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, November 17, 2017

Stations: Call of the Wild

The meadows and forested areas along upper Los Gatos Creek were considered by many to be some of the most picturesque lands in all of California. The fact that the South Pacific Coast Railroad decided to build its route through these lands made them only more popular. Two decades after Forest Grove and Eva had been founded 0.3 miles to the north and a five years after the San Francisco Earthquake, a new mountain retreat emerged on the east bank of Los Gatos Creek at its confluence with a seasonal stream, located one mile north of Wright's Station.

Boys hiking past Call of the Wild station, c. 1910s. [Gil Pennington]
Around 140 acres of this area had been purchased by Harry Ryan in 1906. Ryan was a frequent attendee of Josephine McCrackin's Monte Paraiso off Summit Road. McCrackin had served as a reporter for decades and advocated for the preservation of old growth redwood groves such as those at Big Basin and Big Trees. Visitors to her home included the photographer Andrew P. Hill, famous authors such as Ambrose Bierce, Samuel Clemons, and Bret Harte, and other late nineteenth century luminaries of the Wild West. Another friend of McCrackin's was Jack London, who otherwise lived in Los Gatos. Ryan and London were good friends who worked together and often vacationed in the Santa Cruz Mountains during the summers. When Ryan purchased his property, he asked London for permission to call the retreat "Call of the Wild Ranch and Sawmill," after London's famed book of the same name. Apparently London agreed.

Call of the Wild station structure, c. 1910s. [Beal, Highway 17]
Second growth redwoods at
Call of the Wild, c. 1910s.
[Los Gatos Public Library]
Call of the Wild quickly became a seasonal residential subdivision, much like those located throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains. A small sulphur spring was discovered on the property and became an advertising draw for prospective buyers. As people began moving into the subdivision, Ryan renamed the property "Call of the Wild Summer Resort & Subdivision." In 1926, he built a large ranch house on the property for his own private use, and other amenities likely accompanied it.

The residential area was not directly along the Southern Pacific Railroad's right-of-way. In fact, it was across Los Gatos Creek and nearly half-a-mile away up a hillside. But the marketing potential of having a train stop for the subdivision was too high and the railroad granted Ryan a flag-stop in summer 1911. In March 1912, Ryan completed construction of a small station shelter for visitors to the area. It was designed to appear as a rustic log cabin to match the theme of the resort. Somewhat unusually, an American flag was used as the signalling flag to notify passing trains that a passenger wished to board. Around this time, the railroad installed a passing siding so that excursion trains could drop off passengers without impeding traffic. This may have also been used by Ryan for the portions of his property that he retained as a ranch, but no evidence suggests the stop was used for freight purposes. The county road to Wright and the Summit passed immediately beside the station.

Call of the Wild station structure in disrepair after it was abandoned, July 9, 1939. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
Call of the Wild as a stop survived until the end of the railroad line in February 1940. Tracks in the area were damaged by the winter storm. Few people used the stop, however, especially after the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s. The station structure was abandoned in June 1933 and fell into disrepair. The siding may have been removed at this time or slightly earlier, but it was certainly gone by 1939. Only around forty people lived in the area at the time the branch line closed, suggesting Ryan's subdivision mostly failed and upper Los Gatos Creek remained largely unpopulated, as it is today. The San Jose Water Company purchased the Call of the Wild station site around 1936 but did not demolish the station structure until after the line was abandoned. Ryan died in 1958 and the remaining portions of his property were parcelled off. His ranch house was converted into a family residence within the subdivision and still survives today.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.151˚N, 121.959˚W

The site of Call of the Wild is visible just beyond a fence owned by the San Jose Water Company near the southern end of the drivable portion of Aldercroft Heights Road. Nothing survives of the station except a clearing and trespassing is not advised. The original trail that crossed Los Gatos Creek and travelled up to the subdivision is now lost. The subdivision itself still survives in a reduced state on Call of the Wild Road off the Old Santa Cruz Highway. The heart of the old community is at the end of Pineridge Way along Highland Way and Loma Prieta Way. The former path to the station is a largely-undefined property off Call of the Wild Road just before the turn for Pineridge Way.

The site of Call of the Wild, at right, along the former Southern Pacific right-of-way, May 2014. [Derek R. Whaley]
Citations & Credits:
  • Beal, Richard A. Highway 17: The Road to Santa Cruz. Pacific Group, 1991.
  • 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, November 10, 2017

Stations: Forest Grove & Eva

Los Gatos Creek near Eva, c. 1907. Photo by
Frank Herman Mattern. [Greg De Santis]
As the route of the South Pacific Coast Railroad ventured up Los Gatos Creek toward Wright, the railroad sought venues where they could host parties and events. At first, they turned to Grove Park in Los Gatos and Alma, but around 1885, H. E. Casey & Company purchased a tract of land on the east bank of Los Gatos Creek near its confluence with Hooker Gulch, possibly as a freight stop. The railroad set up a stop they named "Casey's."

It is unclear how Casey & Co. used the stop but, after the Southern Pacific leased the South Pacific Coast in 1887, W.T. Fitzgerald, general passenger and freight agent for the narrow-gauge sub-division, purchased the portion of Casey's land near Los Gatos Creek for use as a picnic stop for the railroad. In 1889, Casey's was renamed "Forest Grove." The new stop was first used, possibly as a test, in April 1888 by a Presbyterian group visiting from Brooklyn. Over the subsequent decade, the stop became the railroad's primary annual corporate picnic site and hosted thousands of visitors. Presumably a structure of some sort was built at the site that was known as Forest House, most likely a small hostelry, although there appears to be no actual mention of this building in newspapers or railroad advertisements from the period. Eventually, a half-mile-long passing siding was built at the stop to support waiting passenger cars. The opening of the purpose-built Sunset Park picnic area outside of Wright in 1896 signalled the end of Forest Grove as the official Southern Pacific picnic stop in the area.

Los Gatos Creek near Eva, c. 1907. Photo by
Frank Herman Mattern. [Greg De Santis]
W. R. Sterne of Los Angeles purchased the picnic grounds at Forest Grove in 1899. Hooker Gulch was dammed before its confluence with Los Gatos Creek, creating a small seasonal swimming hole. Sterne built beside the lake the Eva Vista Hotel, which signalled the final renaming of the stop to "Eva." H. R. Judah, another passenger agent for Southern Pacific purchased the stop in 1901 and continued expanding the venue. The meadow was converted into a tent city and a restaurant was built to support it.

The San Francisco Earthquake ended Eva's brief stint as a mountain resort. A landslide buried the lake before the start of the summer season and tourist trains did not use the line again until 1909. Just when the tide was changing, a fire leveled the Eva Vista Hotel in 1912. Its twenty-five-year history as a picnic stop came to an inglorious end.

Meanwhile, Casey & Company had sold the lower part of their property but retained mining rights to the upper parts of Hooker Gulch throughout this entire period. Copper was discovered in 1900 and Casey finally began drilling in 1917, five years after Eva had ceased to function as a location for tourism. Despite attempts to mine the hills for copper, gold, and silver, no venture ever succeeded. In 1929, Dr. H. C. Adair began prospecting in the area and found that much of the minerals were mixed heavily with pyrite, making extraction costly and unprofitable. Adair searched for more profitable veins in the late 1930s, discovering a profitable gold vein which he successfully extracted in 1938. But the income was not enough to continue mining the gulch.

A short commuter train passing the former site of Eva, July 9, 1939. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
Eva was abandoned as a railroad stop in August 1937 and the siding was probably torn up around this time. The only existing photograph of the stop was taken in July 1939, two years after service to the location had ended. With the disastrous storm of February 1940, the line was abandoned and the tracks at Eva were pulled. Nobody lived in the area at that time and its importance to the railroad was forgotten.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.153˚N, 121.960˚W

The location of Eva is now owned by the San Jose Water Company in a severely-overgrown portion of the right-of-way. Access to the site is not restricted, though technically trespassing, but attempting to go to the site is not recommended due to the heavy presence of poison oak in the area.

Citations & Credits: 
  • Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, 1888.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1888-1903.
  • Whaley, Derek. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Stations: Oil City & Aldercroft

People cruise down California State Route 17 every day, speeding over Moody Gulch without a second thought. Over a century earlier, in 1879 and 1880, dozens of Chinese construction workers for the South Pacific Coast Railroad lost their lives in the Summit Tunnel when methane and coal deposits ignited within deep, black bore. What do these disparate things have in common? Oil. The upper Los Gatos Creek basin has a lot of it.

Oil well on Moody Gulch above Aldercroft, 1930. [San Jose News]
In 1861, lumberjacks working for David B. Moody found pools of oil floating in Los Gatos Creek. It quickly became a land rush as oil prospectors from across the western United States crowded into the hills, competing for space with the numerous lumber mills which were still quite active in the mountains above Lexington. Some semblance of reason return in April 1865 when the Santa Clara Petroleum Company began drilling the gulch. However, it was the nearby Shaw & Weldon Petroleum Company that actually hit pay dirt shortly afterwards. Neither could pull enough oil to make a profit and both closed within a few years. In 1878, the Pacific Coast Oil Company established a deep well in the Moody Gulch oil field. His company would eventually average ten barrels of oil per day—a low yield but enough to make it one of the more profitable oil operations in California.

The installation of a well in 1878 was no coincidence. The South Pacific Coast Railroad had just finished constructing its route to Los Gatos and grading work had already commenced along the line to Wright's Station. Across from the bottom of Moody Gulch, the McMurtry family owned a large parcel, a portion of which they donated to the railroad for its right-of-way. It seems likely this was a commercial investment. The stop was soon named Oil City after the famous Pennsylvania oil field, and there may have been some hope that a thriving oil town would appear at the site. In the end, though, Oil City remained just a freight stop, never appearing on any timetable. The site probably had a platform for loading and there may have been a siding or spur since there is plenty of room for one, although one is not mentioned in the surviving records. In any case, the Pacific Oil Company immediately began using the location to ship out its oil. Oil was piped to a tank beside the tracks and then it was barrelled and loaded onto flatcars. The company built a refinery in 1879 on Alameda Point to refine the oil for public consumption. In 1888, the San José Gas Works took over the operation, which finally shut down seven years later. It is estimated that 98,000 barrels of oil were extracted from the Moody Gulch oil field in the 77 years that companies operated in the region. Later attempts to extract oil from the gulch failed to produce profitable quantities.

Aldercroft flag-stop just across Aldercroft Heights Road, 1938. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
By 1900, the Southern Pacific Railroad decided to give up on the woebegone dreams of the previous generation. It renamed the station at the base of Moody Gulch "Oleoso," a fanciful Spanish rendering of the English oily. The station was renamed a third time in 1903 to "Aldercroft," possibly a reference to the alder trees that grew in the area. Indeed, it signalled a change in purpose for the region. By the turn of the century, the region was becoming known more for its orchards and vineyards than its oil. House values were on the rise as the local community became a popular hub for those wishing to move out of the Santa Clara Valley but remain nearby. In December 1903, the station first appeared on employee timetables as a flag-stop and it became a full station early the next year. In 1914, a 2,200-foot platform was installed for local agricultural customers while a shelter was erected for passengers. The passengers derived from the local Aldercroft Heights subdivision and the location probably brought few tourists, who would have been encouraged to visit other locations along the line such as Eva, Glenwood, and Big Trees.

Aldercroft was abandoned by the Southern Pacific Railroad after the February 26, 1940 storm that crippled the entire line. Although it remained an active stop, few passengers patronised the railroad there and it proved an insubstantial loss to the railroad. The last oil company closed in 1938, although it does not appear to have used the railroad by this point. Construction of State Route 17 forced the open wells to be capped and a large earthen fill was built atop the top-most wells due to the highway's construction.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.168˚N, 121.980˚W

The location of Aldercroft station is visible from the junction of Alma Bridge Road and Aldercroft Heights Road. If one looks south along the San Jose Water Company service road, the clearing on the other side of the fence is the station site. Nothing except an old semaphore foundation and the right-of-way itself remains. Access to the site is not permitted.

The site of Aldercroft today, just on the other side of the San Jose Water Company fence. [Brian Liddicoat]
Citations & Credits:
  • California Division of Mines & Geology, Bulletin, Issues 19-20 (1900).
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA: 2015.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Stations: Alma

A mile south of Lexington at the confluence of Conoyer (Soda Springs) Creek into Los Gatos Creek and at fork where the old San José-Santa Cruz Highway split with the toll road to Glenwood once sat the picturesque town of Alma. This hamlet began its life as a suburb of Lexington in 1859 when the residents of the town erected a schoolhouse for the children who lived at the local mills and farms in region.
The original Lexington School near Alma, 1910. [Los Gatos Public Library]
In 1862, Lysander Collins, a local lumberman, acquired enough land, lumber, and financing to construct a home beside Conoyer Creek on a site that once was occupied by an early lumber mill. As parts of this structure, he included a hostelry, saloon, and dining room so that his home could double as a stage stop. He named the structure Forest House.
The second Forest House, c. 1880. [John V. Young]
In 1865, the original building was destroyed in a flood. Collins briefly left the area for legal reasons and two thieves stole his property and built a brand new, larger hotel. Collins went to court and won, seizing the new structure as his own. He named it Forest House, after the first structure, and it was briefly the largest hostelry between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz. Collins left the area in 1878 and sold the hotel to the San Jose Water Company, which continued to operate for a number of years.
Downtown Alma with the general store, 1915. [Los Gatos Public Library]
In 1873, the post office at Lexington was relocated and a creative post master decided that Forest House sounded too similar to other towns in California and elsewhere. He named the town Alma (Spanish for "soul") for unknown reasons, although it likely reflected the nearby town of New Almaden, which could be accessed via a winding road that crossed the mountain to the east. The town itself was not renamed immediately, but as more people came to settle and picnic in the mountains, Forest House slowly became Alma and the latter name stuck.
The Flood estate above Alma, 1905. [Sacred Heart Novitiate]
Around this time, Captain Stillman Henry Knowles, a famous vigilante during the Gold Rush era, purchased a large tract of logged land above Alma on the west bank of Los Gatos Creek. He built a number of trout ponds on his property with the intention of opening a commercial fish hatchery. His dreams faded and he sold the property to James L. Flood in 1894. The estate was on Bear Creek Road, but Flood disliked the dusty road and constructed a new road directly between his home and Alma (modern Alma College Road). In 1906, Flood sold the estate to Dr. Harry L. Tevis, who lived there until his death in 1931. The property was then largely transferred to the Sacred Heart Novitiate and the Jesuit Order, who opened up Alma College on the site. The college was transferred to the Berkeley in 1969 where it became the Jesuit School of Theology. The property was retained by the Jesuits until 1989 when it passed through a number of hands before becoming a part of the Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, which opened in 1999.
A pair of excursion trains parked outside Alma Station, c. 1900. [Los Gatos Library]
Alma's relationship with the railroad began around 1878 when surveyors and graders began passing through the upper Los Gatos Creek basin to lay track for the South Pacific Coast Railroad. Unlike Lexington, which was entirely on the west bank of the creek, Alma straddled the creek and was therefore perfect for a railroad stop.
Picnickers posing beside a fence outside Alma, c. 1890. [Bancroft Library]
Almost as soon as tracks were laid, people began travelling to the small town. Simultaneously, saloons began popping up along the main road between Lexington and Alma. For the next decade, Alma was the go-to location for railroad revellers desiring a day out in the mountains. The town became virtually deserted in the winters as many residents were seasonal, but it still supported a general store, post office, school, blacksmith shop, and other essential businesses.
Wine barrels on the back of a wagon with the railroad tracks in the background at Alma, c. 1890. [Los Gatos Public Library]
However, Alma also developed as an important freight station. As the only major stop within the upper Los Gatos Creek basin, it was a shipping hub for all the produce grown on the local farms, orchards, and vineyards. In the earliest years, it may also have served as a lumber stop. Around 1912, a makeshift freight house was installed beside the depot for storage. The station had two long sidings as well as a short freight platform beside the depot. The sidings served both excursion trains and freight cars.
Alma Station in the 1920s with a parked flat car awaiting pickup. [Bruce MacGregor]
Alma reached its height around 1900, after which it declined in popularity as Southern Pacific began directing picnickers to Sunset Park near Wright and other locations along the line. The railroad station remained an important local hub, but slowly freight traffic decreased and people began to move away. The old schoolhouse was replaced in 1913 with a new structure, and this was likely that last major development constructed in the area. The construction of the Glenwood Highway in 1920 largely bypassed Alma by following a higher grade along the creek. This further redirected traffic away from the town. On October 31, 1927, the freight and passenger depot at Alma shut down and the station was demoted to a flag-stop, reflecting the lack of interest in the railroad by local residents. As a result, the new State Route 17 completely missed the town in 1940. Any hope of revitalisation was dashed when storms that February halted all railroad traffic south of Los Gatos, even though Alma was not impacted by the washouts located further south along the line. Business in Alma had been so poor in recent years that Southern Pacific desired to abandon the stop along with everything else between Los Gatos and Olympia, which was granted in November. 

Alma Station in 1950 serving as a private home. The tracks have been removed and the pipes are probably for the reservoir, which will be built two years later. [Preston Sawyer – UCSC]
The stop was formally abandoned March 25, 1941, at which point the former station had served as a private residence for a number of years. The post office remained in operation until 1952 when everything in the town was demolished and the residents relocated to allow for the filling of Lexington Reservoir, which occurred in January the next year. A third Lexington School was built on the hillside over the new reservoir, and a diversion road named Alma Bridge Road was built around the eastern side of the reservoir, above much of the old townsite.
The site of Alma in 2008 when the reservoir was drained for maintenance. [Wikipedia]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.185˚N, 121.987˚W

The site of Alma is entirely inundated beneath Lexington Reservoir. Absolutely nothing of this town survives today, even when the reservoir is drained. The town center once sat just north of where Soda Springs Creek now drains into the reservoir, hugging closely to the east bank of Los Gatos Creek, although still beneath the current waterline. The Alma Halitack Fire Station sits directly across from Alma on the west bank.

  • Hoover, Mildred Brooke. Historic Spots in California. Stanford: University Press, 2002.
  • "Lexington School." Los Gatos Public Library (2012).
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.
  • Young, John V. Ghost Towns of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Second edition. Lafayette, CA: Great West Books, 1984.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Stations: Rock Quarry Spur & Lyndon

It is a curious thing when a railroad passes near to a town but builds no stop for it. It is an omen that the town has declined in importance or that, because of its bypassing, it will decline. In the case of Lexington, the former is true. When the South Pacific Coast Railroad first built its right-of-way south of Cats Canyon, it skipped Lexington not because of malice or politics, but because the town was no longer important and a stop was not needed. The nearest station was built further to the south at Forest House and such would be the case for decades.

Lexington in the 1860s beside the original toll road that became Glenwood Highway in 1920. [Los Gatos Library]
Two miles south of Los Gatos, the nascent village was founded in 1848 by Isaac Branham and Julian Jank, who built the first sawmill in Santa Clara County near the site. A year later, Zachariah "Buffalo" Jones took over the mill, around which a small town began to develop that picked up the name "Jones Mill." It was organised on a grassy clearing on the west bank of Los Gatos Creek and surrounded by redwood trees. Louis Hebard built the first Lexington School south of the town in 1859 in an area that would later become Alma.

Lexington from across Los Gatos Creek, with the San José-Santa Cruz road in the middle, c. 1880. [Los Gatos Library]
The name Lexington was formally chosen in 1860 after Lexington, Missouri, where John P. Hennings, who bought out Jones in 1857, was born. Hennings and Santa Clara County surveyor Lucien B. Healy planned out the town and decided to dynamite all the old redwood stumps in the region, with the dream of turning the settlement into a city. Since its inception in the 1840s, the town was dominated by the lumber industry, but it was also a popular stop for tourists and an important resting place for travellers passing over the Santa Cruz Mountains. The main toll road between San José and the Summit area was built through the town in the late 1850s and, as the road was upgraded to the Glenwood Highway in 1920 and State Route 17 in 1940, it continued to pass through the town until the reservoir was filled in 1953. Eight different sawmills were built in the immediate area, and the town hosted a hotel, livery stable, blacksmith shop, church, and general store. John Weldon Lyndon owned the general store and his Lexington House drew adventurous men from across the country to hunt grizzly bear and deer. For a brief moment, Lexington had a larger population than Los Gatos and more businesses as well.

People on a stroll on a railroad bridge, probably over the unnamed creek that sat across from Lexington. The Novitiate vineyards are visible on the hills in the background, c. 1890. [Bruce MacGregor]

The town reached its peak around 1870, at which point the lumber industry moved further to the south into the upper reaches of Zayante Creek and along Bear Creek. The Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, owned by the Dougherty Brothers, continued to dominate the lumber industry in the area for a few more years, but they moved their mill away from Lexington and closer to Forest House, taking a number of the local residents with them. The first sign of decay came when Lyndon shuttered the general store and took over operations at the Ten Mile House in Los Gatos in 1868. The post office at Lexington soon followed in 1873, when it moved to Forest House. But the big blow to the town came in 1878, when the South Pacific Coast Railroad passed the town on the east bank of Los Gatos Creek and did not even afford it a stop. There simply was no longer the population to support the village. The remaining commercial businesses closed shop or moved south over the subsequent decades. Alma became the stagecoach and train hub of the region, and Lexington began its eighty-year decay.

A Southern Pacific passenger train passing by Lexington, 1909. [William A. Wulf]
Although the railroad basically neutered the town, it continued to exist until Lexington Reservoir inundated the site in 1953, forcing the remaining residents to relocate. In 1884, the town became briefly infamous when Lloyd Majors, Joseph Jewell, and John Showers brutally murdered Archibald McIntyre there in 1884. But probably the town's most persistent legacy is the Lexington School, which was relocated in 1953 to a nearby site above the waterline of the reservoir and continues to operate as the local elementary school today. The town also got the last laugh since the new reservoir was named after it and not the far-more-populous town of Alma, which was also inundated.

But there is a little-known footnote about Lexington: it did eventually get a stop. In 1890, a narrow-gauge spur was built just across the creek from the town up Limekiln Canyon that was named "Rock Quarry Spur." The length of this spur is unknown, but it likely was built on behalf of the Los Gatos Lime Company, which operated a lime quarry midway up the canyon. The company was founded by J.E. Ellis in 1888 and the primary kilns for the company were located on the Forbes Mill spur in downtown Los Gatos. The location only lasted for five years, disappearing from agency books in 1895 and never appearing in employee timetables. Plans to reactivate the spur in 1907 were proposed by the Stauffer Chemical Company, who purchased the quarry prior to this, but it is unclear whether they actually upgraded the spur to standard-gauge and used it.

A view of the Lexington Quarry at the top of Limekiln Canyon, currently mined by Vulcan Materials Company. [Ziasus]
Perhaps ceding to local demands, the Southern Pacific did finally create a station for Lexington in late 1911. The stop was named "Lyndon," after the Los Gatos magnate and early Lexington resident John Lyndon. Conveniently, this coincided with yet another attempt to restart the lime quarry up Limekiln Canyon. The railroad built a short platform at the station for passengers and the Los Gatos Lime Quarry, founded by J.W. Taylor, installed an aggregate-loading tower beside the tracks. Records do not indicate any siding or spur at the site. This station remained in use until 1938, when the station was reduced to a flag-stop. By the time the railroad route was abandoned two years later, no residents were reported to live in the vicinity of the stop, suggesting it was completely unused.

Lexington Reservoir drained in 1991, showing the
original path of State Route 17. Lexington was near
the upper end of the abandoned road. [Richard A. Beal]
At this same time, the new State Route 17 was completed and traffic could pass through Lexington without needing to stop. Thirteen years later, the remaining 100 residents of the Lexington-Alma area were relocated and the area flooded. Only a few foundations remain of Lexington and nothing of the former right-of-way. What does survive is only visible when the reservoir is nearly empty.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.197˚N, 121.986˚W

The site of the Lyndon flag-stop is now underneath Lexington Reservoir, as is the site of the former township. However, the stop was located close to the modern Los Gatos Rowing Club dock near the confluence of Limekiln Creek and Lexington Reservoir. The town itself was located midway between the Los Gatos Rowing Club and the large water tower on the opposite side of the reservoir.

Citations & Credits:
  • Beal, Richard A. Highway 17: The Road to Santa Cruz. Pacific Group, 1991.
  • Conaway, Peggy. Images of America: Los Gatos. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
  • Hoover, Mildred Brooke, and Douglas E. Kyle, Historic Spots in California. Sanford: University Press, 2002.
  • Whaley, Derek. R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Bridges: Lower Los Gatos Creek

A photograph showing the bridge across
Los Gatos Creek with the Los Gatos
Manufacturing Company at the end, c. 1900.
Photo by Alice Hare. [San Jose Public Library]
When the South Pacific Coast Railroad first built its track south from San José, the track crossed to the east bank of Los Gatos Creek just in front of the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company mill. At the time, this route was intended to be the mainline for the railroad, but that would change quickly when clay was discovered along the path of the train and the entire right-of-way would have to move to the west bank of the river. Nonetheless, the route over the creek remained in place to support the mill and the clay quarry that was located at the end of the spur.

The first bridge over Los Gatos Creek was a simply-built narrow-gauge trestle with a redwood deck that sat atop piers supported by crossbeams. Like most things built by the South Pacific Coast, the deck was wide enough to support standard-gauge trains, with the expectation that the route would be upgraded at some point in the future. However, this was the only bridge over Los Gatos Creek that was never expanded. The spur was abandoned in 1907 when the narrow-gauge tracks in Los Gatos were pulled, and the bridge sat abandoned for years before the Southern Pacific Railroad finally demolished it around 1910. Nothing remains of this bridge.

A popular postcard of the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company showing the wide bridge over Los Gatos Creek, 1905.
[San Jose Public Library]
Further down the mainline, in the heart of Cats Canyon, the South Pacific Coast was forced to build yet another crossing over the creek. Unlike the bridge to the north, this one would remain a part of the mainline until the closure of the route, although it would be entirely replaced at one point.

A postcard showing the underside of the original narrow-gauge bridge prior to 1903. []
The original structure was primarily composed of a wooden double-intersecting Warren truss bridge, which was a fairly standard design that the South Pacific Coast used elsewhere along the line. Rather than passing through the truss span, the trains would run atop it over a wooden deck. The truss was built atop two wooden piers that were erected on the banks of the creek. Minor trestlework bridged the gap between the truss and the bridge abutments. Unlike the first bridge, this one was not wide enough for standard-gauge rail and certainly could not support the weight of such rolling stock. There are only a few photographs of this early bridge, including the photo above and one on file at the California State Railroad Museum.

Los Gatos Creek bridge #1 on a winter's day with a woman standing atop, c. 1930s. [Unknown]
An early postcard of the new bridge,
c. 1910s. [Unknown]
The structure was replaced around 1903 with an entirely new bridge that has proven much more photogenic over the four decades it existed. The bridge consisted of a single prefabricated American Bridge Company steel plate-girder deck. This was installed atop two tall concrete piers that were anchored on either bank, roughly at the same locations as the older, wooden piers. New concrete abutments were installed and new trestlework connected the track from the abutments to the deck. Again, this was a standard design Southern Pacific adopted throughout the area in their upgrading of the old narrow-gauge tracks. Unlike the original bridge, this one did have a bit of a curve to it suggesting that the right-of-way was smoothed out a bit in the process of upgrading. The photograph at right shows a fairly wide right-of-way approaching the bridge from the south and very little brush or trees are nearby, hinting that they have recently been cleared for widening. Wooden railings were installed in the late 1920s or early 1930s, probably due to new safety laws.

A freight train passing over the bridge in 1938 during the final years of operation. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
Curiously, this trestle was one of the first removed by the Southern Pacific Railroad after the disastrous storms of February 1940. Bruce MacGregor and Richard Truesdale's South Pacific Coast: A Centennial claims the photograph below was taken June 21, 1940, but that seems impossible since permission to abandon the line was not even granted until November. What is more likely is that this photograph is from June 1941, when much of the demolition work was conducted. Southern Pacific crews removed the rail, ties, trestlework, and prefabricated bridge, but they left the rest behind.

The demolition of Los Gatos Creek bridge #1, June 21, 1940/41. [Bruce MacGregor & Richard Truesdale]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Los Gatos Creek bridge (Manufacturing spur): 37.223˚N, 121.981˚W
Los Gatos Creek bridge #1: 37.205˚N, 121.990˚W

The bridge that once crossed over Los Gatos Creek to access the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company has long since disappeared. The construction of the State Route 17 bypass in 1956 destroyed any remnants of the trestle and the creek itself was diverted into a culvert at this location.

Northern curb of the bridge, looking south. A graffiti-covered concrete box sits atop the abutment. [Derek Whaley]
The bridge in Cats Canyon, however, is entirely accessible from the west bank. People hiking along the Los Gatos Creek Trail will reach a point within sight of the James Lenihan Dam where the trail takes a steep climb upwards. To the left of this hill there is an overgrown path populated primarily with Scotch broom. Taking this path will bring a hiker to the northern abutment of the bridge, from which the nearest pier can be easily viewed through the trees.

Across the abutment toward the southern side one can see the piers and the clearing for the right-of-way, as well as some remnants of wood pilings. [Derek Whaley]
From the top of the hill, both piers can be seen as well as the remnant right-of-way across the creek, which is extremely difficult to access safely. This right-of-way eventually ends in the parking lot on the northern face of the Lenihan Dam. Public access is not permitted.

A view from above the hill looking south with both piers visible as well as the right-of-way on the opposite bank. The area remains heavily overgrown and forested, and the opposite bank appears to be clear but unused. [Derek Whaley]
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • MacGregor, Bruce, and Richard Truesdale. South Pacific Coast: A Centennial. Pruett Publishing, 1982.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Maps: Vasona to Cats Canyon

The 4.5 miles of South Pacific Coast and Southern Pacific Railroad trackage that once ran from Vasona, near modern-day California State Route 85, to the top of Cats Canyon, now the James J. Lenihan Dam, was both a scenic and industrial stretch. Miles of prune orchards gave way to scenic Vasona Reservoir, after which the railroad passed by the industrial part of Los Gatos, where numerous businesses maintained businesses alongside the track. Then, almost immediately after leaving Los Gatos, an untamed wilderness consumed the railroad right-of-way as the tracks entered into Cats Canyon. While these extremes were not unique on this line—the tracks in Santa Cruz accomplished a similar feat—they certainly made the ride to Santa Cruz multifaceted.
Vasona Junction and registry booth, c. 1940s. [James Bunger]
Map of Southern Pacific trackage between Vasona and Limekiln Canyon, c. 1900-1920.
The end of Cats Canyon near Limekiln Canyon,
August 1, 1904. [Ken Lorenzen]

Santa Cruz commuter train passing by Vasona Reservoir, March 11, 1939. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
Hunt Bros. Cannery siding, February 12, 1930. [NUMU]
Abandoned Los Gatos Manufacturing Company mill, c. 1910.
[San Jose Public Library]
Southern Pacific visibility photo, showing the curve at Gray's Lane near Elm Street, July 10, 1928. [NUMU]
Another visibility photo, showing the Royce Street crossing,
looking south, 1928. [John & Barbara Baggerly]
Another visibility photo, showing the Elm Street crossing, looking south, 1928. [NUMU]
The Spanish-Revival-style Los Gatos Station and freight depot, July 8, 1939. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
Gateway Garage Shell Station, February 12, 1930. [NUMU]
Union Ice Company ice house beneath the railroad's water tower, c. 1910. [Elayne Shore Shuman]
Dual-gauge Southern Pacific tracks beneath the
San Jose-Santa Cruz Road, c. 1906. [Ken Lorenzen]