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Friday, February 21, 2014

Zayante Spur

Right-of-way according to Rick
Hamman's map. (Rick Hamman)
When the South Pacific Coast Railroad first proposed its passage to Santa Cruz, the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company likely had a say in its eventual right-of-way. Just as Frederick Hihn ensured that the route passed through his Laurel holdings, so too did the Doughertys ensure it passed through their Zayante Creek holdings, which had suffered since 1877 due to a lack of access. Once the new right-of-way was agreed upon, the Doughertys built their mill. The only problem: the right-of-way was a hundred feet above it!

While the precise location of the original Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company mill in the Zayante Creek basin is not entirely known, it seems most likely to have been located at the junction of Zayante Creek with Mountain Charlie Gulch where today a fire road climbs up to the railroad grade. This fire road would have been the primary means of reaching the railroad, except for freight, which would need a more even grade to get to waiting trains. Rich Hamman, in contrast, positions the mill much more closely to the start of the spur and on the east side of the creek, with only a narrow-gauged line continuing past the mill. Yet the existing photograph of the mill suggests that the mill was located in a basin near the creek, with no extension line going beyond it. Furthermore, the east side of the creek in the area he notes was too steep for a large-scale mill to operate. The Dougherty mill on Zayante Creek only existed between 1880 and 1887, when it burned down and was moved to Riverside Grove north of Boulder Creek.

Remains of the Zayante Spur Trestle located
 off of Western States Drive, 2014.
This Zayante Spur's purpose after 1887 remains unknown, though it makes logical sense that other small-scale milling operations in the area may have used the old spur for their own purposes. The steepness of the railroad grade meant that the junction of the spur with the mainline was nowhere near the SCVM&L Co. mill. Rather, it was located near Meehan Station off of modern-day Western States Drive. The actual site of the switch was actually near East Creek Drive and Laurel, two roads that nearly cross the right-of-way south of Western States Drive. Property alignments in this area show a right-of-way descending from these roads, closely following a bend in the creek before crossing the creek near Western States. This narrow-gauge spur supported full-sized engines and flatcars, as evidenced by the photograph of the mill showing a single engine, likely the "Felton", parked in the lumber yard. A ruined narrow-gauged trestle that once crossed Zayante Creek still sits at the site, a silent testament to an earlier age. This trestle was a simple design, with a concrete anchor supporting two square pilings on the east side of the creek, and a simple concrete curb on the west side. Crossbeams maintained the integrity of the structure. Unfortunately, any trace of the top of the trestle has been lost so the manner of its further structural support is unknown.

Original right-of-way to mill on East Zayante Road, left, while a newer auto
bridge crosses creek here, and again 1/4" north to bypass mill property.
From the railroad grade south of Meehan Station, the right-of-way descended steeply to the creek level where, at the trestle, it crossed Zayante Creek then continued northward until merging with modern-day East Zayante Road on the modern-day property of 9988 E. Zayante Rd. From there, the right-of-way is roughly congruous with the modern road until passing into the property of the old mill immediately prior to an auto bridge that today wraps around the original mill site. The address for the old mill is 11481 E. Zayante Rd. This route was nearly three miles long from its switch to its end, and it is rumored that a landslide buried an engine in 1884.

Today, the mill site now has a home sitting upon it, while the right-of-way has mostly been turned into a road. Not surprisingly, this is one of the most evenly graded and least twisty sections of East Zayante Road, though there are parts where small trestles may have rounded out curves during its original run.


  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).

1 comment:

  1. "Once the new right-of-way was agreed upon, the Doughertys built there mill. " -> Once the new right-of-way was agreed upon, the Doughertys built their mill.