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Friday, August 29, 2014

San Vicente Transfer Yard

The San Vicente Lumber Company was quite possibly the largest redwood logging operation in Santa Cruz's history. Tapping approximately 615,000,000 board feet of lumber along Little Creek, Big Creek, Mill Creek, Chandler Creek, Berry Creek, Winter Creek, Scott Creek, and San Vicente Creek, it is somewhat surprising that it took the company only 15 years to completely decimate the redwood sources here.

The company was founded on May 8th, 1908, and it perhaps singlehandedly ensured the survival of the Southern Division of the Ocean Shore Railway for the next twelve years, though the railroad did go bankrupt during that time. The company was privately financed but had substantial backing. It's planning mill was a huge sprawling facility built on Moore Creek at a site called Rapetti on Ocean Shore charts. To get to the heart of the redwoods, the company convinced the Ocean Shore to extend its track from Scott Junction due north on the east bank of Scott Creek about a mile north of the planned Folger subdivision. The Ocean Shore agreed but the San Vicente Co. had to help pay for the extension and was required to extend the line another 1,000 feet to the village of Swanton. But the lumber company got a deal, with reduced freight rates out of North County and near-exclusive service during much of the year.

The heart of the railroad operation on the northern end was at the San Vicente Transfer Yard located 14.5 miles north of the Santa Cruz Depot on Bay Street and, more importantly, 12.5 miles north of Rapetti. At the top end of the Transfer Yard, the lumber mill had Little Creek Switch, also often known as San Vicente Junction. This was positioned at 15.3 miles north of Santa Cruz, meaning that the Transfer Yard was roughly 0.8 miles long and was composed of a long double siding. It was from here that privately-owned lumber trains hauled redwood logs and split stuff down from the mountains. The Ocean Shore wisely decided that all tracks between the southern end of the Transfer Yard and the northern San Vicente Junction would be joint use by both companies.

Members of the Mattei family posing on an Ocean Shore engine at the Transfer Yard. The first split in the tracks is visible in the background while a second rail-stop is visible at right marking the end of the second spur.
(Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History – Mattei Collection)
For twelve years, the Transfer Yard served its purpose well. Rick Hamman includes an interview with an old Ocean Shore brakeman in his book, California Central Coast Railways, in which the man explains the entire relationship between the two firms. Regarding the Transfer Yard, he notes that the San Vicente Lumber Company would leave loaded flatcars on the siding and mixed Ocean Shore trains would come and pick these up and deliver them to Rapetti and the mill there. On the return trip, empty flatcars would be returned to the siding for the process to repeat itself. He notes that the Transfer Yard was parallel to Scott Creek between Archibald Creek and Winter Creek and included two sidings: one for loaded cars and one for empties. It should be added that Little Creek was only 85-feet north of San Vicente Junction, thus the only question remaining regarding locations is where precisely the right-of-way sat.

As a brief aside, there are eight creeks that the San Vicente Lumber Company directly worked off of (as well as numerous streams). Archibald Creek, the most southern of the eight, was named after James Archibald, a Scottish farmer who briefly owned Rancho Agua Puerca y las Trancas in the 1860s. He also lived along Archibald Creek in Rancho San Vicente. The junction of Chandler Creek with Little Creek was the site of the lowest of the San Vicente Company logging camps and it functioned as their main assembly area for many years. It was named after Lewis Chandler, another farmer who owned a small portion of Rancho San Vicente. Berry Creek was a feeder of Big Creek and it was named after Andrew Warren Berry, an early Massachusetts homesteader. San Vicente Creek has already been discussed in previous articles and is named after Saint Vincent, taking that name either due to the Portolá Party or because the spouse of an early Mexican grantee was named Vicenta (the feminine form of the name). Big Creek and Little Creek are both descriptive names. Winter Creek may have originally been named Enos Gulch, after Matthew Enos, a Portuguese lumberman who settled in the area in the 1880s. The name "Winter Creek" is likely descriptive of that fact that the creek only flows after the winter rains. Mill Creek, largely harvested by another company, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, was a descriptive name based on the mill. Lastly, the history of Scott Creek was explained in the Scott & Scott Junction article. These eight creeks formed the heart of the San Vicente logging operation and also supplied all of the water for its steam-operated machinery.

Today, the entire Transfer Yard and the site of San Vicente Junction sits under fields. The track leading up from the junction followed Little Creek on its east side for a little while, but extensive switchbacks and trestlework make the final route of the logging railroad unclear. Most of the property today is either privately owned or used by California State University, San Luis Obispo, as a part of their Swanton Pacific Camp that operates for students seasonally.

Citations:

  • Donald Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008).
  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).

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