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, 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:

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Origins of Santa Cruz County Railroading

Two companies specifically spearheaded the earliest attempts to bring railroading into Santa Cruz County. While neither succeeded, these early railroad companies set the precedents that were followed by later lines.

The San Lorenzo Valley Rail Road Company (1861 – 1874)
Santa Cruz County's first railroad company predated the founding of the Union Pacific Railroad by a year. Had it ever been completed, it would have been the first narrow-gauged railroad in California and one of the most ambitious routes ever attempted. Founded on May 20, 1861, the San Lorenzo Valley Rail Road would have been the very definition of a frontier route. The founders, primarily Frederick Augustus Hihn, sought to tame the San Lorenzo Valley gorge between Santa Cruz and the turkey foot, where Boulder Creek, Bear Creek, and the San Lorenzo River intersect – an ambitious 16-mile route that would have potentially eliminated the contemporary problems that stopped the lumber companies from attempting more ambitious mills in the region. Funding for this early railroad was quite forthcoming, but money was not the reason the company went bust. Property ended up being the stumbling block. When California became a state in 1850, it was still divided into hundreds of large ranchos largely held by Californios or the East Coast Americans who married into their families. Furthermore, despite the small size of Santa Cruz County, the very nature of local government was still in flux. Neither Watsonville or Santa Cruz were large enough towns to be considered cities, and the regional population was so dispersed that anything, from lawmaking to gathering funds, took a significant amount of time. Frederick Hihn wanted his railroad and he wanted it now.

The Civil War ended up becoming the biggest stumbling block as it caused too much uncertainty for people to really commit money to a railroad. In 1866, plans finally gained traction again and some were even talking about extending the line to Saratoga. An engineer even surveyed the route and estimated that only a single half-mile tunnel under Castle Rock Ridge would be required to connect the two points. But the money was just not there and other problems were brewing for the ambitious railroad. Construction on the San Lorenzo Valley Railroad finally began in 1868. The plan was to closely follow the course of the river through the San Lorenzo gorge, criss-crossing the river whenever necessary and boring a tunnel through the hogsback rock outcropping just north of the California Powder Works. Initially plans were only to take the right-of-way to Felton, with a later intent to extend it to Boulder. Grading began in multiple locations along the proposed routes, with dynamite crews blasting where necessary and other crews working from both Santa Cruz and Felton. Most of the timber for the crossties and trestles was cut directly along the right-of-way, which was the railroad's undoing. The majority of the route was owned by Isaac Davis and Henry Cowell, who used their land to fuel the fires of their limekilns on the modern-day University of California campus. Hihn and his crew, who wanted to streamline the building process, filed condemnation orders against Davis-Cowell land since it was currently unused. In response, David-Cowell filed an injunction in July 1868, essentially ending the San Lorenzo Valley Rail Road before a single track was placed.

"On the grade of the Felton, Sta Cruz Co, Calif.", circa 1865,
showing San Lorenzo gorge and the original route of Highway 9. [Bancroft]
Although the law was technically on the side of the railroad at the first court hearing in August 1868, matters became serious when Davis and Cowell appealed the case and the issue was resolved in their favor. For the next three years, the railroad would languish, partially completed while the parties built up further legal cases. In March 1871, the railroad reorganised itself and announced plans to extend the line to San José. Furthermore, it decided to appeal the appellate court decision to the state Supreme Court. In a landmark decision (Case No, 1828) in January 1874, the judiciary announced that since the original railroad act of 1863 made no provision for compensation for lands or items used on private property for public purposes, it violated the constitutional right to property and was unconstitutional. Suddenly, the San Lorenzo Valley Rail Road would have to pay for both the property it crossed and anything they used on that property. In other words, the railroad, which always struggled with its finances, was dead. The financiers pulled out, with many of them transitioning to the entire separate Santa Cruz Railroad Company, and the San Lorenzo Valley Rail Road disappeared into the history books.

Rick Hamman, in his 2002 second edition of California Central Coast Railways, states that parts of this right-of-way are still observable low in the San Lorenzo gorge in places, although these spots are not entirely easy to locate. Unlike the later route, which worked with the Davis-Cowell consortium, the earlier route remained very low in the gorge until roughly the modern-day site of the Big Trees truss bridge. Thus, those seeking to find traces of this never-completed route must look hard and long, following bike and pedestrian trails and obscure deer paths.

The California Coast Railroad Company (1867 – 1870)
When the San Francisco & San José Railroad was still an isolated line than ran before its titular cities, the people of the Pajaro Valley were already eager for a connection out of the county. Five years of rail talk in local newspapers and high shipping rates from the port of Santa Cruz likely facilitated this growing tide of interest in a rail link. On June 22, 1867, Frederick A. Hihn, Nathaniel W. Chittenden, and other prominent locals that owned properties between Gilroy and Watsonville incorporated the California Coast Railroad Company. Their intention was to connect with the San Francisco & San José Railroad, which planned to extend their track to Gilroy using a subsidiary, the Santa Clara & Pajaro Valley Railroad. Together, these two routes would constitute a connection between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. Work on the Santa Clara & Pajaro Valley Railroad began in February 1868, prompting the California Coast Railroad owners to begin selling stock and gathering funds. In such a sparsely-populated region, though, this proved quite difficult. Even though steam trains began arriving at Gilroy Depot in 1869, the California Coast Railroad was barely making any progress at all.

Meanwhile, the Santa Clara & Pajaro Valley Railroad had merged with its parent company to become the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, under the leadership of the Big Four, owners of the Central Pacific. Although that railroad's initial plans had been to divert into the San Joaquin Valley via Hollister, surveyors decided that an easier path would pass through the Pajaro Valley and then down the Salinas Valley. They incorporated the paper company, the California Southern Railroad, to accomplish this task. Suddenly, the entire purpose of the nascent California Coast Railroad Company was about to become moot. Although it remained an entity in the books for the following year, the news released by the Southern Pacific killed any lingering plans for the California Coast Railroad. On March 5, 1870, a new railroad bill passed through the California State Assembly and the California Coast Railroad was never mentioned again. The Southern Pacific had done the job for the county and promised to bring rail to the lower Pajaro Valley. Local participation was no longer required.

Citations & Credits:
  • Hall, John. "Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad"., 2015.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, 1861 – 1870.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Dougherty Extension Railroad

1887 was not the best year for the San José-based Santa Clara Mill & Lumber Company. In this year their largest redwood logging operation was located far up Zayante Creek, approximately 5.4 miles from Felton Depot. Nearly half the route to the mill was via a precariously-built switchback line that largely follows modern-day Zayante Road from Waner Way to Mountain Charlie Gulch. Just to make matters more annoying for the firm, another 2 miles of cheaply-constructed, rickety track continued out from the mill to reach the timber tracts. Then, in the early summer of 1887, the entire mill burned to the ground. While this was not an unusual occurrence for a lumber mill, it came right when the lumber company was wrapping up operations along Zayante Creek. With few other options, the firm rebuilt their mill and continued to the end of the season, at which point they scrapped their mill and abandoned their short-lived railroad. This 4-mile-long route constituted the first Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company railroad, but it was not their most famous line.

Yard workers at Boulder Creek along one of the Dougherty tracks, c. 1890s. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
Another interesting development occurred in 1887 completely unrelated to the lumber company: the Southern Pacific took control of the South Pacific Coast Railroad, including its 7-mile narrow-gauged line that ran between Felton and Boulder Creek. This short route had been completed in early 1885 to replace the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Transportation Company lumber flume that meandered up the valley to a point above Boulder Creek. Fortunately for the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, much of the timber tracts north of there were owned by them and remained relatively untouched due to the low efficiency of the flume and the readier access to timber from other sources. But in the autumn of 1887, the company shifted its focus to the upper San Lorenzo Valley and decided that the best way to get their lumber to market was with a railroad. Surveying and grading began soon after.

The tracks at Doughertys Mill, looking north. Note the triple trackage, with the route at left heading remaining on the west bank of the San Lorenzo River where an engine house was kept and the other two tracks crossing the river here to access the main Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company planing mill, c. 1890s. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
Popularly known by contemporaries as the Dougherty Extension Railroad, after company majority share-holders William and James Dougherty, this remote one-way, single-track, short-line railroad became a living entity in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Initially only built slightly beyond the new Dougherty lumber mill – modern-day Riverside Grove – roughly 3.5 miles north of Boulder Creek, it soon meandered north until it finally reached its ultimate terminus in 1900 at Tin Can Creek, 7.5 miles from Boulder Creek. In addition, it had sidings and spurs at the Cunningham Mill (Wildwood), Doughertys (Riverside Grove), Sinnot Switch, McGaffigan's Switch, and Waterman Switch, and a long private spur to the Chase Mill on Feeder Creek (additional spurs may have serviced the Harmon Mill, the McAbee Mill, and the Hihn-Hammond Mill on King Creek). This route was always first-and-foremost a freight line. By 1899, it had helped Boulder Creek become the fifth largest lumber exporter in the United States. And cost-cutting measures were found all around to maximize profits. North of the Cunningham Mill, the railroad cross-ties were small and generally made of subpar wood, the rails were second-hand, and the bridges were made of felled redwood trees. Between Boulder Creek and Cunninghams, the mill owners decided to use higher-quality material, partially because winter rains had a habit of washing out weaker bridges and partially because the route had become a popular tourist line in the summers.

A camping trip to Wildwood, c. 1914. Note the truss bridge in the background over the San Lorenzo River.
In 1902, the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company closed shop and tore up its mill. Most of the other railroad patrons, except the Hihn-Hammond mill, had already abandoned their own spurs. But the line was not scrapped. Instead, a new conglomerate was founded in April 1903 under the name California Timber Company with the widows of the Dougherty brothers as major share-holders. Within a few months, virtually all of the smaller timber firms in the area were consolidated under this new umbrella company. The California Timber Company sought to harvest the headwaters of Pescadero Creek and they intended to once more put the railroad to use hauling that timber from Waterman Switch to Boulder Creek. Thus, for another decade, the railroad lived on as an intermediary even though all of its other customer base had left. It's name had changed to reflect its new ownership and was usually called either the Middleton Railroad, after investor Henry Middleton, or the Boulder Creek & Pescadero Railroad, after the long-held desire to connect the two titular cities. At the same time, housing subdivisions were parcelled out of the lands of the former Cunningham Mill, creating Wildwood #1 and #2 (across the river from each other). From 1909 to 1915, tourists and potential homeowners would ride a little electric car up to Wildwood. Then, suddenly, they stopped. The logging at Waterman Gap had ceased in 1912 and maintenance of the remaining 2-mile route was becoming costly compared to the low returns for Wildwood property sales. The route was abandoned just like that. In 1917, the tracks were scrapped to be repurposed for use in World War I. The ties were left behind, where in many places they remain today, reminders of the legacy of logging in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Passengers on the electric motor car at Wildwood, c. 1914.
What is perhaps the most surprising feature of the Dougherty Extension Railroad, however, is not what it did, but what it almost did. In 1905, plans were apace to convert the 5-mile track to Sinnott Switch, as well as the 1-mile former right-of-way to the Chase Mill into a Southern Pacific mainline track to Pescadero via a long tunnel to the Pescadero Creek basin. Indeed, two major surveys were conducted by the railroad to complete this route. Only the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake shelved the project when Southern Pacific was forced to reallocate resources elsewhere and the company records regarding the proposed track were burned in the San Francisco fires (records of the proposed route mostly survive from newspaper articles). The year after the earthquake, however, new plans were announced to build two lines, with on going to Pescadero and the other to Saratoga via Congress Springs. A roughly 2.5-mile-long tunnel would be bored beneath modern-day Castle Rock State Park connecting the line to the track at Congress Springs in one of the most ambitious plans yet. Unsurprisingly, this route proved infeasible once the stock market crashed in 1907 and again in 1911.  In 1916, plans were once again announced for a line to Pescadero since the Pescadero basin remained the only relatively untapped timber tract in the region, but World War I put a halt to any plans there. Meanwhile, in 1912, plans were apace to built a route up King's Creek (likely following a line already in place to service the Hihn-Hammond Mill on Logan Creek). This route would connect boulder Creek more directly with the Los Gatos Creek valley making the circuitous route through Felton and over the summit unnecessary. But this plan fell through as well. In the end, Southern Pacific Railroad never purchased any of the Dougherty Extension Railroad line and the line disappeared into history.

The Route Today: 
A surprisingly large amount of this route still survives intact today, 120 years after it was first installed. From the first bridge over the San Lorenzo River north of Boulder Creek, the railroad right-of-way sits comfortably between State Route 9 and the river, where one may catch glimpses of it at times, although there are many homes now built atop the former track. At Wildwood (Pleasant Way) the route continues along River Road, eventually crossing Camp Campbell and Camp Harmon. From Teilh Drive, it once again sits between Highway 9 and the river until reaching Fern Drive. The route crosses the river at roughly the same spot where Fern Drive bridges the river, and the right-of-way continues north along the west bank from this point onward. At the Saratoga Toll Road, one can actually see the best traces of the right-of-way since many of the original ties remain in place. If one crosses Highway 9 on foot from across the entrance to the Saratoga Toll Road, they will find the right-of-way in a shallow cut. They can continue following this route for roughly 0.5 miles before encountering private property (all of this property is part of Castle Rock State Park). You may also follow the right-of-way to the north, although it becomes increasingly overgrown and difficult to navigate and there is an abundance of poison oak in the area. The route continues north, crossing the river at least five times, before ultimately ending at a large old stump near Tin Can Creek.

A section of surviving right-of-way near the junction Saratoga Toll Road and State Route 9. [Derek Whaley]
Citations & Credits:
  • Nanney, Duncan. Personal correspondence.
  • Pepper, George. Personal correspondence.
  • Santa Cruz Evening News, 1908 – 1917.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, Weekly Sentinel and Evening Sentinel, 1885 – 1917.
  • Whaley, Derek. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, 2015.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Southern Pacific Railroad Subsidiaries

From the time that the Southern Pacific Railroad Company first entered the Pajaro Valley in 1869 until their ultimate merger into the Union Pacific Railroad in 1996, their main method of expanding routes and acquiring properties has been via wholly-owned subsidiary companies and entirely fictitious paper companies. This is a brief chronological history of those corporations.

The Santa Clara & Pajaro Valley Rail Road Company (1868 – 1870)
Acting as one of the first major paper company of the nascent Southern Pacific Railroad, this short-lived corporation was founded on January 2, 1868. Its initial goal was to connect San José to Gilroy via a 30-mile-long track; however, it accomplished this entirely by means of Southern Pacific Railroad machinery, rolling stock, and even property deeds. The precise reason for this company's existence, therefore, is highly questionable. It seems that the main purpose was to lessen fears by local land owners that their land was being purchased by the rapidly-growing Southern Pacific Railroad. If this were the case, they largely failed as local newspapers reported the railroad's construction progress under the name Southern Pacific and it seems unlikely that the plan deceived many. The route was opened to Gilroy on March 13, 1869. Through the completion of this route, railroad traffic could flow fluidly between Gilroy and San Francisco using another subsidiary, the San Francisco & San José Railroad, which ran along the inside south-western edge of the San Francisco Bay (as it still does today). This route also anticipated the railroad's next move into the Pajaro Valley. The railroad was merged into the Southern Pacific Railroad Company in October 1870 and became an essential part of its original trunk line.

Map showing the Southern Pacific Railroad Company holdings
as of 1907. [Wx4 Southern Pacific Pages]
The California Southern Railroad Company (1870)
This paper company which was incorporated in early 1870 appears to have existed for the sole purpose of purchasing land along the future right-of-way between Gilroy and Pajaro, as well as trackage to Hollister and even possibly into the San Joaquin Valley. In reality, this company never appears to have operated any trackage or rolling stock, and its short life suggests the entire idea of this railroad was a mistake or that the railroad had served its purpose in a short manner of time. Nonetheless, it, along with the Santa Clara & Pajaro Valley and the San Francisco & San José railroads were merged into the Southern Pacific Railroad Company in October 1870. Another subsidiary in Southern California would later pick up the name "California Southern" and operate using that throughout the 1880s.

The trackage between Gilroy and Hollister was built next by the Southern Pacific directly in 1870, while a branch line was completed to Pajaro on November 27, 1871. Soon afterwards, plans to continue through Hollister into the San Joaquin Valley were abandoned and the Pajaro route became the new mainline track. The route was extended to Salinas and completed November 1, 1872. All three of these later construction projects were done directly through Southern Pacific rather than through a subsidiary.

Monterey Railroad Company (1880 – 1888)
The somewhat failed experiment that was the Monterey & Salinas Valley Rail Road Company met its end on December 22, 1879, when the Southern Pacific purchased the company at auction. Even before the company was founded, however, Southern Pacific crews were already grading and laying rails between Castroville and Bardin (Marina), where the Monterey & Salinas Valley track turned to Salinas. Once the line was purchased by Southern Pacific, the new Monterey Railroad Company abandoned the 6.4 miles between Bardin and Salinas and replaced them with the new route between Castroville and Bardin. At the same time, they upgraded all of the track to standard-gauge. The original route between Salinas and the Monterey Wharf, therefore, became a new route between Castroville and the wharf. This company was formally merged into the Southern Pacific Railroad on May 14, 1888, and became the Monterey Branch of the Coast Division.

Loma Prieta Railroad Company (1882 – 1884)
The Loma Prieta Railroad was actually the first dedicated standard-gauged railroad constructed in Santa Cruz County. Although technically founded as an independent company, in reality its board of directors were Southern Pacific executives and its operation was built off of the Santa Cruz Railroad track which had been acquired by Southern Pacific in 1881. The construction of the Loma Prieta Railroad route took the better part of two years from its incorporation on July 10, 1882, and much of the route was built dual-gauged with plans to remove the inner track once the mill itself became operational. That railroad's operational life began on November 13, 1883, but the railroad had to wait for its primary patron, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, to get its act together first. The company formed on November 14—the very next day—but it was not able to begin operations until the following spring. The railroad, sitting largely idle during this time, only came into regular use beginning June 2, 1884, and the next day, the Loma Prieta Railroad Company ceased to exist and became the Loma Prieta Branch of the newly-formed, wholly-owned Southern Pacific subsidiary company, the Pajaro & Santa Cruz Railroad.

Pajaro & Santa Cruz Railroad (1884 – 1888)
Incorporated on June 3, 1884, through the merger of the once-independent Santa Cruz Railroad and the Loma Prieta Railroad, the Pajaro & Santa Cruz Railroad was a convenient shell company of the Southern Pacific Railroad to manage its original Santa Cruz County trackage. In most cases, the two former railroads continued to operate under their former names in this time. Little construction was done on the line during these years, either, except for a two-mile extension of the Loma Prieta Branch which connected the mill to the harvesting area at Monte Vista (#1). This company was formally merged into the Southern Pacific May 14, 1888, after which it operated briefly as the Santa Cruz Division and then as the Santa Cruz Branch and the Loma Prieta Branch. The Santa Cruz Branch remains the operational portion of track in Santa Cruz County between Watsonville Junction and Santa Cruz Station.

A map depicting the combined holdings of the South Pacific
Coast Railway Company as of 1887. [Bruce MacGregor]
South Pacific Coast Railway Company (1887 – 1937)
In 1887, James Fair, the president of the South Pacific Coast Railroad Company, the Felton & Pescadero Railroad Company, the Santa Cruz & Felton Rail Road Company, and a number of other Bay Area operations, decided that he wanted to retire from the railroading business. On May 23, he consolidated all of his various subsidiaries into the unified South Pacific Coast Railway Company and  then, on July 1, 1887, sold most of his shares in the organisation to the Southern Pacific Railroad, essentially turning it into a wholly-owned subsidiary of the latter. For two decades, the South Pacific Coast operated virtually autonomous from other Bay Area systems due to the narrow-gauged nature of its tracks. During this time, the route was known alternatively as the South Pacific Coast or the Coast Division—Narrow Gauge, but as the first decade of the 1900s continued, the tracks were slowly converted to standard-gauge and eventually the route lost its separate identity. When it was formally merged into the Southern Pacific Railroad Company on December 2, 1937, few people noticed. Most had assumed the company had been absorbed thirty years earlier. Much of the trackage remains today throughout the Bay Area. In Santa Cruz County, however, only the Roaring Camp Railroads-owned track between Eccles and Santa Cruz Station survive.

Monterey Extension Railroad Company (1888)
An ambitious plan to extend the Monterey Railroad track to Carmel was seized by the Southern Pacific when on January 6, 1888, it incorporated the Monterey Extension Railroad Company. In reality, this appears to have been no more than a paper company intended to purchase the necessary rights-of-way between the Monterey wharf and Carmel, a route planned to pass through Pacific Grove. However, on May 14, 1888, this line, too, was merged into the parent Southern Pacific Railroad, which then became responsible for extending the line. This route was finally begun in late 1888 and completed to Lake Majella in 1889, but no railroad line ever reached Carmel.

Coast Line Railroad (1905 – 1917)
In 1905, competition to create and complete a route connecting Santa Cruz to San Francisco along the coast was heating up. The Ocean Shore Electric Railway (later Ocean Shore Railroad) was founded earlier that year with this goal in mind. The Southern Pacific, which wanted to ensure it had primacy along the coast, especially the clientage of the lucrative cement plant being constructed in Davenport, incorporated their own rival company, the Coast Line Railroad, on April 15, 1905. Although on paper, this new railroad stated its desire to connect to San Francisco and to Pescadero (from where another track was planned to extend to Boulder Creek), in reality Southern Pacific was just playing a game with a rival. The Coast Line and Ocean Shore routes were built side-by-side and in tandem by the same developer to Davenport, with the Coast Line claiming the east side patrons (which included the cement plant). Throughout the 1910s, the Ocean Shore haemorrhaged until it finally closed. The Coast Line, meanwhile, was merged into its parent on October 9, 1917, its purpose fulfilled. The route never extended beyond a wye beside the Davenport cement plant and any plans to extend the track to Pescadero were cancelled after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake forced the Southern Pacific to reallocate resources to more immediate concerns. This route survives today as the former Davenport Branch, or rather the portion of the Santa Cruz Branch between Santa Cruz Station and Davenport.

Santa Clara and santa Cruz Counties map from 1915 showing Southern Pacific trackage. [Wx4 Southern Pacific Pages]
Unbeknownst to any at the time, the Coast Line Railroad ended up being the final Southern Pacific subsidiary line incorporated in Santa Cruz or Monterey counties. After 1937, all railroads in the county were owned directly by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, a fact that would remain until 1996 when Southern Pacific itself absorbed the Union Pacific Railroad Company and was rebranded as the latter.

Citations & Credits:
  • Bender, Henry. Personal correspondence.
  • Daggett, Stuart. Chapters on the History of the Southern Pacific. Berkeley: Library of Alexandria, 1922.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Robertson, Donald B. Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History: California. Caldwell, ID: Caxton Press, 1986.