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Friday, June 13, 2014

Wilder Ranch

The Ocean Shore Railroad and the Coast Line Railroad shared only a few things in common...besides the same right-of-way between Wilder Creek and the Davenport Cement Plant, the same goal of connecting Santa Cruz to San Francisco via the coast, and the same failings that these two things would inevitably bring to each company. One other thing they shared, though, was freight service to the Wilder Ranch property just north of Santa Cruz. But even with this, the two competitors couldn't agree, so Wilder had multiple sidings and spurs—three in fact.

A barn building at Wilder Ranch (John Pusey)
Let's step back a bit, though, and explore the history of Wilder Ranch. The property was located not even a mile north of the city limits of Santa Cruz in a region once known as Rancho Refugio. Moses A. Meder was the original owner of the rancho and sold the Wilder portion of it to Deloss D. Wilder and L.K. Baldwin in 1871. It included around 4,000 acres and 2.5 miles of oceanfront property. Baldwin disliked the partnership and, in 1885, forced the division of the property, whereafter Wilder retained the portion closest to Santa Cruz. Deloss was already a dairyman having opened a dairy in Marin County in 1859, but his move to Santa Cruz signaled a new start. Deloss and his heirs continued to operate the dairy until 1935, when they decided to invest in agriculture instead, while also keeping a small cattle and horse ranch.

The history of the sidings and spurs enter in 1905 when Deloss deeded fourteen acres of land to the Ocean Shore Railroad under the condition that a siding and flag stop would be maintained on their property. When the Southern Pacific came through later that years, Deloss demanded the same conditions of them, which the SP accepted, and he granted them twenty-seven acres of right-of-way. Thus Deloss had his two sidings, gambling that if one railroad failed, the other would continue to use the right-of-way. Construction of the Ocean Shore began by mid-1905 and by 1906, trains were stopping at Wilder collecting freight and dropping off freight cars. The Coast Line, running behind and damaged by the 1906 earthquake, lagged behind even though its right-of-way was completed. The Coast Line's own track, basically shared in the Wilder region since the SP used the Ocean Shore's contractor, Shattuck and Desmond, finally opened to through traffic in early 1907.

For the Ocean Shore Railroad, the Wilder Siding was located 3.5 miles north of their Santa Cruz Station. For the Coast Line, it was 124 miles from San Francisco via Watsonville Junction and the Mayfield Cut-off. Furthermore, it was 83.4 miles south of San Francisco via Santa Cruz Junction and the Mayfield Cut-off and 7.3 miles south of Davenport. That places it roughly 4.2 miles north of Santa Cruz, but at roughly the same location as the Ocean Shore stop since the Ocean Shore had a more direct line to Wilder. The Coast Line spur included a class C-station with a small platform on the north side of the tracks. The Ocean Shore, on the other hand, had a siding on the south side of the tracks, beside its own right-of-way. Thus the Coast Line had slightly easier access to the dairy property and likely gained more business from the Wilder family because of this. Neither stop had a shelter or building for passengers, though both railroads maintained a formal flag-stop designation for Wilder on timetables.

Heavily overgrown Wilder Spur beside the Wilder Ranch SHP parking lot. (Google Maps)
The Ocean Shore ceased service to Wilder in 1920, though through trains to the San Vicente Mill continued on the old OS track until the end of 1923. The Coast Line, consolidated into the Southern Pacific formally in 1915, outperformed the OS throughout its existence and after 1920 was the sole freight hauler for Wilder Ranch via rail. While freight service ceased to the site after 1935, the spur itself still remains between the parking lot and the tracks, heavily overgrown but otherwise serviceable.

The Wilder family finally sold the property in 1969 with the expectation that it would be converted into a housing subdivision. But after twenty years of property disputes, the State of California finally took it over in 1974 and converted it into Wilder Ranch State Historic Park. Since then, the property has been enlarged with land grants from surrounding areas, stretching all the way up to Bonny Doon. Wilder is expected to be one of the restored stops on the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway if passenger service is restored on the Davenport branch line in the future.

Citations:
  • Donald Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008).
  • Jack R. Wagner, The Last Whistle: Ocean Shore Railroad (Berkeley, CA: Howeel-North Book, 1974).

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