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, June 22, 2018

Stations: Eccles

Much like Kenville to the north, Eccles station did not begin as anything special. Built on the land of John Sanderson Eccles, the station acted as his private flag-stop for shipping goods and possibly aggregate from the sand hills that were located on his property. Eccles was an Irish gas-fitter who came to the United States in 1856. He moved from New York to Santa Cruz in 1875 and settled along Zayante Creek. Little else is known about the man. In 1878, he deeded 2.5 acres of land to the South Pacific Coast Railroad and grading crews passed through the area the next year. Undoubtedly, the stop was part of the arrangement.

Eccles as a stop appears in Southern Pacific agency books from the very beginning, but throughout its earlier years it was directly associated with the Union Mill on Lompico Creek. The branch for the Union Mill's long spur was located roughly 0.3 miles to the south of Eccles, but Eccles station itself may have been located further to the south as well since the railroad shifted its mile-marker location periodically in employee timetables. Its primary location, though, appears to have been at the place where Zayante School Road crossed the railroad tracks north of Olympia. The railroad installed a spur beside the tracks at Eccles in the early 1890s, presumably to park lumber flatcars while they awaited pickup by a passing train. The spur at Eccles was only 310 feet long, although the station did support a freight platform. A passenger shelter was later built there, possibly as late as 1910.

The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 led to the standard gauging of the line and also signalled a demographic shift in the area around Eccles. The Union Mill shut down prior to the earthquake and the company declined upgrading their spur to standard-gauge, abandoning the site instead. Over the previous three decades, a tiny hamlet had developed at and around Eccles, probably populated primarily by seasonal mill and quarry workers, that included a general store, hostelry, and post office, the latter of which opened May 3, 1878. Following the earthquake, the area became an attractive resort location, predating Zayante Lakes to the north, Lompico to the west, and Olympia to the south. Evidence from postcards suggests that a number of small villas and resort hotels opened up in the hills on either side of Zayante Creek, including at the site of Camp MayMac (originally Camp Wastashi). And yet its success as a resort location proved unsustainable.

Eccles station shelter above Zayante Creek, c. 1912. [San Jose Mercury News]
Situated as it was on a hillside near the confluence of Lompico and Zayante Creeks, there was very little room for expansion at Eccles. Furthermore, its very suitability as a residential and agricultural area meant that there was little room for new commercial ventures in the area. Appearing 0.4 miles to the south beginning in 1900, a rival to Eccles appeared in the form of Olympia. For over a decade, this location remained a simple flag-stop, but its potential as a resort area was far better than Eccles' and, in 1913, a coup in the timetables occurred: Eccles was demoted to a flag-stop and Olympia replaced it as the premiere stop for the region. Like Eccles before it, Olympia benefited from access to sand quarries, providing it with an industrial purpose, but there was also much more room to expand since a large meadow sprawled on the west bank of Zayante Creek here and even the east bank provided substantial space for expansion. Two years later, on April 10, 1915, Olympia stole the post office from Eccles and the name Eccles quickly fell into disuse by the community.

The Eccles station sign on display at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. [Derek R. Whaley]
The station appeared and disappeared as a flag-stop on timetables for the remainder of the existence of the route through the Santa Cruz Mountains, but who used the station during this time and for what is unknown. It may well have still serviced a few small resorts in the area as a place where passengers could flag down a train or detrain, but the removal of the spur there around 1910 certainly ended its time as a freight stop. The shelter at Eccles may have been removed as early as 1916 or lasted for decades like the shelters as Zayante and Olympia. The stop was formally abandoned by the railroad August 31, 1942, later than the other stops on the line, suggesting that the railroad may have considered designating it the end of the line before choosing Olympia for that honor. This also suggests the tracks were removed only after that date. A fill just to the south of the Eccles station site connects it to the current end-of-track.

Roaring Camp Railroads' end-of-track just south of the site of Eccles, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0784N, 122.0508W

The site of Eccles is just off the north branch of Zayante School Road. Today, it serves primarily as a parking lot for local residents and no evidence of the railroad except the right-of-way and station site, now a clearing, remains. A sandstone wall at the stop may mark the site of the former freight platform. This site is publicly accessible off East Zayante Road. The station sign for the stop is on display at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History's history gallery.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Second edition. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Stations: Kenville

The probable location of Kenville, today marked by a chain and boulder to
stop cars continuing down the former right-of-way, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
Some Southern Pacific Railroad stations in the Santa Cruz Mountains were major industrial or tourist stops, catering to thousands of people during peak years. Others were of lesser importance. But one thing can be certain, none was less relevant than Kenville. Named after Joseph Sherman Kenville, an early resident of the area, Kenville Station was a private passenger and freight flag-stop catering to Kenville's farm that spanned both sides of Zayante Creek and included much of modern-day Quail Hollow Ranch.

Joseph Kenville was born in Coteau Landing, Quebec in 1823. He moved to Santa Cruz County in 1865 after spending some time as a gold miner and stage coach driver in Nevada. He soon married America Baker (1848-1929) and with her had at least seven and possibly ten children. He homesteaded a 44-acre tract of land just north of Rancho Zayante beginning in 1866. In 1870, he tripled the size of his property to 132 acres by purchasing the homestead of Amos Moon for $2,000. In 1878, the South Pacific Coast Railroad encountered his property as they were grading and leased an easement through it. As a likely perk of this deal, Kenville was probably given an informal flag-stop which he could use to ship out his goods to nearby settlements.

Kneville specialized in growing watermelons, although he also grew other crops on his farm. There is no evidence of any structures at his flag stop other than a station sign, but a platform may have been installed to facilitate the transfer of goods into boxcars. This station only officially appeared in station books in January 1893 and it never appeared in any other official railroad documentation, giving further evidence of its informal status.

Kenville and his unmarried children moved to Santa Cruz in 1902, selling the property to William and Leona Richards from Los Angeles. It is unknown if they ever utilized the stop. Kenville Station remained in station books until 1909, when the reopening of the route through the mountains following its upgrading to standard-gauge likely led to a reduction in the number of old informal stops. Joseph Kenville died at his home in Santa Cruz on January 4, 1911. Some of his descendants still remain in the Santa Cruz area. What would become Quail Hollow Ranch was sold by the Richards in 1910 to Emil and Genie Grunig, who called it Sun Kissed Ranch. They died in an automobile accident in 1936 and their heirs sold the ranch to Laurence Lane, publisher of Sunset Magazine. The railroad tracks at the former Kenville stop were dismantled in 1941 following the abandonment of the line by the railroad the previous November. The only relic that remains on the site other than the right-of-way is a semaphore foundation block that once supported an Automatic Block Signal that regulated traffic through the nearby Zayante Tunnel.

Geo-coordinates and Access Rights:
37.0828N, 122.0483W

The precise location of Kenville is not known for certain due to the fact that station books at this time rounded all station locations to the nearest mile. However, the presence of Old Kenville Road, which follows the former right-of-way for half of its length, gives a clue. Just before the road turns east and uphill, there is a former road to the west that branches off Sylvan Way. It seems likely that this road was one the main access road between the railroad and Kenville Station, since Old Kenville Road would not have been usable prior to the railroad's abandonment. If so, then this former junction probably served as the station point. This is further supported by the fact that there is a long cut to the south and a grade fill and equally long cut to the north. This one point is the only location between Eccles and Tunnel 5 where a station could have been located.

Personal Retrospective:
I visited this site in March 2012 a few months after hearing Brian Liddicoat speak on the topic of local railroads at a University of California, Santa Cruz, history lecture. I reached this location the same way many had before me: by following the Roaring Camp tracks beyond their terminus at a sandhill just south of Zayante School Road. It struck me then how obvious the former right-of-way was. Old Kenville Road was a mystery to me at the time—I had never heard the name before and was not curious in any way regarding its origins. Nonetheless, it was exceedingly obvious that the well-maintained dirt road that extended north from Zayante School Road was, in fact, the former railroad right-of-way. Walking this road was my first adventure—my first journey down a path that I still walk today. By walking down this dirt road, I finally began to envision how the railroad operated, where it went, and why it was important. I no longer saw this as some obscure rural driveway—which it is today—but rather a relic of a bygone era. It was revelatory and changed my entire worldview regarding where I had lived most of my life. On March 7, I setup a Blogger site dedicated initially to the South Pacific Coast Railroad, not yet understanding what journey I had begun (the underlying code for this website remains Over the next day, I began my research, using Kenville as one of my first keywords. I discovered, to my continuing amazement, a completely scanned copy of the Southern Pacific Railroad's 1899 Stations, Officers, and Agents book, which conductors and engineers carried with them to help them determine their locations and station specifications. Even today, this remains an important source since 1899 proved a very eventful year for the railroad. With this limited information, my own on-the-ground research, and a few random websites, I released on March 9, 2012, my first blog post on the subject of local railroads: "Kenville." In retrospect, it was a poorly-researched and exceedingly aspirational article, but without it, I may never have continued to explore the route. This was the first article—now there are well over 300 blog posts, two published books, two more books in development, and many more exciting things for Santa Cruz Trains coming in the future.

Citations & Credits:
  • Find-A-Grave, "Joseph Kenville".
  • Clark, Donald T. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Second edition. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007.
  • Lehmann, Susan Collins. Quail Hollow Ranch: a history. Santa Cruz, CA: Historic Resources Commission, 1992.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Tunnels: Zayante (Tunnel 5)

Among the tunnels found along the South Pacific Coast Railroad's route through the Santa Cruz Mountains, tunnel #5 in Zayante is by far the easiest to view, although it hardly appears as it did during the age of steam. In 1879, the railroad grading crews of McKoy & Company encountered a granite promontory on the east bank of Zayante Creek. For whatever reason, the railroad decided to bore through the rock rather than dynamite it. The density and stability of the rock was such that no interior scaffolding was required inside, although it initially had wooden portals on either side. The total length of the tunnel was 250 feet, the second shortest tunnel along the right-of-way.

Zayante Tunnel proved to be an entirely unremarkable tunnel throughout its time as a railroad tunnel. The Southern Pacific Railroad, which took over the line in 1887, upgraded the tunnel to standard gauge in 1907, in the process widening the tunnel and replacing the wood portals with concrete. Owing to the daylighting of Tunnels #1 (Cats Canyon) and #7 (Hogsback), the tunnel was renumbered Tunnel 4, a designation it retained for the next thirty years. At the time the route was abandoned in November 1940, the Zayante Tunnel remained entirely intact. Unlike the three tunnels further to the north, Southern Pacific decided against dynamiting this structure, perhaps because it was far more stable internally or an explosion could have destabilized the entire hillside above it.

For the next fifteen years, the tunnel entered its second life as a local thoroughfare. Photographic and written evidence attest to the fact that locals used the tunnel and right-of-way between Woodland Road (Western States Drive  from 1953) and Madrone Way, called Redwood Road on US Geological Survey maps, as an unpaved access way. Southern Pacific probably still owned both the tunnel and right-of-way during this period, but they did not stop locals from using the tunnel and railbed.

Western States Atomic Vault facility in Zayante, February 1, 1957. [Derek R. Whaley]
The Zayante Tunnel's third life began in 1952, when the Western States Atomic Vault Company, Inc., purchased the tunnel, right-of-way, and Woodland Road for their own uses. Cold War fears prompted nuclear shelters to be built across the United States and Santa Cruz County was no different. Capitalizing on these fears, Western States purchased the old tunnel in order to convert it into just such a shelter, albeit one where companies and the government could store vital documents. The remoteness of the location and its situation under a granite hillside sealed the deal.

A peak inside the atomic vault, 1983. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
By the end of 1953, the tunnel was sealed on either end except for limited-access entry doors. Both sides were gated and fenced and a 24/7 guard was stationed in a gatehouse on the south side. Inside, the ballast floor was covered with concrete and overhead, an intricate climate control system was installed to maintain a constant temperature and humidity. The facility officially opened on May 2, 1954, and has remained in continuous use ever since. Most of the contents of the vault are microfilm and microfiche records, but other trinkets include early Walt Disney Company film reels, government marriage certificates, and a massive miniatures collection.

The sealing of the tunnel ended most local use of the tunnel as a thoroughfare. At some point later, possibly during the floods of 1955 or 1982, a major sink appeared about 0.1 miles north of the tunnel along the right-of-way, effectively ending all use of Redwood Road by locals or vault crews. Western States Atomic Vault Company was purchased by FileSafe in 1989 which subsequently sold the facility to Iron Mountain in 2003. Iron Mountain closed the facility in June 2017 and it is currently being prepared for sale.

The heavily-graffitied north side of the
Western States Atomic Vault in Zayante,
once the western portal of Tunnel 4 of the
Southern Pacific Railroad.
[Derek R. Whaley]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
West Portal: 37.087˚N, 122.045˚W
East Portal: 37.086˚N, 122.046˚W

The western (north) portal of the Zayante Tunnel can be accessed via Western States Drive by heading south along the right-of-way. There is a significant washout along this route so some light climbing is required to get around it. The portal can also be viewed at a distance from East Zayante Road just north of Madrone Way on the opposite side of the rocky promontory. The portal has a chainlink fence around it and has been sealed in concrete, except for an emergency escape door. The eastern (south) portal can be directly accessed from the top of Madrone Way, although the entrance is obscured and access is restricted. The entire front façade of the tunnel has been sealed and two large fan vents have been added to the portal. The original date of the tunnel is now covered. A guardhouse and office sit immediately in front of the portal with a chainlink fence surrounding the facility's parking lot. A guard is always on duty but tours of the facility have not been allowed since Iron Mountain took over the facility.

Citations & Credits:
  • De Leuw, Cather & Company, "Santa Cruz-Los Gatos Rail Corridor Feasibility Study: Final Draft Report," prepared for the Joint Policy Board (December 1994).
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Stations: Dougherty's Spur

When the South Pacific Coast Railroad first surveyed its route through the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1877, the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company made a recommendation to them in regards to the route of the right-of-way. The Dougherty family had been operating mills in the Los Gatos Creek basin for over a decade by this point, but their timber tracts were quickly being depleted. An initial attempt to use Mountain Charlie Road to haul timber over from Zayante Creek proved to be too costly and difficult. However, the coming of the railroad gave them a new option—hauling by train. By 1878, the route to Santa Cruz had been decided and it was agreed that it would pass into the San Lorenzo Valley via Zayante. The Doughertys began building their mill at the confluence of Zayante Creek and Mountain Charlie Gulch, a naturally low place where a mill pond could be easily maintained. However, the issue of hauling the cut timber remained due to the fact that the right-of-way sat on a shelf high above the valley floor.

The Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company milling complex on Zayante Creek, c. 1885. Note the lumber train in the foreground—probably the "Felton" from the former Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad—as well as the row of empty flatcars to the right. In the distance, the skid road further up Zayante Creek can be seen. Workers homes and the Dougherty village can be seen on the right, while the site foreman's home is at left. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
Remains of the Dougherty's Spur trestle over Zayante
Creek beside Western States Drive, 2014. [Derek Whaley]
Probably in early 1880, immediately after the main track was installed along the South Pacific Coast's right-of-way, Dougherty crews began building a spur that broke off from a location just north of the Zayante Tunnel (Tunnel #5). Built on a tight budget, the track crossed Zayante Creek on a high and rather rickety trestle bridge before switchbacking at least once to ease the descent down to creek level. Once at creek level, the narrow-gauge route continued north for approximately 1.7 miles, roughly following the modern-day alignment of East Zayante Road until it reached the mill. Although historians have speculated that the track was extended up to two miles further, photographic evidence of the mill does not support this assertion and instead shows a well-made skid road heading to the north. The narrowness of the canyon to the north makes such an extension unlikely.

The mill itself, constructed around 1879, was run by William Patrick Dougherty and his brother James. It was a hugely successful operation and perhaps the most profitable industrial venture along the newly-built railroad route. Wood cut at the Zayante Creek mill was shipped primarily to the company's primary yard in Santa Clara, although a decent portion made it to Loveladys, where it was transferred for use in the New Almaden Quicksilver mines. The mill was capable of producing 30,000 board feet of lumber daily and employed up to 125 men per summer. The community at Zayante was so remote in the 1880s that it had to be self-sustaining. The site hosted a school, a general store, and homes for workers and their families.

Disaster struck in 1886, though. At the height of the lumber season, the primary mill burned to the ground. Although the company quickly recovered and constructed a temporary mill, the fire marked the end of an era. By the close of 1887, the company shut down the mill and transferred most of their supplies to Boulder Creek, where from early 1888 they built a private railroad north to a new mill along the San Lorenzo River.

With the relocation of the mill, Dougherty's Spur fell into disuse. The station at the grade was briefly renamed Zayante in 1889, but Dougherty's Spur was broken off as its own stop 0.4 miles to the south the next year. Zayante became Meehan in 1892. An entirely different stop at a location further to the south called Kenville then replaced Dougherty's Spur in 1893. While what actually occurred during this years cannot be determined for certain, what likely happened is that the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company was responsible for the spur lines demolition. Probably beginning in 1888, the company began tearing up the rails, piece-by-piece, for use on their new line near Boulder Creek. Because of this, parts of it may have remained intact as late as 1892, when the stop was permanently removed from Southern Pacific Station Books. Regardless, it seems certain that the spur was no longer in use once the mill moved so its inclusion on agency books was undoubtedly for administrative reasons.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.090˚N, 122.043˚W

The precise location of the Dougherty's Spur stop along the grade is uncertain but is likely slightly south of the point where Western States Drive crosses the right-of-way. A remnant of the former trestle bridge over Zayante Creek can be seen along this road on the north side as one crosses the Zayante Creek automobile bridge. Only the east bank of the bridge survives since a home has been built on the west bank. The orientation of the bridge and later developments in the area have made it difficult to determine the precise method by which the tracks approached the crossing. Nothing else survives of the former right-of-way along East Zayante Road to the mill.

The location where Dougherty's Spur split from East Zayante Drive, 2014. The driveway to the left marks the original path of the railroad spur, while the road bypassed the site of the mill by following the curvature of the hillside on the east side of Zayante Creek. [Google StreetView]
The site of the mill itself is now mostly a private residence which can be seen across the creek from Upper Zayante Road in a section of road between two bridges that briefly lead motorists to the east bank of the creek. Except for some concrete relics scattered along the creek bed, nothing survives of the mill.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clark, Donald T. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • 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, May 25, 2018

Stations: Meehan

For being one of the most important railroad stops along the Zayante Creek section of the Southern Pacific Railroad's route through the Santa Cruz Mountains, Meehan is virtually unknown even within railroad circles. Much of this may relate to confusion caused by the placement of the non-station Gibbs at the same location in USGS maps and by historians such as Donald Clark and Rick Hamman, and the fact that the name "Meehan" appears to be taken from Patrick Meehan, a Southern Pacific track foreman but otherwise inconsequential individual in relation to the area. One thing is certain, though: Meehan was the primary passenger station for people living in the Zayante and Lompico residential areas.

The origins of Meehan are fairly well-known. Established by the South Pacific Coast Railroad around 1879 as Dougherty's Mill (later just Dougherty), the location was where the privately-owned spur of the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company (Doughertys) broke off from the mainline track and descended down to creek level. Although the mill closed in late 1887, the spur remained in place until the standard-gauging of the line in 1908. Soon after the Southern Pacific leased the route in 1887, they renamed the stop Zayante, possible to avoid confusion with the privately-owned Dougherty Extension Railroad begun in 1888 north of Boulder Creek. Curiously, in 1891, a new stop appeared 0.4 miles south of Zayante under the name Doughertys Spur, suggesting that the actual split in the line did not occur at Zayante but rather further to the south. In 1892, Zayante became Meehan and White Flag Spur, the next stop to the north, became known as Zayante. Why these names were shuffled around in this way remains a mystery. The station would retain the name Meehan until the formal abandonment of the route in November 1940.

Newspaper advertisement showing horseshoe falls along Zayante Creek within the Zayante Lakes subdivision, July 1925. [Oakland Tribune]
Unlike many other stops and stations in the area, Meehan was always included on railroad timetables and in station books as a full station, not a flag-stop. Its modern remote location actually betrays its true importance to the communities and industries of the Zayante Creek basin. At the top of the spur to the Dougherty mill, it served as an important freight transfer point from 1879 to 1887 between the mill and Santa Clara, where the company kept its main lumber yard. Throughout its existence, a siding was maintained at grade level, measuring 441 feet in narrow-gauge times and 775 (10 car-lengths) feet after the conversion to standard-gauge. In later years, the communities of Lompico (founded in 1925), Zayante Lakes (1925), and Zayante Park (1931), all developed below or near Meehan. And this was intentional. Easy railroad access could help seasonal homes and cottages more effectively. Also, the logging activity of the Doughertys, the Union Mill, and other companies meant that the tree cover in the area was significantly more reduced.

Map of proposed properties in the Lompico subdivision, c. 1910. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
Remnants of the railroad's impact on the Zayante area still survive and are a testament to the relative importance it held over Zayante-area residential subdivisions. Within the periphery of Meehan are East Hill Road, Western States Drive (originally Woodland Road), East Creek Road, and Laurel Way. All of these roads either cross, terminate at, or are within walking distance of the railroad right-of-way and all end at residential subdivisions founded in the first decades of the twentieth century. Meanwhile, Lompico, even today severely isolated with the exception of a single road, originally was to have a second road that branched off Gladys Avenue that would terminate at Meehan. Even today, if you search on Google Maps for "Zayante, CA," the results will place you at a location along East Zayante Road directly below Meehan.

Photograph of Meehan station with overgrown siding, c. 1938. Automatic Block Signals are visible in the distance. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
It is unknown how much damage the Meehan area received in the February 26, 1940, storm that permanently disabled the line, leading to its abandonment later that year. The known photograph of it in the late 1930s, however, shows that the siding was overgrown, unused, and sinking slightly. The Great Depression slowed development in the Zayante area so probably left an impact on Meehan as well. There is no evidence of a station shelter at the site, but many such shelters had been removed in previous years and, considering its importance to the communities and its longevity, Meehan likely had a station for at least some of the period.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.095˚N, 122.039˚W

The site of Meehan station is privately owned and trespassing is discouraged. Remnants of the railroad can be found there, including a 1913 culvert and a dilapidated railroad-tie retaining wall below the former siding location. It is unclear whether any of the damage to this wall occurred in 1940 or afterwards, although there is no evidence that the right-of-way north of Meehan was ever used as a public access road as was the route to the Zayante Tunnel (Atomic Vault) to the south. No other features set it apart from the rest of the Zayante Creek-area right-of-way.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Stations: Zayante

Zayante's station shelter beside the standard-gauge mainline, 1938. Note
how the road wraps around the back of the shelterbefore crossing the tracks
to head up to Glenwood. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
High above the confluence of Zayante Creek and Mountain Charlie Gulch sat the eponymous Zayante Station. Unlike most other stations along the former South Pacific Coast Railroad grade between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz, this location lived through three entirely different lives before quietly disappearing from memory.
In fact, when it first appeared, it was not called Zayante at all! The station probably existed from the very beginning, around 1879, as an informal flag-stop for employees who worked at the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company (Doughertys) mill far below the railroad grade. Although the railroad had its own stop a mile to the south, that catered primarily to freight transfers onto the spur to the mill. It was much more convenient for work crews to trudge up the double switchback road to the grade and flag down a passing train. At the time that the mill closed and the Southern Pacific Railroad took over the line, both events occurring in 1887, there was still no formal recognition of a stop at the top of the switchback. Such a location only appeared in the February 1891 stations book under the name White Flag Spur, a lazy name that says much. Although the purpose of a spur at the site in 1891 is unknown, the existence of a white flag indicted that people could flag down a train here. It was a probably a name for the stop that had been used informally for over a decade but was only picked up by the Southern Pacific after it had completed the takeover of the former South Pacific Coast properties.

The name Zayante, a reference to the Ohlone Native American tribe that had once inhabited the San Lorenzo Valley, was not immediately attached to this location due to a naming conflict with another station further to the south. In 1890, Southern Pacific had renamed the old Dougherty's Mill station "Zayante," since the mill had closed and the term was anachronistic. But in 1891, the railroad added a new stop 0.4 miles to the south under the name "Doughertys Spur," while retaining Zayante as the name of the nearby station. By July 1892, the station name had become Meehan and White Flag Spur was designated Zayante, a name it would retain for the next forty-eight years.

For the next decade, Zayante lived out a meager existence as a flag-stop far removed from any significant settlement. A few houses may have been located on the former mill site below the station, but there is no evidence for other homesteads in the immediate area. However, the switchbacked road that went to the grade continued to the top of the hill, from where it could reach Glenwood and Scotts Valley, suggesting the stop may have been situated at a convenient shortcut between the Upper Zayante-Summit area and the Branciforte-Bean Creek highlands. Later photographs of the stop consistently show a grade crossing beside the station, suggesting at least infrequent use of this shortcut. The spur implied by "White Flag Spur" may have serviced local farmers who needed a place to ship out goods, although no actual evidence for this exists. When the location finally was registered as a full station in December 1905, the spur was noted as being 315-feet-long, a not insignificant length that could park a number of passenger or freight cars. One thing is certain regarding Zayante: it was the only station in the area with direct vehicular access, albeit via a very steep switchback.

Gibbs Resort on the top of the ridge over the railroad grade, c. 1910.
Following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and the subsequent standard-gauging of the line, the spur at the station was lengthened to 400 feet. This expansion of the station's infrastructure was inevitably due to the opening of Gibbs Resort located far up on the ridge. Alfred W. J. Gibbs had owned the large, sandy, chaparral parcel since at least 1878 and leased a tiny portion of the property to the South Pacific Coast for use in the railroad's right-of-way. It was probably Gibbs who first connected the switchback at White Flag Spur through his own property to Mountain Charlie Road (later Glenwood Highway / Drive). A current resident of the resort property claims this road was named Alameda Boulevard, after the railroad's northern terminus. Portions of this route were upgraded in the late 1990s for use as a fire road for local residents.

When Gibbs first opened his resort is not entirely known, but on November 28, 1900, a post office opened at his ranch under the name Gibbs. From 1900 to 1906, the post office operated continuously, and it ran seasonally until 1916. The ranch thrived on its rustic nature, although it also had a great view of the Monterey Bay. It was primarily a campground and  supported with a general store and post office, a cookhouse, a dance hall, and cabins. The photograph above also shows a home and a barn, probably both for Gibbs's personal use. The railroad also increased its support for the resort, installing a small station shed beside the tracks and road in 1901. Gibbs personally ran a stage coach between the station and the resort throughout this time.

Gibbs appears to have closed in the mid-1910s. The post office relocated in 1916 to some other location, possibly another small resort in the area. There is no evidence that a post office or commercial structure was situated at Zayante station itself, although a mailbox is often shown beside the station shelter, which probably still served as the postal distribution point. Wherever the post office was located, it finally shut its doors in April 1938. The spur disappeared from station plats of Zayante around 1909 but continued to be listed on timetables until 1930, so its continuing existence is uncertain. Photograph evidence proves that it was gone by the late 1930s. By 1936, the station served only 10 local families, although there was continuing traffic to the stop provided by local resorts, such as Camp Wasibo, run by the Camp Fire Girls.

The remote location and the severe decline in rail traffic through the 1930s actually contributed to Zayante's final moment of glory. In the spring of 1937, the Universal Film Company and Hollywood glitterati descended upon Santa Cruz County to film an action movie deep in the mountains entitled West Bound Limited. Hotel Palomar in downtown Santa Cruz became the temporary home of celebrity director Ford Beebe, famed art director Ralph DeLacy, associate producer Henry McRae, and popular actor Lyle Talbot. Other actors, such as Henry Hunter, Polly Rowles, Henry Brandon, and Frank Reicher, joined them, spending their free time at the Boardwalk and other local sites.

Train approaching the artificial station set for West Bound Limited, 1937. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
Cast and crew stop for lunch between Zayante's shelter and
a passenger train during the filming of West Bound Limited,
1937. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
Zayante Station was chosen as the primary location for external scenes due to its remoteness, the nearby sounds of rushing water, and ease of accessibility. A special studio train brought in production materials and shuttled the crew and actors from Santa Cruz to Zayante, where a temporary station structure was erected across from the actual Southern Pacific shelter. Interior scenes were filmed at Felton Station, while others scenes were completed at Big Trees, Olympia, and Inspiration Point on State Route 9, all along the track. Production lasted roughly a week and involved the studio borrowing a passenger and a freight train from the Southern Pacific. Al G. Hemmerstram from the railroad remained on site to ensure the authenticity of all railroad scenes.

The film follows the story of Dave Tolliver (Talbot), the local railroad agent for the fictional town of Hargraves, who is hoodwinked by a man posing as a corpse who then steals the Bonanza Gold Mine payroll. Tolliver tries to retrieve the payroll, but unwisely abandons his post in the process, resulting in a deadly railroad collision. He is imprisoned for manslaughter but escapes, after which he eventually exonerates himself in a story of mystery, suspense, and romance.

Production was hampered by intemperate weather, a low-flowing stream, and numerous landslides along the tracks. Additionally, a special lightning effect nearly exploded unexpectedly, but Talbot and Beebe were able to defuse it before it injured or killed any of the nearby and unaware crew. Zayante’s remoteness kept down the usual number of visitors to the filming location, but dozens of local extras were employed in scenes in Felton and elsewhere. Filming wrapped on May 3, only days before a Federated Motion Picture Crafts strike was scheduled to begin. Cast and crew were feted at one final well-attended dinner at Hotel Palomar before heading back to Hollywood. The film premiered in Santa Cruz on July 11, 1937.

Following completion of filming at the site, Zayante formally remained in operation until March 1941, although the railroad route had unofficially closed after the disastrous winter storm of February 1940. The shelter was presumably scrapped and the site abandoned.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.105˚N, 122.023˚W

The site of Zayante Station is accessed at the top of the switchbacked City of Santa Cruz fire road located at the confluence of Zayante Creek and Mountain Charlie Gulch. Trespassing is not encouraged, although it is also rarely enforced. The actual shelter location is still quite visible beside the former right-of-way on the creek side of the fire road. The fire road to Weston Road, formerly the road to Gibbs Resort, is directly across from the station site behind a gate. At the resort itself, only the original cookhouse survives, although it is now used as a private residence that goes by the name "Gibbs Station," as stated on its entry sign. DVD copies of West Bound Limited are available at the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park store.

Gibbs Station, home to the Gibbs Resort cookhouse, on Weston Road near Glenwood, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2007.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1900 to 1937.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Stations: Tank Siding

High above Mountain Charlie Gulch only 0.4 miles from Virginia to the east and 0.6 miles from Zayante to the west sat unassuming Tank Siding. Nowhere else along the Southern Pacific Railroad line through the Santa Cruz Mountains was a station name so blunt, so obvious. Serving as the half-way point between Wright and Felton—the two other stops along the line that hosted water towers—Tank Siding was located conveniently beside a natural spring that provided a constant source of water for passing locomotives that were struggling to make it through the mountains. Although the stop never appeared on South Pacific Coast Railroad timetables, its entry in the first Southern Pacific timetable of the route in 1888 suggests it was an original, albeit undocumented, station along the line. The original water tower was gravity-fed from a holding pool up on the hillside that delivered water to the tank via a short redwood box flume. Following the upgrading of the tracks to standard gauge in 1908, the water tower and the box flume and box flume were replaced. The larger tank was fed via a pipe that was drilled directly to the water source.

March 1, 1940, Southern Pacific survey photograph showing significant sinking in the area across from the Tank Siding water tower. The eastern edge of the siding can also be seen here, which wraps around the next curve in the photo below. The station sign is visible center-right. [Bruce MacGregor]
For such a remote and seemingly straightforward stop, Tank Siding actually had multiple sidings and spurs, as well as a freight patron. Extant photographs from 1940 show a siding splitting off to the west immediately in front of the water tank, which continued for some distance. Meanwhile, a freight spur was on the other side of the water tank, terminating just before it, which originally had a 96-square-foot platform running alongside it for freight loading. The freight patron was the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company, which operated a clay quarry in the gulch. Immediately after the route between Santa Cruz and Tank Siding was cleared after the San Francisco Earthquake, around 1908, the quarry began operations, shipping loaded clay gondola cars to the cement plant in Davenport, which had opened in 1906. The company also briefly operated a lumber mill here, with accompanying support structures, although those disappear from records within a few years.

Another Southern Pacific photograph from March 1940 showing the double track just to the west of Tank Siding, curving around the sandstone hillside. [Bruce MacGregor] 
How long the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company operated at the site is unknown, but it was no longer using the station by the 1930s. Throughout much of the station's history, it acted as an official flag stop of the line and appeared on both public and employee timetables, as well as all agency books. Abandonment records for the line in 1940 show that around 40 people still lived within the vicinity of the station and, at least hypothetically, were potential customers. However, Tank Siding's stated purpose as a fuel stop declined as locomotives became more efficient. With the upgrading of the tracks to standard gauge in 1908, the water tower there was reclassified for emergency use only. How frequently locomotives used it in either period remains unknown.

Photograph looking west from beyond the end of the double track, with a large sink area beside the tracks emphasised by Southern Pacific surveyors, March 1940.
[Bruce MacGregor]
A different angle of the stretch of track in the above photograph, 1940. [Bruce MacGregor]

Like the rest of the line in 1940, the station was abandoned and the water tower scrapped. Indeed, quite a lot of the damage to the line in the February storm occurred in the Tank Siding area due to the sedimentary nature of the topsoil. Sinks appeared under the tracks in multiple places and the constant run-off from the water tower certainly did not improve the situation. Southern Pacific Railroad survey crews photographed this area extensively and a number of these photographs survived to provide the images of the station above. No earlier known photographs survive—the image used on the cover of Bruce MacGregor's original South Pacific Coast book was misidentified and is, in fact, Camp Teller in Northern California. The natural spring that once fed water into the tank at the site also appears to have either dried up or been closed due to some natural event, possibly the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.103˚N, 122.014˚W

The site of Tank Siding is owned by the Santa Cruz City Water District and trespassing is not allowed, although rarely enforced. There are a few relics of the railroad at the site, including a telephone pole and pipes in the hillside. Metal detectors would doubtless discover more material just beneath the surface. The site is easily identifiable by the wide clearing on either side, the creek side of which has sunken significantly.

The site of Tank Siding along the route near the end of the Santa Cruz Water District property, c. 2010. [Brian Liddicoat]

Citations & Credits:
  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • MacGregor, Bruce A., and Richard Truesdale. South Pacific Coast: A Centennial. Boulder, CA: Pruett Publishing, 1982.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Stations: Virginia

For a station that sat on employee railroad timetables for twenty-four years, Virginia is one of the least conspicuous, most remote, and undoubtedly least used stops along the Southern Pacific Railroad's line through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Located midway between Tank Siding to the west and Clems to the east, the site itself served as a construction camp when the Mountain Charlie Tunnel was first built in 1878. However, it was only three decades later, in 1905, that the stop was first registered in timetables under the name Virginia, after the Virginia Timber & Lumber Company. The company operated out of West Virginia but in mid 1899 purchased a large tract of timber that likely included at its southern end Mountain Charlie Gulch. It is probably around this time that the company first started operating off the South Pacific Coast track in the area, possibly at Tank Siding, although there is no evidence to support this at present. By September 1903, the company was involved in a lawsuit with the Glenwood Lumber Company, which operated along nearby Bean Creek, suggesting it had been operating in the area for at least that year, if not earlier.

There is very little documentation of this station. It first appeared on the December 31, 1905, Coast Division employee timetable as a full station 67.2 miles from San Francisco via Alameda Point. It had no passenger service but did have a spur that measured 98-feet-long. This was a narrow-gauge spur since the line was not converted to standard-gauge until 1908. After the conversion, the spur was extended tenfold to 952 feet, which would have allowed a number of freight cars to park beside the mainline track. This massively extended spur can probably be explained as a result of the massive need for building materials required to rebuild San Francisco. Virginia was indisputably a freight stop specialising in lumber exports, although it is not clear whether the lumber shipped out of the station was shipped to a planing mill or whether it was planed on site. What is strange, however, is that the spur's length is reduced to a more reasonable 271 feet by the end of 1909, suggesting the longer length may have simply been an administrative error. Although it began as a freight-only stop, by the early 1910s it was designated a flag-stop along the Santa Cruz Limited passenger train, which catered to all local stops in the mountains. This service seems to have ended in the early 1920s, when all scheduled traffic to the location ceased. The spur at the station, meanwhile, disappeared from timetables in 1917, suggesting the Virginia Timber & Lumber Company had abandoned operations at their mill there. Considering the company's lack of coverage by the Sentinel and other news outlets, it seems likely that this was always a relatively small milling operation in a region that had already been heavily logged in the 1870s and 1880s. Nonetheless, the stop remained on the books until January 1930.

The Virginia Timber & Lumber Company slowed its operations by the late 1910s and ceased entirely by the 1920s, if not earlier. Through the course of the 1930s and 1940s, the company divested itself of most of its lands in the Bay Area, including vast tracts that ran along Skyline Boulevard through San Mateo County. No known photographs exist of the station or the operation along Mountain Charlie Gulch.

The present-day site of Virginia above Mountain Charlie Gulch, 2013. Railroad right-of-way crosses from the left of the photo to behind the tractor. [Derek R. Whaley]
Official Railroad Information:
Virginia was located 67.0 miles from San Francisco via the Mayfield Cut-Off and 13.0 miles from Santa Cruz. It included a 98-foot-long spur which was used by the Virginia Timber & Milling Company. The class-B status of the station implied that there was a siding at the stop, but no platform or other facilities were noted there.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.102˚N, 122.004˚W

The site of Virginia is just west of the eastern portal of the Mountain Charlie Tunnel (Tunnel #4) where the railroad right-of-way crosses a private driveway. While the right-of-way across this private road is owned by the Santa Cruz Water District, it is unmaintained and generally hosts a pile of debris from the nearby residents. Trespassing is not advised but explorers are unlikely to be fined by the water district.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clark, Donald T. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • Whaley, Derek R.. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Maps: Summit Tunnel to Mountain Charlie Tunnel

The scenery along the Santa Cruz Mountain portion of the Southern Pacific Railroad's route between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz was rather rudely interrupted for over four miles between Wright's Station and the small stop known as Virginia, when two tunnels stretching over a mile each plunged passing trains into seemingly eternal darkness. But between these tunnels, and a shorter one further down the line, small towns welcomed visitors and did their utmost to attract the Bay Area elite to stay, if only for a weekend. The hamlet of Laurel, high upon a narrow cleft over Soquel Creek, served as the transfer point for hotels and resorts and also the main staging area for the F.A. Hihn Company lumber mill, located in the valley below. A mile further down the line, travellers found the larger village of Glenwood, featuring attractive picnic grounds and water holes, resorts dotting the hills, and vineyards flanked by a wide meadow. Both of these places still exist today as remnants, bereft of their commercial buildings and community centers but nonetheless vibrant and alive with activity. The trains established them and now they live on, eight decades after the last locomotive passed through their hearts.

Bridge over Soquel Creek at Laurel, c. 1902. [MAH]
Storm damage along the tracks at Laurel, April 9, 1940.
[Bruce MacGregor]
Map of Southern Pacific trackage between the Summit
Tunnel and Mountain Charlie Tunnel, c. 1905-1940.
 [US Geologic Survey, 1919 map]

Boxcars outside the station at Laurel, c. 1910.
[George Pepper]
Glenwood Tunnel's west portal looking out at Laurel,
c. 1910. [MAH]
A view of Glenwood from the hillside, c. 1920.
[Edward Fenn]

Glenwood Magnetic Springs, c. 1895. Photo by
 Carleton E. Watkins. [Bancroft Library]
The double-track heading west, away from Glenwood
station, c. 1920. [MAH]
General Store at Glenwood, as viewed from across the tracks,
c. 1920. [MAH]
Tracks near Glenwood, c. 1930. [Margaret Koch]
Southern Pacific survey photo of the Mountain Charlie Tunnel's
west portal, February 28, 1940. [Bruce MacGregor]

Friday, April 13, 2018

Tunnels: Mountain Charlie (Tunnel 4)

Eastern portal of the Mountain Charlie
Tunnel, c. 2010. [Brian Liddicoat]
Just west of Clems along the former railroad route between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz, the South Pacific Coast Railroad bored a short tunnel beneath Mountain Charlie Road, the former main highway between Lexington and Scotts Valley. At 913-feet-long, Tunnel 4 was unremarkable to the people who built it in 1878. The tunnel was constructed by Osborn & Company at the same time that the Glenwood and Summit tunnels were under construction. It opened to through traffic on Christmas Day, 1878, although it would be another year before tracks were installed by Muer & Redfield.

The tunnel walls were composed largely of sandstone, which meant that the chance of cave-in was high. Closely-placed redwood bents and beams were installed along its entire length, with strong redwood portals on either side. About 300 feet of the western portal, above Bean Creek, Clem & Company eventually had a stop installed. About the same distance from the eastern portal, above Mountain Charlie Gulch, the Virginia Timber & Milling Company installed a stop. Both stops supported a siding that allowed trains to wait outside the tunnel, although more standardized systems were in place to avoid such problems. Unfortunately, no photographs of the original tunnel seem to exist.

Southern Pacific survey photo of the western portal of the Mountain Charlie Tunnel, March 1, 1940. [Bruce MacGregor]

The tunnel did not sustain significant damage during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake but it was nonetheless standard-gauged two years later by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The interior of the tunnel was widened to support larger trains, with all the support structure being replaced with more evenly-spaced redwood bents and beams. The sandstone walls and ceiling proved incredibly stable, so less support was required inside the bore. On either side, new concrete portals were installed, both of identical design with tall concrete buttresses angled toward the right-of-way on either side of the entrance itself. Because of the remoteness of the tunnel and how far below Mountain Charlie Road it was situated, no railings or other protective devices were installed. However, a guard rail was installed along the track throughout the tunnel to mitigate damage caused by derailments. The railroad renumbered it Tunnel 3, since the tunnel on Los Gatos Creek (Tunnel 1) was daylighted during the upgrading of the track. Photographs taken from 1940 show that the tunnel repair car was stationed outside the western portal beside a small supply shack. 

As with the Summit and Glenwood tunnels, Tunnel 4 was abandoned in November 1940, after disastrous storms in February of that year disabled the route. After Southern Pacific crews went through to pull the rail in mid-1941, H.A. Christie & Sons was hired to remove the timber from the tunnel and seal the portals. Charges were placed and the portals closed in April 1942 with assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers. Due to the nature of the concrete portals, the explosives were detonated about 15 feet within the portal, just beyond the reach of the concrete and brick ceiling.

A photo of the interior of the Mountain Charlie Tunnel, c. 2005. [Ross McLenahan]
Unlike all the other demolished tunnels along the line, the Mountain Charlie Tunnel defied its closure. The demolition of 1942 collapsed the ceiling completely just inside the eastern portal, but this inadvertently caused the sandstone ceiling to weaken within the tunnel itself. By at least the 1970s and probably earlier, a hole had appeared above a portion of the tunnel, accessible to people climbing over the eastern portal. Over the years, this hole enlarged until the entire right-of-way within the tunnel was accessible to daring explorers. People who have explored the interior have found that much of it remains intact, with human-sized piles of sandstone scattered throughout but the walls and ceiling otherwise still holding firm to their original dimensions. Access to the interior was finally cut off in February 2011, after runoff from a powerful winter storm caused a small landslide that filled this hole.

The western portal of the Mountain Charlie Tunnel, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Eastern portal: 37.101˚N, 121.999˚W
Western portal: 37.098˚N, 121.997˚W

Although neither portal of the Mountain Charlie Tunnel can be accessed legally, the eastern portal can be approached with relative safety since it is located on Santa Cruz Water District land and rarely patrolled. The easiest way to reach it is via the fire road located at the point where East Zayante Road becomes Upper Zayante Road. The switchback fire road ends at the right-of-way, at which point explorers should turn east and follow the former railroad grade. Warning: there are three gates that must be hopped to reach this portal. Just after the third gate, there will be a private driveway that crosses the grade, walk across the driveway (do not follow it) and the path will quickly become overgrown. Just when you think you have somehow missed the turn, you will encounter the portal in all its glory. The western portal is now on private property protected by a security gate. Trespassing without permission is not advised. Unlike any other portal along the line, this one is almost freestanding since the sandstone hillside behind it has eroded substantially over the years. A number of small trees are now growing just outside the portal.

Citations & Credits:
  • Ausbuchon, Vaughn. "Santa Cruz, CA Railroad Tunnels." California Nostalgia: History Summaries.
  • Liddicoat, Brian. Personal correspondence.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.