private property and trespassing is discouraged. There is no evidence of the railroad or station remaining on the site.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, February 3, 2017

Stations: McGowan Nos. 1 and 2

Located on the south bank of the Pajaro River at two different spots on the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad line were the stations known as McGowan No. 1 and McGowan No. 2. The McGowan family settled in the Pajaro Valley around 1865. John McGowan, and his wife Elizabeth Jarvis, were originally wheat and barley farmers from Ireland, but once they moved to Monterey county they began raising livestock as well. John died in 1901, while his wife had passed many years earlier in 1872.

The relationship between the McGowans and the railroad began with John and Elizabeth's eldest son, William John McGowan, born in Gloucester, New Jersey, in 1861 but soon resettled in California. Although he inherited his father's property in 1901, William also owned his own 254-acres farm near the outlet of the Pajaro River where he cultivated numerous crops year-round. In 1889, he joined the local agricultural aristocracy by marrying Sarah Margaret Trafton, daughter of Charles David Trafton and Elizabeth Cathers. Together, they had eight surviving children. The family homestead appears to have been on William's property rather than John's, suggesting that both parcels were obtained early by the McGowans and the more southernly of the two granted to William when he was old enough. The house was originally built on a bluff that overlooked the river, but the 1906 earthquake and landslides physically moved the structure downhill where it settled near modern-day Trafton Road. The structure was heavily repaired and placed atop a new foundation and then expanded over subsequent years. The primary industry at the southern property was apple planting after about 1906. By 1915, William had nearly 100 acres of apples growing between the two properties. Although the McGowans continued to plant other crops and maintain a small herd of livestock, the apple business is what dominated their output thereafter.

When the Pajaro Valley Railroad sought an easement along the McGowan properties in 1889, John and William McGowan both agreed so long as they were given flag-stop and freight rights to stops on their lands. The track looped around the northern boundaries of both properties, hugging closely to the Pajaro River. How frequently the McGowans used these tracks is unknown, but it seems likely that both properties produced at least some sugar beets that were shipped by rail to the Spreckels factories at first Watsonville and later Spreckels near Salinas. Railroad records show a siding on the south side of the current Thurwachter-McGowan bridge over the Pajaro River, which probably marks the site of McGowan No. 2, located 3.4 miles south of Watsonville. This stop hosted a 10-car spur that exited to the north, suggesting the local goods were shipped out from the Watsonville Southern Pacific transfer yard. The precise location of McGowan No. 1, found 1.8 miles south of Watsonville, is less certain, but it was probably near the State Highway 1 Pajaro River bridge. It also hosted a spur, this one only able to hold 8 cars, but the direction it exited is unknown. The 1906 earthquake severely damaged the track in the vicinity of McGowan No. 2, knocking out parts of the fence that lined the track beside the farms. A 25-acre apple orchard along the tracks was heavily damaged when the track broke and struck a number of trees during the temblor. The orchards themselves were also shifted, with many trees moved in the process.

The McGowans retained their railroads stops until the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad ceased operations in 1929. William died on August 13, 1937, and Sarah died September 9, 1957. Both are buried together at the Pioneer Cemetery in Watsonville. Whether their descendants still live on either or both of the properties is unknown.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
McGowan No. 1: 36.883˚N, 121.772˚W
McGowan No. 2: 36.879˚N, 121.793˚W

It is not 100% certain where either McGowan property was located other than that both were found between modern-day Trafton Road and the Pajaro River. It seems most likely that McGowan No. 1 is related to the mid-sized agricultural parcel that is now bisected by State Route 1 just over the Pajaro River, although the original boundaries of this property must have been far larger. Adjacent to the south was the Trafton family holdings, and south of McGowan Road was certainly the property of William McGowan since his homestead still sits at 745 Trafton Road as a private residence. Access to any of this area is prohibited since all the land is private property. The railroad right of way has long since been buried beneath the Pajaro River levee and its path is now marked by a private-use road for local farmers that runs along the south bank of the Pajaro River.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Freight Stops: Castroville Freight Yard

Castroville has had a long relationship with the Southern Pacific Railroad, which first passed through the town in 1871. However, it was only after the Monterey Branch was built out from the town in 1880 that Castroville became a minor freight hub for the area. From 1880 until the breaking of the Monterey Branch in 1999, numerous freight patrons popped up along the tracks at Castroville to use the abundant siding space and spurs available there.

One of the earliest patrons at Castroville was W. A Anderson, who maintained a long grain warehouse with a 40-ton capacity alongside the tracks in 1892. Platforms flanked either side of the building, the western side of which ran along a Southern Pacific siding. To the south, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company kept a mid-sized lumber yard that ran alongside the same siding. Whether the lumber here was drawn from local reserves or brought in from Santa Cruz County is not known. It had a total capacity of 275,000 board feet but the yard's full dimensions are not known. The northern end of Anderson's warehouse began at the end of Walsh Street, while the Loma Prieta yard began at the end of Monterey Street and probably ended just before Blackie Road.

Sanborn Insurance map showing the yard layout of Castroville freight patrons, 1913. [UCSC Digital Collections]
By 1910, Anderson's warehouse has been taken over by Oscar Perry Silliman with little modification, while a new business just to the south replaced the Loma Prieta lumber yard. That operation was the Foothill Apple Growers Packing House Company, which kept an even longer warehouse than Silliman's that was similarly arranged with platforms on either side for loading purposes. Foothill was founded in 1908 specifically to cater to new apple orchards planted in the Salinas Valley. By 1913, the tracks had been realigned somewhat. Silliman's now sat at the end of a spur, at the end of which was a new grain mill with a large, sprawling platform. Further to the south, Foothill's main structure had been rotated 90˚ and now maintained only a short platform at the western short end of its packing house. Why these changes occurred and their precise arrangement in relation to the freight yard is not entirely understood. Both businesses continued into the 1920s, although when they ultimately closed is not known.

Monterey Bay Packing Company label.
No information is currently available to this historian regarding the period 1913-1973, unfortunately. Further research must be conducted for this time. However, a SPIN sheet for Castroville in 1973 reveals a somewhat active freight scene at Castroville. A total of five registered patrons can be found at Castroville in this time along six spurs and sidings. The only businesses on the east side of the tracks was Castroville Marketing Group, although the site had recently been vacated by Veg-A-Mix. Just down the tracks, a vacant line ran behind a cold storage facility that would later be reopened. On the west side of the tracks, most of the businesses were found along a track that became the head of the Monterey Branch, running along Del Monte Avenue. A southbound-exiting spur near the junction of Highway 183 catered to Eugene Boggiatto and the D'Arrigo Brothers. The Boggiato Packing Company was founded in 1960 in Castroville, which probably marks the date this location went into use, and it specialised in artichokes, although it grew many other products on its extensive family farm. Although the company no longer uses the tracks, it remains in business as the Boggiatto Produce Company. D'Arrigo was founded by Stefano and Andrea D'Arrigo, who specialised in shipping fresh vegetables across the United States. Their brand, Andy Boy, was trademarked in 1927 and they opened warehouses across California. Andy Boy still exists today but no longer operates in Castroville. Just south of Blackie Street, a spur crossed Del Monte Avenue and Blackie to cater to the Monterey Bay Packing Company. Little is known of this company except it began operations in the late 1930s and continued in operation until at least 1985. It specialised in vegetables other than artichokes. Across Blackie, the California Artichoke Company controlled a long spur that crossed Del Monte and terminated just before Wood Street. This was probably the height of freight patronage at Castroville. All of these were local agricultural firms using the station to ship out its goods.

1960 United Convention in Chicago, with Andrea D'Arrigo (far left), Stefano, and other D'Arrigos. [Andy Boy]
By the turn of the century, Castroville had declined considerably. The Monterey Branch was spiked and the Union Pacific had taken over the line. Nonetheless, a few customers remained. D'Arrigo Brothers continued to operate their facility, the last on the old Monterey Branch tracks in 1998. They would finally sell the location in 2006 to the Coastal Cooling Company, although by that time the tracks had been spiked and could no longer be used for export. To the east, A & S Metals operated along a forked spur. Central Cold Storage, meanwhile, maintained a long platform behind their plant. Lastly, Sims-LMC Recyclers sat at the end of a broken spur, registered by the railroad as a customer but unable to actually use its track. With this one exception, all these spurs still exist at Castroville today, although most have since been repurposed

Today, a number of patrons still own existing spurs, although it is unlikely many of them use this resource for exporting stock—aerial photograph evidence shows no signs that the tracks are currently in use. At the southern end of the yard, Coast American Cooling sits alongside a 270 meter spur that also breaks to the north with a 110 meter spur to cater to ABC Supply Company, both located off Commercial Parkway. Coast American Cooling is on the site of A & S Metals. A long extant spur also runs behind Randazzo Enterprises and Central Cold Storage, the latter of which at least was a railroad customer formerly although its current usage history is unknown. It is currently owned by VPS Companies and Inn Foods. All other tracks in the area are now gone. The remnants of a third track can still be clearly seen crossing Blackie Road.

Official Railroad Information:
For the sake of this article, the only accessible railroad information is a 1973 SPINs chart, a 1998 Union Pacific freight yard assessment, and a summary of stations at Castroville from c. 1970 found in an abandoned railroad warehouse. More information will undoubtedly bring light to much missing data regarding this freight yard.

Citations & Credits:

  • Boggiatto Produce, Inc. "Company History." 2016.
  • "Company History". Andy Boy Brand, 2017.
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps, 1892, 1910, 1913. UCSC Digital Library. University of California, Santa Cruz.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad. "Watsonville Zone 9, Sheet 1". 1973. Courtesy George Pepper.
  • Union Pacific Railroad. "Roseville Service Unit, Salinas Subdivision, Castroville, CA." 1998. Courtesy George Pepper.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Cannery Row: Custom House Packing Corporation

Fire at the Custom House Packing Corporation cannery,
October 1953. Photograph by Lee Blaisdell.
[Monterey Public Library]
Timing was poor for the Custom House Packing Corporation when it opened its doors in April 1929, only months ahead of Black Tuesday and the start of the Great Depression. Nonetheless, this packing house endured the trials and tribulations of the 1930s and remained in business well after the end of World War II. Investors Brayton Wilbur, Thomas Frank, and Carmel Martin established Custom House was experimental in its outlook. They adopted a new steam processing system that removed excess oil and produced "firm, wholesome, well-shrunk sardines, with a perfect vacuum and positively no after taste." Their premium products included Cal-Rey, Custom, and Feature brands, and most goods were packaged in the normal oval tins with the fish preserved in tomato or mustard sauce. Custom House also utilised new reduction techniques to maximize profits from its fish products.

From the very beginning, the cannery owned a warehouse across Ocean View Avenue which was connected to the packing house via an elevated conveyor. The two-story structure had access to a private northward-exiting Southern Pacific Railroad spur that ran along a platform behind the warehouse. From this spur, goods could be shipped out directly from the cannery. Nothing remains of this loading area since the current structure mostly dates to 1971 and afterwards, although there is a new patio deck on the rear of the building that closely matches the original arrangement and may sit atop its foundation.

The corporation lasted until November 1952 when the depletion of the sardine stocks forced the company to close its doors. Machinery was dismantled and sold to canneries in Africa and Peru. Then, on October  24, 1953, a fire swept through the abandoned complex and destroyed it. This was the first major fire on Cannery Row since the 1930s, but it would not be the last. The warehouse across Ocean View Avenue survived with only some minor damage. For almost two decades, it sat abandoned until the architectural firm of Wurster, Bernardi, and Emmons purchased and renovated the structure in 1971. The original two-story structure was modified to three stories and converted to commercial use. A walkway was installed at the same time to the structure across Hoffman Avenue. Although the current structure is built on the foundation of the original warehouse and may incorporate some remaining artifacts, the majority of the building is newer in design.

Street Address, Geo-Coordinates & Current Status:
625 Cannery Row
36.615˚N, 121.900˚ W

Today, the renovated cannery is the site of the northern half of Shake Plaza, a commercial complex that includes shops such as Ambrosia India Café and Om Rhythms. The upstairs levels are the former site of the Culinary Institute of Monterey but are currently vacant.

Google Streetview image of the current Shake Plaza complex atop the Custom House warehouse site. [Google]
Citations & Credits:
  • Architectural Resources Group and Architects, Planners & Conservators, Inc. "San Carlos Park". Primary Record. State of California – The Resources Agency. Department of Parks and Recreation. In Final Cannery Row Cultural Resources Survey Report Document, Monterey, CA, 2001.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Curiosities: Roller Coasters at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

There have been many narrow-gauge, broad-gauge, and miniature railroads, as well as numerous horsecars, streetcars, and cable-hoisted car systems around the Monterey Bay, but only in one place can be gravity trains be found: the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Gravity trains, or more commonly roller coasters, have been a constant at the Boardwalk since 1908, a year after the current amusement park opened its doors. 

L.A. Thompson Scenic
Railway, 1908.
[SC Beach Boardwalk]
L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway: 1908 – 1923
The first roller coaster at the seaside amusement park was an L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway. Opening in July 1, 1908, for $35,000 on the current site of the Giant Dipper, this simple wooden roller coaster featured a series of rises and troughs that headed out toward the San Lorenzo River before taking a wide loop and returning to the top of the launch platform via a steam hoist. The coaster track ran 1,050 feet (the longest in the United States in 1908), took four minutes to ride, and included dual tracks so two trains could run simultaneously side-by-side. The coaster cars could hold up to 30 people and ran at a break-neck speed of 25 mph (the street speed limit was 10 mpg). Since there were no guide rails, an engineer/brakeman stood on the back of the car in case of emergency. When it first opened, a single ride cost 5¢ for children and 10¢ for adults.

L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway at the Boardwalk, c. 1908. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
The Boardwalk as viewed from the Pleasure Pier, with the Scenic Railway at right, c. 1920. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
Ticket (possibly from the Boardwalk) for the L.A. Thompson
Scenic Railway, showcasing the cars, c. 1910.
LaMarcus Adna Thompson was one of the world's first roller coaster salesmen, claiming to have invented the concept in 1884 after visiting a coal mine that charged for gravity-powered rides on coal cars. His first roller coaster, "The Switchback", was built at Coney Island, and he soon built two more, a second at Coney Island and one at Playland in San Francisco. The Santa Cruz coaster was his fourth and it was built at a time before the Boardwalk extended beyond the skating rink (later the Fun House). Although the Looff Carousel would be built between the rink and the coaster in 1911, it was still a number of years before deck construction stretched beyond the site of the coaster, and nothing notable moved in beside it during most of these years. Ageing poorly compared to other roller coasters in the Bay Area, the Scenic Railway shut down after the summer season of 1923 and demolished in January 1924 to make room for a much more famous ride.

Giant Dipper while under construction, 1924.
[Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk]
Giant Dipper: 1924 – Present
Replacing the Scenic Railway on May 17, 1924, was the bold and beautiful Giant Dipper. Constructed over 47 days using a kit designed by architect Frederick Church, the Giant Dipper quickly became the most popular attraction at the Boardwalk and along the Central Coast. To fund the project, manufacturer and financier Arthur Looff founded the Santa Cruz Coaster Company, which owned the coaster (and leased the space) for the next thirty years. The coaster cost $50,000, and used 327,000 board feet of lumber, 743,000 nails, 24,000 bolts, and 63,000 pounds of steel track to build. A ride takes 1:52 minutes and features a short dark tunnel before climbing 70 feet up, promptly dropping that distance at a numbing 46 mph, and then circling twice over rises and troughs before returning to the entry kiosk. The full length of the track is 2,640 feet. The only mechanised part of the route is the first climb, after which gravity and momentum control the ride. In 1924, a ticket for this coaster cost 15¢ per ride. Tickets today cost $7.00.

The original Giant Dipper train cars, c. 1940. [Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk]
Wilt Chamberlain riding the Giant Dipper, 1968.
[Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk]
Over the nearly 100 years since the ride first opened, there have been only three fatalities, all caused by recklessness on the part of the rider. In September 1924, a rider stood up and fell over the front of the train, prompting the addition of safety belts. Additional fatalities occurred in 1940 and 1970, the former prompting the replacement of the old, open-style cars. The coaster is now on its third car design, initially using open cars (a replica of which can be seen at Coasters Bar outside Boardwalk Bowl), more space-aged, bubble cars were installed in the mid-1940s. These were replaced in 1984 with Victorian-style cars that have been repainted numerous times but remain in place today.

In June 1933, Arthur Looff sold the coaster to the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, parent company of the Boardwalk. The Seaside Company, in turn, created the Santa Cruz Giant Dipper Company to operate the roller coaster, and this subsidiary remained in place into the early 1980s. The Giant Dipper is undoubtedly one of the most popular roller coasters in the world, hosting well over 60 million riders since it first opened. It is also the fifth oldest roller coaster in the United States and the only Frederick Church-designed coaster to remain in continuous use, its siblings at Belmont Park in San Diego and Playland Park in New York having been shut down for periods of time since they first opened. The Giant Dipper is a registered as a National Historic Landmark as well as a California State Historic Landmark, and it has won numerous awards over the decades and featured in several films and television shows. An HD video of a ride can be found here.

The Giant Dipper today in profile, showing the large drop at right. [Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk]
Wild Mouse: 1958 – 1976
The Wild Mouse at the Boardwalk, c. 1960s. [Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk]
Perhaps the most forgotten and least known roller coaster at the Boardwalk is the Wild Mouse. Built in 1958 by Norris House to cater to the young teenagers emerging out of the early baby boom after World War II, this ambitious roller coaster featured sharp, unbanked turns that make one's neck kink. The Wild Mouse was based on a German design perfected by J. W. "Patty" Conklin and was certainly not unique to the Boardwalk—dozens popped up at amusement parks worldwide—but it was one of the first such rides built in the United States. The largely wooden coaster featured three large, jerky switchbacks followed by a number of sudden drops before it returned back to the loading area. Unlike with other coasters, the cars, built by Buchwald Gebrüder, only seated two people, one sitting in the lap of the other, and the cars resembled popular sports cars of the period.

The Wild Mouse overlooking the San Lorenzo River mouth and main beach, c. 1950s. [Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk]
The Wild Mouse loading area at the end of the Boardwalk, 1964. [Schrempp Family Photos]
Deteriorating prematurely at only eighteen, the Wild Mouse was finally dismantled in 1976 during upgrading of the river side of the park. It its place was built, among smaller rides, Loggers' Revenge water-based log flume ride.

Jet Star: 1972 – 1991
The Jet Star in 1972, before the cars had been repainted and renamed.
[Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk]
Joining the Giant Dipper and Wild Mouse was the Jet Star, a West German Schwarzkopf-constructed, kit-built steel behemoth that was the first truly modern-style roller coaster at the Boardwalk. Originally sold to the Boardwalk as "Ripper" (many cars in early promotional photographs still have this name), this roller coaster occupied the upper deck of a new structure that replaced the old Fun House in 1972. Operated by computer, the roller coaster rode used small, four person cars running on 1,765 feet of steel rails that criss-crossed a number of times before descending back to the loading station. Gravity was exploited to the extreme for this coaster, with the cars streamlined for maximum speed and the initial 44-foot drop delayed to build up momentum. Unlike the Dipper, up to six cars could run on this track simultaneously, adding to the sense of eminent doom. A total of eight cars were made for the ride, although they never all operated at the same time. In the nineteen years this coaster operated, two different car designs were used. The original, space-age designs were retired by the late 1970s and were replaced with more aerodynamic fiberglass molds.

Jet Star coaster crew posing for a team photo, 1984. [Dante's Page]
Before the invention of crazy inverted roller coasters that quickly came to populate other Bay Area amusement parks, the Jet Star was one of the most thrilling experiences on the West Coast. The ride began to rust in key places and the Seaside Company decided to upgrade rather than renovate. They sold the ride to Thrill-Vill USA in Salem, Oregon, which closed in 2007. The ride was dismantled permanently in 2010.

Hurricane banking down
a curve, c. 2000.
The Hurricane: 1992 – 2012
The Italian-made, kit-based Hurricane roller coaster replaced the Jet Star in the spring of 1992. In many ways, it was the same sort of roller coaster as its predecessor, only bolder with more turns, giving credit to its windstorm-type name. There was much more space in the Hurricane than its predecessor, with trains of three cars able to hold a total of 12 passengers. The ride began immediately with a climb to the top and then the train picked up momentum as it mostly circled downward in a funnel, although there were occasional drops of up to 30 feet. Overall, the coaster ran at roughly the same speed as the Jet Star and used less track, only 1,430 feet, but it remained a popular ride throughout its time at the Boardwalk. The Hurricane last operated on September 3, 2012, and was sold to Western Playland in New Mexico for around $500,000. An HD video of a ride on the coaster can be found here.

The Hurricane at twilight, c. 2010. [California Coaster Kings]
The Undertow: 2013 – Present
In many ways, the current Undertow roller coaster is a spiritual successor of the Wild Mouse, adopting some of its strange, jerky ways while using other newer techniques. More literally, it is the successor of the Hurricane and Jet Star since it occupies the same space above the bumper cars ride that has been in place since 1972.  Built by Maurer Söhne for $5.5 million as another kit-based German roller coaster, the Undertow remains the only spinning coaster in California. The ride features seven four-passenger cars that rotate on a central axel while the coaster moves, and different weight ratios between passengers accentuates the rotation differently. The coaster itself involves a climb 50 feet up and then gravity takes the ride the remainder of the way, although there are numerous rotation platforms that add an unexpected twist to the normal steel-pipe coaster style. Mimicking the Wild Mouse, there are also a number of hard, unbanked turns along the ride, although many of the other turns are adequately banked. Overall, there are 1,410 feet of track, which makes Undertow the shortest adult coaster at the Boardwalk in history, but the ride does achieve faster speeds than both of its predecessors. An HD video of a ride on the coaster can be found here.

The Undertow in action with a car riding at a 45˚ angle, 2014. [California Coaster Kings]
Orient Express: 1998 – 1999
The original Boardwalk kitty coaster, the Orient Express was purchased in 1998 as a part of an overall redevelopment of the lower riverside section of the park. It was built by Wisdom Rides and was originally a travelling fairground coaster. Its single train could host up to 14 passengers and the track ran for 280 feet. The track's deepest drop was 8 feet and the ride reached speeds of 10 mph. In 2000, the ride was sold to Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, possibly due to complaints over its name and theme. It featured a Chinese dragon-style front and an Oriental themed loading kiosk.

The Orient Express coaster as it now resides at Palace Playland in Maine, 2010. [Coaster Gallery]
Sea Serpent: 2000 – Present
Perhaps the least-inspired and most obviously kit-built roller coaster at the Boardwalk is the family-oriented Sea Serpent, manufactured by Miler Coaster Company. This small coaster hosts a single 12-passenger train that rises to a height of 18 feet before dropping 13 feet along a 350-foot steel track. Usually, the ride is looped twice before detraining the passengers. It never breaks speeds of 10 mph, although the drop with the speed does give sufficient G-force for a brief thrill. The Sea Serpent was purchased in 2000 to replace the Orient Express and it has remained in place ever since.

The Sea Serpent train climbing the first ride after the initial drop, c. 2014. [CoasterFreak80 on Theme Park Review]
Citations & Credits:
  • Canfield, Victor. "Wild Mouse Rides: Early History in North America." Roller Coaster and Other Ride Patents, 2015.
  • Beal, Chandra Moira and Richad A. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: The Early Years—Never a Dull Moment
  • Staab, Donaven. Boardwalk Fun Facts Memories. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
  • "Remembering the Jet Star". Dante's Page, 2009.
  • Various articles.