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 23, 2017

Stations: Parr's Spur, Bermingham and Bulwer

Portrait of Jonathan Parr [Los Gatos Library]
At the northern end of Vasona Reservoir along today's University Avenue once sat the short-lived Parr's Spur Track. This stop first appeared in Southern Pacific Railroad agency books when it took over the South Pacific Coast Railway in 1887, suggesting it had probably existed since the beginning of the line in 1878, although no South Pacific Coast records indicate any stop there. Jonathan Parr was an early settler in the area, owning 3,000 acres of land on Rancho Rinconada de los Gatos since 1856, when he purchased it from Sebastian and José Hernandez Peralta. Parr was married to Eliza Jane Lowe and had migrated to the United States in 1942 from England. They spent some time in New York and Iowa, producing three children along the way, before heading to California. The family relocated in 1846 in a party that closely paralleled the Donner Party, although they took a separate route into the Central Valley of California. In California, three more children were born, resulting in six total children—three boys and three girls. Most of his land was used as a cattle pasture, since the prune orchards that the region became famous for did not enter the picture until the early 20th century with the advent of commercial canning.

Eliza died in 1866 and Jonathan died the next year. The property was divided between the six children, who received roughly 500 acres each. Much of Los Gatos and Campbell are former parts of this massive property. Sarah Ann Parr, the third child, was married to Harrison DeWitt Albright, an alcoholic and womanizer. The two of them had four children, three of whom survived to adulthood. It was on a portion of her parcel that a railroad stop was erected around 1888 called Parr's Spur. This flag-stop was probably set up much earlier under the South Pacific Coast, but it never appeared in official records so only became official after the Southern Pacific Railroad took over the line in the summer of 1887. It did not survive long. By 1890, the stop was gone from agency books and nothing more was ever said of it. It probably served as a loading stop for cattle shipments, as well as a passenger stop for Sarah and her family. Sarah died in 1893 and it is unclear what happened to her family afterwards. Harrison died in 1905 in a cabin near a vegetable garden outside of Los Gatos, but it appears the Parr family property was already outside of his hands by then.

Portrait of Captain John Bermingham, Jr.
In 1900, a new customer began using the spur. The California Powder Works, which had its primary facility at the mouth of the San Lorenzo Valley near Santa Cruz, erected a powder magazine on the site around that time. The Southern Pacific added the stop to its station books in 1901 and by 1907 it was appearing as a formal station in employee timetables. The new stop was named "Bermingham", after the president of the company Captain John Bermingham Jr. Since the mountain section of track had opened in 1880, the California Powder Works had used the railroad exclusively for the shipment of its powder, but some of that powder was used at the New Almaden mines for blasting, which probably explains the need for a powder magazine here, less than three miles from said mines and quite close to the Campbell switch to New Almaden. The warehouse was not well-prepared for the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, though. During the temblor, the magazine exploded, destroying the entire facility and probably most of the area around it. Wisely, the California Powder Works decided against rebuilding there and the station was abandoned by mid-1909, at the time when the mountain route was reopened to through trains and the stops along the line were reassessed and measured.

Southern Pacific #34 running beside Los Gatos Creek near the former site of Bulwer, March 11, 1939. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
For fifteen years, the old Bermingham stop remained vacant until a new flag-stop appeared at or near the location on November 11, 1924 named Bulwer. Extremely little is known about Bulwer, including the origin of the name. It seems mostly likely that the stop as named after British writer Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton, who popularized the phrase "it was a dark and stormy night..." and was undergoing a revival in cinema and theatre in the early 1920s. The presence of a spur at the stop and the fact that no regular stops were scheduled there suggests that Bulwer served as a freight stop for an otherwise unrecorded local company, likely the adjacent prune orchard-owner. In any case, the station was abandoned by Southern Pacific on August 1, 1938. The tracks through Bulwer remained in place until 1959, when the Los Gatos Branch was definitively abandoned and demolished by the railroad.

Official Railroad Information:
Parr's Spur first appeared in Southern Pacific agency books in 1888, but the spur was removed in 1890. It was located approximately 53 miles from San Francisco via Alameda Point. It never appeared on employee timetables and no other information is known about the stop at this time.

Bermingham, meanwhile, first appeared in the January 1901 agency book. The next year, it was listed as a B-class station, implying a spur or siding and a freight platform. It was also in a section of track that was dual-gauged. The station was added to an employee timetable as "Bermingham (Spur)" in June 1907, listed as 53.0 miles from San Francisco via Alameda Point and 27.1 miles from Santa Cruz. The length of the spur at the station was 677 feet. No other facilities were listed there and the station did not receive any regularly-scheduled freight or passenger traffic, implying it was for private use only. In 1909, the distance from San Francisco was altered to match the new Los Altos Branch and was now only 52.1 miles from San Francisco, this time via Mayfield. The spur was also lengthened to 827 feet. The station disappeared from timetables in 1909 and from station books in January 1910.

Bulwer first appeared on the November 1, 1924 employee timetable at 52.2 miles from San Francisco via Mayfield and 27.0 miles from Santa Cruz. It had no scheduled passenger service. Notes on the employee timetable for April 17, 1938 state that Bulwer was abandoned August 1 of that year.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.248˚N, 121.967˚W

Assuming all three stops were situated at the same site, they were located approximately at the modern-day location of the Vasona Reservoir dam or there around. The most likely locations for the stops would be the modern-day site of Forecepoint and GeneWEAVE on the west side of University Avenue, which is the former right-of-way.

Citations & Credits:
  • Bender, Henry E., Jr. "SP San Jose to Santa Cruz (ex-South Pacific Coast Ry.)." 2013.
  • Conaway, Peggy. Images of America: Los Gatos Generations. Arcadia Publishing, 2007.
  • Oakland Tribune, 1895.
  • "Parrs of Los Gatos: Bringing the family's history together".
  • San Jose Mercury News, 2006.
  • Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, 1905.
  • Santa Cruz Surf, 1906.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad documents, California State Railroad Museum Archives.
  • Whaley, Derek. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Self-published, 2015.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Railroads: Early Coast Railroad Companies

There have been a total of eight known attempts to construct a railroad between San Francisco and Santa Cruz along the coast. What is remarkable is that none of them succeeded, and only two ever even built track. This is the story of those five that failed. (For information on the two that succeeded, see Ocean Shore Railroad and Coast Line Railroad)

Narrow-Gauge Railroad Company (1870-1871)
The first proposal was the simply-named Narrow-Gauge Railroad Company, founded in Fall 1870. This was route optimistically planned to link San Francisco to the Arizona state line via a coastal route of 700 miles. The plans were for the line to pass directly through Santa Cruz County, following much the same route that the Santa Cruz Railroad would take a few years later. From there, it would cross the Pajaro River and pass through Castroville and down the Salinas Valley, much like the Southern Pacific Railroad soon did. However, in November 1871, it was revealed that the railroad was only every a paper company created by the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad to encourage competition with other railroads along the proposed route. No track was ever installed.

San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad Company (1879-1887)
In September 1879, the San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad set to work getting permits to construct a narrow-gauge track from Fulton and Larking Streets in San Francisco and thence down the coast to Half Moon Bay. Approval for the company to begin construction was given by the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors on 6 November 1879. Numerous technical obstacles and lawsuits, most begun by proprietors of commercial businesses along the city routes the railroad intended to take, delayed construction. From mid-1880, reports were regularly issued by the company that the railroad would be completed to the San Mateo County line (which line is unclear) by the end of the year, but this was still the rhetoric in January 1881 and no actual progress had been made. Meanwhile, the railroad company took out multiple mortgages and released additional stocks to try to increase revenue. New York bankers were the company's primary investors, while a New Yorker, Col. Lyman Bridges, was hired to build the route.

Original 1880 stock certificate for the San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad Company. [Pacifica History]
When the Santa Cruz Railroad went bankrupt in 1881, it derailed plans for the San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad to connect to that line through to Pajaro and further south. Some of the primary financiers of the Santa Cruz Railroad were also stockholders in the San Francisco & Ocean Shore, and most pulled their funding. Without a connection through Santa Cruz, the railroad had to reevaluate their plans and plan to build a new line through the city separate from the now-Southern Pacific-owned Santa Cruz route. It was an expensive problem but one for the future.

The company trucked on. On January 22, 1881, a newspaper article suggested that property sales in Pacifica would soar due to proximity to the new line, while industries further from the line along the Central Coast would devalue and disappear. Another article a month later supported this story and suggested that property values were already increasing. Surveyors began popping up all along the planned route, including in Santa Cruz and Pescadero. On May 20, articles of incorporation were filed for the railroad to extend its track to Santa Cruz from Half Moon Bay, thereby confirming that the company planned to build an entirely new route through Santa Cruz County. The entire line was also now planned to be standard-gauge to match the track width of the Southern Pacific. However, construction on the route still had not begun.

Suspicious rumours began circulating in May 1881 that the entire company was secretly owned by the Atlantic & Great Western Railroad, although that line had actually already gone bankrupt the year before. Other rumors spread that the new railroad intended to continue south of Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara and beyond, while in July, the plans for the new California Central Railway leaked that suggesting that the railroad would become a part of a new transcontinental scheme under the direction of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (which in 1879 purchased the Atlantic & Pacific). Col. Bridges, acting as company spokesperson, announced that the route between San Francisco and Santa Cruz should be completed no later than 1883, while other railroad companies (or subsidiaries) were responsible for connecting to this line near Pajaro.

Dire news arrived on December 10, 1881, however. The Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel reported that the rivalry between the Sante Fe Railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad had come to an end. Plans to build the San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad were not immediately abandoned, but the end was imminent. On Christmas Eve, it was revealed that the massive multi-state railroad plan was mostly a rouse, designed to frighten the Southern Pacific into reducing the cost to switch at Santa Fe junctions. However, the railroad really did intend to connect San Francisco and Santa Cruz, but the news of the con spooked the county governments. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to delay granting of the franchise to the SF&OS in early 1882. For the next year, the supervisors demurred, punishing the company for their trickery. But this cost the railroad money and supporters. Desperate, the railroad company attempted to bypass San Francisco by passing through the military property to the north of the city and then down Ocean Beach. But this angered the board more and, on November 22, 1882, they indefinitely postponed development of the railroad within San Francisco County.

The story of the first San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad came to an inglorious end without a single piece of track set. Whispers of the line continued to appear in the newspapers throughout 1883 and afterwards and the company appears to have remained in existence long afterwards, but for all intents and purposes, the railroad was finished. Financial troubles and an unstable stock market in the late 1880s brought the company to its inglorious end.

San Francisco & West Shore Railway Company (1892-1894)
A decade after the collapse of the San Francisco & Ocean Shore Railroad project, a new company was formed called the San Francisco & West Shore Railway Company to attempt what its predecessors had failed to accomplish. The company was incorporated on March 9, 1892, to build an electrified railway between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, although most expected at the time that the route would eventually continue onward to Santa Cruz and beyond.

Unlike the other railroads, this route's initial plan was to carry freight exclusively, primarily dairy, eggs, and agricultural products from the Half Moon Bay and San Pedro Valley areas. Surveying of the line began immediately after incorporation and, also unlike the other lines, plans were to build a tunnel through San Pedro Point further inland rather than at the tip as the Ocean Shore Railroad eventually did. On November 28, 1892, the mayor of San Francisco vetoed plans to allow the San Francisco & West Shore Railway to build tracks down 25th Street and Potrero Avenue, effectively ending the railroad since the company had no other method of entering the city. The company fought the veto in the state's supreme court, but ultimately lost, although they continued surveying and purchasing materials throughout 1893. Rumors of the line being taken over by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad also cropped up but were ultimately unfounded.

West Shore Railway Company (1895-1899)
West Shore Railway survey map blueprint, 1896. [UCSC Digital Collections]
Established as a direct successor to the San Francisco & West Shore Railway, the West Shore & Valley Railroad was founded in April 1895 to connect the cities of San Francisco and Tulare, north of Bakersfield, via a coastal route through Santa Cruz. By the time the company finally incorporated on July 11, 1895, the name of the company had become the West Shore Railway and the plans were reduced to just connecting San Francisco to Santa Cruz via standard-gauge track. The new corporation purchased all the rights-of-way, surveys, and other material from its predecessor for a cost of $150,000.

How much of this railroad was actually begun is not entirely known. As early as April 1895, reports in the San Francisco Call claimed that "a good deal of the grading has been done. There have also been purchased a large number of ties and other materials...." Furthermore, the article reports that "a complete survey of the line has been made, and all the necessary right-of-way promised."
The existence of a large blueprint for the entire line (half of which is visible at right) published in 1896 does indeed suggest that this operation made it significantly further than its three predecessors, although it seems highly likely that most of this was completed by the 1892 iteration of the firm. Like its predecessors, New York financiers also were brought on to help fund the project and significant capital was raised throughout 1895, but also like them, a lot of the company's funding was promised but never delivered or bound to stocks and bonds of questionable value. Plans were in place to build a major station at 25th Street and Potrero Avenue in San Francisco and a freight yard near the Spreckels refinery there.

Early projections estimated that the track would run for 80 miles and transit times between Santa Cruz and San Francisco would begin at two hours, ten minutes, although they predicted that would become faster as the roadbed settled into place. Like its predecessor, the West Shore Railway was intended primarily for freight usage, although passenger service was not ignored and, indeed, was emphasised in some of their early marketing. The company hoped that the railroad would make the abundance of undeveloped farmland along the coast more accessible, thereby increasing their customer base. Likewise, they expected to reap some benefit from the numerous redwood forests located just off the proposed main line. As of September 1895, the company estimated that the cost of construction would sit at around $2,350,000.

However, the true story of the railroad only began to appear over a year after it had been incorporated. The transfer of the older San Francisco & West Shore Railway to the West Shore Railway was only completed in August 1896, meaning that the new company did virtually nothing in the intervening year. In April 1897, another article discussed the fact that nothing of note had still been done, although the company's president, R.S. Thornton, stated that much had been done behind the scenes. The problem was that portions of the right-of-way remained in private and city hands. One of the most obstinate property-owners along the line was that of D.D. Wilder, who refused to sell or lease his land to the railroad. Others likewise hesitated. Thus, the railroad was quickly suffering the same fate of those that came before.

As the months passed, the same dismissive rhetoric was told: work on the railway would begin shortly; work will begin next month; everything is in place to begin construction. But the tide turned against the West Shore Railway. Estimates on costs were rapidly increasing and not enough locals along the route were interested in subscribing to the company. 1897 and 1898 passed without any actual work being done on the railway, despite numerous statements from the company insisting construction was imminent. The failure of California's Enabling Act in 1899 stalled the railroad—it would have provided necessary funding and other support to complete the route. However, it also provided the company one last opportunity to correct its past mistakes.

On March 25, 1899, plans were released that the entire railroad venture was to be sold to the Vanderbilt Company as a direct competitor to the Southern Pacific along the California Coast. Their goal was to build a route through California that would connect to other non-SP lines out-of-state. For all intents and purposes, the West Shore Railway was to become a different company. But fate intervened again. The board of directors revolted and refused to sell out to the Vanderbilts, and the company essentially died as a result. At the end of 1899—three months after Cornelius Vanderbilt himself was dead—the franchise permit with the City of San Francisco expired and nothing more could be done for the line. The West Shore Railway was defunct.

Bay & Coast Railway Company (1899-1902)
Within months of the proposed buy-out of the West Shore company, a new firm was founded to build a coastal route. The Bay & Coast Railway Company officially incorporated on June 26, 1899 to build a 100-mile track between downtown San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Like the three companies that came before, the Bay & Coast was, at least on the surface, a private company with no ties to other operations. This ended up being its downfall. The railroad desired to run its train directly into San Francisco along a major road, but because of its limited operation range, the county board of supervisors denied them access. After two years of negotiations with the city, their project was finally approved with the requirement that they build $25,000 worth of tracks by late September 1901. They defaulted on this requirement and, after several extensions into February 1902, the franchise was forfeited and the company closed.

San Francisco & Southern Railway Company (1903)
One last railroading enterprise came about on September 26, 1903, with the same optimistic plans to connect San Francisco to Santa Cruz. This corporation was sponsored primarily by Eastern venture capitalists who were relying primarily on the older surveys prepared by the West Shore Railway. Learning from past mistakes, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors required the investors to build a short portion of track immediately to demonstrate good faith before the franchise was to be confirmed. Nothing more was said of the company in the newspapers afterwards.

Citations & Credits:
  • Oakland Tribune, 1881-1883.
  • Sacramento Record-Union, 1881-1883.
  • San Francisco Call, 1895-1901.
  • San Francisco Chronicle, 1879-1883.
  • Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, 1899-1901.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1895-1901.
  • Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, 1871-1883.
  • Vonderlin, John. "West Shore Railway's BIG Plans for the Coastside." Half Moon Bay Memories & El Granada Observer. 4 July 2009.
  • West Shore Railway Company, "Articles of Incorporation", 11 July 1895, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, Santa Cruz Count Records, Folder #235.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Stations: Vasona Junction

A SP train approaching the wye at Vasona Junction, 1940s
[Los Gatos Public Library]
Within the grand scheme of the Southern Pacific Railroad's operations, there was nothing noteworthy about Vasona when it first appeared in the railroad's 1899 stations and offices book. Indeed, the name itself was the brainchild of a local prune farmer, Albert August Vollmer, who petitioned the railroad to set up a flag stop north of Los Gatos so his family could more easily to San José. When asked a name for the stop, Vollmer offered "Vasona," the name of his childhood pony. The stop was located immediately beside Santa Cruz-Los Gatos Road (Winchester Boulevard), 27.8 miles from Santa Cruz. By 1906, just before the earthquake, the stop included a 193-foot-long spur, likely to collect harvested prunes from the nearby orchards.

A SP train in the wye at Vasona Junction in 1949. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Things drastically changed in 1907 when the Los Gatos Branch—popularly known as the Mayfield Cut-Off—was constructed between Vasona and Palo Alto. Suddenly, the simple stop at Vasona became the bottom part of a wye that linked two major branches of the Southern Pacific's Coast Division. To control traffic at the wye, a register booth was erected near the flag stop and all trains were required to stop and record their passage before moving on. Vasona Junction also marked the beginning of an automated block signal system which operated across the Santa Cruz Mountains to avoid accidents in the tunnels and around sharp curves. The entire wye encompassed 2,757 feet of track. Via the new line, San Francisco was only 51.4 miles to the north, a significant reduction from the former route that looped through San José. Most of the wye was in undeveloped orchard lands, and this remained the case for decades.

Registry booth at Vasona, c. 1960s. [Charles Givens]
Painting of Sewall S. Brown fruit plant, c. 1930s. [Robert Bowdidge]
Due to the increased traffic at Vasona, the flag stop was upgraded into a full stop in 1912, with a concrete freight platform installed between the mainline and the upgraded spur track. This location began to appear as a full stop on public timetables in the early 1920s. On the northern side of the wye, the Gem City Packing Company erected a fruit-drying plant and a second spur, seven car-lengths long, was installed to access the facility with a platform setup for easy loading of products. This company processed many of the prunes, apricots, almonds, grapes, and strawberries in the area. The company was later purchased by Sunsweet and then Sewall S. Brown Company. The factory burned down in 1955. Later patrons used had access to the spur for a number of years, but it is unknown whether they used it or not.

A SP train passing through Vasona Junction in 1953. [Los Gatos Public Library]
Once the route through the Santa Cruz Mountains was closed in February 1940, the importance of Vasona Junction declined. Passenger service continued to Los Gatos until 1959, but then the line was cut back. The wye remained in place for five more years and Vasona became the primary stop for railroad commuters from Los Gatos. In fact, a small passenger station was erected at the stop to facilitate this increase in traffic. However, in January 1964, the Los Altos Branch was closed and the ability to commute from Vasona to San Francisco was curtailed—locals would have to use cars and buses if they needed to travel to San Francisco.

A SP engine passing beside prune trees at Vasona Junction, 1955. 'Los Gatos Public Library]
The southern ends of the wye were not immediately removed, but the south-eastern portion quickly deteriorated and even became dislodged. The old registry booth, meanwhile, was rescued by Jim Holmes and relocated to Swanton Pacific Ranch north of Davenport. The tracks of the wye were eventually removed with only the northern curve remaining to allow freight trains to access the Permanente cement plant west of Cupertino. Plans to extend the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) lightrail network to Vasona have been on the books for over a decade, but no progress has been made due to funding.

A SP engine in the wye at Vasona Junction,  c. 1940s.
[Los Gatos Public Library]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37˚15'20.2"N, 121˚57'57.7W

The site of Vasona Junction can be accessed along Winchester Boulevard north of Los Gatos, just before the track's crossing under State Route 85. While trespassing on the track itself is illegal—they remain active rails owned by Union Pacific—so access to the northern part of the former wye is not permitted. Fortunately, there is a new rail-trail that runs parallel to the tracks from Winchester to Wedgewood Avenue, the entire length of the old wye. The western portion of the former wye is now entirely developed over by the Bay Club Courtside tennis facility. The south-western side is the most accessible. It ran parallel to Winchester across from the tennis club and most of the right-of-way still exists as sidewalk. Unfortunately, no trace of the railroad exists along either of these sides of the former wye. The former stop itself is roughly at the location of the Winchester & Albright bus stop outside the Netflix headquarters parking lot on Winchester Boulevard.

The site of Vasona in the mid-1980s beside Winchester Boulevard. The Union Pacific tracks are visible in the distance.
Citations & Credits:
  • Bender, Henry. "SP San Jose to Santa Cruz (ex-South Pacific Coast Ry.)" Unpublished.
  • Bowdidge, Robert. "Gem City Packing becomes Sunsweet Becomes Sewall Brown." Robert's Vasona Branch Blog. 21 November 2011.
  • "Hooked on Los Gatos." Library and History Museum Project.
  • Edward Kelley & Peggy Conaway, Images of Rail: Railroads of Los Gatos. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.
  • Los Gatos Times-Saratoga Observer, 1955.
  • San José News, 1928.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Stations: Mack

The site of Mack on a 1913 US Geological Survey map.
Along the southern edge of Rancho Bolsa del Potrero y Morocojo (or La Sagrada Familia) once sat the simply-named Mack Station of the Pajaro Valley Railroad. This location is named after Charles McIntyre, a New Yorker who travelled to California near the end of the Gold Rush in 1850. McIntyre spent only a year mining before moving on to more profitable ventures, first running a hotel in Sacramento until 1852 and then moving to Santa Cruz County to farm until 1865. In that year, McIntyre began renting land near Castroville on a portion of the John Rogers Cooper's farm. He was there when Claus Spreckels began installing his railroad along the northern side of the Salinas River in 1890. McIntyre likely had no choice in the matter of the railroad since he was only a tenant farmer, but Spreckels still allowed him a stop on the line, naming it "Mack", a derogatory name akin to "Mick" for people of Scottish ancestry, although McIntyre himself was American-born. The stop undoubtedly meant that McIntyre grew sugar beets on at least a portion of his property for shipment out to the Spreckels refinery.

Like many of the stops along the Pajaro Valley Railroad line, Mack does not appear to have survived long for more than a decade or so. US Geological Survey maps from 1912-1913 show at this location a short road branching off from Molera Road which ends at the Pajaro River. There is a single structure at the end of this road which probably represents a building associated with the stop—possibly the McIntyre family's house. The map does not show any siding or spur at the site. When the station was ultimately abandoned is unknown, but the tracks remained in place until 1930 when the Southern Pacific Railroad removed them along the length of the line.

McIntyre lived until January 28, 1910. His wife, Maria Josefa Buelna, a Californio from Pueblo Branciforte, survived her husband by twelve years. Together, they had fifteen children, six boys and nine girls, many of whom survived to adulthood and produced myriad children of their own whose descendants still live in Monterey County today. His death may have marked the end of farming on the Cooper lot for the family, although he may have abandoned farming efforts there at any time after 1890, when the tracks were first installed.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.748˚N, 121.774˚W

The site of Mack is located on the south side of Molera Road just north of State Route 1 and Artichoke Lane. The location is still marked by an agricultural access road that ends at a large barn immediately beside the now-dry riverbed. Nothing of the original right-of-way or station survives at the site.

Citations & Credits:
  • Ingersoll, Luther A. (ed.). Memorial and Biographical History of the Coast Counties of Central California: Containing a History of this Important Section of the Pacific Coast from the Earliest Period of its Discovery to the Present Time, together with Glimpses of its Auspicious Future; Illustrations and Full-Page Portraits of some of its Eminent Men, and Biographical Mention of many of its Pioneers, and Prominent Citizens of To-day. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1893.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Stations: Struve

1913-1914 US Geological Survey map showing Struve.
Like many of the sugar beet-farming families along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, the Struves were actually residents of Santa Cruz County but operated a beet plot in Monterey County. Hans Christian Struve, a natives of Denmark came to California via a long voyage from Denmark to China and then to San Francisco, after which he spent years in the mines of the gold country. Following a few more years harvesting lumber near Redwood City, Hans settled in San José briefly and then moved to Pajaro, where he first encountered the bountiful valley. He returned to Denmark in 1865 to marry Cecilia Marie Storm, and the two of them then returned to California and settled on the the Roche Ranch near Watsonville. Four surviving children were quickly born to them, including Peter, Henry, Edward, and Christina.

The Struves quickly became prominent members of Watsonville society, running a general store in town for a number of years and testing various new farming methods on their property. Their property was a mixed farm, ranch, and dairy. Peter, being the eldest, began working with his father from an early age and in the late 1880s purchased a small farm of his own in the Salinas Valley on a small portion of Rancho Rincón de las Salinas—a virtual island in the middle of the Salinas River near its outlet into the Monterey Bay. This 2,220-acre rancho dated to 1833 and was granted to Cristina Delgado. On this property, Peter began growing sugar beets, probably at the instigation of Claus Spreckels. When the Pajaro Valley Railroad passed through the area in 1890, a special spur was extended out to the island which required a short bridge to cross the narrow river channel. US Geological Survey maps from 1913 and 1914 show that this spur exited to the north, giving credence to the idea that it was built prior to the construction of the Spreckels beet refinery outside Salinas. The stop, simply named Struve, was located roughly 13.1 miles from Watsonville Depot and 14.1 from Spreckels. In addition to the spur, the stop also included a wye, probably due to the location of the stop being roughly half-way down the line.

It is unclear when the Salinas Valley farm stopped producing beets but Peter himself moved back to his family home in Watsonville in 1900 when his father retired (Hans died in 1908). Peter himself continued to operate the farm until 1920, when he too retired. Peter leased all his property that year and moved to a small home in downtown Watsonville, where he died in 1925. It seems likely that the Salinas Valley farm, although the spur remained in place until at least 1914, probably ceased its beet operations no later than 1920 and probably many years earlier. The track was removed no later than 1930, when the Southern Pacific Railroad removed all the track of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad line.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.752˚N, 121.778˚W

The titular ring in Rancho Rincon de las Salinas is mostly dried up now and can be crossed on simple footbridges. The site of Struve Station, once located off Molera Road near its junction with State Route 1, is long gone with no trace of the stop remaining. The right-of-way has been plowed over for agricultural fields, while the farm itself, although still in use, shows no evidence of any century-old relics.

Citations & Credits:
  • History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California's history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1925.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Stations: Ranch

Daguerreotype of John Rogers Cooper, 1851.
[Bancroft Library]
The lower Salinas Valley served as a rich source of sugar beets for Claus Spreckels' sugar refineries both in Watsonville and outside Salinas. One of the most productive farms was Rancho Bolsa del Potrero y Moro Cojo (or Rancho La Sagrada Familia), an early Mexican land grant that was owned by the Cooper family. The original owner of the ranch was Joaquín de la Torre, a Spanish soldier and the alcalde (mayor) of Monterey. In 1829, De la Torre sold the rancho to John Rogers Cooper, a British-born Massachusetts sailor, for $2,000. John had moved to Monterey in 1823 and was baptised on April 14, 1827 under the name Juan Bautista Rogerio, becoming a Mexican citizen three years later. He soon married Maria Geronima de la Encarnacion, the sister of General Mariano Vallejo. Using his land as a base, Cooper amassed both more land and political influence, eventually obtaining the 9,000-acre Rancho El Sur from his nephew, future governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, and nearly 18,000-acre Rancho El Molina in Sonoma. Cooper also opened a general store in Monterey, today's Cooper-Molera Adobe, and became the city's harbormaster in 1851. He eventually moved to San Francisco in 1865, ultimately dying there in 1872.

Ranch Siding on the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, 1912.
The PaRBolsa[US Geological Survey]
Cooper's only son, John Baptist Henry Cooper, continued to operate Rancho Bolsa del Potrero y Moro Cojo after his father's death. He was raised at a missionary school in Honolulu before returning after his father's death to take over the vast family properties. He continued to augment them over subsequent decades, becoming at the same time the chairman of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. His time in both the Salinas Valley and Hawai'i likely brought him into contact with Claus Spreckels, who began constructing the Pajaro Valley Railroad between Watsonville and Cooper's ranch in 1890. The fact that the original right-of-way ended at Cooper's Moro Cojo ranch strongly suggests that it was producing, or planned to produce, sugar beets for the Watsonville refinery.

Eventually, the Coopers came to own three railroad stops along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated line. The northernmost of them, simply named Ranch, was located roughly 12.5 miles from Watsonville Depot and 14.7 miles from Spreckels. It had a relatively long siding that ran along the western side of the mainline. Structures outlined on the US Geological Survey map from 1912 suggest that a beat-loading device straddled both sets of tracks on its southern end. Another structure, possible a barn or warehouse, sat near the northern end of the siding. These certainly were still in place in 1914, and likely existed until the end of the railroad in 1930.

John Baptist Henry Cooper, c. 1890s.
[California and Californians]
The younger Cooper balanced his life between Monterey County and affairs in San Francisco for most of his life. His primary residence was an isolated large ranch on the Big Sur Coast, where he spent much of his later life. After Cooper died on June 21, 1899, his wife, Martha Brawley, continued to manage the family estates. She finally liquidated the family property in 1928, but retained an interest in 8,800 acres in Moro Cojo to grow lettuce and artichokes. This suggests that the farm was no longer using the railroad to grow sugar beets by this date. Her son, John Baptista Rogers, lived on the farm as well, helping his mother manage it. Most of the former rancho remains an agricultural plot today which is owned and operated by the Cooper Land Company, presided over by John Roger Cooper's descendants, the Goodwin family.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.762˚N, 121.788˚W

The site of Ranch is publicly accessible via Molera Road south of Moss Landing. Molera Road is, in fact, the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad right-of-way from Monterey Dunes Way southward. The station was located at the narrowest point between the road and Old Salinas River. There is a loading area to the east of the road and a pull-out to the west. No evidence of the stop itself remains and all traces of the right-of-way have been long since paved or covered by agricultural fields.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, May 5, 2017

Stations: Warnock

The history of the Warnock family of Salinas is a little-known story. The family immigrated to the United States from Scotland in 1868 and eventually moved to the Salinas Valley, certainly before 1879. Once there, they became farmers along the Old Salinas River midway between Moss Landing and Castroville on one of the county roads. At some point, probably around the late 1880s, the Warnocks were undoubtedly swayed by Claus Spreckels to begin planting sugar beets and allow his Pajaro Valley Railroad to pass through their lands toward Salinas and the Spreckels refinery. The Warnocks owned land on both sides of the river all the way to the beach, so there was plenty of fertile soil on which to plant beets.

Nothing is actually known about the stop and Fabing and Hamman do not mention it in their book, except on a map. It was located approximately 11.5 miles from Watsonville Depot and 15.7 miles from Spreckels on the Pajaro Valley Railroad line. Satellite information for the stop suggests that there may have been a southward-exiting siding or spur on the east side of the mainline, although the stop may have been located slightly further to the south, in which case any evidence for a spur or siding is erased by subsequent farming activity. There is no evidence of a stop on the 1912 US Geological Survey map, which suggests the location was abandoned and any excess track removed by that date. Like Thompson, Warnock appears to have been a relatively early and short-lived station.

By the late 1890s, Robert Warnock was the patriarch of the family, presumably the son of the first generation of immigrants. He married Mabel Moore in 1910. She was a California native born around 1877 to Miles M. Moore and Annie. Miles, born 1836, was from Indiana, while Annie from California, though her parents were Kentuckians. Both Robert and Miles died in the 1920s, the latter at nearly 90 years old, the former around 60. It seems unlikely that Robert and Mabel had any children. Annie lived with Mabel into the 1930s while Mabel herself was still alive in 1949. In December 1931, Mabel sold a large portion of her property to the State of California in for the creation of Salinas River State Beach, alongside lands donated by her neighbor, William T. Sandholdt. She still retained possession of the original farm, however, until at least 1949. Further information on the Warnock family is not presently available.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.777˚N, 121.790˚W

The site of Warnock sits along the north side of Old Salinas River, just northwest of Molera Road near where it crosses Tembladero Slough. The site is marked by the end of the right-of-way that is visible from Thompson Station. A private farmer service road sits atop the route and all evidence of the station itself has long since disappeared.

Citations & Credits:
  • Santa Cruz Evening News, 1931.
  • State of California–Department of Public Works: Division of Water Resources. Salinas Basin Investigation–Basic Data. Bulletin 52A. 1949.
  • US Census Records, 1870-1930.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Stations: Thompson

In the Rancho Bolsa Nuevo y Moro Cojo alongside the Old Salinas River south of Moss Landing due west of Castroville once sat the little stop for the Thompson family along the Pajaro Valley Railroad. The rancho was first created in 1844 as a merger of Rancho Moro Cojo (created in 1825); Rancho Bolsa Nueva (created 1836); and a small parcel of land owned by Simeon Castro (granted in 1837). By 1844, all the lands were owned by María Antonia Pico de Castro, Simeon's wife, whose grant was patented by the Public Land Commission in 1873.

John immigrated from Kildare, Ireland, around 1853 and worked in Boston until 1855, when he moved to San Francisco. Later that year, John and his wife, Mary Cummings, relocated to Watsonville and John became a superintendent on a ranch near the coast. He became a renter in 1865 and eventually purchased 100 acres in Santa Cruz County. Over the following years, he added adjacent property to his parcel, first 100 acres, then 200 more. He also purchased 150 acres on the Salinas River from Pico de Castro and 200 acres nearby to use as pastureland. By 1892, the family owned nearly five miles of land in Santa Cruz County alone.

The house and gardens of Peter J. Thompson in Watsonville [Harrison]
Over the years, John and his family thrived, building a spectacular ranch house three miles from Watsonville where he spent the rest of his life. Harrison waxes poetically about the house and a rodeo that was held there during his visit to the town. Together, John and Mary had twelve children, most of whom became or married into prominent ranchers and farmers in the Monterey Bay area. Christopher Thompson, born in 1869, eventually inherited the farm from his father and produced three daughters with his wife, Anna Quinn of Monterey. His eldest brother, Peter John Thompson, inherited most of the family lands in Santa Cruz County and became a county leader by the 1890s.

Lithographs of a rodeo on the Thompson Ranch in Watsonville, c. 1892 [Harrison]
The Thompson family split its duties between farming and stock-raising. Presumably, it was because of his farm in the lower Salinas Valley, which undoubtedly grew sugar beets for some of these years, that John was able to obtain a registered stop on the Pajaro Valley Railroad line when it passed through the area in 1890. The station was located roughly 10.9 miles from Watsonville and 16.3 miles from Spreckels. There is virtually no available information on this stop since Fabing and Hamman do not reference it in their book. However, satellite imagery of the site suggests that it had a siding that ran along the west side of the mainline, directly adjacent to Old Salinas River. At this stop, there would certainly have been either a mechanised or manual beet-loader and beet hoppers probably parked on the siding awaiting pickup during harvest season. No evidence of any of this, however, survives. The 1912 US Geological Survey map does not show a spur or siding at Thompson, suggesting any additional track at the stop was removed prior to that time. The mainline tracks would have remained in place at Thompson, only to be removed by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1930 after the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was abandoned.

The ultimate fate of the Thompson family and its presence in the Salinas Valley is unknown. While many descendants of the family still live today in the Pajaro Valley, no information on John, Peter, or Christopher is forthcoming. The Salinas Valley property remains today an agricultural field.

Thompson site
(Google Maps)
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.784˚N, 121.793˚W

Most traces of Thompson Station are now gone except for an especially wide section of undeveloped land between a large field and Old Salinas River. The original Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad right-of-way still exists, visible from Google Maps satellite view on the east bank of the river beside a private service road for the nearby farm. However, only the space for the former siding remains – there is no physical evidence of the siding itself having ever existed there.

Citations & Credits:
  • Guinn, James Miller. History of the State of California and Biographical Record of Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties. Chicago: Chapman Publishing, 1903.
  • Harrison, Edward S. History of Santa  Cruz County California. San Francisco: Pacific Press Publishing, 1892.
  • Martin, Edward. History of Santa Cruz County California with Biographical Sketches. Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1911.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Stations: Beach

USGS Map showing the location of Beach Station, 1912.
Beach Station is perhaps the most obscure railroad stop along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, as well as the most difficult to research due to the simplistic nature of its name. The stop was located roughly 6.2 miles from Watsonville Depot and 21.0 miles from Spreckels, immediately adjacent to the outlet of the Pajaro River. The river mouth has moved significantly in recent decades, but a 1912 US Geological Survey map shows that the stop was originally located beside a sand embankment that protected the track from the river. This embankment and the presence of a nearby structure may also give a hint as to the purpose of this stop.

A Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad locomotive with crew posing for a photograph, c. 1900. [Adi Zehner]
The sometimes wet winters and constantly misty weather conditions in the Pajaro and Salinas valleys would have certainly made sand for traction essential for smooth operations of a railroad. The large sand embankment located immediately beside the tracks at this location may have made sand quarrying quite an easy task for railroad personnel. The station sported a relatively long northward-exiting spur, visible on the USGS map. The exit direction suggests that it was built prior to the sugar beet refinery's transfer from Watsonville to Spreckels in 1898. However, no other similar stop along the beach appears after that date, which, after also considering the continued existence of the spur on a 1914 USGS map, suggests that Beach continued to be used by the railroad for its original purpose possibly as late as 1929, when the railroad ended operations. Local farmers may have also used the stop, but information on such usage is not forthcoming and there are few farms noted in the immediate area. The beach may have served as a flag stop for beachgoers and it has been popular with fishermen for over a century, but it seems more likely that the main beach at Moss Landing served this purpose for the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad. The stop was definitively abandoned in 1930 when the tracks of the railroad were removed by the Southern Pacific Railroad. It seems likely that the current severe erosion of the beach may be due to this early mining effort.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.847˚N, 121.805˚W

The location of Beach Station is publicly visible from the northern curve on the gravel portion of Giberson Road at the outlet of the Pajaro River. Indeed, Giverson Road follows the right-of-way of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad for its entire length as it runs alongside the beach. The station site sits just beyond the northern end of Zmudowski State Beach, but no trace of the site remains. A field now occupies the location of the spur while the mainline right-of-way is now a private access road for farmers.

Citations & Credits:
  • Fabing, Horace W., and Rick Hamman. Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge. Pruett, 1985.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Stations: Jensen

Location of Jensen Siding, 1912. [US Geological Survey]
The history of the stop known simply as Jensen along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad line is quite mysterious. Undoubtedly named after one of the numerous Danish Jensens that moved to the Pajaro Valley in the 1880s, it is unclear precisely which Jensen occupied this parcel located near the mouth of the Pajaro River in 1890, when the railroad tracks were first installed along the southeast bank of the river. The most likely candidate is a mysterious Dane named Chris (or Christ or Christian) Peter Jensen. Jensen was an unimposing man who first enters records in Watsonville in 1885. He became a US citizen in 1892 and is active in property sales throughout the region a few years afterwards. Although he is never explicitly linked to any property in northern Monterey County, Jensen was the owner of at least one ranch in Corralitos and was closely associated with numerous farm owners from the north Monterey region, suggesting that he may have owned property there. Jensen was also an active member of a number of local societies, including a founding member of the local branch of the National Master Horse-Shoers' Protective Association. As some final evidence of his probable association with Spreckels and the railroad, Jensen is also the inventor of a sugar beet cultivator filed with the patent office in June 1899, alongside James H. Rowe. This places him solidly in the sugar beet industry and suggests that he owned a parcel that produced sugar beets for sale to the Western Sugar Beets factories in Watsonville and, later, Spreckels.

Patent image for sugar beet cultivator invented by C.P. Jensen and J.H. Rowe, 1899.
Little information is known of the stop itself. Satellite views of the site as well as USGS information shows that the stop was located in a sink between two sandy bluffs at a location intersected by the southern border of Rancho Bolsa de San Cayetano. The station was located 21.6 miles from Spreckels and 5.6 miles from Watsonville Depot. The station, the structure for which consisted of a small building beside the tracks, supported a 23-car length siding that ran along the southeastern side of the mainline tracks. These tracks were installed in early 1890 and remained in place until the line was demolished by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1930. While the stop was undoubtedly used in the early years, it is unclear how long Jensen owned the property and if later owners continued to grow beets there and ship said beets over the rail line.

Chris Jensen was seriously injured at Port Watsonville in 1906 when a riptide dashed him against one of the piles of the pier there, although he apparently recovered. His ultimate date of death is not known. The patent filing shows as a witness Julius C. Jensen, a man also referenced in the early 1900s as a Watsonville resident and a likely relative of Chris.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.855˚N, 121.804˚W

The site of Jensen station is now occupied by an open field that sits alongside the Pajaro River beyond the end of Jensen Road. The right-of-way in this area has mostly eroded into the river itself, although traces of it remain and can be seen from Google Maps satellite imagery. Nothing survives of the stop itself and the property is currently privately owned.

Citations & Credits:
  • Fabing, Horace W., and Rick Hamman. Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge. Pruett, 1985.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel (Morning and Weekly), 1885-1930.