Author Statement

This website is a constant work-in-progress, with articles updated regularly throughout the site. Much of the information comes from local railroad fans such as yourselves. If you have information regarding local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, leave a comment on the appropriate page or email me at author@santacruztrains.com. This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad

Map of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad,
c 1900-1910. [George Pepper Collection]
The Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was one of the first private narrow-gauged railroading operations that sprang up in Santa Cruz County after the completion of the major Southern Pacific Railroad lines. It was largely financed by Claus Spreckels with the single-minded goal of connecting his sugar beet refinery outside of downtown Watsonville with his single largest market: the burgeoning town of Salinas.

Speckels had built his Western Beet Sugar Company refinery in 1888 along tracks that serviced the Southern Pacific Railroad. Unfortunately, the difficulty and high cost of growing sugar beets dissuaded many local farmers from growing it. The best soils for beets were along the marshy coastlands, and the Southern Pacific Railroad bypassed this area entirely. In 1889, Spreckels leased the entire Moro Cojo Ranch north of Castroville and planted 1,500 acres of beets. But, although this property was on the railroad line, the Southern Pacific was charging top dollar for Spreckels to shuttle his crop to Watsonville. In response, Spreckels founded on December 30, 1889, the Pajaro Valley Railroad.

While this may have been a bluff initially, the Southern Pacific did not bite, so by May construction was under way. Built using primarily Chinese and Japanese labour, this railroad departed from the Watsonville beet refinery, crossed Beach Road and the Pajaro River, and then passed into Monterey County, where it looped down to the coast and followed the outside edge of many of Spreckels' contract beet farms. A long spur terminated atop Moss Landing wharf, which Spreckels used to export his finished goods on Oceanic Steamship Company and Pacific Coast Steamship Company vessels. The main track ended at Spreckels Moro Cojo farm after crossing over the offending Southern Pacific mainline track. Via this narrow-gauged network, the Pajaro Valley Railroad both imported unprocessed goods in to the refinery and exported them out to market, thereby undermining attempts by the Southern Pacific to price gouge Spreckels. This track was finished in September 1890, just in time for the Autumn beet harvest.

The Spreckels refinery near Salinas around 1910. [Monterey Bay Historical Society]
Claus Spreckels, c. 1890.
By August 1891, Spreckels had extended his track a further nine miles to a point just outside of Salinas, called "Watsonville Junction". His low prices and easier accessibility forced the Southern Pacific to cut its freight costs by 50% just to attract new customers. At the same time, the company opened passenger service, further cutting into Southern Pacific profits. In 1895, Spreckels purchased a large property south of Salinas and built there a much larger beet mill than his Watsonville refinery. As construction was underway, Southern Pacific negotiated with Spreckels and had a three-mile spur extended to the new refinery, named "Spreckels" on timetables, which opened in October 1898. But Claus Spreckels did not allow this new arrangement get in the way of his own railroad. On April 16, 1897, the Pajaro Extension Railway connected the end-of-track at Watsonville Junction to the new mill and also extended a track east of Salinas to a lime quarry in Alisal Canyon. On December 9, 1897, the Extension Railway and Pajaro Valley Railroad were merged to form the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad.

The importance of the Watsonville factory declined rapidly over the next few years. It became a storage facility around 1900 and then was abandoned completely by 1908. Nonetheless, a turntable and engine house at the Watsonville site remained in place until the closure of the line, and the route between Spreckels and Watsonville continued to cater to local sugar beet farmers and was used frequently. Meanwhile, on the south side of the route, Claus Spreckels threatened the Southern Pacific again with a massive extension track up the Salinas Valley, but Southern Pacific lowered its rates once again and Spreckels satisfied himself by extending tracks only five miles up the valley to Buena Vista in December 1901, and this was largely to cater to some private beet farms in the area. At around the same time, a short track was finally extended directly to the Southern Pacific freight yard in downtown Salinas, which greatly expanded the passenger potential of the narrow-gauged line.

The Western Beet Sugar Company mill at Spreckels. [Bancroft Library]
By 1915, the railroad owned and operated 41.5 miles of track largely within Monterey County. It owned nine locomotives, six passenger cars, 260 freight cars, and other rolling stock. Its record year was 1917 when it carried 174,480 tons of freight, and in 1919 it carried 158,871 passengers along some portion of its line.

Bridge over Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. [Bancroft Library]
Things began to fall apart around 1920. Spreckels' sugar beet company began using trucks and buses beginning in the early 1920s, which cut into freight revenues. At the same time, the Southern Pacific Railroad, which with its standard-gauge trains could haul significantly more freight per car and which had years earlier extended a branch to the Salinas refinery, became an increasingly alluring prospect for exporting finished sugar products. On November 24, 1925, regular passenger service along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad came to an end. Freight services had been in decline for years, prompting the company to finally petition the Interstate Commerce Commission for abandonment in June 1928. The petition was approved and on April 2, 1929, the railroad closed for good. Approximately 40 miles of track as well as rolling stock and various structures were sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad in a clearance sale for $10.00 cash. Over the next two years, Southern Pacific scrapped the entire line and resold what they could, finally selling the locomotives in 1935. The railroad's presence in Santa Cruz had already been largely a memory. The sugar beet refinery had shut its doors in 1898 and slowly the area became first a lumber yard and then a fruit-packing district. The turntable and engine house remained until 1930, but the locomotives were no longer stored there.

The Route Today:
Bridge abutments at Elkhorn Slough, 2005. (Garrett Keeton Collection)
Large portions of the right-of-way are still easily and legally accessible to the public. Smudowski Beach State Park's main road, accessible from Giberson Road off of Jensen Road is an entire repurposed stretch of this former track. The track passes through marshland for south of here but then parallels State Route 1 beginning at the Jetty Road junction. Former bridge abutments can be seen beside the highway before Jetty Road and as the highway crosses over Elkhorn Slough at the Sea Harvest Fish Market, and the site of the wharf is now Sandholdt Road, where a wye for the railroad was also located at the station once called "Moss". The right-of-way then, after a brief tangent, parallels Molera Road starting at Monterey Dunes Way, and it continues paralleling this road on the south side as it becomes Nashua Road. Unfortunately, beyond this the right-of-way falls out of the spectrum of this website, however Horace Fabing and Rick Hamman's book Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge (Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing, 1985) is an excellent complete telling of this tenacious little railroad's history.

Citations & Credits:

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Watsonville Junction Spurs

The freight yard that formed just south of the town of Pajaro along the Monterey County side of the Pajaro River became over time a major hub for local freight shippers. The Santa Cruz Railroad built its original narrow-gauged switching yard at this site around 1873, but unfortunately no maps or photographs of the yard exist from this time. Indeed, the first available map of the yard does not appear until 1892 in a Sanborn Fire Insurance map. This is nine after the Santa Cruz Railroad tracks were standard-gauged and eleven since the Southern Pacific took over the fledgling company. In those early years, there was no wye or turntable at the yard, meaning that all rail traffic coming from Santa Cruz County headed toward San Francisco or was switched at the small yard. From the mid-1880s, the Loma Prieta Milling & Lumber Company (later just Loma Prieta Lumber Company) installed a large lumber yard directly in the middle of the yard. Their planning mill sat on the eastern end while the stack of lumber ran along two spurs that headed eastbound, flanking the Santa Cruz Branch mainline. The Loma Prieta yard relocated to Beach Road in Watsonville in the late 1890s and the Southern Pacific completed the wye that had been left undone two decades earlier. No other businesses moved into the centre of the yard again. Over time, the number of sidings and spurs grew drastically, with nine mainline and siding tracks in 1920 reaching a maximum extent of sixteen parallel tracks in 1973. Only one business appears to have operated within these yard limits by 1973: Watkins, which sat on the west side beside Salinas Road near the last site of the Watsonville Junction passenger depot.

Jackson and Besse & Sill grain warehouses between Railroad Ave and the freight yard, 1892. [UCSC Digital Collections]
Further to the east, beyond the merger of the tracks, two patrons known only as Jackson's grain warehouse and Besse & Sill's grain warehouse and potato bin (leased by the Southern Pacific) occupied space beyond the passenger and freight depots in 1892. The track that ran to the northern lumber spur ran directly in front of these structures, while two more tracks, which merged to form the Coast Division mainline, paralleled that spur track. These all occupied what is today the stretch of Railroad Avenue between Kents Court and Waters Lane. By 1902, Henry E. West used both structures as grain warehouses, with the potato bin now a produce bin (still leased from SP). By 1911, both of these would be taken over by Southern Pacific for storage purposes and they were demolished in the mid-1910s when the yard was expanded. This business has since disappeared, although the track remains in place.

SunRidge Farms and Falcon Trading Company complex (formerly Smuckers) beside the freight yard, c. 2011.
In 1902, a new spur appeared on the northern edge of the yard, breaking off from the Santa Cruz Branch. This catered to Unglish Bros. fruit driers which operated its cannery between this track and Railroad Avenue, just west of modern day Kents Court. This cannery was also removed in the mid-1910s when the yard was expanded and it relocated to a location on Main Street in Watsonville away from the tracks. In 1918, Unglish Bros. was labeled as the largest fruit dryer in the world. What occupied the five spurs that were added to this area after 1935 is unknown, but all were vacant by the time the Southern Pacific Railroad produced its 1973 SPINS map of the freight yard. However, a sixth spur which still crosses over Railroad Avenue today near Kents Court was still active by that time. In 1973, it catered to the small California Farm Products warehouse, as well as the much larger J.M. Smucker Company facility. Although the track has been paved over and is currently inoperable, it remains in place running the length of the warehouse which sits on the north side of Railroad Avenue. Smuckers closed in 2004 and now the entire complex is occupied by SunRidge Farms and Falcon Trading Company. SunRidge is an exporter of health foods that has operated since the mid-1970s, while Falcon Trading Co., a subsidiary of SunRidge, was founded in 1977 and specialises in trail mixes.

Western Fruit Evaporating Co. advertisement selling Matiasevich apples.
Aerial photograph of the Watsonville Junction freight yard, 1935.
[UC Santa Cruz Library Aerial Photograph collection]
Pajaro Station became Watsonville Junction in 1913, but the site was still in its infancy. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the local agricultural businesses sprang to life, and by 1973, an entirely new freight area had opened up, cradled between Marinovich Avenue on the east and Salinas (originally Monterey) Road [G12] on the west. As early as 1931, one long spur curved alongside Monterey Road and forked at the end, but over time it developed into around seven separate spurs branching from a root and catering to a number of businesses. Along the eastern side, the railroad catered to, via four spurs, the Marinovich and Matiasevich companies, both derived from local Croatian fruit packing families. Marinovich Cold Storage was founded in 1946 by J. G. Marinovich and continues to exist in the area, although the original owners have since sold it. On the western side, via five spurs, the railroad catered to Atlantic Richfield Oil Company (ARCO) and Smuckers (on the same spur), the Swiss chocolate firm Nestle, and J.J. Crosetti, an Italian lettuce grower who purchased the Levy-Zentner company in 1935 and turned it into a vegetable wholesaler. His son, J.J. Jr., eventually merged his company into California Giant Berry Farms, which he helped found. He died in 2015.

Today, the track still passes through this entire two blocks of packing houses but most of the businesses have changed hands. The owners of the large Marinovich facility cannot be determined but Matiasevich is now owned by Southern California Seafood, although they have paved over most of the track by this point to create Matiasevich Lane. On the west side of the block, SunRidge Farms and Falcon Trading own the former Richfield Oil and Smuckers site; the Monterey County Agricultural Office owns part of the Nestle facility, although it is not clear who owns the other half; the Crosetti lot is now occupied by Dibwani Motors, a new car dealership. Of the spurs in this area, only the former Matiasevich spurs still remain in place, which suggest it was the last firm to cease using the track in the area. Although the main spur through this area remains in place, it does not appear to be used at present.

Official Railroad Information:
Due to their nature as freight yards, only the 1973 SPINS chart shows the detail for this area in any official capacity. Other SPINS exist but are not currently accessible to this historian.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
From 36.899˚N, 121.746˚W to 36.897˚N, 121.741˚W

Railroad Avenue, Lewis Road, and Salinas Road are publicly accessible and views of the entire freight yard can be seen from anywhere along them. Likewise, cars may drive down Marinovich Avenue and Matiasevich Lanes, although access to the properties themselves are only with permission from the owners.

Citations & Credits:
  • Sanborn Insurance Maps, 1892-1920. University of California, Santa Cruz Digital Map Collections.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad Company, SPINS, 1973. California State Railroad Museum collection.
  • University of California, Santa Cruz, Aerial Photograph Collection.

Friday, April 1, 2016

West Beach Street Spurs, Part II

Aerial photograph of the main Watsonville Depot freight area, 1935.
Central Supply at left. (UC Santa Cruz Aerial Photograph Collection)
The 0.8-mile stretch of Southern Pacific mainline track between the final curve out of the Watsonville Depot area and Lee Road, paralleling West Beach Street for the entirety of it, catered to a rather random assortment of industrial businesses over the decades. Indeed, for much of its history, literally nothing was along this stretch except farmsteads. By the 1940s, industrial expansion was finally moving outside of the traditional freight area allocated to Watsonville Depot. Central Supply, an aggregate company, was the first to establish itself at the gentle curve of the track as it redirected toward the beach. A spur was eventually extended to the supplier from the north, probably to allow for the easier importation of aggregates from Davenport and Olympia, where the cement plant and quarries were still active on the rail route. The spur has since been spiked and buried. Slightly further down the track, Phillips Products, an oil supplier, had a short parallel spur set up in the 1960s for shipments. The spur was still listed in 2003 as owned by Phillips Drisco Pipe, but almost all traces of it are gone. A short platform behind Pacific Agricultural Packaging (Pacific Agpak) is all the evidence that remains of this spur, suggesting they removed it when the took over the operation in the 2000s.

Aerial photograph of Bud Antle's operation, 1954.
(UCSC Aerial Photograph Collection)
At modern-day Ohlone Parkway, two spurs broke off. One long spur is the topic of another article (West Beach Street Spurs, Part I) but the other smaller spur appeared in the early 1950s, looping in a gentle arc to terminate at Beach Road. By the 1960s, a parallel spur broke off from this and ran alongside it. These catered to Bud Antle. Antle was a Watsonville native who became one of the largest lettuce producers in the country. He died in 1972 and then his son, Bob, took over, merging the company with Castle & Cooke in 1978 (it later merged into Dole Foods). The spurs were probably removed around this time as, today, only their imprints remain. The original structures that Bud used are now occupied by A.L. Lease Company—Wholesale Plumbing Supplies.

Aerial photograph of the Harris Pine Mills and Bud Antle properties, 1969. (UCSC Aerial Photograph Collection)
The Antle spur also prompted in the 1960s the start of a small runaround track (short siding) that catered to two other businesses: Harris Pine Mills and Big Creek Lumber (also known as Little Lake Industries). For the latter, one may want to read Lock, Stock & Boards: The Harris Pine Mills Story, which tells how Clyde Harris donated his entire operation to the Seventh-day Adventist movement in 1959, the year the company's second mill was built in Watsonville. Aerial photographs from 1969 show that one of the spurs catered directly to a small lumber yard on the north side of the lot while a shorter spur terminated at their planning mill. Harris shut down in 1987 and the spurs are spiked and mostly buried now, although a small bit remains behind Sambrailo. Little Lake Industries (Big Creek) occupied these structures until 1991, at which point Morgan Industries leased them for the manufacture of amusement park rides. All of the structures still remain on site and are today used by Sambrailo and ORDO Equipment Company.

Couch Distributing facility, 2016. Spur at right.
(Google Maps Satellite View)
Next door, Big Creek Lumber, a relatively major operation with its harvesting facilities near Waddell Beach on the San Mateo County line, moved in around 1971. A gently curving spur was installed with a southbound exit. The primary purpose of this spur is to import supplemental woodstuffs from elsewhere, since their local lumber operations are trucked in from Davenport. The spur remains in active use. The end of the runaround track is just before the freeway.

Across the freeway to the south, two final spurs mark the absolutely southern (or northbound) terminus of the Watsonville freight area. Breaking off from the mainline at Lee Road and curving north to parallel State Route 1,  the spur was installed after 1973 and caters to Couch Distributing Company, primarily an alcohol distributor. Although the company does not appear to use its spur currently, it remains useable and runs behind the main storage structures alongside a long loading platform.

Del Mar Foods facility, with track running down
middle of photograph. (Google Maps)
The final freight patron along West Beach Street is and has been for over 50 years, Del Mar Foods. Established in 1959, the spur probably dates to around 1967 after the company developed new techniques for quick freezing foods and required larger facilities. It first appeared on SPINS in 1973 off of a southward-sloping spur from Lee Road, with an exit in the southbound direction. Despite the relatively large size of the facility, it only has one single spur that runs directly through the middle of the buildings. The spur remains active and in use by Del Mar.

Official Railroad Information:
Since none of these places were formal Southern Pacific or Union Pacific Railroad stops, the only official information related to them comes from SPINS produced in 1973, 1998, and 2003. Most of the information above comes from these sources.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
From 36.907˚N, 121.768˚W to 36.899˚N, 121.779˚W

This stretch of right-of-way runs from the Granite Construction site across and slightly to the west of Harvest Drive all the way to Lee Road, excluding the long spur that runs across West Beach Road. The entire right-of-way is publicly owned by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission and is leased to the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway. In other words, no trespassing is allowed. Parts of the track can be viewed from Ohlone Parkway, State Route 1, and Lee Road. The private spurs in question currently cater to A.L. Lease Company—Wholesale Plumbing Supplies (track is now removed and paved over), Sambrailo (track is spiked and mostly buried), Big Creek Lumber, Couch Distributing (accessible from Lee Road), and Del Mar Food Products Corporation. Access to any of these facilities must be provided by the companies in question.

Citations & Credits:
  • "MBA History". Monterey Bay Academy Alumni, 2007.
  • Pepper, George. Personal correspondence.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad, SPINS "Watsonville", 1973. California State Railroad Museum.
  • Union Pacific Railroad, SPINS 1998, 2003.

Friday, March 25, 2016

R.M. Heintz Miniature Railroad

One could say that the hills were alive with the sounds of miniature railroads, and it would be true. In the hills above Los Gatos between the town and Almaden Valley, Ralph Morrell Heintz built a quite small 7.5-inch gauge railroad on his private hillside estate.

The property on which the Heintz family built their ranch was originally owned in the early 1900s by James Augustus Bacigalupi, first president of the Bank of Italy and a founder of the Bank of America. Somewhere on the property, a large mansion was built, and for decades the property was simply known to locals as "The Mansion". It burned down in 1965 and the property was mostly abandoned by the time Ralph and Sophie Heintz purchased a portion of it, mostly likely in the 1950s. Ralph was a chemical and physical engineer and inventor, cited as having over 200 patents to his name including four inventions that are currently at the Smithsonian. His wife was a U.S. Marine Corps ham radio operator who ran the radios for the Wilkins Expedition to the North Pole in 1928 and the Byrd Expedition to the South Pole, while also serving in World War II. After moving to Blossom Hill Road, they operated an apricot orchard and Ralph continued to invent in his small workshop. Most of the rest of the property remained undeveloped, a playground for the wealthy but little else. The Heintz family owned the property as a recreational site but spent most of their time in Los Altos.

Ralph M. Heintz holding a radiotron tube, August 1927. (History San José)
At some point, probably in 1962 (the date the tunnel was completed), Ralph got the idea to build a small miniature railroad on the hilltop above his property. He probably operated it as a family project as his son was a member of the Golden Gate Live Steam Club for many years. The site of the railroad was remote, which was a good and bad thing in the end. Ralph was friends with Billy Jones, and this relationship may explain his desire to build his own railroad. The route itself was approximately 0.35 miles long, which included a loop on the east end and a turntable at the west end. An engine and stock barn was kept beside the turntable. More impressively was the short tunnel that Heintz had installed mid-way down the track, the remains of which are still visible today, although one portal has entirely been buried. The surviving tunnel portal is eight feet wide and was probably 6 feet tall, and it extended through the hillside for 150 feet. Heintz personally constructed the locomotive and rolling stock himself, but what any of these items looked like are unknown since the railroad was only ever privately used and photographs of it have not been forthcoming.

The surviving tunnel portal on the Heintz Railroad beside the current shoofly trail. (Bill Dawkins)
The railroad probably only operated for two decades or less. Ralph fell terminally ill in the early 1970s but only passed in 1980. In 1975, his son Ralph Heintz Jr. donated 4,000 feet of track to the Tilden Open Space in Berkeley, which eventually became the Golden Gate Live Steamers. There is still a section of track there known as the Heintz Loop. This track was undoubtedly the entirety of the trackage owned by the Heintz family and it seems likely that the entire route was scrapped at this time. It is speculated that the rolling stock was also given to Tilden, although evidence of this transfer is currently lacking. Locals who grew up near the property remember that the tunnel remained open for a short time but was eventually filled and buried, as it remains today. Indeed, the entire property was largely abandoned in the 1970s and locals regularly trespassed to use the old mansion swimming pool, walk the trails, ride four-wheelers, and use the tunnel in various ways. Angel Ayala, the property caretaker and gardener, continued to live on the estate for many years in the so-called Summerhill House which was mid-way up the hillside.

Golden Spike ceremony of the Heintz Loop, 1975. (John Haines)
In 1998, Ralph Jr. deeded the property to the University of California's Cecilia Vaughn Memorial Fund for ophthalmic research. It was resold and subdivided to Summerhill Homes which built the Heritage Grove Neighborhood community on the site. The majority of the 91 acres (about 80 of it), however, was given to the Town of Los Gatos where it now operates as the Heintz Open Space Preserve. The former railroad right-of-way is a walking trail within this area called the Valley View Trail, although only the portion at the top of the grade is the actual right-of-way. At the base of the hill, the Heintz farmhouse has been restored and is now a home, while his workshop—the so-called Ramohs Laboratory—remains a place of historical interest with appropriate signage.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.228˚N, 121.925˚W

The Heintz Open Space is publicly accessible via Regent Drive off of Blossom Hill Road. The Valley View Trail (at left from the trailhead) is relatively steeps but short and at the top of the grade, it is flat for some distance. This flat area is the right-of-way and along it, you will notice the top of the former railroad tunnel which is now collapsed and mostly buried. The Heintz farmhouse is located on Regent Drive at the end of Ramohs Way.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, March 18, 2016

Kearney Street Extension Spurs

As the Western Beet Sugar Refinery north of Watsonville Depot shut its doors in the early 1900s, other businesses began popping up along the spur that once supported the processing plant. Kearney Street itself was extended across Walker Street in the late 1900s, running parallel to the Southern Pacific Railroad's Santa Cruz Branch as it headed west. The Hihn-Hammond Lumber Company was one of the first of these opportunistic operations that settled on the bulk of the site in late 1911. However, at the end of Kearney Ext immediately beside the still-present Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad tracks (which marked the original end of the street), a new Chinese-owned apple drier opened up shop. Similarly, two small fruit packing houses opened on the south side the street between the fruit driers and Walker with platforms at the back suggesting an undepicted freight spur that ran off the old Western Beet track to parallel the Santa Cruz Branch.

Carralitos Fruit Growers Inc., warehouse beside the tracks in Watsonville, c. 1916. (fine art america)
Franich Bros advertisement, c. 1920s. (Boston Public Library)
By 1920, the realities of this upstart freight yard were fully known. The Chinese driers were replaced with a large fruit packing plant owned by W.H. Ewell with evidence that it used the Southern Pacific track behind the house. Opposite the Pajaro Valley tracks to the west, the Watsonville Ice & Cold Storage Company maintained its very larger cold storage structure, although it is not clear precisely which street catered to its non-rail needs. On the other side of Ewell's packing house, Corralitos Fruit Growers Inc. erected a massive packing house with a platform at back. And then to the east heading toward Walker Street, four more packing houses were built with rear-railroad access owned by Casserly Fruit Company, P.M. Resetar, Franich Bros., and L.C. Bachan. Across the spur tracks just before Walker Street, Hihn-Hammond kept a small freight storage building connected to its local freight office. Further down the main spur across Kearney Street Ext, Garcia & Maggini Company operated an expansive fruit packing and drying plant, with adjacent storage shed, all of which had rail access via the former Western Beet spur behind them. At the very end of the spur, along Ford Street to the north, Crown Fruit & Extract Company operated a cannery, fruit packing house, and pitting room that straddled the spur track all the way to its terminus.

Bachan Fruit Company advertisement, 1920s. (Smithsonian)
An undated map from the late 1930s or 1940s suggests that the freight yard was not significantly changed from the 1920s. The packing houses, beginning from the western end, included the Dong Packing Company, the California Fruit Evaporation Company, Ivancovich & Lucich Packing Company, and the Lettunich Bros. Packing Company. Thus none of the owners from twenty years earlier appeared on the spur any more. Around the former Beet spur, none of the packing houses were listed but the track still terminated at the renamed Crown Cordial & Extract Company.

Due to the scarcity of records available to this author, the next layout of the track yard is from 1973 and shows a greatly reduced freight presence along Kearney Ext, although the trackage has expanded significantly. Along the street, only two patrons remained: Modesko Cold Storage and John Inglis's cold storage. At the western end of the freight zone, Martinelli's kept a warehouse beside West Coast Farms, although whether either of these were directly accessible from Kearney Ext is not presently known. Across Kearney Ext to the north, only the Watsonville Canning Company remained as a formal freight stop.

M.N. Lettunich & Son packing label, c. 1920s. (ebay)
A massive reduction in trackage around 2003 had little impact on the already much-reduced freight area along Kearney Ext. In 1998, only Watsonville Canning Company still maintained a presence along the spur and it remained a patron even after 2003. Today, Terminal Freezers is the only facility along this still-connected technically functional spur that could use the track. The parallel spur that runs behind Auto Care Towing is largely buried. The spur has also been truncated down so it no longer reaches to the Del Mar Seafoods warehouse, which was once the Crown Cordial factory. The other spur that once paralleled the mainline behind the fruit packing plants on the south side of Kearney Ext. has long been removed and the businesses there no have freight access via platforms out back, as had been the case into the 1950s, if not later. It seems unlikely in the coming years that service will return along the spur even with recent developments.

Official Railroad Information:
All of the details above from after 1920 are from Southern Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad SPINS zoning maps of the Watsonville Jct. freight area. These maps note specifically what freight customers could use which sidings and spurs at the time the maps were made.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.908˚N, 121.764˚W

Kearney Street Extension is a public road and can be explored freely. The spur runs along Walker Street from between Watsonville Depot and Kearney Ext, at which point it crosses Kearney and cuts between two large warehouses. This track is on private land and trespassing is not permitted, although one may look down to nearly the end-of-track. All of the businesses on the south side of Kearney Ext were once packing houses and many on the north side were as well, so walking down this street provides an adequate glimpse of what the fruit packing industry looked like around 1920.

Citations & Credits:

  • Sanborn Insurance Company maps, 1908-1920. UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad, SPINS. "Watsonville Jct. Zone 4: Sheet I". 1973. California State Railroad Museum.
  • Union Pacific Railroad, SPINS. 1998, 2003. George Pepper collection.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Walker Street Patrons

When the Santa Cruz Railroad was first constructed through Watsonville in early 1874, it passed over the Pajaro River and then ran directly down the already-established Walker Street, much as it still does today. At the western corner of the junction of Walker and Beach Road, they erected their first freight and passenger depot. The tracks continued a short distance down Walker before turning due west into the Western Beet Sugar Company refinery, owned by Claus Spreckels. For the first two decades, no other railroad patron along Walker Street used the railroad formally for transport and only a single track ran down the road. Around 1890, the Railroad Hotel sprang up directly across Beach Road from the depot. The small hostelry expanded over the years, spreading somewhat down Walker Street alongside the tracks, which skirted the edge of the hotel grounds. A second hotel, the Railroad Exchange Hotel, sprang up around 1900 directly across from the new depot (where the current station sits today), between Beach Road and 4th Street. Like its rival to the south, it catered specifically to railroad passengers arriving at or departing from the Southern Pacific depot.

Railroad Exchange Hotel across from the depot, 1931. (Adi Zehner)
The first freight passengers along Walker Road appeared between 1st (todays Riverside Drive) and 2nd Streets at the end of the 1890s. White & de Hart Company owned a box-making factory that undoubtedly provided storage containers for the surrounding fruit packing plants. Although it seems likely that the factory used the railroad tracks, the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for this time do not show any facilities alongside the road except a sawdust shed. A feed mill also owned by White & De Hart was located on the corner of Walker and 2nd to the north, also located directly alongside the tracks and also unclear whether the facility used the adjacent route. In 1908, a south-bound spur was constructed that cut slightly into the feed mill before terminating between the box factory and storage shed. It seems likely that this spur existed from an earlier date considering the specific arrangement of the structures. The storage shed was taken over around 1907 by the California Spray Chemical Company, which manufactured pest- and herbicides for use in farming. Two chemical tanks were installed beside the shed with four acid towers nearby. The railroad tracks appear to have been removed by 1911 when the spray chemical company departed, suggesting the company was the reason for the spur to begin with. In the mid-1910s, the entire block was resurrected as a new freight area with two spurs installed to cater primarily to the Pajaro Valley Cold Storage Company. Numerous structures were erected for fruit packing and drying and refrigeration. At the southern end of the block, the California Pine Box Distributors built a small warehouse to store its boxes.

San Monte Fruit Company company photo, c. 1905. (Adi  Zehner)
Just to the south opposite 1st Street, in 1903, the San Monte Fruit Company erected a truly massive packing house, vinegar factory, and cannery just south of 1st Street. As with its neighbours, a spur track ran, this time northbound, directly beside all three structures, allowing it to cater to all of the company's products. A continuous platform ran beside the tracks between all three structures. In the 1910s, San Monte downsized and its two southern warehouses were taken over by Jones Bros. Company, which ran a vinegar factory and used the warehouse for filtering and shipping, and the Pajaro Packing Company, which ran a cannery in the warehouse.

Simpson & Hack fruit packing plant with a boxcar parked beside it, c. 1905. (Adi Zehner)
Patrons along Walker Street between Beach Road
and 2nd Street, 1920 (UCSC Digital Collections)
By 1904, the number of fruit packing warehouses along Walker Street exploded. Between 2nd and Beach Road, Charles Ford Company set up a fruit packing plant and warehouse alongside the road with additional facilities that stretched over four parcels and to Locust Street behind it. By 1908, a spur track ran directly beside this warehouse with a platform built to help in loading products. Further south along the road, Simpson & Hack maintained a relatively large fruit packing structure from 1903, although it had no other facilities on the site. In 1908, a long south-bound spur was built to the renamed Frank Simpson Fruit Company fruit packing plant. This was taken over by an unnamed Japanese fruit packing company around 1910. Before 1920, all of the former patrons in this area changed. The Ford company was taken over by Rilovich & Spesovich Company and Resetar Bros., which both operated fruit packing and drying facilities in the former Ford structures. To the south, Copriviza & Gerr built a new fruit packing plant, while north of the Ford property, the Zar Brothers, M.L. Kalich & Company, and Loma Fruit Company all erected warehouses beside two northern-oriented spurs.

Alaga Bros. packing house beside Walker Street, c. 1910s. (Adi Zehner)
Across the street, two businesses popped up in the 1920s along two spurs. South of Beach Road and north of Werner Street (Martin Alley), Alaga Bros. built a large fruit packing facility across three parcels. This structure burned down in 1927. Further south, just north of 2nd Street, the United Apple Growers' cooperative had another warehouse built.

Ortho California Spray Chemical Company plant beside the railroad track, c. 1910. (Adi Zehner)
To the south, on the southern side of 1st Street, G.A. Moorehead built his own fruit-packing plant alongside the same spur. That spur was shortened in the 1910s and a new spur was installed that catered to Moorehead's former structure, owned by Martin Brothers in 1920, as well as another facility which had sprung up around 1910: the Ortho California Spray Chemical Company. This factory was founded by Charles Silliman, and apple grower, in order to create a pesticide to kill the coddling moth. The company was sold in 1931 to the Standard Oil Company. In the late 1910s, the facility had expanded greatly over its parcel with a warehouse installed immediately beside the spur. To the north along yet another spur, the B. Pista Company built its own series of fruit packing houses.

Southern Walker Street just before
the Pajaro River, 1908.
(UCSC Digital Collections
Right at the edge of the Pajaro River, heading south, the first of these Walker Street spurs was installed, around 1903, oriented southbound on the west side of the tracks, to cater to the Big River Company power plant, which was an oil-fueled facility which powered some local businesses. The reason for the spur was probably because a long embankment running from the railroad bridge made use of the main track for freight impossible here. In around 1906, the company became the Big Creek Power Company. Just across the street, the Watsonville Light & Power Company kept a gas plant, which powered the street lamps in the city, among other things. It, too, likely used the tracks for the import of kerosene or whichever gas they stored on site. By 1920, both of these structures were owned by the Coast Counties Light & Power Company. Slightly to the north, on the west side of the tracks, the Quong Sung Lung Company built a fruit evaporator around 1908. An independent spur was erected beside the factory by 1920, although it seems to have lost its name, though the maps do note it was operated by Chinese.

Between 1911 and 1920, a massive extension spur extended down Walker Street, across Kearney, and to places never before reached by the railroad. At the northern terminus of the spur, on the west side of Walker Street, the railroad reached an unnamed fruit packing company owned by Chinese. The property stretched down Ford Street with housing for workers out back. The primary spur, which ran down the eastern side of Walker Street, terminated at the Stolich Bros. fruit packing warehouse. Just south of it, opposite 5th Street, the tracks also ran beside L.F. Lettis's fruit packing house.

SPINS map from 1973 for the Walker Street and Beach Road (Wall Street) spurs. (George Pepper)
Unfortunately, information regarding these spurs and businesses between 1920 and 1973 is not available to this historian, but a Southern Pacific SPINS map from 1973 does give a snapshot of what changed along Walker Street in the intervening years. Firstly, all of the spurs south of 1st Street were spiked by that year, although the tracks remained owned by G.P Martin, J.M. Bulaich, H.J. Heinz, and Speas. Secondly, the triple track that ran down the road in the 1920s appears to have been reduced to a single track at some point. The track that ran on the east side between 1st and 2nd Streets was owned by the Pajaro Valley Cold Storage Company, which had been first opened on the site in the 1910s. Continuing north along the east side, between 2nd and Beach Streets, the Mann-Vallentine Cold Storage company and a Neilson warehouse occupied the block. Opposite these, three separate spurs catered to Gallo Wine, Scurich Cold Storage, and Buchwald Cold Storage. Continuing down Walker Street passed the depot, two very short spurs catered to Lease Plumbing and George Barsi, while the end-of-track terminated at a place where it could cater to Berman Steel, Sambrillo Paper, and Bachan Fruit Company. By 1998, only Americold Corp and New West Foods still had functioning spurs along lower Walker Road, and Berman Steel and Wats Canning Company along the upper portion. Although many of these companies likely never used the spurs that they had access to, one can determine immediately that Walker Street was, or at least had been recently, a major freight shipping center in Santa Cruz County.

Official Railroad Information:
Considering the entire Walker Street track was a private freight area, only Southern Pacific zoning maps such as the SPINS used above from 1973 document official railroad information for the region. Timetables and agency books record nothing of this except for the depot. Another SPINS from 1998, two years after the Union Pacific takeover of the line, helps clarify the situation at the end of the millennium.

Geo Coordinates & Access Rights:
From 36.903˚N, 121.755˚W to 36.911˚N, 121.767˚W

Although all of the properties today remain private businesses, closed to the public, the tracks themselves are quite visible across Walker Street. Virtually all of the spurs present in 1973 remain in place, some paved over but many partially visible. The mainline track still runs directly down the middle of the road and is occasionally used by the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway. All of the spurs along the street are now spiked and their junctions removed, so there is little chance any will be reactivated again. However, many of the original 1910s warehouses and structures remain in place along the road, giving a further snapshot of what the freight district probably looked like back in the 1920s.

Citations & Credits:
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps, 1888 – 1920. UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections.
  • Southern Pacific Company, SPINS "Watsonville Jct." 1973. George Pepper collection.
  • Zehner, Adi. "Remembering Watsonville..." Group Facebook photos and commentaries.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Upper Beach Road Railroad Patrons

Google Maps satellite view of the entire former freight area.
Watsonville has always been a major agricultural industrial center and the advent of the railroad into the town in 1873 turned it into a major local hub for canneries, fruit dryers, packing plants, and other agriculture-based factories. In the immediate vicinity of Watsonville Depot, along Beach Road, a number of businesses popped up that used or potentially used the railroad to haul its goods.

The first such company founded beside the railroad tracks was the Watsonville Fruit Dryer & Cannery, located on Beach Road (3rd Street) at the modern-day end of Harvest Drive. The Santa Cruz Railroad Tracks were installed about a half-block away from the packing house and, in response, the company placed a warehouse between the two, allowing it to use the tracks. The company was in operation only from circa 1886 to February 1888 when it fell vacant. The Western Beet Sugar Company purchased the vacant structure around the time that it was erecting its Pajaro Valley Railroad in 1890. A siding that ran on the cannery side of the mainline tracks skirted the edge of the structure on its way to the PVRR passenger and freight depot, located just south of the Southern Pacific Railroad crossing. By 1902 the cannery was gone and the side of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad depot had tripled in size, taking over much of the old packing company's space.

Sanborn Map, 1902, showing the Adamson Fruit Company.
(UCSC Digital Collections)
Just opposite Beach Road from the cannery, Adamson Fruit Company erected a fruit drier factory at some point in the late 1890s, this time with the adjacent railroad tracks clearly a part of their operation. By 1904, a fruit packing warehouse sat beside the tracks further to the south, as well. While little is stated on Sanborn Company Insurance Maps regarding the operation, a notation in 1911 states that the facility was run by Chinese workers. It still existed in 1920 under the management of Chinese, but the name of the company was no longer listed in Sanborn maps suggesting the original owners had left.



The Loma Prieta Lumber Company yard south of the Southern Pacific tracks, 1902
(Sanborn – UCSC Digital Collections)
In the late 1890s, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company – which operated a mill in the Aptos Creek area during this time – opened a new lumber yard and planing mill immediately beside the Adamson Fruit Company, likely using the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad tracks, which ran to the west of their grounds, and the Southern Pacific tracks, which ran to the north, to ship their goods to the Salinas Valley and elsewhere. This locale may have been in response to the Hihn-Hammond Lumber Company yard that was erected on the former Spreckels Beet Sugar Company grounds just to the north along Walker Street. Loma Prieta Lumber Company had previously operated its yard directly in the center of the large Pajaro Station wye. But the relocation may have been to capitalise on the potential of dual shipping routes. The Beach Road ran on either side of the street, with the majority of its facilities located to the west of the Southern Pacific depot. By 1904, the area to the north of the road had been abandoned and only the section beside the PVCRR tracks remained, with limited warehouses beside the track to support export shipping. The lumber yard on Beach Road appears to have been abandoned entirely by 1920, which coincides with the closure of the company in that year.

Watsonville Ice & Cold Storage Company facility, 1914, published by Edward H. Mitchell.
In 1902, a small ice house owned by the Western Ice & Cold Storage Company was built at the end of a short north-bound spur that ran beside the Loma Prieta Lumber Company yard. It remained there in 1904 when the yard was abandoned and then, around 1910, it relocated to the south-eastern corner of the Southern Pacific junction with the PVCRR. This convenient location allowed it to be used by both firms. By 1920, the Southern Pacific had also extended a spur out to this ice house, alongside which it installed a coal shed and a wood shed, presumably to support railroad operations. By 1914, a much larger facility for the Watsonville Ice & Cold Storage Company was erected on the north-west corner of the PVCRR and Southern Pacific junction. This massive and modern facility likely catered to all the local packing houses that required freeze-drying or refrigerating their goods.

Original trackside packing houses, 1902. (Sanborn – UCSC Digital Collections)
Further to the north, the Southern Pacific Railroad erected a grain warehouse and freight house on the southern side of the Santa Cruz Branch tracks by 1886. In the early years, the freight house also housed the ticket office and a small waiting room for passengers. The building was probably built by the Santa Cruz Railroad by 1875, although it is possible it was a newer structure built in the 1880s. The depot was relocated to the other side of the tracks in the late 1890s and the old structures were taken over by four local packing firms: M.N. Lettunich & Company, Porter Brothers Company,  George Wilson Rowe, and the Earl Fruit Company. Mato N. Letunić, known locally as Martin Lettunich, was a Croatian settler who moved to the area round 1890 where he founded, with his brothers Petar and Edwin, the packing business. The former mainline track, since downgraded to a freight spur, ran behind these four packing houses while the fronts of the buildings were extended to Beach Road.

Borcovich & Dragovich advertisement, c. 1920s.
By 1904, only Lettunich and Earl Fruit remained and their buildings were both expanded to full street frontage, filling in gaps left between the original two structures. By 1920, Lettunich had cut his operation in half, leasing out half of his building to Borcovich Dragovich & Company. Earl Fruit had been replaced with the primary packing house of the Loma Fruit Company (the other house was on Walker Street). Next door around 1910, the California Fruit Packing Company placed a rather extensive complex of two large fruit packing houses on the old Loma Prieta Lumber yard property that ran almost to the PVCRR tracks. The operation was short-lived, though, and by 1920 the property had been taken over by a whole lineup of small private packing houses, including J.M Luckrich, M.L. Kalich, Scurich & Jerinich, N.M. Borina, L.P. Cikuth, and P.P. Stolich. For whatever reason, the Croatian farmers were drawn to this block of warehouses. All of these people were local farmers who purchased packing houses beside the tracks and Beach Road to make shipment of their goods easier.

Trackside packing houses, 1920. (Sanborn – UCSC Digital Collections)
Sources available to this author are rather sparse for the period between 1920 and 1973, when a yard map is once again available. However, little seems to have changed at the site except for owners.  Agricultural packing houses and cold storage facilities were still the common residents. Just beside the depot, on the northern corner of Walker and Beach, California Farm Products maintained its warehouse. Immediately beside it, West Coast Farms took over the properties of Lettunich and the Loma Fruit Company. These two corporations occupied the entirety of the block and both properties are now owned by the Dole Food Company, except for a small portion leased to the Resetar Bros. Farming Company. The Dole corporate office sits directly atop the original site of the Watsonville Fruit Dryer & Cannery from the 1880s. Dole still uses some of the old structures of its predecessors and has taken over the entirety of the former Watsonville Depot yard. The Santa Cruz Branch now only has one operable track beside the station.

It seems very unlikely that Dole ever used the rail services available here since no tracks now pass through their properties (although traces of one remain). What was once a vibrant freight and industrial area at the upper end of Beach Road in Watsonville has now declined to such a point that rail services are not even available for local freight. For this area, at least, the age of rail has ended.

Official Railroad Information:
Freight services are rarely listed in official Southern Pacific Railroad timetables and agency books, but a series of SPINS charts provided by George Pepper shows what was still active in 1973. Unfortunately, this is the only record this author has access to from the SP.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.906˚N, 121.766˚W

Most of these properties are now owned by Dole Food Company which occupies the northern part of West Beach Street from Walker Street to the bend in the road just past Harvest Drive. Harvest Drive was once the right-of-way of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad and can be used as a reference point. The entire property between Walker Road and Pine Street was the site of the Loma Prieta Lumber Company yard, while the office complex on the south-west corner of Beach and Harvest was the site of the Adamson Fruit Company.

Citations & Credits:

  • Google Maps.
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps, 1886 to 1920. UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad, SPINS: Watsonville  1973. California State Railroad Museum Collection.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Spreckels Beet Sugar Refinery

Adolph Claus J. Spreckels was not an unknown entity when he decided in 1888 to erect a massive sugar beet refinery just outside downtown Watsonville. The sugar beet king had begun his career in 1872 in Aptos as the owner of a large resort hotel. He, with Frederick A. Hihn, was the primary financier of the Santa Cruz Railroad, which was completed in 1876. Beginning with Rancho Aptos, Spreckels began growing sugar beets in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, inducing dozens of local farmers to become his clients in the venture. But in 1888, he founded the Western Beet Sugar Company within the Watsonville city limits, and it quickly became the largest sugar beet refinery in the United States.

An overview look at the entire Spreckels refinery yards, c 1895, with the cleaning barns at right, the factory in the center, and endless piles of unprocessed sugar beets. The Southern Pacific mainline is visible in the foreground beside stacks of lumber. The Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad turntable and engine house is just in front of the refinery at center-right.
(PacificNG Collection)
The Western Beet Sugar Company's refinery was built just northwest of the Southern Pacific Railroad station in Watsonville, along Ford Street and near Walker Street and fenced in from the north by Watsonville Slough. Over the course of the next few years, the structures at the factory expanded massively. Four massive beet bins were installed to clean and process the beats. Between the two southernmost bins, a special pair of railroad sidings were installed that ran their entire 900 foot length before passing directly through the middle of the factory itself. These two tracks constituted the Southern Pacific Railroad's connection to the refinery and are the two tracks that still survive at the site today. They were standard-gauged and used primarily for export shipping. To the northwest of the factory, the tracks met, although did not merge, with the tracks of the Pajaro Valley Railroad.

Western Beet Sugar refinery, c. 1900, with the turntable and engine house at left. (Bancroft Library)
The narrow-gauged Pajaro Valley Railroad was constructed in 1890 by Spreckels to help his farmers in the Pajaro and Salinas Valleys get their sugar beets to his refinery in Watsonville. It initially reached Moss Landing and Moro Cojo Slough but was soon extended all the way to the southern outskirts of Salinas where Spreckels was building a brand new, much larger refinery. With this new extension, the name of the company was changed to the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad which took effect in 1892. With the new railroad and refinery, Watsonville Terminal—the official railroad name for the Watsonville factory—became the northern hub of the line. To support this, many new facilities were built on the southern side of the Watsonville refinery including a turntable, a three-stall engine house, a water tower, and multiple sidings. The Pajaro Valley Railroad tracks crossed the Southern Pacific tracks just west of Watsonville Station's freight yard, and a tiny station booth was added here to allow for transfers between the two lines.

1892 Sanborn map showing the entirety of the Western Beet Sugar Company refinery. (UCSC Digital Collections)
1892 Sanborn map of the Watsonville Creamery & Cattle
Company's facility and railroad stop (UCSC Digital Collections)
Everything at the Western Beet Sugar refinery revolved around the massive four-story factory structure that towered over the grounds. The Pajaro Valley Railroad's main track wrapped around the structure to the west, meeting and paralleling the Southern Pacific tracks that emerged from the factory. They continued to the fringe of Watsonville Slough along a narrow fill that terminated at the Watsonville Creamery & Cattle Company. A small platform was built at the end to allow the loading of freight and/or cattle. The company became Miller & Lux's Cattle Feeding Sheds by 1902, at which point the station here appears to have gone into disuse. This fill still exists and now acts as a private access road for the farm still at the site. Just before the slough, a side track broke off and wrapped around the north side of the refinery to enter a long enclosed cleaning and storage warehouse. Thus, rather uniquely for the region, the Western Beet Sugar refinery was catered to by two entirely independent railroad companies which used two different gauge tracks to accomplish similar goals. For a brief time, the factory was a hub of activity and commerce in the Watsonville area, symbolized by the cooperation of the two railroad companies.

The refinery, in dark contrast and possibly showing more signs of color in its paint scheme, c. 1897.
By the mid-1890s, railroad services had expanded at the refinery and the factory itself nearly doubled in size. A new pair of Southern Pacific tracks ran parallel to its old one, running across the front of the refinery, and a spur off the old line catered to a new sugar loading warehouse. Meanwhile, the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad track added two additional spurs, one that ran to a storage shed to the northeast of the factory and another that terminated at a the sugar loading warehouse beside the Southern Pacific Track. Beside the old run-around track, another warehouse was erected for freight loading purposes. To the south of Beach Street, a large freight warehouse was also erected alongside the Pajaro Valley tracks to cater to additional Spreckels refinery concerns.


The refinery on a busy day, c. 1895. (California State Railroad Museum)
In 1898, Spreckels formally shifted all refining operations to his new factory outside of Salinas. The Watsonville refinery was renamed Spreckels Sugar Company milll #2 and became a back-up and overflow refinery, listed in the 1902 Sanborn map as "used as a reserve mill only". In other words, the mill was closed for business. The loss of the factory was a blow to local businesses that had hoped Spreckels would help build up the city of Watsonville. Instead, he diverted the crops of the few sugar beet planters away from the city and to Monterey County. Sanborn maps suggest that the dismantling of the factory began after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, when Spreckels probably decided it wasn't worth repairing.

The refinery in its final years, c. 1897. (National Museum of American History)
The 1908 Sanborn map notes it is "not in operation" rather than in "reserve". Large portions of the facility were already gone by that year and even some of the spurs were truncated or removed. The 1911 map shows Kearney Street Extension for the first time with the Hihn-Hammond Lumber Company occupying the former sugar beet cleaning yard. Fruit packing houses already were popping up along the new road on grounds that were formerly Spreckels yards. By this point, only the original two Southern Pacific spurs remained with the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad still retaining its former trackage, although probably not using any of it. The factory still remained but was "vacant". The final Sanborn map available from UCSC Digital Collections shows a very different in 1920. The Hihn-Hammond Lumber yard has stretched across most of the old grounds while numerous agricultural—mostly fruit—packing companies, driers, refrigerators, and canneries sit on either side of Kearney Street Ext. The old PVCRR turntable remains, but the engine house is gone. Two spurs continue past the turntable on entirely new paths but terminate soon afterwards. The Southern Pacific spurs in the area now cater to the Crown Fruit Extract Company, which sits on the site of an old Spreckels molasses refinery, and the Shell Oil Company, located at the end of Ford Street. The last trace of Spreckels' presence in the area, the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, shut down permanently in 1929 and its properties and stock were sold to the Southern Pacific, which immediately scrapped the line.

Official Railroad Information:
As a freight stop along a private spur, the Southern Pacific Railroad did not note the refinery on any of its official documentation. However, the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, which had its northern terminus at the refinery, simply called the factory "Watsonville Terminal" from 1899 to 1928. It was located 27.2 miles from the Spreckels factory near Salinas via a long circuitous route following the coast until the track reached the Salinas River, at which point it followed the river inland. The terminus included a turntable, three-stall engine house, a water tower, and a total 7-car capacity for loading product cargoes for shipment out on the main Southern Pacific line.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.906˚N, 121.767˚W

The site of Spreckels Beet Sugar Refinery remains an active industrial area and the original spur built in 1888 for Spreckels still cuts through the heart of this block. Numerous businesses now sit on either side of the spur, including Del Mar Seafoods, Crop Production Services, Tomich Brothers Seafoods, Better Brand Foods, Auto Care Towing, and Terminal Freezers. Of the tracks that once ran through the block, only two remain and neither are in use. A single track runs to the north of Watsonville Station paralleling Walker Street before splitting just before the crossing over Kearney Street Extension. The track now only splits where before it forked multiple times to service the many businesses in the area. The northern fork caters to Terminal Freezers, ending at the end of their building, while the southern fork disappears under gravel behind Auto Care Towing. From Google Maps, it is clear that the track once continued onward to the end of the block, with one spur once crossing the slough along a still-existing fill. A remnant track still parallels Walker Street on the west side for quite a distance longer, while hints of other now removed spurs can be seen throughout the district. Access to this area is restricted to employees of the various companies, although much of the trackage can be viewed from public streets.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, February 12, 2016

West Beach Road Spurs, Part I

The railroad spur that breaks off from the Santa Cruz Branch at Ohlone Parkway and runs to Industrial Road is one of the newest freight areas in Santa Cruz County. The first evidence for the spur there is in a 1931 aerial photograph that shows a single spur breaking off northbound and running alongside two large warehouses that sat between Beach Road and the right-of-way. The primary patron of this spur, and the probable patron for whom it was initially built, was the Apple Growers' Cold Storage Company facility, which maintained a large refrigerated building at the site. Apple Growers' first moved to the site in February 1929 on lands owned by Mitchell Resetar, a local fruit-growing magnate. In 1932, the company was renamed Apple Growers' Ice & Cold Storage Company, under which name it operated until 2011. A tiny little spur forked off at the end, running beside an outbuilding. By 1954, the main spur track had been extended to the edge of the Central Supply aggregates yard, which likely used that spur for importing supplies.

1969 aerial image of the West Beach Street spur (top-center) while only Green Giant and the Apple Growers'
occupied the site. Further growth is clearly planned considering the track's length. (UCSC Digital Collections)

In 1969, a long sweeping spur was broken off from these original spurs at the site of the northern-most warehouse (now demolished). This new spur crossed Beach Road and paralleled the newly-build Industrial Road before turning to the south where it dead-ended between a field and a large open lot. The original purpose for this spur was to cater to Green Giant, which installed its own short spur beside the large facility it built along Beach Road. Green Giant had maintained a small presence in Watsonville for decades at the corner of West Beach and Walker Streets, but in 1969, during a county-wide campaign to attract new businesses to the county (a project that also attracted Lipton to Santa Cruz's West Side), it relocated to West Beach Street directly across from the Apple Growers' facility. For the next 22 years, it remained on the site using the factory for packaging and cold storage until financial troubles forced the company to relocate to Mexico, where labor costs were lower. Pillsbury purchased the company in 1979, so it was they who were responsible for this move. When Green Giant first relocated to Industrial Road, great plans were in place to turn this area into an industrial neighborhood. A spur was broken off directly opposite Green Giant in anticipation of this, but no business ever appears to have used this spur.

Martin John Franich Company advertisement. Date unknown.
By 1973, when the Southern Pacific Railroad published a SPINS map of the area, one can finally get a good look at the types of businesses operating out of this upstart industrial district. Just after the initial break from the mainline track, a short north-oriented spur heads across Errington Road to cater to the Coast Counties Canning Company. The company was founded in 1956 and likely began construction alongside the Santa Cruz Branch soon afterwards. Eventually, this cannery spanned both sides of the road in 1973 and had a second south-oriented spur across the street that also catered to the Travers Cold Storage Company. Coast Counties was likely closed around 1984 when Del Mar Food Products Corporation purchased the company to obtain their processing equipment. The area north of Errington Road was still undergoing development in 1969, suggesting that Coast Counties only had the spur north of that road installed immediately prior to 1973. Ray L. Travers, meanwhile, founded his cold storage company in 1956, pioneering the first controlled atmosphere storage for apples. Over time, his company eventually came to own both Travers and the Apple Growers' facilities, but the ultimate fate of the former remains unknown. Further down the main spur along the original portion of this track, three patrons operated out of the area. Along the first offshoot spur, the Apple Growers Cold Storage Company still maintained its large freezer and facility. Meanwhile, at the end of the spur, the track forked to cater to Martin John Franich Co., a local apple grower, and Granite Construction Company, the successor to Central Supply. Mate Franić, a Croatian immigrant, was one half of the Franich Bros., which split in 1940 creating two separate firms. Martin probably relocated to this up and coming freight area at around that time, and he continued to operate there until his death in 1972. His son, Marty, later became a partner in the company while simultaneously running a car dealership, although when M.J. Franich Company finally closed is not presently known (Marty's dealership still operates, although Marty himself died in 1989). Back along the main spur, the track crossed Beach Road at Industrial Road and almost immediately forks into three segments. At the south, the spur to Green Giant ran alongside the warehouse, while at right, a short spur was built across Industrial Road in anticipation of future development that never came. The main spur itself continued through a gradual southward looping arch before terminating ingloriously at nothing. By 1998, this spur had forked and catered to Dean Foods Vegetables, a packing house, and Cascade Refrigeration, and both were still listed as the proprietors in 2003, although it is unclear whether the latter is still there today.

Google Street View image of the Apple Growers's Ice & Cold Storage grounds after the fire (burn damage at left), 2011.

Today, the majority of these spurs still exist within this area, although only a few of them are still used regularly. Names and ownership have changed as well. For instance, Errington Road is now known as the Ohlone Parkway and is a major thoroughfare across Watsonville Slough. The Coast Counties Cannery is now the Second Harvest Food Bank and the spur to it has long since been removed with no trace of it remaining. Similarly, the spur that went to Travers Cold Storage is gone and the building itself is occupied by Jackel Enterprises, Inc. Along the oldest track, only the main track remains with the track itself truncated and its parallel spur for Apple Growers mostly buried. Regarding the businesses themselves, the Apple Growers building burned down spectacularly in 2011 causing $3 million worth of damage to finished Martinelli's products. The site was bulldozed soon afterwards and is currently a vacant lot. Meanwhile, the truncated track no longer enters the Granite Construction grounds. However, all is not ended in this area. Northstar Biofuels LLC, a newer business occupying the area between the spur and the mainline track, has recently been using the spur (and others) for locally-sourced biofuels.

The full freight area between Ohlone Parkway and Industrial Road, c. 2015. [Google Maps – Satellite View]

Original cider plant on 3rd Street, c 1885. (Monterey Bay Area News)

Across West Beach Street (formerly Beach Road), the spurs to both Green Giant and to the undeveloped field have both been removed, leaving only the main spur track behind. The removal of the Green Giant spur, specifically, occurred after 2003 as it is still listed as being in place in that year. The former Green Giant property was purchased by S. Martinelli's & Company as their West Beach Plant in 1993. Stephen G. Martinelli began bottling Champagne cider in Watsonville in 1868 and after Prohibition, his company eventually switched to producing exclusively non-alcoholic bubbling apple juice (the alcoholic blend was finally discontinued in 1979). Their primary bottling plant and corporate headquarters remains on East Beach Street near Carr Street. In the early 1990s, the company planned to erect a new facility on Kearney Street, but the closure of the Green Giant plant allowed them to move to an established packing house. The West Beach Plant remains today their largest packing and bottling house, but they never used the tracks to export their goods (although Apple Growers', one of their largest distributors, probably did). This main spur track still curves and, when it straightens out, it forks and caters to Dean Foods and now AmeriCold Logistics (formerly Cascade Refrigeration). It is along this spur that the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railroad stores its rolling stock when they are not in use, suggesting that the adjacent businesses do not use them.

Official Railroad Information:
Like most patrons along private spurs, the Southern Pacific Railroad never considered these "stops" in the formal sense, so they never appeared in their station books or on their timetables. SPINS maps released over the years have mapped the ownership of spurs that those remain the only official railroad documentation for this area.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9037˚N, 121.7679˚W

Portions of this freight area can be viewed along Ohlone Parkway (where the spur breaks off from the Santa Cruz Branch), West Beach Street, and Industrial Road, but permission is required of the companies to visit any of the spurs that remain on private property. Most of the track in this area remains viably in use, so caution is warned when observing the tracks, and make sure to ask permission before following a spur into a private facility.

Citations & Credits: