Despite its common use in weapons, black powder produced by the CPW was primarily intended for use in mining and railroad tunnels. Black powder slowly went out of vogue during the 1890s but the company continued operations until 1914. As a location, situated beside the San Lorenzo River provided the CPW with abundant amounts of water and wood, both items absolutely necessary in the safe manufacturing of black powder.
At right, a crew of powder mill workers stand beside tin cans of black powder, posing for the photographer.
|The CPW Office and town center, taken in the 1890s by O.V. Ort|
The CPW's relationship with the railroad began early, in 1875, when the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad first passed near the cite of the powder works company. It was apparent to all that the CPW could use the SC&F RR to transfer its cargo to waiting ships, and the California Powder Works Junction was soon setup on the ridge 300 ft. above the mill to facilitate such an exchange.
To bring the freight up the tracks, a switch-back was built leading up from the mill situated beside the river to the junction with the South Pacific Coast mainline. Most of the route of the switchback still exists, with it leading out the modern-day entrance of the resort, crossing the highway, and switchbacking through what is now Big Trees Manor, a single-lane, paved private road.
A large wooden gate was built at the entrance to the CPW mill to keep out tourists and act as minor protection against an explosion. The Toll Road which became Highway 9 passed in front of the CPW gate just as the road passed in front of the Masonic resort today. The climb to the tracks was too steep for train engines, so horse- and mule-driven boxcars were hauled to the top of the grade.
Once at the top, one would find the Powder Works junction house, a small wooden platform with a not-entirely-useful shack on top. A siding would allow boxcars to park while awaiting the arrival of a freight train that could take the car to the wharf or to San José via the Mountain Route.
Railroad tracks were scattered around the CPW mill as well to help transfer and collect freight between locations. The photograph above shows a "powder monkey" standing beside the main powerhouse beside tracks that led toward the Paper Mill property purchased in 1872. The photograph was taken in the late 1880s.
The California Powder Works also ran and operated the Powder Works Wharf (later Steamship Wharf and formerly Gharky's Wharf) until it was demolished in 1882. It purchased the wharf in 1866 to help facilitate the transfer of gun powder from the powder works in three miles north to awaiting ships. From 1875, the CPW used Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad, and later South Pacific Coast, trains to haul its dangerous cargo to the wharf, which was connected to the Railroad Wharf in 1877 with a special Connecting Wharf. When the wharf was demolished, the CPW shipped directly from the Railroad Wharf.
|The California Powder Works Wharf (background) connected via a short wharf to the Railroad Wharf.|
Today, the tracks still pass above the Paradise Park Masonic Resort where they have passed since 1880. The route to the CPW cite is long gone, probably removed around 1906 when the mainline tracks were upgraded to broad-gauge, since it is unlikely the Du Pont plant at that time upgraded their own tracks. In any case, by the time the SunTan Special was running every Sunday to the Santa Cruz Main Beach, nothing remained of this trackside curiosity and its railroad connection to the local history has been largely forgotten.
- "The California Powder Works". Santa Cruz County History — Santa Cruz Public Libraries. Accessed on 13 July 2012. <http://www.santacruzpl.org/history/articles/11/>
- Brown, Barry. "The California Powder Works & San Lorenzo Paper Mill". Santa Cruz County History — Santa Crux Public Libraries. Accessed on 13 July 2012. <http://www.santacruzpl.org/history/articles/508/>