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Friday, December 12, 2014

Molino

Molino was originally an unremarkable point along the Southern Pacific Railroad's Loma Prieta Branch north of Aptos. In 1910, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company decided that it wanted to harvest the timber tracts on Hinkley and China Ridges, which had hitherto been unaccessible. Thus a group of investors related to the company founded the Molino Timber Company to reach these tracts. At a point which they named "Molino" about three miles north of Aptos, the new milling company built a 30-inch-gauged railroad up along the former Monte Vista mill line to the bottom of an incline cable track that acted to ferry lumber between five miles of track up atop the ridge. The mill at Loma Prieta was reopened to process the timber coming down from the ridge.

Molino switch with Aptos Creek at the right and the main grade at left, c.1890s. (Santa Cruz Public Libraries)
The Molino switch was located at the spot where the spur line to Loma Prieta split with the mainline to Monte Vista. The track to Monte Vista had been pulled before 1900, but the track to Loma Prieta remained. Thus what Molino became was a rebirth of the old switch between the two mills. Indeed, the name may date back to the 1890s but it did not appear in official Southern Pacific records as such.  It only appeared in July 1914 in railroad agency books at 115 miles from San Francisco via Pajaro Junction, though the company had begun operations the previous year. The switch included a basic freight-loading platform which may have catered to small lumber operations or a nearby shingle mill. A gas-powered locomotive would come down the west bank of Aptos Creek and at Molino take the lumber back up the opposite bank to the mill. The cars were 30-inch gauged, requiring a triple-railed track, but the engine was standard-gauged. All lumber was offloaded beside the tracks at Molino and then transferred via standard-gauged flatcars to the mill or out for shipment.

The gas-powered locomotive used to ferry cars between the incline and the mill via Molino switch, c. 1915.
(Santa Cruz Public Libraries)
The Molino Timber Company worked the line until 1917 and then the Loma Prieta Lumber Company once again moved in to use a segment of the rebuilt line to reach Bridge Creek and Big Tree Gulch. Molino remained in use in its previous capacity for another four years until this operation, too, shut down in 1921. The Molino station point survived until the end of the branch line in 1928. The site of the switch today is north of the northernmost parking lot in the Forest of Nisene Marks on the Aptos Creek Fire Road, which was originally the right-of-way. The site is marked by a trail that turns to the northwest, while the fire road continues to the northeast.

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

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