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, September 15, 2017

Sights: Cats Canyon

There were many scenic and picturesque locales along the South Pacific Coast Railroad's route to Santa Cruz, and one of the most heavily photographed was Cats Canyon. Cats Canyon is a roughly 1.5-mile gorge that runs from just south of Los Gatos—the present location of "The Cats" figurine—to the modern-day James J. Lenihan Dam, where once sat the confluence of Limekiln Creek and Trout Creek into Los Gatos Creek. It is named after the wildcats—bobcats and cougars—that once roamed the area.

Vibrantly-colorized postcard of Cats Canyon with the railroad and track walkers, c. 1900. [Los Gatos Public Library]
A path through Cats Canyon has always been available to those who seek it. The native Ohlone people maintained at least one seasonal trail through the gorge for thousands of years before a Westerner laid eyes on the canyon. During the Spanish and Mexican colonial periods, a crude trail down Los Gatos Creek, probably following the old Ohlone route, was used infrequently by bureaucrats, friars, soldiers, and other travelers. Over the years, portions of this route fell into American hands. One of the earliest such roads was Zachary "Buffalo" Jones's so-called Farnham's Toll Road, which ran through the lumberman's property through the upper Los Gatos Creek basin. This was in all likelihood the old Ohlone trail with minor improvements. In 1857, Santa Cruz Gap Turnpike Company purchased the line and widened it so it could properly hook up with Charles "Mountain Charlie" McKiernan's toll road that led from the Summit to Santa Cruz via Scotts Valley. The organisation charged passersby tolls for twenty years until their contract expired in 1877. Over the years, the road was progressively widened to support increased traffic to Lexington and the various lumber enterprises situated in the upper Los Gatos Creek basin. In 1871, the San José Water Company began constructing a wooden box flume above the terraces of Cats Canyon to bring water to San José from Jones's dam south of Forest House (Alma). The original flume was three miles long and remained in place until the 1930s, when it was replaced with an aqueduct.

Three people fishing under a footbridge near Trout Gulch, the southern end of Cats Canyon. [Museums of Los Gatos]
A narrow-gauge train passing through Cats Canyon, with the old stage road visible at top-left. [Los Gatos Public Library]
When the South Pacific Coast Railroad first began building south of Los Gatos, it attempted to follow an eastern approach into Cats Canyon, but deposits of blue clay destabilised the grade forcing the railroad to move to the west side of Los Gatos Creek. Throughout 1877, railroad crews graded through the canyon, building two tunnels (one of which collapsed shortly afterwards) in the process. Immediately, Cats Canyon became one of the scenic beauties of the rail line and photographs began appearing in South Pacific Coast marketing.

The straight, even tracks running left toward Lexington, while the road to Santa Cruz above meanders around the curves.
Even after through traffic to Santa Cruz opened up in May 1880, Cats Canyon remained a heavily photographed venue. Indeed, all tourist trains that ran along the South Pacific Coast and, later, Southern Pacific line to Santa Cruz went through the gorge and many stopped within the Los Gatos Creek basin for picnics and frivolities. Although the canyon itself never had any picnic stops or even any sidings, due to its narrow width, the simple passage through the gorge was a sight to behold.

Dual-gauge railroad tracks passing through Cats Canyon, 1906. Note the massive landslide to the right, caused by the San Francisco Earthquake. [J.B. Macelwane Collection, Saint Louis University]
Southern Pacific narrow-gauged locomotives began their ascent into Cats Canyon just south of Los Gatos, below the Santa Cruz Highway. In the early days, vineyards littered the hills above the canyon. [Los Gatos Public Library]
When the Glenwood Highway was completed in 1921, automotive travellers would often stop at two turnouts above the railroad grade and snap photographs of the gorge, complete with the Southern Pacific tracks in the foreground. Some eagle-eyed photographers even managed to include the first Los Gatos Creek trestle in their photographs.

A beautiful perspective shot of Cats Canyon around 1921. Glenwood Highway is at right while the tracks are at left with the flume running overhead. The site of the Lenihan Dam would be near the top-left of this photograph. [Farwell Family]
Looking north down Cats Canyon toward Los Gatos, August 1924. Note the flume on the right, the railroad in the middle, and Glenwood Highway at left. [Clarence Hamsher]
Interest in the canyon only declined in the 1930s when passenger service across all Southern Pacific lines was declining. As one of the many projects begun during the Great Depression, the upgrading of the Glenwood Highway to California State Route 17 in 1940 marked the end of Cats Canyon's days as a photo stop. Newer cars could travel at faster speeds and fewer stopped at the two pullouts along the top of the gorge.

Cats Canyon as viewed from near the base of the Lenihan Dam, looking north. [Ralph Leidy]
The completion of Lexington Reservoir in 1952 ended any lingering romantic thoughts of the canyon. Today, many hikers and bicyclists run along the former railroad grade beneath Highway 17, unaware of the railroad history they are interacting with. However, if the Los Gatos Creek Trail county park has done anything, it has reminded people of the captivating qualities that Cats Canyon has to offer.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Northern End: approx. 37.215˚N, 121.988˚W
Southern End: approx. 37.201˚N, 121.991˚W

There are still two pullouts accessible to those travelling north on State Route 17. However, for those truly desiring to enjoy Cats Canyon, people should walk the Los Gatos Creek trail through the area. Explorers can either begin from the trailhead on Alma Bridge Road, accessible on the east side of Lexington Reservoir, or from the Forbes Flour Mill Museum, accessible from behind The Pastaria & Market on East Main Street in Los Gatos. For those wishing to walk the right-of-way, remain on the west side of Los Gatos Creek for the duration (the other side of the creek is the old box flume trail). Everything except the final half-mile is the old Southern Pacific Railroad grade. Look for old telephone poles visible along the route, as well as a few culverts and semaphore foundations in the bushes. If you are really up for an adventure, you can also find the old piers to the trestle by going straight rather than up when the trail begins climbing to highway level.

Citations & Credits:

  • Beal, Richard A. Highway 17: The Road to Santa Cruz. Second edition. Aptos, CA: The Pacific Group, 1991.
  • Conaway, Peggy. "Los Gatos History Photo: The Old Wooden Flume." San Jose Mercury News, 25 October 2010.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA: 2015.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Tunnels: Cats Canyon

As the South Pacific Coast Railroad began its journey up Los Gatos Creek toward Santa Cruz in early February 1878, it encountered two areas in Cats Canyon that could not be overcome except through tunnels. The first obstacle was just south of Los Gatos: a sharp granite outcropping that jutted so far into the canyon that a tunnel seemed the only possible solution. Crews hired by railroad contractor Ed Mix and managed by a civil engineering contractor named Osborne immediately began boring into the rock to create what they expected to be a 185-foot tunnel, but they found quickly that the rock walls was weaker than anticipated. The tunnel was soon completed but it was never very stable, leading to the collapse of the original SPC Tunnel #1 in June, taking a large portion of the adjacent toll road (the future CA State Route 17) with it. Management was forced to reevaluate their options. Crews dynamited the tunnel, creating a deep cut, and the name "Tunnel #1" moved further south.

Stereograph of SPC #13 heading around the bend toward Tunnel #1 in Cats Canyon, 1882. [Bancroft Library]
The new Tunnel #1 had a bit longer of a life. Approximately 0.3 miles south of Los Gatos Station, Los Gatos Creek was bridged and a menacing rock outcropping was encountered. There was no road above these rocks, but there was the San Jose Water Company's box flume, which provided much-needed water to the growing city of San Jose. More annoyingly for Osborne, another tunnel was required here and no amount of dynamite would clear the right-of-way without damaging the flume. South Pacific Coast management determined that another tunnel should be built in the steepest portion of Cats Canyon here and Chinese workers were lowered from above on swing chairs to place explosives so that the right-of-way to the tunnel face could be accessed.

Exposed interior of the Cats Canyon tunnel during standard-gauging, late 1902. Note the intricate timberwork inside the tunnel. The dual-gauge shoe-fly track is at left. [Ken Lorenzen]
By late February 1878, crews were inside, slowly boring through broken granite until the other side was breached 191 feet and about a month later. It was a short, less painful operation than the earlier tunnel had been and met with comparatively more success. To support this tunnel, the railroad installed heavy redwood beams throughout to provide adequate reinforcement from falling rocks and an unstable hillside. The fact that the tunnel survived as long as it did is a testament to South Pacific Coast engineering.

South Pacific Coast Tunnel #1 during its final years. Photo by Perkins. [Ken Lorenzen]
The tunnel's inevitable end did not come through natural disaster or a freak accident, but rather through the widening of the railroad to support standard-gauge tracks in 1902. The former South Pacific Coast mainline track to Los Gatos had been broad-gauged in 1895, but the route over the mountain involved so many obstacles that Southern Pacific demurred for years before finally deciding to finish the job.

A close-up view of the shoe-fly track around SPC Tunnel #1 during its upgrading, late 1902. Note the dual-gauge tracks that could support trains of either gauge all the way to Wright. A construction train is visible at right. [Ken Lorenzen]
A shoe-fly track was installed precariously around the tunnel as it was upgraded, but the railroad encountered problems almost immediately. Cave-ins became a constant occurrence, and with the cave-ins went the flume atop the tunnel. Power, which was generated by an electric plant upstream, was also interrupted multiple times. The people of San José and Los Gatos complained and began sending bills to Southern Pacific to pay for auxiliary power and importing water from other sources.

A double-headed excursion train heading through the gap that was once Tunnel #1 two years earlier. Note the San Jose Water Company box flume hanging precariously overhead and the pile of debris to the left, c. 1910. [William Wulf]
The railroad finally gave up and allowed the tunnel to collapse in on itself in spring 1903. Crews quickly completed the daylighting of Tunnel #1 before the start of the summer season, when regular excursion trains from San Francisco would pass through Cats Canyon on the way to the Santa Cruz Beach. After the great earthquake in 1906, the remainder of the route was broad-gauged and the Summit Tunnel further to the south became the new Tunnel #1. Cats Canyon no longer had or needed a tunnel.

The right-of-way through Cats Canyon showing the site of the former tunnel, c. 1910. Photo by Perkins. [Ken Lorenzen]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.203˚N, 121.990˚W

Nothing remains of the former tunnels. The cut where the original tunnel was located outside Los Gatos was completely flattened when the Glenwood Highway was built in the 1910s. Any lingering remnants were removed when Highway 17 was built atop the older road. The cut for the second tunnel survived until the James J. Lenihan Dam was built in 1952, at which point it was buried beneath the earthen dam. The location was just to the east of the current Lexington Reservoir repair facility beside the spillway. Portions of the right-of-way to the north can still be viewed along the Los Gatos Creek trail, but the cut where the tunnel once sat is now buried.

Citations & Credits:

  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second Edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • MacGregor, Bruce A. The Birth of California Narrow Gauge: A Regional Study of the Technology of Thomas and Martin Carter. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Felton, CA: 2015.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Quarterly Bulletin – Vol. 2: No. 4 (Oct-Dec 2017)

Santa Cruz Trains Quarterly Bulletin
Vol. 2: No. 3 – July-September 2017

Feature Article:
One Last Ride on the Del Monte
By Duncan Nanney

April 30, 1971 was a day like no others for railroad buffs. May 1 marked date when Amtrak would take over most of the long-distance passenger train service in the United States. Therefore, the last runs for many trains that did not make the cut as a result of Amtrak cutbacks were scheduled for April 30.

Railfans had to make some difficult choices on April 30 in both the Bay Area and elsewhere. Which “last run” should we be a passenger on? There was Santa Fe’s “San Francisco Chief,” which would not finish its westbound run in Richmond until May 2. There was Southern Pacific’s “San Joaquin Daylight.” There was the final run of the “Coast Daylight” on the San Francisco Peninsula (it was being switched over to the East Bay the next day). Last but not least, the “Del Monte” from San Francisco to Monterey, which is the choice I made.

A cloudy sunset over the Salinas River as Southern Pacific Railroad’s “Del Monte” regular excursion train that ran between San Francisco and Monterey since 1889 takes its penultimate journey to Monterey, crossing the twin steel truss bridges on April 29, 1971. Leading the train are two GP9Rs diesel locomotives, numbered #3002 and decorated in red and black. Photograph by Drew Jacksich.
The "Del Monte" left San Francisco’s old station at Third and Townsend as usual at 4:50 pm with a considerably longer consist of the old Harriman suburban cars from the 1920s pulled by a pair of GP9 diesels.

I went into a vestibule right away on the west side of the train.  I hoped to see the northbound Coast Daylight around Redwood City but was told it had sped by like a bullet while I was on the wrong side of the train.

When we reached Watsonville Junction, a woman asked the conductor if he would be assigned to the new Coast Starlight, but he did not respond and expressed bitterness over the end of the Del Monte, saying that it will strand needy passengers who depended on this train for transportation.

I ended up standing at the back of the train after this for a short while. While passing through the Elkhorn Slough area, a block signal facing south was struggling unsuccessfully to change colors.  A man next to me went off to report this to the conductor.

Out on the Monterey branch, the train arrived in the town of Marina. A small automobile sat close to the east side of the tracks with its emergency flashers going.  As a result of this, the train stopped and let on a couple of passengers even though Marina was no longer a flag stop.

A man joined me in the vestibule and said he wished the train would stop at all of the flag stops to commemorate the last run but we passed Fort Ord and Seaside without stopping.  However, a few passengers asked to detrain at Del Monte station.  The conductor, who I was standing next to, pulled a cord to signal the engineer to stop the train and we came to a gentle stop.

A passenger asked the conductor how long Del Monte had been a flag stop and he said it always had been one. I knew this wasn’t true, that in the days there was a big hotel here, the Del Monte, that the train always stopped for. The conductor did not have access to my old timetables.

Del Monte Express outside Monterey Depot, September 1970. Photo by Drew Jacksich.
We arrived in Monterey ten minutes late at 8:10 pm. A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle raced off the train to a phone booth to dictate his story of the last Del Monte. A few passengers begged the conductor to let us ride the "deadhead" back to San Jose, but he refused saying this required permission from Southern Pacific management.  So it was onto a long trip on Greyhound.

Today the Monterey branch lies disused or dismantled, it’s rusty tracks paved over in various spots invisible to those passing by.

Special Message:
Talks and a new book on horizon
By Derek R. Whaley

It has been two and a half years since Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains was released, but, as many followers of my blog and Facebook group know, the “mountains” are only half the story.

Since August 2014, I have been living in Christchurch, New Zealand studying for my doctorate in History at the University of Canterbury. Now I am nearly done and am ready to begin something long-awaited and more necessary now than ever before.

The history of Santa Cruz railroading may have begun in the mountains, but it achieved great and enduring success along the coast, with a railroad built between Santa Cruz and Pajaro completed in 1876, a short-line railroad into the forests of Aptos Creek completed in 1882, and a route up to Davenport finished in 1906. Indeed, Santa Cruz County has benefited from railroad access since the Southern Pacific Railroad first built its line to Pajaro in 1872, and the history of the stops along those routes have only been touched upon by historians.

All of this will be discussed in my forthcoming book: Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Coast. This new book will explore everything from the Sargent Ranch south of Gilroy to the Logan Quarry near Aromas, the agricultural producers in Pajaro and Watsonville to the lumbering operations up Aptos and Valencia Creeks, and from the beach resorts at Capitola, Seabright, and Santa Cruz to the Davenport cement plant. It will be a comprehensive guide to how the railroad promoted industry, business, and community, and how, in turn, all of those entities supported the railroad.

In addition to a new book, my original book—Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains—will receive an update that will bring it more consistent stylistically and topically with the new book and correct errors and add new information discovered since the book’s initial publication. Both are expected to be released fourth quarter 2018 or first quarter 2019.

For the next five months, I will be in Santa Cruz County researching at local repositories, surveying portions of the former and existing tracks, and talking with prominent local historians.

In addition, I will be giving multiple talks on subjects old and new relating to local railroading. Only some dates are currently decided, but more events are forthcoming. The following are currently scheduled:
  • November 19 – “From Waterways to Railways: The Road to Castle Rock” (San Lorenzo Valley Museum, Boulder Creek)
  • January 14 – “The Vital Link: Watsonville’s Early Railroad Monopoly” (Knights of Columbus Hall, Watsonville)
Subscribe to the Santa Cruz Trains Facebook Group for more information as it becomes available.

If you would like to provide information for my research, donate photographs or postcards for my book, discuss local history, or join me on a hike, please contact me at

Railroading News:
Thomas and Percy coming to Roaring Camp this October

Roaring Camp Railroads will be hosting Thomas the Tank Engine™ and his friend Percy for the first Thomas and Percy’s Halloween Party this October.

Tickets includes a train ride with Thomas the Tank Engine™ and Percy, as well as a variety of Thomas & Friends-themed entertainment, such as storytelling and video viewing, temporary tattoos from the Island of Sodor, an imagination station with arts and crafts, and a pumpkin patch. Guests will have the opportunity to meet Sir Topham Hatt, the controller of the railway on Sodor.

Advance tickets are recommended and already available online at Tickets cost $24.00 per rider.

Rail Trail IPA released to support rail
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Company has released a special Rail Trail IPA to help fund nonprofit groups that support the retention of the Santa Cruz Branch Line as a rail corridor, while fast-tracking the construction of the adjacent rail trail. Twenty-five percent of all proceeds will go to the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County to support this project.

The beverage is available at numerous locations throughout the county, including Surf City Grill at the Boardwalk, Hampton Inn, and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Company’s restaurant.

Branch Line tree removal begun
At the June 1 meeting of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC), funds were approved to remove trees that fell during the winter storms last February and March.

Tree removal along the Santa Cruz Branch Line near Capitola Depot, June 2017. Photograph by Howard Cohen.
Removal of trees began almost immediately, running throughout June as documented in photographs on Facebook by James Long and Howard Cohen. During the felling, portions of the old Capitola siding were uncovered, as well as other artifacts of the early railroad era in Santa Cruz County. A section of track was also damaged during the felling and will need to be repaired before service can return to the line.

Roaring Camp vandalism on rise
Ian Applegate from Roaring Camp Railroads has revealed two incidents of vandalism in recent months.

On June 21, Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railroad crews discovered dozens of instances of graffiti on portions of their line in San Lorenzo Gorge between Felton and Rincon. It took crews eight hours to cover the graffiti so passengers on trains would not see them. In the end, it took crew 23 cans of paint to cover all the markings

Ian Applegate’s vandalized railcar at Roaring Camp, June 2017.
Meanwhile, on the night of July 12, somebody smashed the safety windows of Applegate’s own M-9 Fairmont Speeder, which is usually parked in the Roaring Camp yard near the old Felton Depot. Applegate began a GoFundMe campaign to restore the historic Southern Pacific speeder to operating condition, which can be found here:

Anti-Rail rhetoric intensifying
The past three months have seen an increase in anti-rail rhetoric from local community activist groups such as Trail Now and Santa Cruz County Greenway. Proposals to replace the Santa Cruz Branch Line with a rail trail have been a constant feature since the line was purchased by Santa Cruz County in 2012, but the passage of Measure D in the past election has brought the topic to the forefront of local politics again.

At the June 1 meeting of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC), Brian Peoples of Trail Now spoke on numerous occasions, advocated urgency in converting the route to a hike and bike trail, without responding to frequent concerns by others that the right-of-way may not remain with the county if the rails are removed or that funds used to purchase the right-of-way may not be used to build a rail trail. People advocates for an expansion of Highway 1 to relieve congestion, ignoring the potential for rail service to reduce traffic between Watsonville and Santa Cruz during rush hour.

Numerous local community members wrote to the RTC to support rail service and the development of a local and Bay Area commuter service along the line. One local, Gail McNulty, spoke at the meeting, questioning the ability of Highway 1 expansions and local buses to relieve congestion on county roads. Paula Bartholomew also questioned the increased pollution and congestion caused by widening Highway 1.

The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County has produced a response to recent misinformation about their stance regarding the preservation of the rail trail.

Web Register:
Facebook Chatter (/groups/sctrains)
Continuous – Once again, Trevor Park has illuminated mountain railroading through a number of videos created for his Treefrogflag Productions company. Meanwhile, Nick Wolters and Howard Cohen have kept users updated with a number of photographs of local railroad operations in Santa Cruz and Watsonville. Jun. 2 – Ian Applegate advertised a railcar speeder run happening at Roaring Camp the following weekend. Meanwhile, William Turner shared some photographs of damage caused by the winter storms to the old right-of-way and current branch line. Karl Rowley posted a photo of anti-rail advocates gathering on the rail line, prompting a brief discussion about trespassing on active rail routes. Jun. 4 – Van Niven shared a photograph of a the Sells-Floto Circus coming to Santa Cruz around 1910. Bill Dawkins (via Julia Sauer) shared a newspaper clipping from 1884 documenting the establishment of the Loma Prieta Railroad near Aptos. Jun. 5 – Len Klempnauer shared a video of the Amtrak Suntan Special doing a test run in 1996. Jun. 9 – Nick Wolters shared a photograph of trees still down on the tracks near New Brighton. Dale Phelps, meanwhile, shared an H.D. Gremke photograph that of Camp Teller, prompting a short discussion about the camp’s relationship with Santa Cruz County. Jun. 13 – Turner shared a photograph of a massive washout on Shulties Road near Laurel. Jun. 15 – Dawkins shared a link to the Public Libraries’ article on the Portland Cement Co. railroad. Jun. 16 – Joe Thompson shared an advertisement for the Ocean Shore Railroad from 1908. Cohen shared a photo of a trolley run from 2016. Meanwhile, Thomas Rivette lamented the loss of interest in restoring rail service following the Golden Gate Railroad Museum’s decision to move to the North Bay. Jun. 21 – Dawkins shared a pre-railroad story about Waddell Beach in 1849 as well as copy of the land grant authorization for the Ocean Shore Railroad from 1906. Jun. 22 – Joshua Dyck asked for help identifying a large sluice hopper that was being shipped on Highway 1. August Mohr asked for help regarding local model railroad groups. James Long posted some photos of old metal pieces in the New Brighton area, prompting a discussion about narrow gauge material. Jun. 24 – Travis Malek informed everybody of a new local beer called Rail Trail IPA that supports the save the rail, build the trail movement. Janie Soito shared a photo of swimmers along the San Lorenzo River near the Boardwalk, c. 1876. Jun. 26 – Scott Peronto posted a souvenir ticket from the closure of the Los Gatos Branch in 1959. Meanwhile, Sangye Hawke asked a question about railroad service to Evergreen Cemetery in 1892. Jul. 1 – Peronto shared a digitalized Ferroequinologist bulletin from 2007 documenting the end of rail service to Los Gatos. Jul. 3 – Malek shared a news story about a collision between the Beach Train and a car on Chestnut Street. Jul. 10 – Rory Christy shared photographs of Southern Pacific diesel trains on the Santa Cruz Beach, c. 1967. Jul. 11 – Brian Bergtold shared a news story about Iowa Pacific’s troubles running its trains in Santa Cruz County. This prompted Cohen to write a short essay encouraging people to write to the RTC. Jul. 14 – Long shared his discovery of a mile marker near Seabright Avenue that fell off a hillside. Jul. 16 – Christopher Payne shared two videos taken in 1983 near Manresa of kids interacting with an SP freight train. Derek Whaley shared an article on plans to return passenger service to Monterey in the mid-1990s. Jul. 21 – Julia Sauer shared an article on the abandoned town of Drawbridge in the South San Francisco Bay. Jul. 24 – Paul Pritchard shared a photo of the Santa Cruz Beach in 1889, as taken from the Sea Beach Hotel. Jul. 30 – Cohen shared the new brochure for the Golden Gate Railroad Museum, lamenting the county’s loss. Aug. 1 – Bergtold shared a photograph of a Union Pacific train in front of the Boardwalk Casino. Aug. 3 – Wolters shared a video of a Roaring Camp diesel and steam locomotive operating in 1987. Aug. 26 – Soito shared a photograph of Los Gatos Depot taken around 1900. Aug. 28 – Applegate shared photographs of a Southern Pacific-themed birthday cake. Aug. 30 – Cohen announces the closure of the Capitola railroad bridge for the Begonia Festival this year.

Recent articles
JUN. 9 – Vasona
JUN. 16 – Early Coast Railroad Companies
JUN. 23 – Parr’s Spur, Bermingham, and Bulwer
JUN. 30 – Standard Oil Spur
JUL. 7 – Los Gatos Lumber Patrons
JUL. 14 – Sacred Heart Novitiate
JUL. 21 – Santa Cruz Portland Cement Co. Railroad
JUL. 28 – Los Gatos Canning Company & Hunts
AUG. 4 – Los Gatos Manufacturing Company
AUG. 11 – Los Gatos Freight Yard
AUG. 18 – Los Gatos
AUG. 25 – Grove Park

Monthly Timetable:
Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad
Train Rides
Sept. 1, 3-30: Weekends 10:30-4:30 (Fri. 10:30-3:00)

Los Gatos Park Dance
Sept. 2: 10:30-7:00
Ride the trains and dance while enjoying live music!

Screen on the Green
Sept. 15: 6:00-7:00
Join for a special showing of Moana!

Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad Museum
Open House
Sept. 2-3: 10:00am-4:00pm

Regional Transportation Commission (RTC)
RTC Meeting
Sept. 7: 9:00am @ County Board of Supervisors Chambers

Transportation Policy Workshop
Sept. 21: 9:00am @ TBA

Roaring Camp Railroads
Train Rides
Sept. 1-4: Daily 11:00, 12:30, 2:00 (3:30 weekends)
Sept. 5-30: Daily 11:00 (12:30, 2:00 weekends)
Roundtrip from Roaring Camp Station

Great Train Robberies
Sept. 2-4: All train rides

Starlight Train & Moonlight Dinner Party
Sept. 2: 5:30
Sept. 30: 6:00

Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway
Train Rides
Sept. 1-30: Weekends
Departs from Roaring Camp Station & Boardwalk

Swanton Pacific Railroad
Work Day
Sept. 9-10, 23

Come volunteer and ride the trains!

Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad
Train Rides
Oct. 1-31: Weekends 10:30-4:30 (Fri. 10:30-3:00)

The Pumpkin Train
Oct. 13-31: Fridays-Sundays 5:30-8:30

Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad Museum
Open House
Oct. 7-8: 10:00am-4:00pm

Regional Transportation Commission (RTC)
RTC Meeting
Oct. 5: 9:00am @ TBA

Transportation Policy Workshop
Oct. 19: 9:00am @ TBA

Roaring Camp Railroads
Train Rides
Oct. 1-31: Daily 11:00 (12:30, 2:00 weekends)
Roundtrip from Roaring Camp Station

Harvest Faire & Steam Festival
Oct. 1: All day

Thomas and Percy’s Halloween Party™ 
Oct. 14-15, 21-22, 28-29: Hourly from 10:00am
Ride Thomas the Tank Engine™ and Percy!

Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway
Train Rides
Oct. 1-31: Not operating

Swanton Pacific Railroad
Work Day
Oct. 14-15

Come volunteer and ride the trains!

Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad
Train Rides
Nov. 1-31: Weekends 11:00-3:00

Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad Museum
Open House
Nov. 4-5: 10:00am-4:00pm

Regional Transportation Commission (RTC)
Nov. 2: 9:00am @ TBA

Transportation Policy Workshop
Nov. 16: 9:00am @ TBA

Roaring Camp Railroads
Train Rides
Nov. 1-3: Daily 11:00 (12:30, 2:00 weekends)
Nov. 4-22, 24-31: Daily 12:30 (11:00 weekends)
Nov. 23: 11:00
Roundtrip from Roaring Camp Station

Holiday Tree Walk
Nov. 24-26: 11:00, 12:30
From Roaring Camp Station

Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway
Train Rides
Nov. 1-23, 26-31: Closed

Holiday Lights Train
Nov. 24-25: Daily 6:30
Departs from the Boardwalk

Swanton Pacific Railroad
Work Day
Nov. 11-12

Come volunteer and ride the trains!

Imprint: Derek R. Whaley, editor. For submissions, email
© 2016-2017 Derek R. Whaley. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Picnic Stops: Grove Park

Throughout the sixty years that the railroad route over the Santa Cruz Mountains existed, picnic stops of all shapes and sizes were in high demand. When the South Pacific Coast Railroad reached the sleepy hamlet of Los Gatos in 1878, it was their first opportunity to establish a small picnic stop in what could be considered the mountains. At first, there was no official park in Los Gatos. Vacationers likely wondered down from the station to Los Gatos Creek where a stretch of land south of the Main Street bridge sat vacant, urging people to wade into the creek or relax under the oak trees.

A busy day at Grove Park, c. 1890. [Los Gatos Library]
William C. Shore at the Bunker Hill
reenactment at Bunker Hill Park, 1898.
[Elayne Shore Shuman]
William Cadwell Shore changed all that. The 49er moved to Los Gatos in 1881 and founded the Union Ice Company three years later just beyond the end of the freight depot in town. One of his earliest purchases, though, was the vacant lot beside the creek. The location quickly picked up the title Grove Park, a name probably used before he purchased it to refer to the groves of oak and sycamore trees on the site. It had no known amenities. Whether Shore charged an entry or usage fee for the park is unknown. Over the course of the 1880s, Grove Park became a popular destination—not so far out of San Francisco that vacationers couldn't return, but far enough away that they could enjoy their holiday in peace. It was also here that the railroad likely first encountered drunk revelers, a trend that would become worse in the subsequent decade as picnic stops moved deeper into the mountains and away from population centers. The park was not only popular with railroad passengers, but with locals too. Schoolchildren from the nearby grammar and high school would walk to the park by passing under the Main Street bridge that connected east and west Los Gatos.

The railroading history of the park ended in roughly 1887, when Los Gatos Creek went dry and the Southern Pacific Railroad, which purchased the South Pacific Coast that year, decided to move to a newer, more spacious picnic area further to the south at Forest Grove (later Eva). Nonetheless, some excursion trains undoubtedly continued to patronize Grove Park until January 1896, when the railroad opened the entirely new and purpose-built Sunset Park just outside Wright.

With the loss of railroad patronage to the park, Los Gatos could look at the former picnic stop in a new light. After some negotiations, Shore sold the property to the burgeoning town near the end of 1896 and on June 17, 1897, it was renamed Bunker Hill Park in memory of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the initial confrontation in the War for American Independence. That year, a large reenactment of the battle was fought and demonstrations of muskets and historical artifacts from the Revolutionary War were on display. The next year—and likely in later years—such reenactments on June 17 were repeated in honor of the war and in recognition of the park.

In 1907, after the earthquake, the old wooden Main Street bridge was replaced with a new stone bridge, depicted here. It overlooked Bunker Hill Park to the south until the park was removed. [Stocklmeir Postcard Collection]
Over the following years, Bunker Hill Park remained a popular destination for picnickers not desiring to make the climb over the mountains to Santa Cruz. Due to its proximity to the town, it also was popular for corporate picnics. Among its amenities, the park included a dancing platform which could double as a skating rink, benches, large trees, and a seasonal swimming hole located just south of the park. It is unclear during this time whether the railroad actively encouraged or promoted use of the park, but that seems unlikely and use probably only came from local organizations who knew of the picnic grounds.

Bunker Hill Park, 1907 postcard. [De Anza College]
The name Bunker Hill Park lasted less than 25 years. After the horrors of World War I, the park was converted into Memorial Park in 1920 to recognize those who died in the recent conflict. This also coincided with the donation by Raymond Hicks of a large parcel of adjacent land, which doubled the size of the original Shore property. By September 1910, another parcel was donated by J.D. Farwell, who had bought out Shore's remaining shares in the property many years earlier. Early the next year, another local, A.E. Falch, donated the land directly across the creek from the park, meaning the park now spanned both sides of Los Gatos Creek. In 1927, a large swimming pool was built on the south side of the park for locals to use. This was the maximum extent of the public space and it probably rarely catered to railroaders by this late date.

Memorial Park in Los Gatos, c. 1920s. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Memorial Park survived the first expansion of State Route 17 in 1938 but it was directly in the path of the Santa Cruz Avenue diversion route proposed in 1956. In that year, the highway was extended down the center of Los Gatos Creek, with the creek redirected into a causeway and through culverts. The park could not be saved. The new road was installed directly atop the former park and the nearby Oak Meadow Park south of Vasona Reservoir was opened in April 1958 to replace what had been the town's primary municipal playground.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.221˚N, 121.983˚W

Nothing survives of Grove Park or its successors except for a few isolated oak and sycamore trees behind the Los Gatos post office before State Route 17. The southern end of Park Avenue leads to the original outskirts of the park, but most of the property is under the highway, destroyed forever by the onslaught of the automobile.

  • Beal, Richard A. Highway 17: The Road to Santa Cruz, 2nd ed. Aptos, CA: Pacific Group, 1991.
  • Conaway Bergtold, Peggy. "Los Gatos History Timeline", Los Gatos Weekly-Times. Accessed 8 May 2014.
  • Conaway Bergtold, Peggy, and Stephanie Ross Mathews. Legendary Locals of Los Gatos Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2014.
  • MacGregor. Bruce, and Richard Truesdale. A Centennial: South Pacific Coast. Boulder, CO: Pruett, 1982.
  • Mathews, Stephanie Ross. Postcard History Series: Los Gatos. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2009.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA: 2015.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Stations: Los Gatos

Los Gatos was not always the gem of the foothills. It began in 1840 as Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos (corner of the cats), a reference to the high number of bobcats and cougars that often descended from the mountains and attacked cattle there in Spanish colonial days. To the south of the modern township, near modern-day Vasona Park, a single adobe home owned by José Hernandez and his family was the only permanent structure until James Alexander Forbes purchased a parcel of land from the Hernandezes in 1854. Forbes built a flour mill on the property along Los Gatos Creek, and around the mill grew a small settlement of employees, lumberjacks, stagecoach drivers, saloon keepers, and so on. In 1861, John W. Lyndon began buying land across the creek from the mill. His Ten Mile House became the center of the western settlement, with the mill acting as the center of the eastern town.

Painting of the original Hernandez family adobe on Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos. [Los Gatos Public Library]

Los Gatos was still hardly a large community, however. Lexington just to the south beyond Cats Canyon was in decline by the mid-1870s, but it still had at least an equal population to Los Gatos. But the tide quickly turned thanks to the advent of the railroad. In 1876, the South Pacific Coast Railroad was founded to bridge the gap between the Bay Area and Santa Cruz.

Los Gatos Hotel in 1890. [Los Gatos Public Library]
By 1877, the tracks reached Los Gatos. After a failed venture to cross Los Gatos Creek near the Forbes Mill that year, the railroad reassessed conditions and decided the next year to run the railroad straight through the west part of town dominated by the Ten Mile House. The only problem was that Lyndon's hotel was directly in the way of the proposed route. The railroad and proprietor negotiated an agreement: the railroad could have the property, if they moved the entire hotel across the street. This the South Pacific Coast eagerly did and the was renamed the Hotel Los Gatos. The hotel stood on the site until a fire destroyed it in 1898. It was rebuilt in splendor the next year as the Hotel Lyndon, which remained on the site until 1963.

Hotel Lyndon in the 1930s with multiple rows of tracks visible in the foreground. [Los Gatos Public Library]
For two years from 1878, west Los Gatos became the terminus of the railroad as construction continued further to the south. A small freight yard was built just to the north, and passenger and freight depots were built on the former hotel site.

President Benjamin Harrison speaking at Los Gatos, May 1, 1891. [Los Gatos Public Library]

With the completion of the Mountain Route in 1880, Los Gatos became connected to a thriving freight and passenger network, with all manner of goods passing through the town including fruits, vegetables, and lumber. Tourists flocked to the growing town, as well. President Benjamin Harrison stopped by on May 1, 1891, while on a rail tour of California.

A busy day at Los Gatos depot with the new Hotel Lyndon, built in 1899, visible at right, c. 1901. [Bill Wulf]
Although Los Gatos itself was not a freight-heavy station, it often served as a holding yard for materials passing in both directions down the line, and there were numerous small businesses located in the town wishing to use the line as a freight service. The Sacred Heart Novitiates winery on the hill above town regularly wagoned barrels of wine to the track for export to markets. Many other businesses had freight spurs and sidings further to the north. The station more importantly served as an important water refuelling stop for steam locomotives before they began their long climb up the Santa Cruz Mountains, where water was only available at Wright's Station, Tank Siding, and Felton.

As late as 1947, two tracks were still used at Los Gatos, while a third fell into disuse. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Due largely to the tourist traffic, Los Gatos supported three long sidings alongside the mainline at the depots during the narrow-gauge era. On busy days, all three sidings would be filled with tourists enjoying the town and nearby Memorial Park before heading to the beach in Santa Cruz. When the tracks were converted to standard-gauge, the trackage at the station was reorganised and one siding was removed. One siding ran from the freight yard to the end of Santa Cruz Avenue, while a second siding began at Main Street and ended just before the longer siding.

A celebration on April 15, 1900, for the arrival of the first standard gauge train to Los Gatos. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Standard gauging of the line began in 1894 and reached Los Gatos the next fall. The first standard-gauge freight train arrived September 7, 1895, but it was another five years before the first standard-gauge train came to town, on April 15, 1900.

The three main tracks at Los Gatos after the standard-gauge conversion. Note that the third rail is removed, but a guard rail for the third rail remains visible in the center track. [Los Gatos Public Library]
The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake greatly damaged the route to Santa Cruz and delayed the final conversion of the tracks to standard-gauge, which was done while the route was repaired. Thus, from 1895 to 1909, all tracks in Los Gatos had a third rail and the town served as the transfer station from narrow- to standard-gauge rolling stock.

The original depot, modified with standard Southern Pacific Victorian-style additions, c. 1910s. [Los Gatos Public Library]
The depot itself underwent numerous remodels over the decades. At some point in the 1890s, Victorian-style elements such as a bay window and larger windows were added. In 1924, the simple South Pacific Coast structure was massively overhauled and converted to a Spanish Revival stucco exterior. The structure survived the end of passenger service but was finally demolished in 1964 and the site turned into a public park.

Los Gatos depot structure as it is demolished, 1964. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Passenger service continued after the route to Santa Cruz was abandoned in 1940. The northern section of the original route was rebranded by Southern Pacific as the Los Gatos Branch.

A Southern Pacific train awaits a bus from Santa Cruz at Los Gatos, 1941. [Bruce MacGregor]
The automobile decisively ended the future prospects of the short post-1940 commuter line. Saturday service was the first to end in 1953. Standard Oil, one of the line's freight patrons, ended usage in 1958. The next year, all passenger service ended and the line was cut back to Vasona Junction. All remaining freight—primarily Sterling Lumber and the Novitiates winery—had to deliver goods by truck.

The last Saturday service train to Los Gatos, 1953. Weekday commuter service continued until 1959,
at which point the line was cut back to Vasona Junction. [Los Gatos Public Library]
The day after the last passenger train ran—on January 25, 1959—the Central Coast Railway Club and the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce sponsored a round trip excursion from Los Gatos to San José, which culminated in a spike-pulling ceremony at Los Gatos to mark the end of formal rail service to the town. It came eighty-one years after the track was first installed on the site of Lyndon's hotel. The right-of-way, which ran parallel to Santa Cruz Avenue, was converted into much-needed parking to support the bourgeoning businesses along the growing downtown.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Right:
37.222˚N, 121.983˚W

The site of Los Gatos station is now the Los Gatos Town Park. In fact, a portion of the original track was retained and cemented into a portion of pavement near the original depot site. Other relics of the railroad remain, too, to the south along Santa Cruz Avenue. On the right side of the road, just before it descends under Highway 17, a semaphore signal block with protruding piece of track sits, although the place is often used as a homeless camp now. Another piece of tracks juts out of the hillside just before this spot.

  • Kelley, Edward, and Peggy Conaway. Images of Rail: Railroads of Los Gatos. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing 2006.
  • Los Gatos Public Library.
  • Whaley, Derek. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA: 2015.