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Friday, February 28, 2014

Upper Los Gatos Creek Trestles

An 1879 survey map of the Upper Los Gatos Creek basin,
oriented with the Summit Tunnel (originally Tunnel #3)
at the bottom and the creek heading roughly north.
(Bruce MacGregor)
Much like the meandering San Lorenzo River north of Felton, Los Gatos Creek required South Pacific Coast Railroad builders to erect multiple trestles between Wright's and Los Gatos Town. Not including the trestles outside the aforementioned towns, the right-of-way crossed over Los Gatos Creek six times in the Los Gatos Creek valley. Four of these crossings were between Aldercroft and Wrights while the remaining two straddled the town of Alma. Additional trestles were built to bridge the various feeder creeks in the canyon, including trestles at Hooker Gulch, Limekiln Creek, Soda Springs, among others. A progression of trestles is thus (from the south, heading north):

– Wright's Trestle South
– Wright's Trestle North
– Hooker Gulch Trestle
– Call of the Wild Trestle
– Aldercroft Trestle South
– Aldercroft Trestle North
– Alma Trestle South
– Alma Trestle North
– Soda Springs Trestle
– Limekiln Creek Trestle
– Cats Canyon Trestle

One of the trestles crossing a gulch on its way to Los Gatos, 1895. The identity of the feeder creek is unknown, though this author suspects it is Limekiln Gulch and that the town site of Lexington is across the creek. Los Gatos Creek can be seen in the foreground, showing this is not one of the major crossings. (Bruce MacGregor)
Unfortunately, historical photographs of all of these trestles except for one have not been discovered by this author. Their early history, though, can still be derived from South Pacific Coast records. The original redwood-built narrow-gauged trestles were all constructed between 1877 and 1878. Gauging from the extant photographs of the Wrights and Los Gatos Town trestles, these were built following the standards of the day, with wood pilings acting as piers and crossbeam supports holding up the rail bed. The South Pacific Coast Railroad was generally a frugal organization and these trestles would have been made with the cheapest available supplies of the highest quality, likely locally milled redwood. The photograph above shows an eight-pier wooden trestle in 1895, a fairly standard design along the route during its narrow-gauged years. These trestles were slowly replaced with standard-gauged trestles throughout the mid- to late-1890s when the Southern Pacific Railroad began upgrading its entire Santa Cruz division.

Alma Trestle South, repurposed for the
San José Water Company to support
pipes running from Lake Elsman.
(Brian Liddicoat)
Evidence of these later trestles is a bit more forthcoming due to the use of the right-of-way by the San José Water District. At least one of the trestle piers have been repurposed to suspend water piping coming from Lake Elsman. All of the trestles are visible except the Alma Trestle North, which is inundated, and the Soda Springs and Limekiln Creek trestles, also inundated. Having not visited these trestles, this researcher is relying on observations made by Brian Liddicoat during his own expedition along the historic right-of-way in 2009. The trestle at left is that of Alma Trestle South, located just north of Alma Bridge on Alma Bridge Road. The trestle was supported by two large concrete piers with curbs to support what can only have been a Pacific Bridge Company prefabricated trestle span. This span would have been a simple steel girder built to support ties and rail. It's repurposing to support pipes shows the durability of the span, though the span is also quite short and did not appear to require a central support pier.

According to Brian, piers or curbs still are present at the sites of every one of the three concrete trestles north of Alma Trestle South, though he did not photograph them. The one remaining trestle, the Call of the Wild Trestle, was apparently made of wood and was very short, with a gap in the right-of-way the only clue to the trestle's existence. Most of the trestles are hidden in brush along the banks of the creek or difficult to access as the San José Water District access road does not cross the creek when the tracks do unless necessary. All of these trestles except Alma Trestle South are on San José Water Company land and trespassers have been fined before for attempting to access them. That being said, the right-of-way through this area is unreliable and parts of it may be accessible via other means than simply following the water company's access road.

Wright's Trestle North in ruins along the bank of Los Gatos Creek. (Brian Liddicoat)
Further up the creek, Liddicoat photographed what can only be described as a poor excuse for a trestle. The Wright's Trestle North once brought the right-of-way back to the west side of the creek after it crossed at Wright's. Why this trestle collapsed when virtually no others along the entire South Pacific Coast right-of-way have is somewhat of a mystery. Clearly inferior construction is partially to blame since this portion of the creek is not prone to particularly violent flooding. The pier was hexagonal in shape, a type more unusual to the region though not unknown. Still, the concrete nature of the pier suggests it supported a steel trestle of some sort, though without seeing the curbs, it is impossible to determine the type of trestle.

The trestles of Los Gatos Creek remain a testament to the history of the region, though their relative obscurity makes them difficult to study and their history largely lost to the elements.

Citations:

  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).
  • De Leu, Cather & Co., "Santa Cruz - Los Gatos Rail Corridor Feasibility Study: Draft Final Report", prepared for the Joint Policy Board (December 1994).
  • Bruce MacGregor, South Pacific Coast: A Centennial 
  • Bruce MacGregor, Narrow Gauge Portrait: South Pacific Coast

2 comments:

  1. Yet, there is still a trestle that is not listed here that you can still see the remains of. It is halfway in between the small concrete trestle pier by Call of the Wild stop (rubber dam) and the broken concrete trestle piers of Wrights north. The trestle is made of wood and once forded a small feeder creek created by a gulch. The large wooden trusses are still on the north and south sides of the gulch but the center of the trestle has collapsed. You can see the gulch originating from around Old Santa Cruz Highway and heads toward Los Gatos Creek on a topo map but the gulch has no name. The trestle is at 37.145361Lat, -121.955794Long +/- 10ft.

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  2. Alma South Trestles are really fascinating. They are VERY high, compared to the others, and are built into the hills, as opposed to the free standing structures. While they were obviously decommissioned in 1940, they became the focus of another Los Gatos Creek project in the 1950s, when "Ryland Dam" was constructed in between them. Ryland Dam is simply a spillway with a salmon ladder that ensures the creek goes between the trestles, and now around them.

    It stayed that way, slowly crumbling due to the 24/7 365 water flow for nearly 60 years. In 2010, the San Jose Water Company built the metal bridge so they could extend a functional addition to their pipeline coming from Lake Elsman/Rubber Dam. The bridge was actually LOWERED into place by a tandem rotor helicopter. They cut down a ton of trees to make the space.

    I grew up in Chemeketa Park just south of Lexington Resevoir and within walking distance of the Alma Trestles. I heard them lower the bridge in place from my house and I had neighbors who went down to watch it happen.

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