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Friday, February 7, 2014

Wright's Trestle

The small town of Wright's along the South Pacific Coast Railroad's right-of-way to Santa Cruz once sported a trestle right beside the town. It crossed over Los Gatos Creek to the north and was photographed multiple times over the years, though few, if any, photographs of the later standard-gauged trestle have surfaced.

The town of Wright's in 1895, showing the primary artery trestle. (Courtesy Bruce McGregor, A Centennial)
Right half of a panoramic image of Wright's in 1885, just months before
the original town would burn and move across the creek. This is the
earliest known image of the Wright's Trestle. (Bruce MacGregor)
When Wright's was first laid out along the right-of-way, it was understood that a trestle would have to be built prior to the right-of-way heading through the mountain. The track passed over Los Gatos Creek multiple times south of Alma, and it was forced to take one last turn over the creek before it could enter the Summit Tunnel, then under construction. The trestle is well-displayed in numerous photographs, with its unique curve over the creek. When it was first built as a narrow-gauged bridge in 1878, it was constructed over both a creek and the Los Gatos Flume, visible beneath the trestle in the above photograph. The trestle was simply built, with evenly-spaced redwood piers supported by perpendicular beams. The support structure for the track was entirely made of a wood platform. Originally, space was provided only on the west side of the tracks for pedestrians, with vertical beams acting as railings. Sometime in the 1890s, a second railing was added to the opposite side of the tracks. At the southern end of the trestle, the track separated into a freight siding.

A busy market day at Wright's, with the Sunset Spur visible in the background, c. 1890s. (Brian Liddicoat)
A train on the Sunset Spur passing the Wright's Trestle in 1907. The trestle is
crowded with parked cars and construction equipment for the repair of the
Summit Tunnel after the earthquake. (Rick Hamman)
The standard-gauging of the trestle came about in early 1903 when the entire branch line to Alameda was converted. Wright's, therefore, acted as an early transfer station for goods coming from Santa Cruz via the narrow-gauged right-of-way. Interestingly, all photographs of the trestle after 1903 still show the same structure, only with broader-gauged tracks. If the original structure was retained, that would be a relatively unique trait of the Wright's trestle. Physical evidence also argues against it. What is more likely is that the old trestle was standard-gauged and that it was replaced following the earthquake. The structure itself did not get damaged during the quake, but the nearby Summit Tunnel was significantly damaged and the town was converted into a construction yard during the three years it took to rebuild the line. The Summit Tunnel was given top priority, and extant photographs of the trestle show flatcars parked on it with a parallel track in operation. Considering that the older trestle was not wide enough to support two tracks, it seems likely that a second trestle was initially built beside the original to help in the reconstruction efforts. The older trestle was then removed, probably around 1908, when the reconstruction of the tunnel was completed.

Wright's Trestle during its days as a dual-gauged trestle, c. 1903 to 1906. (Jim Cirner)
A photograph of unknown age. Bruce MacGregor states this is of 1915, but Los Gatos: Gem of the Foothills state it is from 1904. The buildings and state of the tracks both side with the 1904 date. The trestle appears nearly identical to its earlier forms, though it may be a different span. (Bruce MacGregor)
The sign on the pier at Wright's. (Brian Liddicoat)
The only photograph of the later trestle available to this historian unfortunately shows the trestle mostly obscured by brush from the creek. It appears similar to the older trestle, with a wood railing along a somewhat wider, possibly two lane bridge. Like before, the opposite side has different railings than the closer. However, the bend seems significantly reduced from before and the overall look appears newer. This trestle was removed in the summer of 1940 after the Southern Pacific Railroad had abandoned the line over the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Physical evidence of the site shows that at least two concrete piers sat beneath this later trestle, proving that it was a new construct from its predecessor. An extant sign on one of the piers still reads "DANGER: Keep out from under bridge as rocks etc. might fall from passing trains." The two bridge piers that once supported the trestle are all that remain of this site. The trestle remains are accessible via Wrights Station Road off of Summit Road. At the bottom of the hill, Los Gatos Creek meanders under an old bridge. The trestle remains down the creek roughly 100 feet north of the bridge. The road passes through the town site of Wright's, though little evidence of any settlement remains today. The entrance to the Summit Tunnel is accessible via the small meadow to the left of the road just before crossing the auto bridge. Warning: This area is patrolled by the San José Water District and they have been known to ticket trespassers.

Citations:

  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).
  • Bruce McGregor & Richard Truesdale, South Pacific Coast Railroad: A Centennial (Pruett, 1982).

1 comment:

  1. Slightly south of the remaining trestles rests what I believe is the Wright's Hotel swimming pool. It's a rectangular concrete whole in the ground with small stairs in one end, and if you walk across it gets noticeably deeper.

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