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Friday, January 17, 2014

Los Gatos Freight Yard

Since Los Gatos was the northern end of the Southern Pacific Railroad's Santa Cruz Mountain branch, it should be no surprise that certain necessities were to be found there. The Los Gatos Freight Yard served this purpose throughout the division's existence, from 1878 to 1940. The yard was small and simple compared to larger yards in Santa Cruz, Watsonville, and San José.  When it was first constructed around 1878 to facilitate the future storage and turning of engines for use on the Mountain branch, all of the tracks were narrow-gauge.

A train approaching the Los Gatos Freight Yard from San Francisco, 1918. The crossing is Elm Street and the photographer is standing on the roof of the Opera House at Main and University. (A Centennial, Bruce McGregor)
A Sanborn Fire Insurance survey map from 1895 shows this arrangement. The mainline came in from Campbell from the north (the right side of the maps below). Just past the engine house, it was split into three lines, the two new lines being long sidings of the main line. These three lines would not reconnect with the main line until just south of Los Gatos Station. Since this area was intended for storage along the route and not beyond it, it is not surprising to see that all utilities terminate via a northbound approach. Northbound engines could stop at the turntable to be turned back around for a return journey to Santa Cruz, or they could continue on to park for the night at the engine house, which appears large enough to store at least two engines, a requirement for large loads along the route. A spur off the eastern-most siding allowed engines and cars to park for the night without interrupting service. The Western Mill & Lumber Company hosted a planing mill just beyond the engine house and used the spur and the mainline to load cargo onto waiting cars. Another spur line departed the western-most siding for service to the Los Gatos Fruit Packing Company. The railroad's water tower sat on the main line just beside the engine house.

1895 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the Los Gatos freight yard. (UC Santa Cruz Digital Map Collection)
The conversion to standard-gauged tracks was gradual and begun around the turn of the century. By 1904, when the next Sanborn map was made, the transition was complete and the station was quite differently arranged. The turn table was moved to the former site of the Western Mill and now required all engines to turn regardless of their final destination. This is because the engine house was now widened and moved to the former site of the turntable. It could now support two double-headers on parallel tracks. Other aspects of the freight yard changed slightly. The eastern siding split at roughly the same site as before and still sported a spur for the loading of lumber from the adjacent lumber sheds. The western siding now was pushed slightly further down the line, with the Fruit Packing spur branching off of the turntable line rather than the siding itself. The sidings still rejoined the line south of Los Gatos Station. The water tower was also enlarged and placed behind the engine house adjacent to the main line.

1904 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the Los Gatos freight yard. (UC Santa Cruz Digital Map Collection)
As Bruce McGregor's photograph at top demonstrates, at some point after 1904, the lumber spur was extended for at least another block and turned into a siding, with a switch at Elm Street. Such an arrangement would have allowed for longer trains to sit side-by-side while waiting on the tracks to go to Santa Cruz. This siding was likely installed following the earthquake, when lumber demands increased significantly along the Mountain branch.

The freight yard ceased operations around 1940 when freight and passenger service ceased along the line. The engine house and turn table may have remained for a time to turn around southbound engines, but the arrangement of the facility was not designed for that direction and it is more likely that engines were turned at the wye at Vasona Junction. The Fruit Packing spur was removed in 1907. It is unclear when the two sidings and the lumber spur were removed.

This facility is still remembered today as Station Way, an access road running parallel to Santa Cruz Avenue between Main Street and Elm Street. Where the hump is along that road is the precise location of the water tower and engine house. When the road curves back toward Elm Street to become Boone Lane, that is the site of the turntable. The right-of-way then continued along the path of Boone Lane.

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