Author Statement

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

Friday, August 19, 2016

Old Mission Portland Cement Company Extension Railroad

By 1909, roughly three miles of a narrow-gauged, private-use railroad was graded and perhaps even built, ostensibly for the use of the San Juan Southern Railway. However, the financial difficulties that crippled and ultimately bankrupted the San Juan Portland Cement Company equally killed any further work on the short-line track that was aimed at the lime quarries south of San Juan Junction. No locomotive ever operated on this track and it was among the properties purchased by the Old Mission Portland Cement Company in 1912, at which point the railroad lost its name and disappeared from history. Sort of.

Old Mission Portland Cement Company map showing route of track south of San Juan Junction. []
The US Geological Survey map for 1915 shows that a narrow-gauged track meandered quite a distance south of the cement plant to the Gabilan School in Rancho Cienega del Gabilan. By 1917, a significant spur was also built to the south of the cement plant, backtracking uphill to the top of the plant's refuse pile so that loads of rejected material could be easily disposed of.

USGS Map showing the cement plant line, 1917.
By 1918, when the new cement plant was finally operating at full capacity, it seems that the narrow-gauged railroad, too, was a part of the operation, meaning that construction was completed after all, although who finished this route is unknown. The railroad meandered for four miles along a route that hugged the western side of the canyon, with at least one large trestle required to span a gulch. Although the track never made it to the San Juan Southern's goal of Underwood, it seems like that the track reached Thomas Flint's Flintsville ranch, which was just about at the four mile mark. Along the route, the train also passed a number of small farms from which additional revenue likely was shipped. Whether additional miles of track were built between 1918 and 1928 is uncertain, but in that latter year a further 3.5 miles may have been added to the route in order to mine a new quarry. However, the 1939 USGS map does not show any further track added since the 1917 map

This new private railroad run by the cement plant included at least seventeen wagons and a steam locomotive, the latter of which operated out of an engine house located immediately beside the cement plant where it shared space with the California Central's single standard-gauged locomotive. The railroad crews generally worked the narrow-gauged lines but were cross-trained to shuttle the standard-gauge locomotive to the Southern Pacific tracks at Chittenden when necessary. Unlike the standard-gauged track, which forked twice around and between the cement plant structures, the narrow-gauged track terminated just once beside the eastern-most towers where its engine house was located.

The railroad continued in use when the Portland Cement Company took over in 1927, but, like the rest of the cement plant, all operations halted in 1929 when the Great Depression killed the cement industry along the Central Coast. By the time the plant reopened in 1941, all the narrow-gauged track was gone, likely removed alongside the rest of the California Central line in 1938. Trucks ran along the old right-of-way and continued to do so well into the 1970s. Traces of this road still exist today, now used by farming vehicles and restless cattle wandering the old cement company grounds.

Access Rights:
Permission to access this old route is only with permission by the owner. However, one short section of track is available at the Gibilan School where the old route passes over San Juan Canyon Road (G1) about three miles south of the track that is still visible in the road at San Juan Junction and The Alameda.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clough, Charles W., and Bobbye Sisk Temple. San Juan Bautista: The Town, the Mission & the Park. Quill Driver Books, 1996.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second Edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.

Friday, August 12, 2016

San Juan Junction

The end of the line for both the San Juan Pacific Railway and the California Central Railroad was at San Juan Junction, 7.8 miles south of the Southern Pacific Railroad track at Chittenden. San Juan Junction was a rather fanciful name that referred to the junction with the narrow-gauged San Juan Southern Railway, which was supposed to travel an additional thirteen miles down San Juan Canyon but, due to economic problems, only ran three miles and never was used. The California Central kept the name, however, because they did succeed in building and using four miles of that line narrow-gauged line, continuing construction of it all the way to 1929, the last full year the railroad operated. But there was no transfer yard at San Juan Junction. Instead, there was a moderately-sized Portland cement plant installed at the site.

Unassembled parts stored at the San Juan Portland Cement site awaiting construction, 1908.
Construction on the San Juan Portland Cement Company refinery and kilns began in August 1907, immediately after the San Juan Pacific was opened for through traffic. Within days of completion of the railroad, carloads of machinery for the refinery were brought in and dumped beside the tracks at San Juan Junction. The track was extended an additional 0.3 miles to a gravel site south of the Junction and the material there was used for ballast along the line. At the Junction, a parallel spur was installed opposite the cement plant so that, when the plant was built, it would be straddled by tracks on either side for maximum efficiency. By September, all the machinery was in place, but nothing had been installed yet. Work had already begun on the San Juan Southern Railway right-of-way, with three miles of track placed by October. And then panic struck the stock market and all work on the cement plant and the railroad was halted. Unfortunately, most of the company's stock value plummeted since it was bound to the Ocean Shore Railroad scheme and the San Juan Pacific began its free-fall. The San Juan Portland Cement Company went bust before it had even warmed up the kilns.

Old Mission Portland Cement Company corporate logo.
In January 1912, the Old Mission Portland Cement Company took over operations of both the refinery and the railroad, the latter being rebranded the California Central. For five years, the Old Mission Route was rebuilt with higher-quality materials. Meanwhile, loads of new construction equipment was shipped to San Juan Junction so that the new company could build the long-awaited refinery. San Juan Junction became a true junction at this point. The single standard-gauge locomotive shared space with the company's narrow-gauged unit in the engine house, and the same crews operated and maintained both locomotives on the site. The cement plant thrived for much of the period from 1918 to 1929. In 1927, the organization was merged with the Pacific Portland Cement Company. But the Great Depression made quick work of the entire operation. Broke and without customers, the cement plant and the railroad closed shop. The refinery was gated and abandoned, its pair of locomotives – one narrow-gauged, one standard – left to rot in the engine house. In 1937, the standard-gauged engine had one last run on the old, weed-infested line, but that was simply to ship it out of the county where it operated in Gerlach, Nevada, for its owner, the Pacific Portland Cement Company. The tracks were pulled in early 1938 and San Juan Junction became little more than a dream of a bygone era.

Add caption
The cement plant had a second life, however. Reopened in 1941 due to war demands, the renewed cement plant continued to operate using trucks into the 1970s. It finally closed because the owners were unable to meet new California state air pollution control requirements. The site was eventually stripped of all of its machinery and has since returned to its original owners who use it as a cattle pasture.

Official Railroad Information:
San Juan Junction was at mile marker 0.0 on the San Juan Pacific Railway line. As with the rest of the route, passenger service was offered at the station three times daily for the first year that it operated, after which all passenger service ceased. All service stopped by June 1909.

Limited freight service for the purpose of building the refinery resumed to San Juan Junction around 1914, and then formally reopened in 1916. From this point, irregular freight service from San Juan Junction continued until the refinery closed in 1930. The engine house (and presumably a turntable) was maintained at San Juan Junction until the tracks were pulled in early 1938.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.831˚N, 121.531˚W

Last remaining tracks of the California Central, embedded
into San Juan Canyon Road at The Alameda.
The site of San Juan Junction and the cement plant are unfortunately not accessible to the public. Heading southbound on The Alameda out of San Juan Bautista, continue on San Juan Canyon Road (G1). At that intersection, tracks are still imbedded in the center of the road, the last vestige of the original San Juan Pacific and California Central tracks, which was not removed for convenience's sake. For the next 0.4 miles, the old right-of-way is on the west side of the road in what is now reclaimed pastureland. As the road turns slightly to the east, the road to the cement plant and San Juan Junction appears. The site of the old depot is now a paddock of some kind immediately beside the road, leaving little evidence of the original structure behind. The cement plant itself is barricaded and the land is used for grazing cattle. Google Maps shows that the site of the cement plant remains visible, albeit heavily overgrown. The old narrow-gauge right-of-way continues to the south out of the facility.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clough, Charles W., and Bobbye Sisk Temple. San Juan Bautista: The Town, the Mission & the Park. Quill Driver Books, 1996.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Perazzo, Peggy B. "Stone Quarries and Beyond". Pre-captioned images above.
  • Robertson, Donald B. Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History, vol. 4: California. Caxton Press, 1986

Friday, August 5, 2016

San Juan

Three decades after the Spanish friars of the Franciscan Order had founded their first mission in the Alta California region of Nuevo España, they decided that a small outpost tucked away in a sparsely-inhabited tributary valley of the Pajaro River would serve as an excellent waypoint for pilgrims, soldiers, and missionaries traveling up and down the King's Highway – El Camino Real. In November 1795, a small group of explorers and friars spiked a cross on a site at the mouth of a deep valley and proclaimed the place San Juan Bautista after Saint John the Baptist. It took two years for a physical church to be completed at the site, with it officially dedicated on 24 June 1797. In 1803, construction began on the current adobé and redwood structure, and it was completed in 1812 becoming the largest of all twenty-one missions in the Spanish system. The mission largely prospered on its bluff that overlooked the floodplains of the San Juan Valley. Many supporting structures were built around the core mission complex, while farmers and ranchers from various backgrounds settled in the surrounding region to work for the Franciscans. Although the mission suffered during the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath, the church continued to operate without a break.

Drawing of Mission San Juan Bautista, c. 1830. [California Missions Resource Center]
The secularization of Catholic Church lands in 1834 greatly reduced the scope of the mission, but locals continued to patronize the church each week and it never closed as so many other missions did. When the United States took control of California and gold was discovered soon after in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the tiny hamlet of San Juan Bautista quickly grew. Prospectors travelling between Monterey and the interior passed through the town, with many settling after striking rich and others never leaving, opening businesses to sell wares to the passersby. The village became a mid-sized town with multi-story buildings in the main plaza, general stores, hotels, restaurants, and feed stores. A fire destroyed much of the town not long afterwards, depriving it of some of its glory, but it was the railroad that really turned the tide against San Juan.

The Plaza Hotel across from the mission, 1893. [fine art america]
In 1870, the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Hollister, a town just a few hours' wagon ride away from San Juan Bautista. With the end of prospectors, the relatively recent fire, and a lack of available land in the valley, many shifted their attention away to this new site, hoping to capitalize on the railroad which still intended at this time to continue south into the San Joaquin Valley. The town never died, but it barely grew after this point and in many ways never recovered from the fire and loss of the railroad.

San Juan Station, late 1908, with a passenger train sitting out front. [McMahon & Hendershot]
1915 USGS map showing the town of San Juan Bautista, although notably
no railroad station appears at the junction of the road to Hollister (bottom).
In 1907, the town's prospects rose again. The Southern Pacific Railroad had been considering a route between their station at Betabel and San Juan Canyon for nearly thirty years as a short-cut to the San Joaquin Valley. Other rivals had also partially surveyed routes in the area in half-hearted attempt to defeat the Southern Pacific transcontinental monopoly. The plans of the San Juan Pacific Railway were no different: they wished to connect to the Ocean Shore Railroad and other proposed lines in a trans-California route that would one day span the nation. But in the meantime, the San Juan Portland Cement Company wished to open a refinery in the hills just outside of town. They fronted the cash to form the railroad in order to expedite the construction and shipment of goods. The new route would loop around the eastern side of the town with a station established along the main road to Hollister just below the mission. Around August 1st, the track to San Juan Bautista was completed and a long siding was installed to cater to local businesses such as the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, which intended to build a yard beside the tracks and harvest nearby forests. The route formally opened on October 1, 1907, and San Juan Bautista had its very own railroad at last.

Mission San Juan Bautista at the time the San Juan Pacific Railway first came to town.
Passenger train returning from Chittenden, c. 1907.
[McMahon & Hendershot]
Presumably, a railroad structure was built to cater to passengers awaiting the three passenger trains that ran daily in either direction between San Juan and Chittenden. However, the financial difficulties that quickly consumed both the cement plant and the railroad may have halted any permanent structure since no known photograph exists of such a depot or shelter. By May 1909, San Juan Station was a lost dream. The railroad went bust. When the California Central began running regular freight runs along the Old Mission Route in 1916, service to the Loma Prieta yard continued, but for how long is unknown. Most trains headed without stopping for the cement plant and any passengers would have to find other means of getting to the nearest Southern Pacific station. It is unknown how long trains serviced the Loma Prieta yard, but general freight service past San Juan continued through 1930, after which the tracks lay dormant until they were pulled in early 1938. The mission continues to look out over the San Juan River floodplain, but nothing remains of the station, tracks, or right-of-way that sat so briefly in its shadow.

Official Railroad Information:
San Juan appeared on the first public timetables for the San Juan Pacific from mid-1907 through May 1909 as 1.3 miles from San Juan Junction and 8.7 miles from Chittenden (although, in reality, it was closer to 6.4 miles from the latter). It was listed as having three passenger trains in each direction daily. Records for the California Central Railroad are more difficult to find but there was no known service to the former stop after 1909.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.841˚N, 121.532˚W

The precise site of San Juan Station is not entirely certain but it was most likely on either side of modern-day State Route 156 near Nyland Drive or Groscup Way. If it was on the north side, it occupied the same location of today's San Juan School. If the south side, it sat in the open lot between Groscup and the highway. The Loma Prieta Lumber Company lot was most likely the large grass field on the south side of the road east of Groscup. Most of this area can be explored to a degree without breaking any trespass laws, but nothing of the station or right-of-way survives in this immediate area.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clough, Charles W. San Juan Bautista: The Town, The Mission & The Park. Sanger, CA: Word Dancer Press, 1996.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • McMahon, Joseph, Carla Hendershot, and the Plaza History Association. Images of America: San Juan Bautista. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2007.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Prescott & Beet Dump

The location of the Prescott family property along the right-of-way,
San Benito County map, 1891 [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
Not long after California became a state, the Prescott family moved into the San Benito Valley on a small ranch within the former San Juan Bautista Mission rancho. William Sims Prescott Sr. was an English-born settler who journeyed to California to work in the lumber industry of the Santa Cruz Mountains and, later, in the New Idria Mines. Once in the state, he met Catherine Hobson, a Canadian woman, and the two of them settled down in the San Juan Valley, becoming locally famous for constructing the first artesian well in the region as well as the first orchards. They raised a son and a daughter, William Sims Jr. and Emma, on their ranch along the San Benito River in the late 1850s. Emma eventually married John C. Skinner and moved to San Francisco, where she died in 1922. William, meanwhile, became the family patriarch when his father died in 1878. William married Elizabeth Maria Prather of Tennessee in 1885 and together they raised four children on the ranch.

William quickly rose in prominence in the local community, especially once he was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1902 for District 2 (San Juan Region). He kept this position into the 1930s. It was during the mid-1900s that plans were put in place to run the San Juan Pacific Railway between Chittenden and San Juan, a project that required Prescott's permission in order to begin. Unsurprisingly, when the San Juan Pacific began operations in 1907, a stop named "Prescott" appeared on public timetables at a location near the Prescott family property.

In reality, the location probably only ever served as a freight stop for the Prescott family and their neighbors. The farms in the region largely grew sugar beets for Claus Spreckels and other various vegetable products, which collectively justified a small freight stop in the area. As visible on the 1891 map above, a small T road intersection at the southwest corner of the Prescott property later coincided with the location of the railroad stop, meaning that local farms could use established roads to get their goods to market without having to drive into San Juan or up to Canfield or Chittenden. The railroad installed a 700-foot-long siding at the stop to park wagons for loading of sugar beets. Farmers, seeing the potential of the site, added a large beet-dumping platform there as well to expedite the process.

Although passenger service ceased in 1908, freight traffic continued intermittently all the way to 1930 when the California Central unofficially ceased operations. During the California Central period, Prescott was renamed "Beet Dump" but the purpose of the stop remained the same – local farmers could deliver their goods to the site for loading on passing freight trains. The name implied that sugar beets were the primary product with their destination doubtlessly the large beet refinery in Salinas. The tracks remained on the property until they were finally scrapped in early 1938.

Photograph of prominent San Juan citizens including, from left-to-right, William Prescott, Edward A. Pearce,
Luis Raggio, Ernest CC Zanetta, and George Abbe, c. late 1930s. [Marjorie Pierce]
William and Elizabeth Prescott lingered longer. William suffered a heart attack in 1943 just before his 58th wedding anniversary, but he survived two more years before passing away June 15, 1945. Elizabeth survived him by eight years, dying January 31, 1953. Both are buried at the San Juan Bautista Cemetery near the burial places of their mothers. Their property is entirely farmland today.

Official Railroad Information:
San Juan Pacific Railway timetables noted that Prescot was 2.3 miles from San Juan Junction and 1.0 miles from San Juan [Bautista]. This placed it 5.7 miles from Chittenden and the Southern Pacific mainline track. Few records exist from the California Central period but what does seem clear is the stop lost its name and simply became known as "Beet Dump", a reference to the old beet-loading platform constructed there around 1908.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.860˚N, 121.542˚W

The site of Prescott is one of the few locations along the San Juan Pacific right-of-way that can be guessed with almost complete certainty. The right-of-way crossed modern-day Prescott Road at the entrance to today's True Leaf Farms – Church Brothers Produce facility. This facility without doubt sits on the site of the original "Beet Dump", which was itself the successor to Prescott. In fact, a tiny grass-covered and undeveloped stretch of right-of-way still sits across the road from this facility and the driveway of the facility was once the right-of-way. Access to True Leaf Farms – Church Brothers Produce is restricted to employees. Nothing visible remains of the railroad in this area and trespassing should not be attempted.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, July 22, 2016

Anderson Packing

When the California Central Railroad took over operations of the bankrupt San Juan Pacific Railway in 1912, they did so with the common understanding that the entire line would become freight-only. Still, the Old Mission Cement plant at the end of the line was not the only company to utilise the railroad. When the route went back into regular use in 1916, a new stop appeared just to the south of the former Canfield siding. Named by the railroad "Anderson Packing", the freight stop catered exclusively to George Howard Anderson's pear orchards and packing house which was conveniently positioned between the San Juan Highway and the railroad right-of-way.

Advertisement for Anderson pears, c. 1923.
The Anderson family traced its roots back to 1863 and John Zuiglius Anderson, an early American fruit grower in Santa Clara County. John had been the first to discover a method of transporting fruit between California and the East Coast without it spoiling. His eldest son, George, after operating a pear orchard in the Santa Clara Valley for many years, relocated the business to the San Benito Valley in 1907 while maintaining at least three other homes in San José, Seabright, and on Mission Street in Santa Cruz, as well as a hunting lodge near the Klamath River. Another brother, Alden, moved to the Sacramento area. He and his first wife, Susan M. Brown, had four children including George Howard Jr., Howard S., John Zuiglius Jr. (the future congressman for California's 8th District, 1939-1953), and Elizabeth. Elizabeth married Edward F. Pearce, the son of Judge E.A. Pearce, in 1942. The family was well-regarded and was influential enough to have many of its movements in Santa Cruz County tracked by the Santa Cruz Sentinel and the Evening News. For example, their purchase of an automobile in 1910 was a notable moment, suggesting they were one of the first in the county to own such a vehicle. Susan died in 1913 at her Seabright home and George appears to have remarried to Clara, the daughter of James F. Simpson. Their family remained prominent in the newspapers throughout the 1910s and early 1920s. After 1913, George lived largely at their San Juan home. He died of a massive heart attack in September 1925 at San Juan after years of ill health. During the final years of his life, George had served on the California Fish & Game Commission as the representative for the San Francisco Division.

Anderson Packing Company advertisement for pears, c. 1920s.
The history of the Anderson pear orchard and packing house near San Juan Bautista is less known. It was certainly operating by 1910 and was thriving throughout the 1920s as evidenced by the large number of advertisements circulating from the time. When the railroad ceased operations in 1930, the business continued, at least until 1939 when Jack was elected to the House of Representatives. Very little is known about their railroad stop except that there appears to have been some form of packing house there and that the site likely had a siding. The pear shipments out of the orchard and the import of hay and fertiliser supplemented the income of the California Central in the spring and fall months and appear to have done so with an average of 42 carloads shipped out annually from the small pear operation. It is very likely that a platform and siding were installed at Anderson Packing, but these cannot be proven currently.

Official Railroad Information:
The California Central published few public documents that have survived and none are presently available that reference the Anderson Packing stop. This stop is attested to only in Hamman and Clough.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Approx. 36.873˚N, 121.553˚W

The location of the Anderson Packing stop is not known with certainty, but Anderson Road between San Justo Road and San Juan Highway runs directly through the former property. The railroad paralleled San Justo Road throughout this area and it can be assumed that the packing plant more or less sat on the site of the current Earthbound Farm complex. Trespassing onto the Earthbound Farm complex is not advised. There appears to be no trace left of the original Anderson Packing Company complex surviving at the site today.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clough, Charles W., and Bobbye Sisk Temple. San Juan Bautista: The Town, the Mission & the Park. Sanger, CA: Word Dancer Press, 1996.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Pierce, Marjorie. East of the Gabilans: The Ranches, the Towns, the People—Yesterday and Today. Santa Cruz, CA: Valley Publishers, 1976.
  • Santa Cruz Evening News, 1913 – 1942.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1902 – 1942.

Friday, July 15, 2016


Location of Canfield (bottom-right corner) in relation to Chittenden, 1891.
Survey map conducted by Vic. T. & Harry W. McCray.
[UCSC Digital Collections]
The San Juan Pacific Railway had few patrons along its eight-mile route. The purpose of the railroad was always first-and-foremost to cater to the San Juan Portland Cement Company, so all other customers were secondary to that goal. Nonetheless, the property of the Canfield family, located south of the bend of the route as it turned toward San Juan Bautista, was the railroad's first customer.

In February 1887, Samuel Russel and William Walton Canfield purchased from J.B. Doane a quarter section of ranch land in the Gabilan foothills region near the confluence of the San Benito River into the Pajaro River. Samuel and William were brothers, two sons of Robert Finley Canfield and Ruth Halsey Walton. William moved to California in 1849, presumably during the Gold Rush, and became a farmer. His brother joined him at some unknown later date. Very little is known about their cattle ranch or its success over the years. Both Canfields were active with the Central Coast Counties Improvement Association between 1903 and 1906, with Samuel serving as president in the first two years and William serving as vice president in the subsequent years. The organisation was one of a number that supported the expansion of railroading into the peripheries of the Central Coast, to places such as Davenport and San Juan. As such, it is unsurprising to discover in 1907 the route of the San Juan Pacific Railway skirting the north-east edge of the Canfield property as it worked its way south.

Canfield – the name appropriately given to the stop located on the Canfields' ranch – became the site of the first siding build along the San Juan Pacific line. The railroad built a 600-foot track there so the local ranchers and farmers could load hay and stock, and unload general merchandise for their small, rural businesses. Additionally, for the first year or so, Canfield served as an official stop for passenger trains, allowing an easy means for locals to travel to Santa Cruz, San José, or San Francisco for business or vacation. In that first years the stop was catered to three times a day in either direction. It is unknown how frequently the stop was used by passengers or freight customers.

The financial collapse in late 1907 spelled the eventual end of all services along the San Juan Pacific line, while damage from winter storms crippled it. When the route reopened in 1916 as the California Central Railroad, Canfield was not included on the roster. Although the tracks continued past the property until the final dismantling of the route in early 1938, the Canfields could no longer call on passing trains and, presumably, their siding was removed or left to decay.

The fate of the Canfield family is also not entirely known. Samuel married Alice Marion Butler in June 1903. Samuel and Alice moved to San Francisco later in life where he predeceased her. Alice lived until October 1972, dying at the age of 97.  William Canfield remained active in San Benito County to 1919, at least. He was responsible for a short-lived campground installed at Pinnacles National Monument. Nothing is known about his spouse or his date of death, but he did have at least one son who died in 1964. The Canfield brothers have no known relationship with the Canfields of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Official Railroad Information:
Canfield only appeared on official timetables in 1907 and 1908. On these tables, it was noted as 5.5 miles from San Juan Junction, the official end-of-track, which made it 4.5 miles from Chittenden. However, these very clean measurements were entirely off. In reality, Chittenden was only 2.3 miles away along the right-of-way, confirming that the length of the line was 8.0 miles, not the 10.0 the railroad advertised it as.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.875˚N, 121.554˚W

The site of Canfield can be found along the San Juan Highway directly across from its intersection with San Justo Road. The site itself is unmarked but the stop would have been located near the intersection of Anzar Road and San Justo Road. Indeed, everything along San Juan Highway on the west, from the south side of Anzar Road to the southern end of the Berkley Operations and Earthbound Farm complex (on the east side of the road) constituted the Canfield property. Their western boundary was the hillsides. Nothing remains of their ranch now except agricultural fields.

Citations & Credits:
  • Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael), 10/05/1972.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Hollister Free Lance, 02/18/1887.
  • Robertson, Donald B. Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History: Vol 4: California.  Caldwell, ID: Caxton Printers, 1998.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel Evening Sentinel, 1903 – 1913.

Friday, July 8, 2016


In the remote fringe of Santa Cruz County, buttressed between high mountains and closer geographically to Santa Clara and San Benito counties as it is to Watsonville, the small community of Chittenden sits beside Soda Lake. Of all the railroad stops in the Santa Cruz County, this was the most isolated for it is the only stop of the mainline Coast Division of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Santa Cruz County. It also was the first stop in the county.

Map of Rancho Salsipuedes, 1853. (UCSC Special Collections)
Nathaniel W. Chittenden unintentionally leant his name to the station when he settled in what became known as Chittenden Pass around 1870. He had been until that time a lawyer from San Francisco. When he moved to Santa Cruz County, he purchased the eastern corner of Rancho Salsipuedes. The rancho had a long and disputed history, with its origins in a possible land grant to Mariano Castro in 1807, making it one of the few Spanish, rather than Mexican, land grants in the county. It was the second largest rancho in the county, as well, measuring 25,800 acres. Because of its large size and its disputed status, it was one of the first ranchos that was divided up following the American annexation of California. Its last Mexican owner was Manuel Jimeno Casarín. The soil of the rancho as a whole, but especially within the pass between the mountains, is highly fertile and the alkaline Soda Lake, the only such lake in the county, was a source for mineral collection. The road that passed through the pass became a county road in 1894 and it remains one of the primary means of passing between Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties even today. Chittenden died in Watsonville in 1885, after which his lands were divided between his relatives. Idea H., Clara, and Talman Chittenden were his chief beneficiaries.

The Chittenden community center, showing a small general store, c. 1900. (Santa Cruz Public Libraries)
El Pajaro Springs postcard, c. 1910. (
Chittenden as a settlement was never impressive—numbering fewer than 80 residents in 1893. The small community that lived in the gap still managed to establish a post office in April 1893 and kept it running for many years. The railroad station was probably established around the same time under the name "Chittenden's", later dropping the "s". In those early years, one of the primary draws of the region was Chittenden Springs, which was established beside a sulphur hot spring located in the gap. In 1906, the Chittendens sold the spring to A.F. Martel who renamed it El Pajaro Springs, a reference to the Pajaro River that still passes through the pass. In 1918, it was sold again to the St. Francis Hospital of San Francisco and it became St. Francis Springs. The resort was beside Soda Lake.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake damage at Chittenden.
(Granite Rock Company)
The railroad stop at Chittenden was primarily used for freight. Passengers could use the facility as a flag-stop, but no agency office was available there to purchase tickets. No passenger shelter appears to have been built initially. A siding (or pair of sidings) at Chittenden ran along the north side of the tracks, between where the tracks are today and State Route 129, branching off near the first major driveway over the tracks and merging just before where the highway crosses under the tracks. A spur may have run to Soda Lake as there is some topographical evidence of such. If so, this route would be identical to the dirt road that now leads to the lake. Mining operations in the hills continued into at least the 1910s and used the sidings to store waiting cars. In addition, there were vast clay deposits along the banks of the Pajaro River and along Pescadero Creek above Chittenden, which were mined as well. By the early 1900s, Granite Rock Company also used the sidings to store firewood-filled boxcars that were used in their kilns at Logan.

Chittenden's small post office building with a man posing out front, 1900. (Santa Cruz Public Libraries)
Boxcars damaged by the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, at Chittenden.
(Granite Rock Company)
Around the time that Chittenden as a community was fading, the railroad operations out of the station received an unexpected boost. The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 certainly helped in that it increased demand for all building supplies, such as the mineral, clay, and limestone deposits in and around the San Benito and San Juan valleys. For at least a year already, the Ocean Shore Electric Railroad was intending to pass through Chittenden Gap to connect to a proposed mainline route in the San Joaquin Valley. But a group of trigger-happy investors decided that a route to San Juan Bautista would help progress things a bit faster. When negotiations with the Southern Pacific Railroad failed, the group relocated their planned northern terminus from Betabel to Chittenden. The San Juan Pacific Railway was incorporated on May 4, 1907, and construction began almost at once out of Chittenden with the route completed August 30.

Initial plans were to build the railroad's right of way directly under the Southern Pacific tracks with a yard and station built on their northern side. But this goal was for another day. Initially, they crammed in a two-track yard on the south side, between the Southern Pacific tracks and the Pajaro River embankment. A small freight platform and passenger shelter were erected beside the tracks. The tracks were connected to a Southern Pacific siding on either side allowing entry and exit in either direction along the line. Curiously, the railroad had no wye at either end, suggesting there was possibly a turntable somewhere along the line (and potentially at both ends). No evidence for a turnable, however, has been found. The northern water towers were kept at Chittenden just before the Pajaro River bridge crossing to the east.

San Juan Pacific passenger shelter and freight platform at Chittenden, 1908. (Santa Cruz Public Libraries)
For the remainder of its life, Chittenden Station was more a transfer point between the San Juan Pacific (later California Central) and the Southern Pacific. Until early 1909, passengers transferred here for rides down to San Juan Bautista on the "Old Mission Route" and there was occasional bustle at the stop, but that all collapsed pretty quickly when financial difficulties ended passenger service permanently along the line. When the California Central took over in 1912, it did not resume passenger service. From 1916 to 1929, cars from the Old Mission Cement Company plant south of San Juan Bautista would transfer to passing Southern Pacific trains for delivery to various customers. Meanwhile, empties cars or cars with cement supplies would return to the sidings awaiting shuttling back to the plant. This was what kept Chittenden alive for so long. The town's post office had closed June 15, 1923, and the town had disappeared in the meantime. All that was left was a tiny freight transfer yard.

In 1930, the cement plants switched to using trucks exclusively for transport and the California Central essentially ceased to exist. The route rusted and Chittenden became a silent unused flag stop. In 1937, the last train passed up the Old Mission Route, depositing its remaining rolling stock on the Southern Pacific line for sale out of county. The route was dismantled and Chittenden's purpose to the railroad was officially ended. During World War II, Southern Pacific quietly closed Chittenden station on April 7, 1942, and it ceased to be a flag stop. It remained as a potential freight stop into the mid-1950s but was likely never used during this time. El Pajaro Springs is surprisingly still listed on Google Maps as a site to the west of Soda Lake, but no structures appear in the area. The area is classified as unincorporated Santa Cruz County land and, with the exception of a florist, there are no commercial structures remaining in Chittenden today.

Official Railroad Information:
On the Southern Pacific Coast Division, Chittenden Station was 91.9 miles from San Francisco via the mainline track through San José, and it was 28.6 miles from Santa Cruz. It included 123 car lengths of siding and spur space, which may or may not have included a special track to Soda Lake, where a mining firm was always attending to the lake's minerals.

For the San Juan Pacific, Chittenden was mile marker 10.0 along their lines, which set 0.0 miles at San Juan Junction. In the first year of operation, passenger service ran both directions three times per day, but that ended in early 1909. Fewer records are available for the California Central Railroad since it operated freight exclusively along roughly 8 miles of track. Chittenden's mile marker or its trackage capacity are unknown.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.900˚N, 121.601˚W

1917 USGS Map showing Chittenden area with original trackage.
The site of Chittenden Station is accessible from Old Chittenden Road via State Route 129. The station site itself is unmarked but is near the Happy Boy Farms property on the eastern end of the road. The freight yard outline is discernible by the large loop that the road makes away from the tracks before paralleling them. The original site of the San Juan Pacific depot is not known with certainty but at the top of the embankment above the Pajaro River in what is undoubtedly today private land. Trespassing is not advised. Except for the one remaining active Union Pacific track in the area, nothing else remains of Chittenden Station or the historic town except for a few Victorian-era scattered homes.

  • Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2003.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.

Friday, July 1, 2016

San Juan Pacific Railway & California Central Railroad

San Juan Pacific Railway corporate advertising logo.
In the aftermath of the San Francisco Earthquake in April 1906, demand for building materials exponentially increased across the West Coast. Many railroad sprang up in the aftermath, including the San Juan Pacific Railway operating out of Chittenden Station in Santa Cruz County. The primary and initial purpose of this railroad was to connect the San Juan Portal Cement Company plant at the mouth of the San Juan Valley to the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division track eight miles to the north. In addition, the company planned to operate a clay quarry directly out of Chittenden using the reserves found in the hills above the Pajaro River. In the grander scheme of things, this new railway was to serve as an essential component of the larger Ocean Shore Railroad project, acting as a connector between the Ocean Shore & Eastern Railroad, which was anticipated to run between Santa Cruz and Chittenden, and the San Joaquin Valley Western Railroad, which was anticipated to connect Fresno and Hollister. Thus, it is unsurprising to find among the financiers and major employees of this short-line many of the same people who were behind the Ocean Shore project. Indeed, most of the railroad's rolling stock would be Ocean Shore equipment.

Original 500 stock certificate for the San Juan
Pacific Railway Company, 1908.
The San Juan & Chittenden Railway was incorporated by local businesspeople on May 4, 1907. Construction on the route began almost immediately with the only significant bridge being located immediately south of Chittenden over the Pajaro River. The vast majority of this route was in San Benito County but the line proved to be entirely dependent on its connection to the trackage in Santa Cruz. By the end of August, a standard-gauge track had been built to San Juan Bautista and to the site of the cement plant, and soon after the route was completed, materials were shipped over the line to begin the erection of the plant. Not long after the plant was complete, the railroad rebranded itself as the San Juan Pacific Railway and corporate leadership formally shifted to the San Juan Portland Cement Company, the Palmer Oil Company, and the San Joaquin Valley Western Railroad, although all three had doubtlessly played a role in the company's initial incorporation. The initial rolling stock of the railroad was composed of a single retired Southern Pacific locomotive, 17 boxcars, 8 flatcars, and a single passenger-baggage car. The railroad formally opened to the public on September 1, 1907, less than four months after it had been founded.

Unsurprisingly, one immediate problem that the railroad encountered was a negative relationship with the Southern Pacific at Chittenden. Although there were plans to connect the Ocean Shore track at Santa Cruz with the San Juan Pacific track at Chittenden, the Southern Pacific had made this virtually impossible and a junction at Chittenden was required, for which the San Juan Pacific paid dearly. Two transfer tracks installed to the south of the Southern Pacific tracks acted as their holding yard, but the original plan to run the track over or under the Southern Pacific line never came to fruition owing to the failure of the Ocean Shore to connect its lines. Another problem proved to be customers. Much like the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, the San Juan Pacific was dependent partially on local farmers along the route, but the railroad was completed at the tail-end of the growing season forcing the railroad to wait a year before those profits would be realised. Meanwhile, the cement plant was still being constructed and was not expected to open until early 1908.

Thus, passenger service ended up being the railroad's first venture, despite only having a single locomotive and passenger car. In mid-October, the company hired a local coach-driver as the conductor and branded the track "The Old Mission Route" in the hopes that Spanish revivalism and romanticism would draw customers to the isolated and decaying mission. Generally low maintenance costs and public interest in the line kept it alive that first winter. Unfortunately, a financial panic in November 1907 stalled all work on the connecting lines and also stopped construction on the cement plant. Everything hung in the balance.

Meanwhile, another project was underway at the end of the San Juan Pacific route. On August 3, 1907, the narrow-gauged San Juan Southern Railway was incorporated to connect the cement plant to the limestone sources in San Juan Canyon. The overenthusiastic goals of the project visualised a six-mile track to a site called Flintsville, i.e. Thomas Flint's ranch. Furthermore, plans were put in place to extend this track another six miles to the Underwood Ranch. Ultimately, three miles was built by the time the November panic forced construction to halt. Whether the track was ever used is another question. There are no records attesting to narrow-gauged rolling stock owned by the company and the track, even if it were used. Company timetables in February 1908, however, suggest, probably inaccurately, that the track was not only used, but did in fact extend up to Underwood. But Interstate Commerce Commission records report in June 1909 that only three miles were built and it was no longer in use. Regardless, any evidence of this route has been removed by later roads that have since been built on the company's right-of-way.

Things went badly for the San Juan Pacific after 1907. Revenue was severely down because of the panic and the cement plant was hardly functioning. Passenger serves ended in May, 1908, freight was infrequent. A harsh winter in early 1910 washed out track near the Pajaro River and it took months to repair them, and then in March 1911, the bridge over the river collapsed in a storm. It was not repaired until July, but by then it was too late. The company ceased all operations in November and was put up for sale in January 1912.

For six months, the San Juan Pacific was a dead entity. Then, on May 12, 1912, a new organisation called the California Central Railroad was founded to attempt to rehabilitate the former right-of-way and put it to use. The purchaser was the Old Mission Cement Company, a new corporation that purchased the abandoned San Juan Portland Cement plant and all of its stocks, including those in the San Juan Pacific. This new railroad would not have the grandiose plans of its predecessor (although it would advertise them from time-to-time) and its corporate management would be entirely linked to the fate of the cement company. Only eight miles of track were maintained, that between Chittenden and the cement plant near San Juan Junction. From 1912 to 1916, the railroad was mostly a conveyor of equipment to the plant, which reopened in 1916.

Old Mission Cement Company plant near San Juan, with tracks visible in the background and at left, c. 1915.
Photo by S.D. Leman. []
From 1916 to 1929, the railroad operated daily, carrying cement, gypsum, oil, sugar beets, and general agricultural goods between the cement plant and the Southern Pacific mainline tracks. This new route leased a Southern Pacific locomotive in 1919 which completely replaced the old engine in 1923. In 1927, an old Ocean Shore locomotive, long since disused, was transferred to the line and replaced the leased Southern Pacific locomotive. The old rolling stock was eventually phased out for borrowed and leased Southern Pacific stock, and it is unclear if the railroad even had a passenger car after the old one was retired in 1919.

Map of the California Central Railroad route, c. 1915. Drawn by C.A. Logan. []
The Old Mission Cement Plant continued to operate until 1927 when it was taken over the the Portland Cement Company. The Great Depression forced the closure of that latter in late 1929 and the railroad ceased all service December 15, 1930. For the next seven years, the tracks rotted along their route, too expensive and unprofitable to remove but also too expensive to maintain. In December 1937, the old Ocean Shore locomotive ran one last time along the route, where at Chittenden it drove to Gerlach, Nevada, to start a new life. The tracks were illegally removed soon afterwards. The Interstate Commerce Commission officially granted the company the right to abandon the line on December 31, 1943. The cement plant reopened in 1941, but without using the tracks. It continued to operate into the mid-1970s.

The Route Today:
The tracks still in place near San Juan Junction. []
Very little survives of the Old Mission Route. No trace of the bridge over the Pajaro River appears to still exist, owing undoubtedly to the violent nature of the river during storms. The route followed State Route 129 to the south through River Oaks before crossing near the confluence of Pescadero Creek. From there it stuck closely to the north side of CA129, diverging with it at the California 101 intersection. From here, the route crosses through fields and the Anzar High School campus before merging with San Juan Road, diverging with that near the Prescott Road intersection. The route continues in a straight path until gently turning due-south around the eastern side of San Juan Bautista. The San Juan Station was located between CA156 and Nyland Drive. The route continued due south from here to the cement plant, ruins of which still survive off of San Juan Canyon Road just before entering the canyon. Unremoved tracks can only be seen in the road at the intersection of The Alameda and Mission Vineyard Road. Indeed, an unnamed road and San Juan Canyon Road (G1) briefly flank the former right-of-way south of this intersection. The route of the narrow-gauged San Juan Southern is easier to follow as it sticks to the corse of the western road that runs through San Juan Canyon. How long this route ultimately went is not entirely certain, although three miles of it were definitely attested to by multiple primary sources. Except for the extant roads built atop the right-of-way and the one instance of surviving track, nothing else appears to remain of this railroad.

A plaque commemorating the railroad was erected by E Clampus Vitus and can be found on Mission Vineyard Road beside the San Juan Inn.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clough, Charles W. and Bobbye Sisk Temple. San Juan Bautista: The Town, the Mission & the Park. Quill Driver Books, 1996.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Nanney, Duncan. Personal correspondence.
  • Pepper, George. Personal correspondence.
  • Robertson, Donald B. Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History: Vol 4: California. Caxton Press, 1986. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad

William “Billy” Jones was a San Lorenzo Valley native who began his career working for the Southern Pacific Railroad at the age of 13 in 1897. For the next 54 years, he became a mainstay of the local railroad industry, running engines all along the California coast. It was late in his career, in 1939, when he found a one-third scale, 18- inch-gauged steam locomotive in a shipping warehouse.1 It had been originally built for the Venice Miniature Railway by the Johnson Machine Works of Los Angeles in 1905, but had been abandoned with the closure of the miniature railroad in February 1925. Its history for the next fourteen years is mostly unknown, with it eventually falling into the hands of a local machinist who purchased and relocated the locomotive from Los Angeles to San Francisco.2 Jones bought the small locomotive and brought it to his Los Gatos prune ranch on Daves Avenue where he spent the next four years restoring the engine.3 His intention was to rebuild the locomotive with the help of his two sons as a family project, but both sons tragically died while fighting in World War II. Jones decided to continue the restoration as a memorial for his sons. Over the years, he partnered with Louis MacDermot to build miniature passenger cars to support the burgeoning railroad.

BJW #2 on the track at the Jones Ranch, 2 May 1951 [Charles Givens]
In 1943, Jones opened up the Wildcat Railroad on his property, free of charge to the public. The trains could hold up to 90 passengers at a time.4 Jones retired from the Southern Pacific in 1949, after which he devoted himself full-time to his miniature railroad. Walt Disney, another miniature railroad fan, became an acquaintance of Jones around 1948 and Jones visited Disneyland frequently, even running the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad during its first week of operations in 1955. Jones's railroad was immensely popular with the Los Gatos community, and Jones himself was a well-known philanthropist, donating money to children’s hospitals and local non-profits.5 Jones eventually died of leukemia on January 10, 1968.6

Opening day of the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad at Oak Meadow Park, 1970. [Robert Turner]
Fortunately, Jones’s family and a lot of locals wished to preserve the miniature railroad for future generations of Los Gatans. They founded Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad, Inc., a non-profit charity focused on family entertainment and education. The train and facilities were moved from Jones’s ranch to Oak Meadow Park beside Vasona Park where an engine house and passenger depot were built for the train. Over a mile of track would be built in the following years to support the train, including two bridges over Los Gatos Creek, one of which was constructed from a disused Southern Pacific flatcar.7 Most of the trackage is within the adjacent Vasona Park, though the depot and maintenance facilities are in Oak Meadow Park. The railroad began operations at its new location on July 26, 1970.8 The attraction is now one of the most popular tourist features in Los Gatos, bringing in over 100,000 riders each year.

BJW #2 at the depot fuelling up for a day around the track at Oak Meadow Park. [Ed Kelley]
The original railroad was expanded in 1993 by the addition of a miniature diesel locomotive numbered 2502. It was built by Custom Locomotive Works of Chicago and donated to the railroad by Al Smith, founder of Orchard Supply Hardware and operator of the miniature Swanton Pacific Railroad north of Davenport.It now acts as the pinch hitter for the original steam locomotive, numbered 2. Another diesel, #3502, joined the Billy Jones fleet in 2005, while a custom-built electric engine went into service at around the same time to assist with track maintenance. Finally, a fifth engine and second steam engine joined in April 2013.10

BJW Diesel #2502 running along the track in Vasona Park. [Marcel Marchon]
Bill Mason Carousel at Oak Meadow Park. [TripAdvisor]
For additional entertainment, the Town of Los Gatos added a carousel to Oak Meadow Park in 1991 following a decade of restoration work. The carousel dated to 1915 and was built for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. The restoration work became a community affair with dozens of local artists assisting in painting the wooden horses and the decorations on and around the carousel. A Wurlitzer band organ was installed, as well, to provide music for the ride.11 The carousel was dedicated to the memory of William E. Mason, a civic-minded man who ran the non-profit Wildcat Railroad for many years after Jones’s death.12

The Railroad Today:

BJW Diesel #3502 in Vasona Park. [John L. @ Yelp]
The Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad runs year-round with weekly service in the summer and on weekends during the remainder of the year. The surrounding Oak Meadow Park was established by the Town of Los Gatos in 1958 to replace Memorial Park which was
demolished to create State Route 17.13 When it first opened, the park sat on the eastern edge of the Southern Pacific Railroad right-of-way which became soon after University Avenue. The Southern Pacific Railroad tracks were removed in 1959, but the railroad’s legacy lives on today through Billy Jones and the miniature railroad that he built.

Citations & Credits:
  1. Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad and W.E. ‘Bill’ Mason Carousel,” Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad.
  2. Panacy, Peter, “Venice Miniature Railway: A Brief History and Its Influence on the Billy JonesWildcat Railroad,” 10.
  3. “Billy Jones."
  4. Bruntz, George G., The History of Los Gatos: Gem of the Foothills (Fresno, CA: Valley Publishers, 1971), 149.
  5. “Billy Jones."
  6. Kelley, Edward and Peggy Conaway, Images of Rail: Railroads of Los Gatos (Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia, 2006), 68. 
  7. “Billy Jones."
  8. Kelley & Conaway, 110.
  9. “Billy Jones”; Kelley & Conaway, 123.
  10. "Billy Jones."
  11. “Billy Jones."
  12. Bergtold, Peggy Conaway, and Stephanie Ross Mathews, Legendary Locals of Los Gatos (Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia, 2014), 74.
  13. Oak Meadow Park," Town of Los Gatos, California.
Text from this page derives from Derek Whaley, Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains (Santa Cruz, CA: 2015), 191-193. Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Santa Cruz County Railroading since 1996

In 1937, the last independent railroad operation in Santa Cruz County ended leaving the entire county under the control of the Southern Pacific Railroad. This remained the situation until 1985, when the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway, operated by Roaring Camp, purchased the trackage between Santa Cruz Depot and Olympia. What was left—the track between Pajaro and Davenport along the coast—survived another decade before modernity finally caught up with the bullying tactics of the Southern Pacific, leading to its final demise. In its wake, the railroading history in Santa Cruz County changed drastically and continues to evolve even today.

Union Pacific Railroad (1996 – 2013)
The history of the Union Pacific Railroad is virtually the history of railroading in the United States itself. The enterprise was founded July 1, 1862, via an act of Congress with the goal of connecting to the Central Pacific Railroad thereby creating the first transcontinental connection. This goal was accomplished May 10, 1869, and the two companies largely diverged from there. While the Central Pacific was eventually subsumed into the Southern Pacific Railroad (the final merger was not completed until 1959), the Union Pacific remained the predominant operation between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. For well over a century, it operated in concert with other companies, the Southern Pacific among them, but it never had much real estate in California except for the trackage of the Western Pacific Railroad, which it purchased in December 1982. That being said, from 1901, the Union Pacific actually owned the Southern Pacific, but they ran as separate operations until the Supreme Court broke the trust in 1913.

By 1988, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company was suffering and was abandoning track anywhere it could justify it. Rio Grande Industries purchased the company outright and then expanded the Southern Pacific name to all its franchies (such as the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad). But this still was not enough to keep it alive. In 1996, a second merger of the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads was approved and the former entity ceased to be. Despite Southern Pacific acting as the majority party in the merger, Union Pacific chose to reincorporate under its own name, ending the existence of the Southern Pacific.

In Santa Cruz County, this had little immediate impact. Operations in the county were already irregular except for the Davenport cement plant traffic, and Union Pacific honestly had many other things to worry about elsewhere in the country. Still, between 1998 and 2003, unused sidings and spurs across the county disappeared, as evidenced by before-and-after SPINS maps produced by the railroad. In Watsonville and Watsonville Junction, around half of the sidings were removed or truncated to service the businesses that still utilised them. At Santa Cruz, all of the excess sidings and spurs were removed except for a single maintenance spur and the wye. Just outside the county, Union Pacific made a more drastic move by completely abandoning the remaining track between Castroville and Seaside, near Monterey, in 1999. Union Pacific chose to leave the track behind and simply remove the switch and junction track at Castroville, thereby disconnecting the Monterey Branch.

With the final closure of the Cement Plant in 2010, the Union Pacific was more keen to abandon the Santa Cruz Branch as it had the Monterey Branch a decade before. The remaining industries using the line – mostly ProBuild and Big Creek Lumber – were just as capable of using trucks, so Union Pacific threw in the towel. They sold the route to Santa Cruz County October 12, 2012. Union Pacific retrains ownership of half-a-dozen spurs at the Davenport cement plant, but otherwise all trackage in the county is now owned either by the county itself or Roaring Camp Railroads.

For more on the Union Pacific, see their website:

Sierra Northern Railroad (2010 – 2011)
Sierra Northern Railroad acted as the common carrier along the Santa Cruz Branch in 2010 and 2011, although the tracks remained Union Pacific Railroad property the entire time. Sierra Northern was formed out of a merger of multiple lines, including the Eccles & Eastern Railroad, incorporated by Karl and Burneda Koenig and Rick and Carol Hamman in 1988. This company had sought the common carrier license from Southern Pacific for the county, but was denied, severely limiting the railroad's potential. In 1995, it reincorporated as the Sierra Pacific Coast Railway and left the county. An entirely different entity, the Sierra Railroad, had been established in 1897 to connect the Central Valley to the Gold Country. In 1980, Sierra Railroad was sold to Silverfoot Inc., which in turn sold the railroad to the Sierra Pacific Coast in 1995. The combined Sierra Railroad and Sierra Pacific Coast purchased the Yolo Shortline Railway in 2003 and from this merger emerged the Sierra Northern Railway, a common carrier line that operates freight and passenger services on roughly 100 miles of California right-of-way.

A Sierra Northern train passing in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's Casino Arcade, 2009. [Wikipedia]
Knowing that the cement plant would be closing, Union Pacific was eager to give common carrier privileges to Sierra Northern, which ended up being responsible for transporting the moveable machinery out of Davenport. But the venture proved unprofitable to Sierra Northern, which had to travel outside of its usual zone to reach Santa Cruz. The group reneged on its contract in December 2011, a year after county voters approved the purchase of the Santa Cruz Branch from the Union Pacific. After spending over a million dollars in repairs, they left, forcing the county to look to new common carriers to continue rail operations on the line.

For more on Sierra Northern, see their website:

Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway (2012 – Present)
Since around 2000, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission had sought a referendum on the purchase of the former Southern Pacific Santa Cruz Branch so that the line could be controlled more directly by county voters. Finally, on May 6, 2010, the people voted to purchase the line for $14.2 million. Funding was secured by January 2011 and the final purchase was finished October 12, 2012. However, since the Sierra Northern had departed the county, the commission was left with the difficult task of finding a new common carrier, and one that they felt they could control more directly. On May 17, 2012, after five months of no railroad service or licensed common carriers on the line, the commission approved a contract for Iowa Pacific Holdings to become the new common carrier in Santa Cruz County, operating through the newly-incorporated subsidiary "Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway Company".

The Train to Christmas Town, 2012, in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's Casino Arcade [Lance Nix]
Iowa Pacific was incorporated as an international railroad company in 2001 based out of Chicago. It owns numerous subsidiaries in over a dozen states, as well as two railways in the United Kingdom which operate as the British American Railway Services. The carrier is licensed in the county to operate both freight and passenger services, although it is taking considerable time to ensure the quality of the right-of-ways for the latter. Currently, other than occasional freight service, the railroad has operated the Train to Christmas Town seasonal event, which in 2012 ran between the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Wilder Ranch, but in later years has operated outside Watsonville. There is hope – hinted at in the title of the railway – that through rail service to Monterey can once again be opened, but significant obstacles remain in the way before such a goal can be accomplished. For the moment, the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway operates whenever it is able and is working daily to improve the quality, security, and longevity of the Santa Cruz Branch line, in cooperation with the Regional Transportation Committee.

For more on Iowa Pacific, see their website:

Citations & Credits: