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 10, 2016

Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad

William “Billy” Jones was a San Lorenzo Valley native who began his career working for the Southern Pacific Railroad at the age of 13 in 1897. For the next 54 years, he became a mainstay of the local railroad industry, running engines all along the California coast. It was late in his career, in 1939, when he found a one-third scale, 18- inch-gauged steam locomotive in a shipping warehouse.1 It had been originally built for the Venice Miniature Railway by the Johnson Machine Works of Los Angeles in 1905, but had been abandoned with the closure of the miniature railroad in February 1925. Its history for the next fourteen years is mostly unknown, with it eventually falling into the hands of a local machinist who purchased and relocated the locomotive from Los Angeles to San Francisco.2 Jones bought the small locomotive and brought it to his Los Gatos prune ranch on Daves Avenue where he spent the next four years restoring the engine.3 His intention was to rebuild the locomotive with the help of his two sons as a family project, but both sons tragically died while fighting in World War II. Jones decided to continue the restoration as a memorial for his sons. Over the years, he partnered with Louis MacDermot to build miniature passenger cars to support the burgeoning railroad.

BJW #2 on the track at the Jones Ranch, 2 May 1951 [Charles Givens]
In 1943, Jones opened up the Wildcat Railroad on his property, free of charge to the public. The trains could hold up to 90 passengers at a time.4 Jones retired from the Southern Pacific in 1949, after which he devoted himself full-time to his miniature railroad. Walt Disney, another miniature railroad fan, became an acquaintance of Jones around 1948 and Jones visited Disneyland frequently, even running the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad during its first week of operations in 1955. Jones's railroad was immensely popular with the Los Gatos community, and Jones himself was a well-known philanthropist, donating money to children’s hospitals and local non-profits.5 Jones eventually died of leukemia on January 10, 1968.6

Opening day of the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad at Oak Meadow Park, 1970. [Robert Turner]
Fortunately, Jones’s family and a lot of locals wished to preserve the miniature railroad for future generations of Los Gatans. They founded Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad, Inc., a non-profit charity focused on family entertainment and education. The train and facilities were moved from Jones’s ranch to Oak Meadow Park beside Vasona Park where an engine house and passenger depot were built for the train. Over a mile of track would be built in the following years to support the train, including two bridges over Los Gatos Creek, one of which was constructed from a disused Southern Pacific flatcar.7 Most of the trackage is within the adjacent Vasona Park, though the depot and maintenance facilities are in Oak Meadow Park. The railroad began operations at its new location on July 26, 1970.8 The attraction is now one of the most popular tourist features in Los Gatos, bringing in over 100,000 riders each year.

BJW #2 at the depot fuelling up for a day around the track at Oak Meadow Park. [Ed Kelley]
The original railroad was expanded in 1993 by the addition of a miniature diesel locomotive numbered 2502. It was built by Custom Locomotive Works of Chicago and donated to the railroad by Al Smith, founder of Orchard Supply Hardware and operator of the miniature Swanton Pacific Railroad north of Davenport.It now acts as the pinch hitter for the original steam locomotive, numbered 2. Another diesel, #3502, joined the Billy Jones fleet in 2005, while a custom-built electric engine went into service at around the same time to assist with track maintenance. Finally, a fifth engine and second steam engine joined in April 2013.10

BJW Diesel #2502 running along the track in Vasona Park. [Marcel Marchon]
Bill Mason Carousel at Oak Meadow Park. [TripAdvisor]
For additional entertainment, the Town of Los Gatos added a carousel to Oak Meadow Park in 1991 following a decade of restoration work. The carousel dated to 1915 and was built for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. The restoration work became a community affair with dozens of local artists assisting in painting the wooden horses and the decorations on and around the carousel. A Wurlitzer band organ was installed, as well, to provide music for the ride.11 The carousel was dedicated to the memory of William E. Mason, a civic-minded man who ran the non-profit Wildcat Railroad for many years after Jones’s death.12

The Railroad Today:

BJW Diesel #3502 in Vasona Park. [John L. @ Yelp]
The Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad runs year-round with weekly service in the summer and on weekends during the remainder of the year. The surrounding Oak Meadow Park was established by the Town of Los Gatos in 1958 to replace Memorial Park which was
demolished to create State Route 17.13 When it first opened, the park sat on the eastern edge of the Southern Pacific Railroad right-of-way which became soon after University Avenue. The Southern Pacific Railroad tracks were removed in 1959, but the railroad’s legacy lives on today through Billy Jones and the miniature railroad that he built.

Citations & Credits:
  1. Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad and W.E. ‘Bill’ Mason Carousel,” Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad.
  2. Panacy, Peter, “Venice Miniature Railway: A Brief History and Its Influence on the Billy JonesWildcat Railroad,” 10.
  3. “Billy Jones."
  4. Bruntz, George G., The History of Los Gatos: Gem of the Foothills (Fresno, CA: Valley Publishers, 1971), 149.
  5. “Billy Jones."
  6. Kelley, Edward and Peggy Conaway, Images of Rail: Railroads of Los Gatos (Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia, 2006), 68. 
  7. “Billy Jones."
  8. Kelley & Conaway, 110.
  9. “Billy Jones”; Kelley & Conaway, 123.
  10. "Billy Jones."
  11. “Billy Jones."
  12. Bergtold, Peggy Conaway, and Stephanie Ross Mathews, Legendary Locals of Los Gatos (Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia, 2014), 74.
  13. Oak Meadow Park," Town of Los Gatos, California.
Text from this page derives from Derek Whaley, Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains (Santa Cruz, CA: 2015), 191-193. Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Santa Cruz County Railroading since 1996

In 1937, the last independent railroad operation in Santa Cruz County ended leaving the entire county under the control of the Southern Pacific Railroad. This remained the situation until 1985, when the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway, operated by Roaring Camp, purchased the trackage between Santa Cruz Depot and Olympia. What was left—the track between Pajaro and Davenport along the coast—survived another decade before modernity finally caught up with the bullying tactics of the Southern Pacific, leading to its final demise. In its wake, the railroading history in Santa Cruz County changed drastically and continues to evolve even today.

Union Pacific Railroad (1996 – 2013)
The history of the Union Pacific Railroad is virtually the history of railroading in the United States itself. The enterprise was founded July 1, 1862, via an act of Congress with the goal of connecting to the Central Pacific Railroad thereby creating the first transcontinental connection. This goal was accomplished May 10, 1869, and the two companies largely diverged from there. While the Central Pacific was eventually subsumed into the Southern Pacific Railroad (the final merger was not completed until 1959), the Union Pacific remained the predominant operation between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. For well over a century, it operated in concert with other companies, the Southern Pacific among them, but it never had much real estate in California except for the trackage of the Western Pacific Railroad, which it purchased in December 1982. That being said, from 1901, the Union Pacific actually owned the Southern Pacific, but they ran as separate operations until the Supreme Court broke the trust in 1913.

By 1988, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company was suffering and was abandoning track anywhere it could justify it. Rio Grande Industries purchased the company outright and then expanded the Southern Pacific name to all its franchies (such as the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad). But this still was not enough to keep it alive. In 1996, a second merger of the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads was approved and the former entity ceased to be. Despite Southern Pacific acting as the majority party in the merger, Union Pacific chose to reincorporate under its own name, ending the existence of the Southern Pacific.

In Santa Cruz County, this had little immediate impact. Operations in the county were already irregular except for the Davenport cement plant traffic, and Union Pacific honestly had many other things to worry about elsewhere in the country. Still, between 1998 and 2003, unused sidings and spurs across the county disappeared, as evidenced by before-and-after SPINS maps produced by the railroad. In Watsonville and Watsonville Junction, around half of the sidings were removed or truncated to service the businesses that still utilised them. At Santa Cruz, all of the excess sidings and spurs were removed except for a single maintenance spur and the wye. Just outside the county, Union Pacific made a more drastic move by completely abandoning the remaining track between Castroville and Seaside, near Monterey, in 1999. Union Pacific chose to leave the track behind and simply remove the switch and junction track at Castroville, thereby disconnecting the Monterey Branch.

With the final closure of the Cement Plant in 2010, the Union Pacific was more keen to abandon the Santa Cruz Branch as it had the Monterey Branch a decade before. The remaining industries using the line – mostly ProBuild and Big Creek Lumber – were just as capable of using trucks, so Union Pacific threw in the towel. They sold the route to Santa Cruz County October 12, 2012. Union Pacific retrains ownership of half-a-dozen spurs at the Davenport cement plant, but otherwise all trackage in the county is now owned either by the county itself or Roaring Camp Railroads.

For more on the Union Pacific, see their website:

Sierra Northern Railroad (2010 – 2011)
Sierra Northern Railroad acted as the common carrier along the Santa Cruz Branch in 2010 and 2011, although the tracks remained Union Pacific Railroad property the entire time. Sierra Northern was formed out of a merger of multiple lines, including the Eccles & Eastern Railroad, incorporated by Karl and Burneda Koenig and Rick and Carol Hamman in 1988. This company had sought the common carrier license from Southern Pacific for the county, but was denied, severely limiting the railroad's potential. In 1995, it reincorporated as the Sierra Pacific Coast Railway and left the county. An entirely different entity, the Sierra Railroad, had been established in 1897 to connect the Central Valley to the Gold Country. In 1980, Sierra Railroad was sold to Silverfoot Inc., which in turn sold the railroad to the Sierra Pacific Coast in 1995. The combined Sierra Railroad and Sierra Pacific Coast purchased the Yolo Shortline Railway in 2003 and from this merger emerged the Sierra Northern Railway, a common carrier line that operates freight and passenger services on roughly 100 miles of California right-of-way.

A Sierra Northern train passing in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's Casino Arcade, 2009. [Wikipedia]
Knowing that the cement plant would be closing, Union Pacific was eager to give common carrier privileges to Sierra Northern, which ended up being responsible for transporting the moveable machinery out of Davenport. But the venture proved unprofitable to Sierra Northern, which had to travel outside of its usual zone to reach Santa Cruz. The group reneged on its contract in December 2011, a year after county voters approved the purchase of the Santa Cruz Branch from the Union Pacific. After spending over a million dollars in repairs, they left, forcing the county to look to new common carriers to continue rail operations on the line.

For more on Sierra Northern, see their website:

Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway (2012 – Present)
Since around 2000, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission had sought a referendum on the purchase of the former Southern Pacific Santa Cruz Branch so that the line could be controlled more directly by county voters. Finally, on May 6, 2010, the people voted to purchase the line for $14.2 million. Funding was secured by January 2011 and the final purchase was finished October 12, 2012. However, since the Sierra Northern had departed the county, the commission was left with the difficult task of finding a new common carrier, and one that they felt they could control more directly. On May 17, 2012, after five months of no railroad service or licensed common carriers on the line, the commission approved a contract for Iowa Pacific Holdings to become the new common carrier in Santa Cruz County, operating through the newly-incorporated subsidiary "Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway Company".

The Train to Christmas Town, 2012, in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's Casino Arcade [Lance Nix]
Iowa Pacific was incorporated as an international railroad company in 2001 based out of Chicago. It owns numerous subsidiaries in over a dozen states, as well as two railways in the United Kingdom which operate as the British American Railway Services. The carrier is licensed in the county to operate both freight and passenger services, although it is taking considerable time to ensure the quality of the right-of-ways for the latter. Currently, other than occasional freight service, the railroad has operated the Train to Christmas Town seasonal event, which in 2012 ran between the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Wilder Ranch, but in later years has operated outside Watsonville. There is hope – hinted at in the title of the railway – that through rail service to Monterey can once again be opened, but significant obstacles remain in the way before such a goal can be accomplished. For the moment, the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway operates whenever it is able and is working daily to improve the quality, security, and longevity of the Santa Cruz Branch line, in cooperation with the Regional Transportation Committee.

For more on Iowa Pacific, see their website:

Citations & Credits:

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Origins of Santa Cruz County Railroading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Dougherty Extension Railroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

Southern Pacific Railroad Subsidiaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 29, 2016

Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad

In the early 1870s, the city of Monterey lacked railroad service. Although the Southern Pacific Railroad had constructed its route in November 1872 through the town of Salinas on its slow crawl to San Luis Obispo and Southern California, it had bypassed the coastal town that was notoriously off the beaten track. A group known as the Patrons of Husbandry – popularly the Grangers – decided to change the situation when they founded on March 5, 1874, the narrow-gauged Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad. Like most railroads, this was a joint-stock operation built by a mixed Chinese/European crew, but it was financed by a remarkable selection of 72 people, mostly prominent industrialists and farmers from Salinas and Monterey. Their goal was not simply to transport freight between Monterey and Salinas easier, but to completely undermine the high prices of Southern Pacific by exporting goods via the Monterey Wharf. Their patrons were largely the cattle ranchers, wheat farmers, and fisheries of the lower Salinas River basin and Monterey Bay.

The original Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad end-of-track at Monterey.
[Mayo Hayes O'Donnell Research Library]
The route was surveyed in 1873, prior to incorporation, and construction began in April with little fanfare. By October 9, the entire route was completed following a mostly direct line between Monterey and Salinas. At this time, it was the first narrow-gauge common carrier in California. The Salinas Depot was located at modern day Pajaro and Willow Streets, while the Monterey Depot was located on the beach at the foot of today's Fishermen's Wharf (roughly where Monterey Station still is today). Only one significant crossing was required for the route, a 300-foot-long bridge over the Salinas River, but this proved to be the little 18.5-mile-long railroad's first perennial problem. Only four months after the route was completed, a storm passed through that devastated much of the area. Among its casualties was the Salinas River bridge. Over the following four years, this bridge was washed out twice more, severely crippling railroading operations in the winter months. To make matters worse, the engine house burned down in September, 1877, damaging both of the railroad's locomotives. All of these problems contributed to a general breakdown of the company's management structure. By 1879, two rivals were suing and countersuing each other in the California Supreme Court for control over the operation.

The Southern Pacific had never really permitted the Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad to thrive. As soon as their route was completed, its low freight rates were undercut by even lower rates by the Southern Pacific. For five years, they allowed the struggling little narrow-gauge to continue, but then, without warning, the Southern Pacific gobbled up the enfeebled company up on December 22, 1879. The Southern Pacific desired to convert the former right-of-way to standard gauge but decided on an entirely different approach path. On January 24, 1880, they incorporated the subsidiary Monterey Railroad to acknowledge the fact that the railroad had begun grading a new route between Castroville, the nearest Southern Pacific station, and Bardin since October the previous year. Replacement of the Bardin to Monterey narrow-gauge rails began immediately while regular service along the new line commenced on January 1, 1880. A total of 6.44 miles of track between Bardin and Salinas were entirely removed while the remaining 12.12 miles of track were replaced. Thus, the direct route between Salinas and Monterey so championed by the founders of the Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad was replaced with a more cumbersome route that backtracked through Castroville. Of the rolling stock, most of it was sold to the Nevada Central Railroad. The Monterey Railroad itself was merged into the Southern Pacific Company May 14, 1888, to become the Monterey Branch.

The Route Today:
The route between Monterey Wharf and Bardin is largely the same as the path of the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail and bike path and is open to the public. Where things get tricky is once the original route breaks off from the Monterey Branch at Bardin. This break began roughly where Beach Road and Del Monte Boulevard split in Marina. A 1947 USGS map shows the railroad grade continued passed through what is now a small residential area on the east side of the tracks before heading to the current Monterey Regional Waste Management center at the end of Charlie Benson Lane. There are slight traces of the right-of-way still visible along this stretch – between the two developed areas – the most notable sign being a very perceptible cut through a short bluff midway between these points in the middle of an empty field. This can be best seen from a distance at the top of Sean Court and Michael Drive, although it can also be viewed from Cosky Drive and Del Monte Ave. Nothing is visible from the dump, however.

From here, though, the right-of-way seems entirely lost. Even the sources are not certain as to where it crossed the Salinas River. Robertson says it took almost a direct line between Bardin and Salinas, but that is impossible considering the known grading. The mention that the Salinas Depot was at Pajaro and Willow Streets suggests that the route eventually came to parallel (or was) West Blanco Road, following that route until roughly Iverson Street in Salinas, at which point it would have cut across modern properties to get to its end-of-track. A trace road from a 1910-1913 map of Monterey and Salinas suggests there was a little-used road in this area that may have once served to take the right-of-way to where the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad route later was built, and the comparisons between those two lines from this point to downtown Salinas are extremely similar. But this is pure speculation. More research must be conducted to determine the ultimate route of the Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad

Map of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad,
c 1900-1910. [George Pepper Collection]
The Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was one of the first private narrow-gauged railroading operations that sprang up in Santa Cruz County after the completion of the major Southern Pacific Railroad lines. It was largely financed by Claus Spreckels with the single-minded goal of connecting his sugar beet refinery outside of downtown Watsonville with his single largest market: the burgeoning town of Salinas.

Speckels had built his Western Beet Sugar Company refinery in 1888 along tracks that serviced the Southern Pacific Railroad. Unfortunately, the difficulty and high cost of growing sugar beets dissuaded many local farmers from growing it. The best soils for beets were along the marshy coastlands, and the Southern Pacific Railroad bypassed this area entirely. In 1889, Spreckels leased the entire Moro Cojo Ranch north of Castroville and planted 1,500 acres of beets. But, although this property was on the railroad line, the Southern Pacific was charging top dollar for Spreckels to shuttle his crop to Watsonville. In response, Spreckels founded on December 30, 1889, the Pajaro Valley Railroad.

While this may have been a bluff initially, the Southern Pacific did not bite, so by May construction was under way. Built using primarily Chinese and Japanese labour, this railroad departed from the Watsonville beet refinery, crossed Beach Road and the Pajaro River, and then passed into Monterey County, where it looped down to the coast and followed the outside edge of many of Spreckels' contract beet farms. A long spur terminated atop Moss Landing wharf, which Spreckels used to export his finished goods on Oceanic Steamship Company and Pacific Coast Steamship Company vessels. The main track ended at Spreckels Moro Cojo farm after crossing over the offending Southern Pacific mainline track. Via this narrow-gauged network, the Pajaro Valley Railroad both imported unprocessed goods in to the refinery and exported them out to market, thereby undermining attempts by the Southern Pacific to price gouge Spreckels. This track was finished in September 1890, just in time for the Autumn beet harvest.

The Spreckels refinery near Salinas around 1910. [Monterey Bay Historical Society]
Claus Spreckels, c. 1890.
By August 1891, Spreckels had extended his track a further nine miles to a point just outside of Salinas, called "Watsonville Junction". His low prices and easier accessibility forced the Southern Pacific to cut its freight costs by 50% just to attract new customers. At the same time, the company opened passenger service, further cutting into Southern Pacific profits. In 1895, Spreckels purchased a large property south of Salinas and built there a much larger beet mill than his Watsonville refinery. As construction was underway, Southern Pacific negotiated with Spreckels and had a three-mile spur extended to the new refinery, named "Spreckels" on timetables, which opened in October 1898. But Claus Spreckels did not allow this new arrangement get in the way of his own railroad. On April 16, 1897, the Pajaro Extension Railway connected the end-of-track at Watsonville Junction to the new mill and also extended a track east of Salinas to a lime quarry in Alisal Canyon. On December 9, 1897, the Extension Railway and Pajaro Valley Railroad were merged to form the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad.

The importance of the Watsonville factory declined rapidly over the next few years. It became a storage facility around 1900 and then was abandoned completely by 1908. Nonetheless, a turntable and engine house at the Watsonville site remained in place until the closure of the line, and the route between Spreckels and Watsonville continued to cater to local sugar beet farmers and was used frequently. Meanwhile, on the south side of the route, Claus Spreckels threatened the Southern Pacific again with a massive extension track up the Salinas Valley, but Southern Pacific lowered its rates once again and Spreckels satisfied himself by extending tracks only five miles up the valley to Buena Vista in December 1901, and this was largely to cater to some private beet farms in the area. At around the same time, a short track was finally extended directly to the Southern Pacific freight yard in downtown Salinas, which greatly expanded the passenger potential of the narrow-gauged line.

The Western Beet Sugar Company mill at Spreckels. [Bancroft Library]
By 1915, the railroad owned and operated 41.5 miles of track largely within Monterey County. It owned nine locomotives, six passenger cars, 260 freight cars, and other rolling stock. Its record year was 1917 when it carried 174,480 tons of freight, and in 1919 it carried 158,871 passengers along some portion of its line.

Bridge over Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. [Bancroft Library]
Things began to fall apart around 1920. Spreckels' sugar beet company began using trucks and buses beginning in the early 1920s, which cut into freight revenues. At the same time, the Southern Pacific Railroad, which with its standard-gauge trains could haul significantly more freight per car and which had years earlier extended a branch to the Salinas refinery, became an increasingly alluring prospect for exporting finished sugar products. On November 24, 1925, regular passenger service along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad came to an end. Freight services had been in decline for years, prompting the company to finally petition the Interstate Commerce Commission for abandonment in June 1928. The petition was approved and on April 2, 1929, the railroad closed for good. Approximately 40 miles of track as well as rolling stock and various structures were sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad in a clearance sale for $10.00 cash. Over the next two years, Southern Pacific scrapped the entire line and resold what they could, finally selling the locomotives in 1935. The railroad's presence in Santa Cruz had already been largely a memory. The sugar beet refinery had shut its doors in 1898 and slowly the area became first a lumber yard and then a fruit-packing district. The turntable and engine house remained until 1930, but the locomotives were no longer stored there.

The Route Today:
Bridge abutments at Elkhorn Slough, 2005. (Garrett Keeton Collection)
Large portions of the right-of-way are still easily and legally accessible to the public. Smudowski Beach State Park's main road, accessible from Giberson Road off of Jensen Road is an entire repurposed stretch of this former track. The track passes through marshland for south of here but then parallels State Route 1 beginning at the Jetty Road junction. Former bridge abutments can be seen beside the highway before Jetty Road and as the highway crosses over Elkhorn Slough at the Sea Harvest Fish Market, and the site of the wharf is now Sandholdt Road, where a wye for the railroad was also located at the station once called "Moss". The right-of-way then, after a brief tangent, parallels Molera Road starting at Monterey Dunes Way, and it continues paralleling this road on the south side as it becomes Nashua Road. Unfortunately, beyond this the right-of-way falls out of the spectrum of this website, however Horace Fabing and Rick Hamman's book Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge (Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing, 1985) is an excellent complete telling of this tenacious little railroad's history.

Citations & Credits:

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Watsonville Junction Spurs

The freight yard that formed just south of the town of Pajaro along the Monterey County side of the Pajaro River became over time a major hub for local freight shippers. The Santa Cruz Railroad built its original narrow-gauged switching yard at this site around 1873, but unfortunately no maps or photographs of the yard exist from this time. Indeed, the first available map of the yard does not appear until 1892 in a Sanborn Fire Insurance map. This is nine after the Santa Cruz Railroad tracks were standard-gauged and eleven since the Southern Pacific took over the fledgling company. In those early years, there was no wye or turntable at the yard, meaning that all rail traffic coming from Santa Cruz County headed toward San Francisco or was switched at the small yard. From the mid-1880s, the Loma Prieta Milling & Lumber Company (later just Loma Prieta Lumber Company) installed a large lumber yard directly in the middle of the yard. Their planning mill sat on the eastern end while the stack of lumber ran along two spurs that headed eastbound, flanking the Santa Cruz Branch mainline. The Loma Prieta yard relocated to Beach Road in Watsonville in the late 1890s and the Southern Pacific completed the wye that had been left undone two decades earlier. No other businesses moved into the centre of the yard again. Over time, the number of sidings and spurs grew drastically, with nine mainline and siding tracks in 1920 reaching a maximum extent of sixteen parallel tracks in 1973. Only one business appears to have operated within these yard limits by 1973: Watkins, which sat on the west side beside Salinas Road near the last site of the Watsonville Junction passenger depot.

Jackson and Besse & Sill grain warehouses between Railroad Ave and the freight yard, 1892. [UCSC Digital Collections]
Further to the east, beyond the merger of the tracks, two patrons known only as Jackson's grain warehouse and Besse & Sill's grain warehouse and potato bin (leased by the Southern Pacific) occupied space beyond the passenger and freight depots in 1892. The track that ran to the northern lumber spur ran directly in front of these structures, while two more tracks, which merged to form the Coast Division mainline, paralleled that spur track. These all occupied what is today the stretch of Railroad Avenue between Kents Court and Waters Lane. By 1902, Henry E. West used both structures as grain warehouses, with the potato bin now a produce bin (still leased from SP). By 1911, both of these would be taken over by Southern Pacific for storage purposes and they were demolished in the mid-1910s when the yard was expanded. This business has since disappeared, although the track remains in place.

SunRidge Farms and Falcon Trading Company complex (formerly Smuckers) beside the freight yard, c. 2011.
In 1902, a new spur appeared on the northern edge of the yard, breaking off from the Santa Cruz Branch. This catered to Unglish Bros. fruit driers which operated its cannery between this track and Railroad Avenue, just west of modern day Kents Court. This cannery was also removed in the mid-1910s when the yard was expanded and it relocated to a location on Main Street in Watsonville away from the tracks. In 1918, Unglish Bros. was labeled as the largest fruit dryer in the world. What occupied the five spurs that were added to this area after 1935 is unknown, but all were vacant by the time the Southern Pacific Railroad produced its 1973 SPINS map of the freight yard. However, a sixth spur which still crosses over Railroad Avenue today near Kents Court was still active by that time. In 1973, it catered to the small California Farm Products warehouse, as well as the much larger J.M. Smucker Company facility. Although the track has been paved over and is currently inoperable, it remains in place running the length of the warehouse which sits on the north side of Railroad Avenue. Smuckers closed in 2004 and now the entire complex is occupied by SunRidge Farms and Falcon Trading Company. SunRidge is an exporter of health foods that has operated since the mid-1970s, while Falcon Trading Co., a subsidiary of SunRidge, was founded in 1977 and specialises in trail mixes.

Western Fruit Evaporating Co. advertisement selling Matiasevich apples.
Aerial photograph of the Watsonville Junction freight yard, 1935.
[UC Santa Cruz Library Aerial Photograph collection]
Pajaro Station became Watsonville Junction in 1913, but the site was still in its infancy. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the local agricultural businesses sprang to life, and by 1973, an entirely new freight area had opened up, cradled between Marinovich Avenue on the east and Salinas (originally Monterey) Road [G12] on the west. As early as 1931, one long spur curved alongside Monterey Road and forked at the end, but over time it developed into around seven separate spurs branching from a root and catering to a number of businesses. Along the eastern side, the railroad catered to, via four spurs, the Marinovich and Matiasevich companies, both derived from local Croatian fruit packing families. Marinovich Cold Storage was founded in 1946 by J. G. Marinovich and continues to exist in the area, although the original owners have since sold it. On the western side, via five spurs, the railroad catered to Atlantic Richfield Oil Company (ARCO) and Smuckers (on the same spur), the Swiss chocolate firm Nestle, and J.J. Crosetti, an Italian lettuce grower who purchased the Levy-Zentner company in 1935 and turned it into a vegetable wholesaler. His son, J.J. Jr., eventually merged his company into California Giant Berry Farms, which he helped found. He died in 2015.

Today, the track still passes through this entire two blocks of packing houses but most of the businesses have changed hands. The owners of the large Marinovich facility cannot be determined but Matiasevich is now owned by Southern California Seafood, although they have paved over most of the track by this point to create Matiasevich Lane. On the west side of the block, SunRidge Farms and Falcon Trading own the former Richfield Oil and Smuckers site; the Monterey County Agricultural Office owns part of the Nestle facility, although it is not clear who owns the other half; the Crosetti lot is now occupied by Dibwani Motors, a new car dealership. Of the spurs in this area, only the former Matiasevich spurs still remain in place, which suggest it was the last firm to cease using the track in the area. Although the main spur through this area remains in place, it does not appear to be used at present.

Official Railroad Information:
Due to their nature as freight yards, only the 1973 SPINS chart shows the detail for this area in any official capacity. Other SPINS exist but are not currently accessible to this historian.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
From 36.899˚N, 121.746˚W to 36.897˚N, 121.741˚W

Railroad Avenue, Lewis Road, and Salinas Road are publicly accessible and views of the entire freight yard can be seen from anywhere along them. Likewise, cars may drive down Marinovich Avenue and Matiasevich Lanes, although access to the properties themselves are only with permission from the owners.

Citations & Credits:
  • Sanborn Insurance Maps, 1892-1920. University of California, Santa Cruz Digital Map Collections.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad Company, SPINS, 1973. California State Railroad Museum collection.
  • University of California, Santa Cruz, Aerial Photograph Collection.

Friday, April 1, 2016

West Beach Street Spurs, Part II

Aerial photograph of the main Watsonville Depot freight area, 1935.
Central Supply at left. (UC Santa Cruz Aerial Photograph Collection)
The 0.8-mile stretch of Southern Pacific mainline track between the final curve out of the Watsonville Depot area and Lee Road, paralleling West Beach Street for the entirety of it, catered to a rather random assortment of industrial businesses over the decades. Indeed, for much of its history, literally nothing was along this stretch except farmsteads. By the 1940s, industrial expansion was finally moving outside of the traditional freight area allocated to Watsonville Depot. Central Supply, an aggregate company, was the first to establish itself at the gentle curve of the track as it redirected toward the beach. A spur was eventually extended to the supplier from the north, probably to allow for the easier importation of aggregates from Davenport and Olympia, where the cement plant and quarries were still active on the rail route. The spur has since been spiked and buried. Slightly further down the track, Phillips Products, an oil supplier, had a short parallel spur set up in the 1960s for shipments. The spur was still listed in 2003 as owned by Phillips Drisco Pipe, but almost all traces of it are gone. A short platform behind Pacific Agricultural Packaging (Pacific Agpak) is all the evidence that remains of this spur, suggesting they removed it when the took over the operation in the 2000s.

Aerial photograph of Bud Antle's operation, 1954.
(UCSC Aerial Photograph Collection)
At modern-day Ohlone Parkway, two spurs broke off. One long spur is the topic of another article (West Beach Street Spurs, Part I) but the other smaller spur appeared in the early 1950s, looping in a gentle arc to terminate at Beach Road. By the 1960s, a parallel spur broke off from this and ran alongside it. These catered to Bud Antle. Antle was a Watsonville native who became one of the largest lettuce producers in the country. He died in 1972 and then his son, Bob, took over, merging the company with Castle & Cooke in 1978 (it later merged into Dole Foods). The spurs were probably removed around this time as, today, only their imprints remain. The original structures that Bud used are now occupied by A.L. Lease Company—Wholesale Plumbing Supplies.

Aerial photograph of the Harris Pine Mills and Bud Antle properties, 1969. (UCSC Aerial Photograph Collection)
The Antle spur also prompted in the 1960s the start of a small runaround track (short siding) that catered to two other businesses: Harris Pine Mills and Big Creek Lumber (also known as Little Lake Industries). For the latter, one may want to read Lock, Stock & Boards: The Harris Pine Mills Story, which tells how Clyde Harris donated his entire operation to the Seventh-day Adventist movement in 1959, the year the company's second mill was built in Watsonville. Aerial photographs from 1969 show that one of the spurs catered directly to a small lumber yard on the north side of the lot while a shorter spur terminated at their planning mill. Harris shut down in 1987 and the spurs are spiked and mostly buried now, although a small bit remains behind Sambrailo. Little Lake Industries (Big Creek) occupied these structures until 1991, at which point Morgan Industries leased them for the manufacture of amusement park rides. All of the structures still remain on site and are today used by Sambrailo and ORDO Equipment Company.

Couch Distributing facility, 2016. Spur at right.
(Google Maps Satellite View)
Next door, Big Creek Lumber, a relatively major operation with its harvesting facilities near Waddell Beach on the San Mateo County line, moved in around 1971. A gently curving spur was installed with a southbound exit. The primary purpose of this spur is to import supplemental woodstuffs from elsewhere, since their local lumber operations are trucked in from Davenport. The spur remains in active use. The end of the runaround track is just before the freeway.

Across the freeway to the south, two final spurs mark the absolutely southern (or northbound) terminus of the Watsonville freight area. Breaking off from the mainline at Lee Road and curving north to parallel State Route 1,  the spur was installed after 1973 and caters to Couch Distributing Company, primarily an alcohol distributor. Although the company does not appear to use its spur currently, it remains useable and runs behind the main storage structures alongside a long loading platform.

Del Mar Foods facility, with track running down
middle of photograph. (Google Maps)
The final freight patron along West Beach Street is and has been for over 50 years, Del Mar Foods. Established in 1959, the spur probably dates to around 1967 after the company developed new techniques for quick freezing foods and required larger facilities. It first appeared on SPINS in 1973 off of a southward-sloping spur from Lee Road, with an exit in the southbound direction. Despite the relatively large size of the facility, it only has one single spur that runs directly through the middle of the buildings. The spur remains active and in use by Del Mar.

Official Railroad Information:
Since none of these places were formal Southern Pacific or Union Pacific Railroad stops, the only official information related to them comes from SPINS produced in 1973, 1998, and 2003. Most of the information above comes from these sources.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
From 36.907˚N, 121.768˚W to 36.899˚N, 121.779˚W

This stretch of right-of-way runs from the Granite Construction site across and slightly to the west of Harvest Drive all the way to Lee Road, excluding the long spur that runs across West Beach Road. The entire right-of-way is publicly owned by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission and is leased to the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway. In other words, no trespassing is allowed. Parts of the track can be viewed from Ohlone Parkway, State Route 1, and Lee Road. The private spurs in question currently cater to A.L. Lease Company—Wholesale Plumbing Supplies (track is now removed and paved over), Sambrailo (track is spiked and mostly buried), Big Creek Lumber, Couch Distributing (accessible from Lee Road), and Del Mar Food Products Corporation. Access to any of these facilities must be provided by the companies in question.

Citations & Credits:
  • "MBA History". Monterey Bay Academy Alumni, 2007.
  • Pepper, George. Personal correspondence.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad, SPINS "Watsonville", 1973. California State Railroad Museum.
  • Union Pacific Railroad, SPINS 1998, 2003.