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Friday, August 3, 2012

Felton Depot & Station

Built in 1880, Felton Depot and Station were the second largest train-changing facilities in the San Lorenzo Valley after Boulder Creek Station, and was the most important waypoint along the South Pacific Coast's Mountain Route between Vasona Junction and Santa Cruz, 73.4 miles south of San Francisco via Alameda Point.

Felton Depot, probably in the late 1890s. Felton Meadow sprawls beside it. (Courtesy Mt. Hermon Association)
Established originally as New Felton Station, Felton Station was moved from its original location across the San Lorenzo River near the present-day site of New Leaf Market to its current location within the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroads property.

New Felton Station, 1913, with Southern Pacific boxcars parked beside the mainline track. (Rick Hamman)
It served as the splitting point of the South Pacific Coast mainline Mountain Route, and the Boulder Creek branch line that headed north up the San Lorenzo Valley. A further split occurred at Felton Depot, south of Big Trees, toward the town of Felton, renamed by the South Pacific Coast Old Felton.

Northbound train at Felton Depot, c. 1935, with a bus of passengers from Boulder Creek after that line closed. (Rick Hamman)
The station itself was built from salvaged material left over from the Boulder Creek flume, which was decommissioned around the same time when rail transport replaced the more dangerous and cumbersome flume transportation system. The South Pacific Coast built the current railroad site beside Big Trees Ranch and the tracks continued over the San Lorenzo River south of Big Trees Park until meeting with the older Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad line, which was leased by the South Pacific Coast in 1879. Felton Junction was the site that the two lines met. The older line was upgraded in 1880 and continued to Santa Cruz.

Felton Depot, c. 1935, after the Boulder Creek line closed. The tracks head off ahead toward Los Gatos. A large water tower in the background sits beside the tracks. Both station and depot houses at right are still extant, though the freight yard at left has long since become a separate property. Boxcars sit on the tracks at far right. (Rick Hamman)
The freight depot was established at the same time to store and transfer goods supplied from the various outlets along the San Lorenzo River Watershed. Limestone was the chief material produced in Felton, while lumber and shingles came from Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, and Zayante. Sand later became a product of Olympia. Overstock of these various goods were stored beside the freight depot on the current site of ProBuild, which still retains numerous items of machinery that were once used to process some of the freight materials for the railroad yard. Most of the freight along the line came from the Boulder Creek branch, though at various times significant freight came from various quarries and mills up Zayante Creek along the main line.

A group of Mt. Hermon guests walking to the beach, at Felton Depot, c. late 1900s (Mt. Hermon Association)
When Felton Depot was first built, it featured a turntable located just north of the current freight house, beside Graham Hill Road. When the line switched to broad gauge in the late 1900s, the turntable seems to have been removed, forcing all trains to Santa Cruz to turn around. In addition, Felton had a Class A freight station with all the equipment and storage capacity needed and numerous sidings to support parked boxcars. The freight loading platform was on the left of the train as traveling south, while the passenger platform was on the right. Although the station book neglects to mention a water tower, documentary evidence and simple logic suggest there was a tower in Felton (see photograph above).

Today, the smallest of the depot houses and the original station house survive within the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad property, the majority of which was once Big Trees Ranch. When Roaring Camp first opened in 1964, it used the old station house and depot for its headquarters, as seen above. The new station house build beside the tracks within the Roaring Camp town were built around 1970 and the entire theme park's center moved with it, leaving the old station and depot to the dust. Both original buildings can be viewed from Graham Hill Road behind the entrance sign to the park.

The can be visited as well and have historic placards posted beside the entry doors. The buildings have been repainted and repaired over the years, but are largely in the original condition and retain the original design elements. Today, the station house is used as an administrative building for Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad while the depot house is once again used for storage. Although they are unlikely to be used for any other service anytime soon, it is notable that the Felton stationhouse is one of the only surviving narrow-gauge stationhouse structures left standing in California, with another rare surviving house less than a mile uptrack at Mount Hermon.

  • "South Pacific Coast Railroad." Whole Mountain Source Book. Accessed on 8/3/2012. <>
  • Southern Pacific System: List of Officers, Agencies and Stations, 1899.


  1. The photo with the Mount Hermon guests walking south:

    1. It seems later than 1910 by just a few years - women in white with shades of color, button stance on the men's jackets, neckties, the track shows no trace of having recently been converted to standard-gauge, weeds. Where could they be going? Late afternoon. June. There are enough of them to overwhelm any venue, unless it was to see the trees.

    2. While modern systems place the block signals within the sidings, the older automatic block signaling (or ABS) put the semaphores beyond the switches. Sidings are double-ended with the expectation that trains will use them to bypass one another, and the ABS system protected trains between such sidings; ABS only concerned itself with the mainline track. In generally, double-bladed semaphores were placed in front of the siding with the upper blade indicating the condition of the immediate block and the lower blade duplicating the signal that sits at the exit of the siding. The signal on the right-hand-side of the tracks is important, the signal on the left is for the opposing direction.

    The photo shows two double-bladed semaphores, which seems to mean that the siding on the west (along with the Boulder Creek branch) has ended, and another separate siding on the east has opened (I'm looking at the condition of the tracks in the photo and the east track is more weeded). The second track down at Big Trees was not a siding, but the track up at Meehan (and possibly Glenwood) had correctly installed signals. Those concrete blocks along the old line might indicate a siding, or a 'distant' signal, or an 'overrun' signal.

    3. The photo was taken from the roof of a railcar sitting on some house track, I wonder what industry established itself here?

    1. It looks like the same group, or at least half of them, were photographed crossing the Mount Hermon Bridge minutes earlier. It probably isn't a wedding under the trees, as everyone appears around the same age. The resolution fails in both photos, but it looks like a sure identification although it is now dated "c. 1920".

      There might be several uses for end-to-end sidings - switchback maneuvering, bunched trains traveling as sections - but the benefits would mostly go to a Boulder Creek branch train waiting for another to clear. If no industry is found for railcars waiting this far from the station, then maybe it was a double-ended single track yard for transferring freight between branch and through trains. A photo of the last (?) Southern Pacific excursion to Big Trees (resting adjacent to the parking lot) shows that the siding still existed in the mid-1960s.

  2. New Felton Station:

    Standing in front of the building is a 'train order semaphore' that is manually operated by the station’s operator. Ignoring the blade on the left (it is for the opposing direction), if the blade on the right is in the horizontal position an approaching train must stop and be handed orders. These orders are usually wired many miles and typed by the operator to be given to crews. I see train order semaphores at Los Gatos, Wright, Laurel, Glenwood, and Felton. Newer, metal poles were installed at LG, Glenwood and Felton, while Wright and Laurel lost their signals; Ben Lomond also had one of the earlier wooden semaphores.

    The station used the southern third of the building for the public. Both of the doors – east and west - were open, and the ticket agent worked behind a window in the main area of the building. Heating was provided by the sun.

    1. Looking at the recent photo of the station, I don't see the interior dividing wall, so it was either altered or my memory of it is off. I sure don't remember walking from one end to the other while receiving my ticket for the Roaring Camp train.

  3. New Felton Station: It looks like this station is a little more traditional than at first sight: office in the middle, waiting room to one side, freight to the other side. I’m guessing that it had a platform on the north side – the station is very asymmetrical, it has fewer windows on the north for looking through, and the roof is at least three feet higher than usual. So a small station that wasn’t intended to compete with old Felton, and one that stuck to a plan similar to that of the Laurel station or the first Ben Lomond station (or Castroville, or Pacific Grove, etc…).

    The turntable: I think that the sepia-toned aerial photo is from a later date. The passenger railcars look too long for narrow-gauge, the ABS semaphores are present (yes/no?), the track leading to the turntable seems wide in appearance. This photo seems to show the narrow-gauge turntable behind the station (eastern side), while the newer turntable is by the water tower (and the McKeen railcar would have needed a standard-gauge tt). I still see the turntable in one of the 1935 photos.

    New Felton Depot: was built later than the station as New Felton began to grow in importance. Using an architectural style that had no relation to the station, it was built with two wide doors on both the east and west sides, probably a platform all the way around, and a house track on both sides. Access to the new turntable ruined the west side because no railcar could sit for any length of time.

    The rail yard: It might be a public-owned team track for wagons to transfer supplies, or it might be for holding freight that needed to be switched into downtown Felton after the shorter route was established.

    All guesses. Really, really good guesses.

  4. New Felton Station is a Southern Pacific station built on their Common Standard #23 blueprints. The CS #23s were being built from 1896 to 1916, which would mean that the current building is at least the second station. I expect the earlier station followed the typical South Pacific Coast passenger structures (or are they Southern Pacific, too?) seen at Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond or Los Gatos. The freight depot is probably similar to the Glenwood Depot (before Glenwood's conversion to dual purpose) and dates back to the 1880s, although the eaves at Felton have been cut back.

    Southern Pacific stations are reported to have originally been painted 'chocolate' brown. In 1884 they began painting them slate grey (although I see some trim painted darker), with white window sashes and a 'mineral red' roof. By 1906-7 Colonial Yellow was adopted and a program to repaint all structures in California began. Trim was light brown (Samoa Brown), sashes remained white, the roofs remained mineral red until 'moss green' started as a replacement around 1912. Many stations had Colonial Yellow on the upper half of their sides and a darker yellow for the lower half, easily seen on the Los Gatos Station, but I also see something in the 1900 LG photo, which would have been too early - so I'm confused. The painting of the shingles (not shakes) occurred only on the passenger stations, which leaves the freight depots with the natural look. A report that the 'Greek Cross' shelters had red roofs exists, and I've seen one with what looks to have Colonial Yellow sides.

    I don't know the South Pacific Coast paint scheme, yet.

    'Sanding' was the practice of adding sand to the paint for toughening against bumps and kicks along the lower areas of the wall, this was used until around 1910 (and is still used to protect against mold in the tropics). Reports say that sanding was a popular practice with railroad stations.

    (My sources are usually just single comments, which tend to be copied from one site to another, so question everything.)