Author Statement

If you have information on local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, email me at This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, September 21, 2018

Stations: Big Trees

Big Trees was without question the most heavily photographed railroad stop in Santa Cruz County. Tucked in the crook of a bend in the tracks between Felton Depot and Felton Junction, the station catered to the Welch Big Trees Grove and the Cowell/Hopkins Big Trees Resort (see Curiosities: Big Trees Resorts). The Welch family park was already in operation when the South Pacific Coast Railroad built its route alongside the eastern edge of the Big Trees Grove. Despite opposition from the family, the railroad successfully cut its route through an embankment, narrowly missing a massive redwood tree that remained on timetables as a clearance obstacle until Roaring Camp purchased the line in 1985. With the route completed in May 1880, Big Trees station opened for business.

Big Trees station as it looked in the South Pacific Coast era, c. 1885. [Bancroft Library]
The South Pacific Coast Railroad did not build a station for Big Trees—only a sign marked the stop. However, the railroad installed a 202-foot-long siding on the east side of the tracks to park excursion trains. Little changed at the station for the first two decades. The station sign sat above the entrance to the Welch Grove, beside which stairs brought people down to the Frémont Tree and into the park. By 1900, a wood platform sat beside the tracks with a long bench installed alongside the railing. New wooden stairs were installed and a notice board sat at the end of the platform, but the station offered no ticket or telegraph services.

The Big Trees station booth at its original location above the Welch Grove soon after it was built, c. 1890.
[San Francisco Maritime Museum]
When Southern Pacific leased the South Pacific Coast in 1887, they soon installed a station booth at Big Trees to support seasonal excursion service to the site. The booth was installed near the southern end of the platform and only operated during the summer. It offered only ticket service, although telegraph wires overhead suggest it may have also had telegraph capacity, although it did not offer this commercially. At the same time, the passenger platform was lengthened considerably to the thick redwood tree located just before the track turned to cross the San Lorenzo River.

A wide-angle shot of Big Trees station after the booth had moved, c. 1920s.
[Margaret Koch – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
Everything changed in 1901, when Henry Cowell, who owned the majority of the property to the south, decided to open up a resort of his own that would cater specifically to railroad traffic. Cowell's Big Trees grew quickly and Cowell had the pull with the railroad to relocate the station booth slightly to the south. Meanwhile, the wood platform and stairs above the Welch Grove were removed and the entrance to the grove relocated to face Cowell's property, but tall fences were installed to keep onlookers out without paying their entry fees. Cowell's property, which included far fewer old-growth redwoods, was free to the public. To support this new location, Cowell put in broad stairs to welcome people onto his property.

Big Trees station in its final years, with the siding no longer connected to the mainline, c. 1930s.
[Harold von Gorder – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
Big Trees in the 1950s, with people waiting below the station sign and an
excursion train parked at right. [Charles Givens]
The standard-gauging of the tracks and siding at Big Trees in 1908 was the last major improvement to the site. The new siding measured 519-feet-long and could support most of the excursion trains that ventured to the park. Over the decades, the siding fell into disuse and became overgrown, even though occasional trains would still use it, when necessary. In 1930, also, the Welch Grove was purchased by Santa Cruz County and a new entrance for it appeared further to the north. Cowell's Big Trees limped along for another decade, enduring the closure of the route through the mountains to San José and finally closing its doors in 1942, after the start of World War II ended excursions to both parks. The station booth was removed soon afterwards, in December. When excursion service resumed in 1947, most trains stopped at the northern stop, although photographic evidence suggests a few trains still stopped at the old Big Trees station. Big Trees was finally abandoned as an official stop at some point after 1965, when the route was demoted to a freight-only line. The sign lingered on into at least the 1970s before disappearing.

The site of Big Trees, with the path down to the redwood loop and Frémont Tree at left, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0353N, 122.0582W

Date-stamped culvert across from the Big Trees station site,
2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
The site of Big Trees station is easy to determine. The original station was near the base of a tree just across from the Frémont Tree that sits beside the tracks. A glass insulator cap originally was placed on the side but has fallen off in recent years, but the wood knob that held it up remains on the side of the tree. The station hut was located roughly midway between this tree and the large tree that sits beside the tracks to the south, just before the turn toward the bridge. Nothing remains of the station or platform, but the area is still mostly clear of debris from years of heavy ballasting and harder soil. The siding space where excursion trains parked and locomotives turned around is clearly visible on the east side of the tracks in this area, where a culvert with the date 1912 can be found. While trespassing is not technically permitted, it is never enforced in this area – just check both ways when viewing the right-of-way at Big Trees. These tracks are still active.

Citations & Credits:

Stations: Big Trees (North Gate)

For most of its history, Big Trees was patronized via the main stop just above, at first, the Welch Grove and, later, the Henry Cowell Grove. However, the purchase of the Welch park by Santa Cruz County in 1930 changed the location's dynamic with the Southern Pacific Railroad. For the first two years after the establishment of Santa Cruz County Big Trees Park, passengers continued to debark excursion trains at the old Big Trees location, but increasingly they opted for a new flag-stop just to the north called on railroad timetables Big Trees (North Gate).

An excursion train parked on a spur at Big Trees (North Gate), late 1940s. Main track in foreground. Photo by L. L. Bonney.
From 1936 until 1965, the North Gate catered to all passenger trains visiting the county park. Henry Cowell's grove, in fact, closed in 1942 soon after the U.S.-entry into World War II, so access to the county park was not even possible from that direction thereafter. At the North Gate, a pair of short sidings were installed within the Welch Ranch property so that commuter trains and freight cars from Olympia could operate along the mainline. The station had no other facilities and passengers detrained via the stairs on the passenger cars. From these sidings, tourists entered Big Trees Park down a short pathway that exited beside the Big Trees Inn, which served as a visitor's center and snack shop for the park.

After the closure of the route through the Santa Cruz Mountains to San Jose in February 1940, North Gate became the end-of-the-line for excursion trains, and they constituted the only passenger trains to use this stretch of track, almost exclusively in the summer months. From 1940-1941 and 1947-1959, Suntan Specials would sometimes travel up to the North Gate on Sundays, depending on passenger demand. There were also fairly regular special excursions to Big Trees, although these began to decline in the late 1950s, after the county sold the park to the state where it became Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. In the final few years, there was only one excursion per year to Big Trees, and those ended in 1965, after which the entire line was downgraded to freight-only service. As a result, Big Trees (North Gate) shut down.

Picnickers hanging around the end of the last Big Trees excursion train, 1965. Note Roaring Camp depot in the background.
At around the same time, Roaring Camp Railroads was founded just to the east of the tracks. Indeed, this was likely the reason why the excursions lasted as long as they did, since in the final three years, passengers were able to visit the burgeoning resort and ride the Dixiana, their first narrow-gauge locomotive. But even the draw of this new popular attraction was not enough to convince Southern Pacific to keep the trains going annually. Not long after excursion service ended, the sidings were removed. However, the stop set an important precedent that survives to this day: the pathway between Big Trees (North Gate) and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park still survives, a relic of a time when trains brought people from all over the Bay Area to visit the redwoods.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0403N, 122.0628W

The North Gate of Big Trees still exists and is used frequently to allow people to pass between Roaring Camp and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. It is the short connecting path that crosses the narrow-gauge and standard-gauge railroad tracks near the Roaring Camp mill pond and exits into the Henry Cowell parking lot. The former sidings once ran from roughly the site of the Roaring Camp water tower to just beyond where the cabooses are now parked. The only remnants of the sidings are the tracks that the cabooses sit atop.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, September 14, 2018

Railroads: Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad

F. Norman Clark was a dreamer. And he loved railroads. In 1959, Norman leased 170 acres of the Big Trees Ranch from the Welch family, which had owned and operated the adjacent Welch's Big Trees Grove since the 1860s. His plan was to build a narrow-gauge railroad up to the summit of the nearby mountain and use vintage steam locomotives to pull the passenger cars. He named his mountain heritage park Roaring Camp after a nickname given to Isaac Graham's nearby sawmill that had operated over a century before.

An early excursion train when the station was still Felton Depot, c. 1964. [Roaring Camp Railroads]
Graham had owned Rancho Zayante in the 1830s and '40s where he built in 1842 at the bottom of Bean Creek the first saw water-powered sawmill west of the Mississippi River. For nearly two decades, his mill cut many of the old-growth redwood trees in the Felton area, but the trees on what became the Welch property remained relatively untouched. In 1867, Joseph and Anna Welch purchased the meadow, mountain, and redwood grove from Graham's estate. It was soon divided between their private ranch and the redwood grove. After running the resort for decades, the family sold the grove to Santa Cruz County in 1930 for use as a county park. It later was merged with the much larger Henry Cowell Company properties in 1954 to become Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Roaring Camp in the 1970s with the station and watertower beside a crowded train led by Tuolumne. [Derek R. Whaley]
A large portion of the ranch, however, was leased to Norman, and they began construction on their new tourist attraction almost immediately. Norman had found a rusted Lima Locomotive Works Shay locomotive in an old coal mine in Appalachia in 1958 and decided to truck it over to Felton where it could be restored to service. The restoration took less than four years an the railroad first ran on April 6, 1963. The railroad track only reached the edge of the forest and there were only 44 customers. Construction continued for a number of years, building the railroad up to the top of Bear Mountain. The track was primarily composed of reused steel rails. The route to the summit involved a long curving trestle and a far more complex corkscrew double-trestle. The entire route was single-tracked except for a loop at the top of the mountain and a similar loop around the large meadow at the bottom. The railroad also installed a wye beside what became the parking lot to allow locomotives to reverse direction, if necessary. Initially, the railroad used the Southern Pacific's former Felton Depot structure as its ticket office and waiting area, but a new station, of somewhat similar style, was erected beside the meadow, where a small rustic township slowly developed as the heart of the park.

The burned remains of the corkscrew trestle in Spring Canyon, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
Roaring Camp in its early days did had numerous issues. The construction of the route to the summit of Bear Mountain took years to complete. Norman wanted to preserve as many of the redwood trees as he could during the construction process, but this also delayed matters as the route had to be designed to avoid large trees and cathedral groves. A decade after the route was completed, a fire on the corkscrew in 1976, later determined to be arson, destroyed a hallmark feature of the train ride to the top. Due to a lack of insurance coverage and associated costs, Norman decided to build a switchback through the heart of the burned wreckage. This switchback included a 9.5% grade, the steepest still used by a passenger railroad in the United States. This switchback restricted the size of trains to a maximum of six cars, so longer trains had to split up briefly when operating in this section. Meanwhile, construction of the townsite was drastically curtailed due to costs and space. The original plan for a full-blown Western town with saloons, hotels, banks, livery stables, smithy, and other thematic trappings was reduced to a general store, school, photograph studio, and a few restaurants based out of cabooses. The biggest disaster, though, was the death of Norman in December 1985, only months after finalising the purchase of the stub branch line between Olympia and Santa Cruz from Southern Pacific. His wife, Georgiana, whom he married in 1966, took over as CEO and president.

Dixiana in front of the station with the general store and caboose restaurant at right, c. 1966. [Roaring Camp Railroads]
Prior to the purchase of the Southern Pacific line, the two railroads interacted directly once in 1969 to celebrate the centennial of the Promontory Point, Utah, linking of the Transcontinental Railroad. A triple-rail section was laid between the two lines, with a diesel- and steam-powered engine briefly touching noses to symbolize the transference of dominance from steam to diesel. The event was not highly publicized and the tracks connecting the narrow and broad lines were removed soon afterwards and have never been reinstalled.

Steam engineer Tom Shreve posing beside Tuolumne, with Kahuku and Sonora on either side, 2013. [Joseph Shreve]
Over the years, numerous narrow-gauge locomotives have been purchased for restoration and use on the line. Dixiana, the original company Shay, entered service in 1963. In that year, Norman purchased the Tuolumne, a Stearns Manufacturing Company Heisler that had operated relatively recently for the West Side Lumber Company. Three years later, soon after Norman married Georgiana, the Clarks bought the Kahuku, a tiny Baldwin Locomotive Works locomotive that had operated on a plantation near Georgiana's home in Hawai'i. This is the oldest locomotive in the fleet and generally does not haul passenger cars. Norman added another Hawai'i-based Baldwin locomotive named the Waipahu to the collection in 1977 , but this was later sold to a Japanese firm in 1988. The impressive Bloomsburg joined the collection of rusting project locomotives in 1975. This Climax Locomotive Works stock was one of the last built and operated on the Carroll Park & Western Railroad decades before its acquisition. It has yet to be restored and a non-profit organization has been founded to help fund its restoration. The most impressive locomotive in the fleet is Sonora, a larger Lima Shay that was purchased by Georgiana in 1986 and restored in 2007. The final locomotive, Daisy, purchased in 1988, is a twin to Dixiana and has yet to be restored. The pieces of the Bloomsburg and Daisy can be viewed in the parts yard beside the parking lot. Three of the locomotives sit on the register of National Mechanical Engineering Historical Landmarks.

Union soldier re-enactors marching down Main Street at Roaring Camp, 2016. [Roaring Camp Railroads]
With the purchase of the Southern Pacific Railroad's route in 1985, the park rebranded itself Roaring Camp Railroads and the original tourist line up Bear Mountain became the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad (also now called the Redwood Forest Steam Train). It has kept this name ever since. Over the past thirty years, the park has slowly grown in size, with the addition of a large barbecue and picnic area, the restoration of the old Felton Depot and freight warehouse, the construction of Bret Harte Hall and a new eating area, and the introduction of annual events such as the Memorial Day Civil War Reenactments and various Days Out with Thomas (the Tank Engine). Georgiana died on March 2, 2016, leaving her daughter, Melani, sole owner, president, and CEO of the park and its railroads.

Dixiana leading a train over the Indian Creek trestle, c. 2010. [Walter Scriptunas II]
While the narrow-gauge railroad is not a historic line, it does provide a good representation of the types of sounds and experiences lumber crews working in the nineteenth century within the Santa Cruz Mountains would have been familiar with. All the trains are historical entities and the history of the Felton area is ever-present along the line.

Citations & Credits:

Railroads: Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway

Roaring Camp Railroads was a narrow-gauge-only affair for the first two decades of its existence. But opportunity reared its head in 1982 when disaster struck the Olympia section of the Santa Cruz Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The winter storms of 1982 damaged much of the infrastructure in the San Lorenzo Valley. Massive flooding decimated the Felton Grove subdivision and also caused numerous landslides all over the valley. In San Lorenzo Gorge, slips, sinks, and slides knocked the railroad tracks out of commission. For twenty years, these tracks had been used exclusively to haul freight for the two quarries up at Olympia. But both had been considering a switch to trucks and the 1982 disaster forced them to switch. It would be months before Southern Pacific could restore the branch line and, frankly, it wanted out of its obligations.

The first Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railroad excursion train to Santa Cruz in October 1986, with the Whitcomb locomotive leading three modified flatcars and a caboose. [Roaring Camp Railroads]
Meanwhile, F. Norman Clark had a dream. When he first opened Roaring Camp, he envisioned a revival of the former route through the Santa Cruz Mountains to San Jose. It was a pipe dream, but the closure of the remnant nine miles of track gave him the opportunity to take the first step toward achieving this goal. He met with railroad officials and they eventually came to an agreement on February 14, 1985. The entire line between Laurel Street in Santa Cruz to the end of the line near Zayante School Road would be purchased by Roaring Camp, which intended to use the line primarily for passenger excursions, although freight to the San Lorenzo Lumber Company yard and potentially the quarries was also anticipated.

CF7 2641 in its original color scheme outside the Boardwalk's Looff Carousel, 1989. [ATOMIC Hot Links on Flickr]
Unlike the track up Bear Mountain, which used vintage steam locomotives, this new standard-gauge line would require modern diesel locomotives and brand new rolling stock. Initially, Norman purchased a small Whitcomb diesel locomotive from the nearby Lonestar Company quarry, which no longer needed it. It was capable of hauling a few cars to operate the line. The first runs only went as far as Rincon before reversing back to Felton. This locomotive was clearly a short term solution, but Norman never would see his full vision realised. He died in December 1985, and his wife, Georgiana, was left with the task of completing his vision. For the first year, trains only went as far as the Santa Cruz Union Depot at the end of Center Street, but in 1987 an agreement was made with Southern Pacific that allowed trains to park in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Georgie purchased two CF7 locomotives to pull the trains and an increasing number of mostly open-top sightseeing cars to hold the passengers, although Roaring Camp did purchase a vintage mail car that is now used primarily for ticket and snack sales. Most of the rolling stock, except the mail car, were constructed on site atop 1895-1915-era flatcars that had been used by the Western Beet Sugar Company's refinery in Spreckels near Salinas.

The Beach Train parked behind the Giant Dipper at the Boardwalk, c. 2000. [Roaring Camp Railroads]
Little has changed since the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway (popularly known as the Beach Train) began operating in 1986. Regular excursions run seasonally from Felton to the Boardwalk twice a day, with special weekly excursions from Mount Hermon's Redwood Camp in the summer for campers. Various plans to open evening dinner service either along the current route or up to Davenport have been proposed, but have yet to become regular activities. Meanwhile, plans are also slowly developing to utilise the roughly two miles of track to the north of Roaring Camp. To support future activities and supplement the existing CF7s, two additional CF7s were purchased in late 2017. Freight is extremely rare along the line, now, but Roaring Camp still retains all common carrier privileges to the old quarries and to the San Lorenzo Lumber yard.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, September 7, 2018

Freight Stops: Santa Cruz Lumber Company

The new planing mill at Felton, 1949. [Jim Vail]
The area immediately to the west of Felton Depot was originally a massive meadow that had as its edges Zayante Creek, the San Lorenzo River, the Southern Pacific Railroad's tracks through the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Welch's Big Trees Grove. Historically, this has been known as the Ley Meadow, after George Ley, who purchased the property from Frederick A. Hihn in July 1893 for one dollar. In 1923, Ley founded the Santa Cruz Lumber Company, but it was in 1949 when the company, which milled old growth redwood trees along Pescadero Creek above Waterman Gap outside Boulder Creek, relocated its planing mill and wood-drying kilns to the meadow beside Felton Depot. The increased efficiency of milling equipment had rendered the original mill and drying yard at Waterman Gap, which had operated since 1923, incapable of keeping up with demand. Initial milling continued at this site, but further processing was moved to Felton where there was more room and direct access to railroad tracks. The mill machinery was installed over the summer of 1949.

The conveyor to the sawdust burner at the Santa Cruz Lumber Company mill at Felton, 1949. [Jim Vail]
For the first decade or so that the mill operated at the site, the railroad provided no direct access. But at some point in the late 1950s, Southern Pacific built a short, 380-foot-long spur that branched off the little-used stub spur of the Boulder Creek Branch, which was abandoned with the closure of the Holmes Kilns in 1939. This spur served two purposes: import and export. The lumber yard processed thousands of board feet of lumber per day, but only needed a small portion for its local yard. The rest was shipped out to other markets via the railroad, where it deposited loads of lumber in Santa Cruz, Live Oak, Watsonville, and elsewhere in California.  The spur also brought in finished goods that the company itself did not create to bolster the products offered at the yard's store. A warehouse was built at the end of the spur to protect workers who were loading and unloading material from the cars. The installation of this spur was probably the last significant addition to the former line through the Santa Cruz Mountains and, perhaps, one of the last additions to any line operating within Santa Cruz County.

A lumber car parked on the ProBuild spur in 2013, with the old loading warehouse beyond the end of the spur and Roaring Camp rolling stock to the east. [Google Maps]
The mill in Felton ceased operations around 1972, when the Pescadero Creek basin was logged out, and exports from the Felton yard mostly ceased from this point, although small quantities of lumber may have continued to be milled there until 1986. In that year, the Ley family, operating as Redtree Properties, leased the property to Mike and Bob Butcher, owners of the San Lorenzo Lumber Company, where the property continued to function as a lumber yard. San Lorenzo Lumber Company had been founded by Santa Cruz Lumber employees back in 1936 to provide building supplies to Santa Cruz County residents through retail stores.  In 2004, San Lorenzo Lumber was purchased by Lumbermens of Washington, which was absorbed by ProBuild (technically Fidelity Investments) in 2006. In January 2014, to increase its local marketing potential, ProBuild established its subsidiary San Lorenzo Lumber & Home Centers to cater to the local market. ProBuild itself was acquired by Builders FirstSource in 2015. Roaring Camp has expressed interest over the years of leasing the former warehouse for use as a repair and maintenance facility for its standard-gauge rolling stock, but this has not occurred as of the present.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0454N, 122.0649W

The Santa Cruz Lumber Company spur, now owned by Builders FirstSource, still exists although it has been truncated to end just outside the warehouse. Until recently, it was used for the delivery of lumber to the San Lorenzo Lumber & Home Center yard, but no deliveries have been made since late 2016. The spur is used by Roaring Camp Railroads to park excess rolling stock, especially rail cars and maintenance vehicles that are prone to vandalism. Access to the spur is limited to San Lorenzo Lumber & Home Center and Roaring Camp staff.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, August 31, 2018

Stations: Felton

The San Lorenzo Valley was home to two railroad hubs, the logging station at Boulder Creek and the main line junction at Felton. But Felton Station did not originally begin as an important stop along the line. When the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad was first constructed up the San Lorenzo Valley from Santa Cruz in 1875, it terminated on the west bank of the San Lorenzo River, within the central part of the town. When the South Pacific Coast Railroad built its route in late 1879, they located their right-of-way on the east bank, about 0.75 miles to the east of town, so that the train could capitalize on the tourist potential of the Welch Big Trees Grove. The station that the erected between the tracks and East San Lorenzo Drive (Graham Hill Road) was crude and unassuming, probably akin to similar small depots erected in Wright's Station and Alma. Photographs of this early depot do not survive, but the station provided passenger and freight service. However, much of the local population continued to connect to passenger trains leaving from the "Old" Felton station on the west bank.

Felton station grounds, with the passenger depot and covered seating area in the foreground, an signal center, and the water tower and freight depot in the background, c. 1920s. [University of California, Santa Cruz]
Everything changed when the Felton & Pescadero Railroad was constructed beginning in late 1883. The railroad intended to use Old Felton as the southern terminus for the line since that is where the San Lorenzo Valley Flume ended its route, but people in the city tried to exploit the railroad by increasing property rates in order to receive a better payout. The railroad chose, instead, to just bypass downtown area entirely and terminate at the newer Felton station. This proved more convenient for the railroad, which had ample siding space at Felton to park and transfer cars, but it alienated the town. Over the next decade, Old Felton station declined in importance until it was essentially abandoned in favor of the station to the east. Convenient passenger access was eventually provided to the residents of Felton by flag-stops near the river (Covered Bridge Park) and at Bonnie Brae (San Lorenzo Way), but Felton ultimately survived as the only depot in the area as well as the transfer point for all trains, passenger or freight, traveling along the Boulder Creek Branch.

Felton Depot around 1908, showing the freight depot, the passenger depot, both turntables, the water tower, a train on the main track, and a boxcar on a siding, with the Welch Ranch property (later they Ley Meadow) in the background. [Mt. Hermon Association]
The original depot at Felton was replaced around 1891 with an entirely new 19' x 36' single-story wood-frame structure that still remains at its original location today. Beside it, a slightly earlier freight depot was erected, possibly through the use of wood salvaged from the flume, although that assertion has been disputed in recent years. Regardless, it was fully erected no later than 1887. Felton Station provided passenger, freight, and mail delivery services, but also functioned as the primary yard for the lower valley. As such, it included a gallows-style turntable to the south of the depot, so that trains coming from Glenwood or Boulder Creek could turn around; a water tower to refuel trains; and multiple sidings to park excursion trains and waiting freight cars. The station reached its peak in this capacity around 1900, when lumber trains passed constantly through the station, jockeying for space with commuter trains, picnic and excursion trains, and other freight such as black and white powder from the California Powder Works. After the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and the standard-gauging of the line, a second, larger gallows-style turntable was installed to the north of the freight depot, beside a much larger water tower. The original water tower was removed at the same time, while both turntables remained until the upgrading of the line was completed in 1909. At some point in the 1920s, a covered passenger waiting wing was added to the south side of the passenger depot.

Felton Depot on July 21, 1940, five months after the route over the mountains ended and passenger service to Felton ended. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
Felton as a station declined slowly. Its location as a central hub made it important throughout the years that the Boulder Creek Branch operated, but even after that line closed in early 1934, the track to the Holmes Lime Kiln across the San Lorenzo River kept the station operating. By this time, multiple loads of gravel and sand from the Olympia quarries were also hauling loads to the station, where loaded and empty cars parked along the open siding space. The closure of the route through the Santa Cruz Mountains and the end of local passenger service did not immediately lead to the end of this station. Locals still came to the station to purchase train and Pacific Greyhound tickets and ship their parcels. The Santa Cruz Lumber Company also operated out of the adjacent lot so maintained regular traffic to the stop. Furthermore, some Suntan Specials, which ran seasonally until 1959, and all Big Trees excursion trains, which ran periodically to 1965, stopped at Felton, where the trains could top off their water, if they so required it. The station finally ended all service in two waves. In 1953, the freight house was mostly retired, although the freight office remained open. Southern Pacific and the Railway Express Agency petitioned to abandon the station completely in 1958, but was denied due to local protests. They were not closed until February 27, 1962.

Felton Depot during the early years of Roaring Camp Railroads, c. 1965. [Roaring Camp Railroads]
The freight depot at Felton today. [Derek R. Whaley]
The station and freight house had barely gone into disuse before Roaring Camp Railroads purchased the structure from Southern Pacific in late 1962.  For the first five years of its operations, between 1963 and 1967, Roaring Camp used the former station as its ticket office while construction continued on their narrow-gauge line up Bear Mountain and on Roaring Camp Depot, which would open across from the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park entrance in 1968. Once they relocated, Roaring Camp did not maintain the station or freight house well. The freight house survived more or less intact, its large-timbered old-growth redwood able to withstand the environment. It has undergone various repairs over the years and is generally used for storage. The depot began to deteriorate in the late 1960s and was allowed to decline. In 1992, all the rotten timbers were removed and the entire structure underwent rehabilitation. It reopened in 1997 as the corporate offices of Roaring Camp and remain in use as such today.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0467N, 122.0641W

Felton depot today. [Derek R. Whaley]
Felton station can still be seen off Graham Hill Road just west of the entrance to Roaring Camp Railroads. During its restoration, it was painted burgundy with a white trim, as was the adjacent freight depot. The depot has lost its porch and eaves but otherwise remains in tact and is still used for storage. The passenger depot serves as an office for Roaring Camp and entry is permitted only by appointment, although it can be freely viewed from the outside on the street side. The track side is restricted to Roaring Camp personnel only. These depots are the oldest confirmed narrow-gauge structures that still survive in Santa Cruz County.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, August 24, 2018

Maps: Virginia to Mount Hermon

The Zayante Creek basin was largely an industrial area for the South Pacific Coast and Southern Pacific Railroads. Covering approximately 5 miles of trackage between Tunnel #4 under Mountain Charlie Road and Felton Depot near the confluence of Zayante Creek into the San Lorenzo River, most of this section of track went through heavily timbered but little-inhabited terrain. The upper half of this route catered to two logging companies and a single mountaintop resort. Only one station, Meehan, was even accessible to residents in the area. Along the west bank of Zayante Creek, a long crudely-built narrow-gauge line meandered up the creek from Meehan to the mill of the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company at the bottom of Mountain Charlie Gulch. South of the short Tunnel #5, however, the environment was entirely different. Dark forests opened onto rolling meadows and crumbling sand hills. Three different sand quarrying operations ran in the area, while two more lumber firms logged the remaining timber up feeder creeks. Resorts popped up all along Zayante Creek, accessing the railroad at Eccles, Olympia, Mount Hermon, and Felton. Most of this trackage remains even today, due to the persistence of quarrying efforts south of Eccles. Although all of these communities have been annexed to the Felton township further to the south, the hearts of these communities remain, scattered beside and below the railroad right-of-way that initially gave them life.
West portal of Tunnel #3, 1941.
[Margaret Koch – Museum of Art & History]
Storm damage on tracks near Tank Siding, 1940.
[Bruce MacGregor]
Map of Southern Pacific trackage between the Mountain
Charlie Tunnel and Felton, c. 1905-1965.
 [US Geologic Survey, 1902, 1919, and 1965 maps]

Derailment along right-of-way, c. 1920.
[Margaret Koch – Museum of Art & History]
Swimmers in pool at Lompico Park, 1959.
[Lompico Community Center]
Forde's Rest at Olympia, c. 1920.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries]

Narrow-gauge right-of-way, c. 1905.
[San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
Mount Hermon grounds, c. 1920.
[Mount Hermon Association]
Storm damage near Olympia, 1940.
[Bruce MacGregor]
Workers upgrading the Zayante Creek bridge
near Felton Depot, c. 1917. [SLV Museum]

Mount Hermon Depot, 1920s.
[Mount Hermon Association]

Friday, August 17, 2018

Bridges: Zayante Creek

The route of the South Pacific Coast Railroad down Zayante Creek to Felton had very few natural obstacles. Only one solid granite outcropping required tunnelling and early bridges along the eastern ridge above Zayante Creek were quickly filled and the seasonal streams culverted after the initial track was installed in 1880. By the time the Southern Pacific Railroad took over the route in 1887, there were a total of three railroad bridges that crossed Zayante Creek, two along the mainline and one on the Boulder Creek Branch. Smaller structures undoubtedly existed to bridge the countless minor tributaries above Zayante Creek, but no evidence of these has survived to the present.

The northernmost bridge over Zayante Creek as it stands today, 2013.
[Derek R. Whaley]
About a mile north of Felton along the mainline, the most northernly of the Zayante Creek bridges is colloquially named the Jackass Flats bridge, after a the adjacent property. It is unclear what the original narrow-gauge structure looked like, but it was probably built entirely out of redwood beams. It is unclear when the standard-gauge bridge replaced the original structure, but it likely predates the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake since the foundation aggregate material appears to have a heavier concentration of lime than the other piers and abutments in the area, which all date to after 1906, when the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company undoubtedly provided the cement for construction. 

The current structure is a 245-foot-long standard-gauge bridge with three cement supports, one in the creek and two on either end. A driveway to the Jackass Flats property passes under the bridge on the south end, while the former East Zayante Road passed under the northern end, although it is heavily overgrown with poison oak now. The center of the bridge is supported by an open-deck steel Warren truss span that bridges the creek. Remains of access ladders hang beneath the truss on both ends. On the northern side, a redwood open-deck girder connects the abutment to the truss. On the southern side, a shorter open-deck steel girder links connects a redwood open-deck span to the truss by crossing over a concrete pier installed beside the Jackass Flats driveway. The southern abutment has been repaired extensively over the years to counter its slow cracking and decay. This bridge also has endured significant stress caused by sixty years of sand trains passing over it almost daily.

The northernmost bridge over Zayante Creek, as viewed from the north looking south, 2013. [Derek R. Whaley]
Today, the bridge is in an advanced state of decay. While owned by Roaring Camp Railroads since 1985, it is very rarely used and, when used, only the lightest service equipment pass over the bridge. Many of the ties are rotten and the tracks themselves are rusting. In recent years, Roaring Camp has expressed interest in restoring the bridge for full use, but little has been done yet to accomplish this goal. The primary reason it remains intact is so that Roaring Camp can retain property rights to property north of the crossing.

Postcard showing the bridge over Zayante Creek near Mount Hermon, c. 1908. [Mount Hermon Association]
Just south of Mount Hermon, the railroad crosses over Zayante Creek a second time. Like most of the early bridges in the area, it is unclear precisely what the original narrow-gauge structure looked like, although it was very likely a redwood-frame truss bridge of some sort, much like the structure that replaced it around 1907. This second structure is composed of a 335-foot-long steel open-deck truss bridge with short redwood timber trestlework on either side. The truss is mounted atop two concrete piers with redwood abutments on either side to return the track to the grade.

A group of picnickers passing over the bridge heading toward Felton Depot, c. 1910s. [Mount Hermon Association]
Due to the presence of Mount Hermon just to the north of this bridge, the original structure was designed with pedestrian walkways on either side of the track and wooden railings. Photographic evidence shows that this bridge was heavily trafficked in its early years by campers and vacationers staying at Mount Hermon. 

The bridge over Zayante Creek near Mount Hermon as it appears today, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
Unlike the more northernly Zayante Creek bridge, this bridge remains in regular use by Roaring Camp. During the summer, special excursions of the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railroad crosses the bridge to pick up campers at Redwood Camp and take them to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. As such, the bridge has been continuously maintained since it was first erected. At some point, the wood railings were replaced with metal wire and the wood decks with metal grates, but otherwise the structure remains the same.

Photo of Southern Pacific Railroad locomotive 2088 crossing over the trestle at the eastern end of the lower Zayante Creek bridge, c. 1908. [Aram Family – SLV Museum]
A woman standing on the new Graham Hill Road Bridge around
1930. The bridge is clearly visible behind her with telephone

wires spanning overhead. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
The southernmost bridge over Zayante Creek was not located on the mainline but rather on the Boulder Creek Branch (originally Felton & Pescadero Railroad and, subsequently, Felton Branch). Of the three, it is the only bridge that does not survive, although its pier and western abutment still can be found alongside Graham Hill Road. When the Felton & Pescadero Railroad was first constructed between 1884 and 1885 from Felton Depot to Boulder Creek, it crossed over Zayante Creek just west of the depot, near the southern end of (East) Zayante Road. Like the other bridges over the creek, the original narrow-gauge structure was unknown. However, it must have been designed to a standard-gauge scale since it was not actually replaced until 1917, despite the tracks themselves being broadened in 1907.

The reason for the replacement was likely due to the increased weight the bridge had to sustain as boxcars carrying loads of processed lime began crossing over this bridge in 1909 when the former Old Felton Branch was closed and a new route was built over the San Lorenzo River beside the Felton Covered Bridge. After eight years of regular heavy traffic, the old structure likely required upgrading.

The second structure, measuring 285 feet, was a steel open-deck bridge over the creek supplemented with a long redwood trestle that ran east until meeting grade level. Although the Boulder Creek branch closed in 1934, the track between Felton Depot and the Holmes Lime Kiln remained intact until October 1939, when the tracks were finally dismantled and the bridge demolished.

A water conduit running through the western abutment and over the concrete center pier of the lower Zayante Creek bridge, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
The western abutment with the date "1917" printed on both sides,
2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
The concrete abutment and pier remain today. The San Lorenzo Valley Water District repurposed these at some point for the valley's water system. A pipe now runs through the abutment and atop the pier before going underground on the east bank of the creek. These features can be easily viewed from the Graham Hill Road bridge over Zayante Creek or by parking at Felton Bible Church and walking to the creek. Date stamps for when the abutment was installed can be found clearly defined on either side of it. On the eastern embankment, there are  some remnants of posts hiding in the foliage and the redwood abutment that ended the trestle sits just beside the dirt driveway that leads into San Lorenzo Home & Garden Center (which was once the former Boulder Creek Branch right-of-way).

The eastern abutment of the lower Zayante Creek bridge, partially buried and overgrown across the street from Mount Hermon's physical plant, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
Citations & Credits:

Friday, August 10, 2018

Stations: Mount Hermon

During the days when California was under the control of Mexico, Isaac Graham built a sawmill on Rancho Zayante near a bend along Zayante Creek where Bean and Ferndale Creeks cascade down in a beautiful waterfall. By the time the South Pacific Coast Railroad passed through the area in 1880, this bend hosted a small rural farm but was nothing of note. No railroad stop was established here and passengers saw nothing to catch their fancy. Indeed, the railroad bridge to the south that crossed Zayante Creek over a relatively deep chasm was undoubtedly more exciting. Eventually, the 200-acre property passed to Frederick A. Hihn, who sold it to Thomas L. Bell in 1897. It was under Bell's leadership that this site evolved from a small farm into a destination resort.

Postcard of the Zayante Inn in a newly-branded Mount Hermon, c. 1908. [Mount Hermon Association]
Under Bell's leadership, Arcadia emerged with the deluxe Tuxedo Inn Hotel, built in 1901, as its centerpiece. Around the hotel grounds were cottages, a small store, restaurant, and ballroom. Alongside the tracks, which ran on the west side of the property, Southern Pacific Railroad erected a small shelter station under the name "Campus," which began operating in 1898. Bell wanted to name the station Arcadia, naturally, but the railroad refused due to that name already being in use elsewhere in the division. Thus, Bell adopted the name "Tuxedo," which quickly became associated with the entire resort.

Baggage handlers beside the original Mount Hermon station shelter, 1906. [Mount Hermon Association]
Tuxedo was named after Edward Henry Herriman estate in New York called Tuxedo Park. The word "Tuxedo" itself is probably based on the name of an Algonquin Indian group, and its later use to describe fancy clothing was also based on the lavish parties held at the Herriman estate. And just like the East Coast Tuxedo, Bell wanted his resort to shine. He installed 200 lights throughout the property, many of which went toward lighting a large ballroom and dining area beside the hotel. He also dammed the creek to create an artificial lake for boating and fishing. Anticipating future expansion, Bell purchased 200 acres across Zayante Creek, which were integrated into Tuxedo in 1904.

The original Mount Hermon shelter with waiting passengers, 1906. [Mount Hermon Association]
Bell was always looking for the next project and by 1905, he appears to have grown tired of Tuxedo and began planning a subdivision on the south side of Felton. On December 12, 1905, a group of evangelical Christians held a summit in nearby Glenwood and initiated plans to purchase a property in the Santa Cruz Mountains for use as a seasonal retreat. Tuxedo was a perfect fit and Bell was all too eager to sell. On April 14, 1906, the Mount Hermon Association purchased the property and began its conversion into an entirely new kind of mountain resort.

A busy warm day at Mount Hermon Station, 1906. [Mount Hermon Association]
Almost immediately, the site and railroad station were renamed Mount Hermon and the hotel given the name Zayante Inn. The hotel's reputation as a popular gambling and drinking parlor was of no interest to its new owners. The first year proved wildly successful as guest speakers came from around the West Coast to speak at conferences and retreats at the resort.

Vacationers posing beside the new Mount Hermon station, 1915. [Mount Hermon Association]
In May 1907, a post office was added, further increasing the site's visibility. The railroad recognised the location's popularity by upgrading the shelter there to a full depot, which was installed in 1914. This depot not only featured a passenger office and baggage storage room, but also included long covered patios on either side for people awaiting the next train.

Vacationers having fun beside a Southern Pacific baggage car at Mount Hermon, 1918. [Mount Hermon Association]
Zayante Inn remained the center of Mount Hermon until a fire destroyed it and the surrounding area in 1921, at which point the organization relocated across Zayante Creek. The area around the station was largely abandoned except as a picnic and camping area for a number of decades, while the post office was eventually relocated with the rest of the resort across the creek. A new conference center was built there and summer cabins began spreading into the hills above it, permanently shifting the center of the Christian retreat.

Conference-goers posing outside a passenger car at Mount Hermon, 1920s. [Mount Hermon Association]
By this point, tourism via rail was on the decline. Nonetheless, Mount Hermon's station remained on railroad timetables until 1943, when the railroad petitioned for its abandonment. At this time, it was the northernmost station along the southern portion of the former route through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Passenger rail no longer operated within the county except for seasonal specials, so there was no compelling reason to keep this remote station operating.

Mount Hermon station after the abandonment of the original resort grounds, 1930s. [Mount Hermon Association]
The railroad sold the depot to Mount Hermon, which converted it for use as the private cabin of the head male councillor of Redwood Camp. It remains one of only two confirmed narrow-gauge depots still existing in Santa Cruz County, the other being Felton's depot.  The surrounding grounds, once Arcadia and then Tuxedo resorts, are now used by Mount Hermon for summer camps, as well as other retreats and functions throughout the year. Every summer, the adjacent railroad tracks are still used by the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway to shuttle camp groups to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0519N, 122.0632W

Mount Hermon depot is currently owned by the Mount Hermon Association and trespassing is not permitted. Similarly, the tracks through this area are owned by Roaring Camp Railroads and trespass laws are enforced by both Roaring Camp and Mount Hermon in this area, due to the presence of children in the summer. Although the depot structure has undergone numerous additions over the decades, including the enclosure and truncation of both patios into rooms, the basic structure and its location beside the tracks remains unchanged. Other features of the original Arcadia resort are mostly gone, although remnants of the original dam and a few foundation stones at the site of the hotel can still be found.

Mount Hermon station as it appears today in Redwood Camp beside the railroad tracks, 2010. [Derek R. Whaley]
  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.