Author Statement

This website is a constant work-in-progress, with articles updated regularly throughout the site. Much of the information comes from local railroad fans such as yourselves. If you have information regarding local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, leave a comment on the appropriate page or email me at author@santacruztrains.com. This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, January 29, 2016

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Miniature Railroads

Out of the ashes of the great Neptune Casino fire of 1906 arose a new phenomenon at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Since the 1860s, the Santa Cruz main beach had been a popular tourist resort, sporting public bath houses, spas and restaurants, gift shops and beachfront campsites. Then in 1903, Fred Swanton formed the Santa Cruz Beach & Tent City Corporation to convert what was a random assortment of private attractions into one unifying vision for the beach. He purchased the large Miller-Leibbrandt Plunge and its accompanying Electric Pier and he moved the old Neptune Bath across the street to become the Tent City restaurant and corporate office for the company. In its place, he erected a massive Moorish-style casino inclusive of (non-gambling) games, gift shops, restaurants, dancing pavilion, and so much more. Outside, a beautiful bandstand was erected while beyond the newly-upgraded plunge a large roller rink was built. No other entertainment attractions were built at this time and nothing else would be forthcoming. For two marvellous summers—1904 and 1905—this grand casino thrived attracting visitors from all over the country, and then tragically everything came to a fiery end one June night in 1906.

Color postcard of the Bay Shore Limited, c. 1910, after the demolition of the curio shop. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
The new Casino and the Plunge, while opened before the summer of 1907, built in a Spanish Revival style and was upgraded with state-of-the-art fire suppression systems and far superior architecture. These buildings were meant to last and they still stands today at the western end of the Boardwalk, testaments of the resolve to avoid another catastrophe like that of 1906. But with the new Boardwalk completed, Swanton began searching for attractions to improve his upstart amusement park.

The west end of the Bay Shore Limited loop, with the Pleasure Pier in the background. [Harold von Gorder]
The Bay Shore Limited beside the Plunge, 1907. At right is the skating rink
and at left is the curio shop, both in the style of the 1904 Neptune Casino
suggesting they survived the fire of 1906. [SC Sentinel]
The very first one of those attractions was a 1904 Cagney Brothers' Miniature Railroad Company 22-inch gauge train that ran from the base of the Pleasure Pier to the San Lorenzo River and back under the name Bay Shore Limited. The locomotive was a regulation coal-powered steam engine registered with the Interstate Commerce Commission and operated by an engineer and fireman. It opened in the summer of 1907 right alongside the new Casino and Plunge, and operated on the beach side of the quickly-extending wooden walkway that lined the shore, although after the L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway was built in 1908, part of the track ran directly atop a beach dune. The railroad ran with up to six passenger cars, each capable of seating 16 adults comfortably. Despite persistent rumours, there is little evidence that the locomotive operated on the Loma Prieta tracks in the off-season hauling logs due to the difference in gauges. What is certainly true, though, is that Swanton used this train to exchange courtesy passes with other railroad companies, earning him free railroad service across the United States. The track ran down a long wooden boardwalk to the river where a sharp loop inside an enclosed tunnel turned the train around for its return trip to the Pleasure Pier. Another turntable at the base of the pier ended at a loading station for another trip. The railroad remained in use until the end of 1915, at which point the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, which took over from Swanton in December, decided to discontinue it. Santa Cruz businesses were not responding well to World War I and Swanton had overextended himself, going bust. Competition with other attractions also damaged the little railroad's income.

The eastern end of the Bay Shore Limited, showing the long platform out to the turnaround. [Harold von Gorder]
After its near-destruction in a warehouse fire, the railroad was sold for scrap to a San Francisco firm where Joseph Cornelius Hayes found it. He began restoring it in 1924 with plans to operate it at San Francisco's Ocean Beach or Pacific City in San Mateo, but bad luck haunted the train. Herbert Fleishhacker finally purchased the restored train from Hayes in 1925 and installed it at his zoo in west San Francisco, where it operated until 1978. It was put into storage that year where it languished, rusting as it sat in an enclosure with two Asian elephants, a grey seal, and a pigmy hippo. The Golden Gate Railroad Museum petitioned the zoo to restore the train and and finally, in 1998, it was restored by staff of the zoo and museum volunteers. The parks is now known as the San Francisco Zoo and the train is the "Little Puffer", apparently a nicknamed it had even in 1907. It can still be ridden today, one of only four 22-inch gauge railroads still in existence.

The Sun Tan Jr. parked beside its runaround siding on the western end of the
Boardwalk, c. 1930. Loff Carousel building visible at left. [SC Sentinel]
A decade later, in 1928, the Sun Tan Jr. was installed along much of the same route of the original miniature railroad. This train was named after the much larger Sun Tan Special that began hauling passengers to the beach from San José the year earlier. Stanley E. Kohl, a Capitolan miniature railroad builder, opened the train as a beach front concession and operated it for five years until 1933, when the Great Depression likely drove him out of business. This train was a 1/3 scale Northwestern Pacific locomotive, based on his memories as a mail clerk in San Francisco. Unlike the first railroad at the Boardwalk, this one operated off of a simple diesel-powered Dodge motor hidden beneath a fake boiler, with the exhaust exiting out of the steam pipe at top. The capacity of this little train was up to 3,500 people per day, an impressive feat. It ran from the base of the Pleasure Pier to roughly the location of Funland Arcade today atop a long raised trestle that turned back onto the 'Walk on its ends. The Seaside Company took over the concession in 1933 and operated it until 1935, after which the train disappeared from history.

Photograph of the Sun Tan Jr. running alongside the Boardwalk with the Laff-Land dark ride at left, c. 1930. [Boardwalk]
Sun Tan Jr. in front of Entrance 3 near the Carousel, c. 1930s. [Sandy Ragsdale]
The City of Santa Cruz Streamliner on its elevated track beside the main
Boardwalk, c. 1940 [SC Sentinel]
In 1938, a new track was built along the outside edge of the Boardwalk atop 5,000 redwood ties and 1,000 pilings. The new railroad was the City of Santa Cruz Streamliner, an electric train based on Zephyr that had locomotives at both ends. The locomotives and four passenger cars were locally built by the Standard Welding Company of Santa Cruz under the leadership of J. Ross Whiting, the later founder of Whitings Games.  The train was highlighted in red and silver/chrome with green leather seats throughout, replicated in the Zephyr in every way possible. At the time, it was the only miniature railroad that ran entirely atop an elevated trestle. It's capacity was estimated to be 200,000 per summer, which comes out to roughly 2,000 people per day. Unfortunately, very little information is known about this short-lived attraction. World War II ostensibly shut down many of the attractions at the park including this railroad. The railroad, which operated directly over the beach, was deemed too visible when blackout curtains were installed along the walk. It was the last attraction to run alongside the majority of the Boardwalk until the construction of the Skygliders in the mid-1960s. Nothing is known about this train's fate.

The Cave Train to the Lost World, April 2014. [Dexter Francis]
The Cave Train at its depot at the eastern end of the Boardwalk, 1964.
[SC Sentinel]
At around that same time, in June 1961 to be specific, a new miniature railroad was installed in a much tighter and enclosed venue than its three predecessors. Operating off two 2-ton batteries which are recharged nightly, the Cave Train to the Lost World is not your usual miniature railroad. Its appearance is a bit exaggerated and it is operated with quite simple controls. Two near-identical fiberglass locomotives drive two 8-car trains in a circular, albeit curvy, 2,200-foot-long track that runs under the far eastern end of the Boardwalk. The interior nature of this train means that, unlike its predecessors, it can actually feature artificial wonders during the ride, thus the theme of the Cave Train is something akin to The Flintstones, less the official branding. Many of the automated electronics along the ride are triggered by switches hidden in the tracks so staff does not have to operate visuals remotely. In 2000, the ride was upgraded and now is in ultraviolet and follows the story of cave people visiting the Santa Cruz Beach during the Palaeolithic Era, although the trains themselves retain their original faux rustic charm. The original welcome depot was demolished as a part of the rebuild and now the queuing area is outside and uncovered. Considering the recent improvements to the ride, it is unlikely this will be replaced any time soon.

Citations & Credits:
  • Beal, Chandra Moira and Richard A. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: The Early Years—Never a Dull Moment (Pacific Group, 2003).
  • "Little Puffer Steam Train". San Francisco Zoo.
  • Rice, Walter and Emiliano Echeverria. Images of Rail: Rails of California's Central Coast (Arcadia, 2008).
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 05/05/1938, 2:1-3.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 09/20/1964, 21.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Santa Cruz Lumber Company

Map of Santa Cruz Lumber Co. Railroad in Pescadero Creek
For decades, the timber at the headwaters of Pescadero Creek, located just barely within the limits of Santa Cruz County, were harvested and lumbered for various logging concerns.  Oil Creek was harvested in the 1890s and Waterman Creek from 1903 to 1913. Then things went very quiet. 12,000 acres of old-growth redwood remained untouched along Pescadero Creek, timber acreage that had inspired the Felton & Pescadero Railroad's very name in 1883. No railroad would ever connect this territory to the outside world. But a railroad was built all the same.

Main mill pond with track at left, 1949.  Photo by John Cummings.
In 1923, the Santa Cruz Lumber Company was founded by George Ley, who had purchased most of the timber north of Pescadero from the Henry Cowell family. Near the headwaters of the creek and on the county line of Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties, Ley built the Waterman Gap Mill, which was accompanied by a large mill pond and inclined tramway to connect the facility to the main County Road just to the east (modern-day State Route 9).  The mill had a capacity of 60,000 board feet per day and operated via steam power. It employed up to 85 men in the 1920s, although by the 1970s the number had dropped to 50.

The engine shed and water tower for the locomotive. Mill in ravine at left, January 7, 1950. Photo by Richard C. Brown.
For the first decade, Ley harvested the lumber around the mill, creating areas for lumber storage, an expanded tram system, and better roads to ship the wood to Santa Cruz. Chutes were installed above the mill to slide and drag lumber to the mill pond from the hills. Ley used trucks operating on service roads to haul the lumber to Boulder Creek for railroad shipment (until 1933) and then to Felton. Since the Dougherty Extension Railroad was pulled in 1917, there was no railroad access north of Boulder Creek at the time Ley ran his mill. By the 1930s, all of the area within reach of the mill had been harvested and a decision had to be made on how to get the timber from further afield to the mill at the top of the grade.

The lumber train dumping into the mill pond, 1943. (Company photo)
 On March 31, 1930, Ley purchased a 42 ton standard-gauge Shay locomotive from the San Joaquin & Eastern Railroad, as well as a few flatcars for use on a private isolated railroad that he envisioned running between the mill and alongside the creek to the west. It was designated SCLCo. No. 2, taking its number from its former owner. The truck was trucked to the top of State Route 9 and then hauled to the mill overhead via cable lines. At the same time, a small track was built beside the mill where the locomotive would be reassembled for operations on the line. The track was constructed with truly ancient metals—some dated to 1881. The main track ran opposite the mill and slightly above it so that it could dump logs directly into the mill pond. Beside and above the mill, a one-stall engine house was erected for storage and repairs of the locomotive. Only a single siding was installed, serving as a runaround for the engine house. The fuel tank and water tower were installed just opposite the house on the siding.
The lumber train running down the track to the mill, 1947. Photo by Jack Gibson.
In the early 1940s, the flatcars were destroyed in a wreck along a steep logging spur lower in the valley and six new flatcars were purchased from the Yosemite Valley Lumber Company. This new fleet of flatcars were sturdier and stronger so could withstand more abuse. A Southern Pacific tanker car was also purchased around this time for unknown uses. As the track was ever extended downhill alongside the creek, a few short spurs were added and removed and grades of up to 6% were attained to reach some of the more troubled spots. Bridges were built primarily out of stacked logs and, while massive in size, were still ofttimes precarious. By 1950, the railroad extended nearly 8 miles to just outside the YMCA camp at San Mateo county Memorial Park. A makeshift passenger car was created at some point in the 1940s to ferry lumbermen from the mill to the end of the line. A water tower was also installed mid-way down the route.

The train dumping lumber into the mill pond. Engine lettering added by photographer. Photo by Fred Stoes.
The railroad never made any connections to the outside world, unfortunately, and was doomed before it even began. Large freight trucks were already becoming popular in the mid-1920s and by 1935, Catepillar tractors were brought in to assist in the logging operations. In 1945, the road to State Route 9 was properly graded so that trucks could regularly access the mill for exporting lumber. Then, in the summer of 1950, the lumber company's timber harvesters had finally reached the top of the summit ridge. While the company still owned extensive lands on the opposite side of the summit, there was no way of getting the train over there cheaply. Santa Cruz Lumber Company decided to tear up the rails and roadbed and convert it to a truck road. The locomotive and cars were stored until 1954 when they were scrapped. The mill itself was scrapped in 1955 and rebuilt into a modern facility. Santa Cruz Lumber continued to operate along Pescadero Creek until 1972, reorganising the remaining 7,079 unharvested acres of redwood forest as Pescadero Creek Tree Farm. The company closed in 1989, selling its assets to San Lorenzo Valley Lumber Company, while its properties were transferred to Redtree Properties Ltd., which is still owned by the Ley family today.

One of the log bridges created along the right-of-way. (Company photo)
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Mill Location: 37.212˚N, 121.171˚W

Access to the mill site is trespassing, unfortunately, since there is still quite a lot of material left on the site. By the time the mill closed, a full planning mill appears to have been in operation there. The route of the track mostly followed along the south bank of Pescadero Creek from the mill site to Jones Gulch. While the precise route of the track is not certain, many believe and assume that Old Haul Road, which begins at the junction of State Route 9 and State Route 236 is more or less the railroad grade. This road is legal to use, although it is very remote and 4-wheel drive is recommended. The grade passes into Portola Redwoods State Park, passing beside Pescadero Creek Park, ending just east of the junction of Pescadero Creek Road and Wurr Road near YMCA Camp Loma Mar.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, January 8, 2016

Glenwood, South Park & Pacific Railroad

Deep in the redwoods in the mountains north of Scotts Valley, a small private miniature railroad once thrived under the guardianship of Jim "Homer" Holmes. Holmes was not new to the miniature railroad game—he had helped Billy Jones build his small railroad on Jones's ranch in Los Gatos and Holmes had also assisted Erich Thomsen. In addition, Jim was an employee of the Southern Pacific Railroad, working out of their signal department for decades. Thus, in 1959, Jim and his brother Dick decided to purchase land in Glenwood for the purpose of constructing their very own railroad. Now Glenwood once had a much larger railroad of its own, but the disastrous winter storms of February 1940 put an end to that line and for  nineteen years, Glenwood sat quiet, largely forgotten by the rest of the county. Holmes had no ambition to put the former town back on the map, but he did aspire to turn his 15 acres into a miniature railroad paradise. He dubbed his creation the Glenwood, South Park & Pacific Railroad, and over the next thirty years, it would continue to grow without end.

A ride behind the "One Spot", with crowded gondola and flatcar, 1970s. (Clark Bauman)
#5 outside South Park enginehouse, 1970s. (Clark Bauman)
Construction of the 15-inch-gauge track was the first task completed, with a small fully-functional sawmill erected to cut the ties and other wood materials for the line. By 1962, the first locomotive was completed, which was essentially a custom-built steam donkey on wheels. Soon after its completion, a second locomotive, this one an oil burner that resembled a much larger narrow-gauge engine, was assembled on site. The track was slowly extended outward, covering much of the property over the years, with many friends of the Holmes' volunteering to help build and operate the trains. Two additional steam locomotives were added in the early 1980s, with one using a design based on Erich Thomsen's Redwood Valley Railway (Berkeley, CA) stock and another shop-built by Ken Kukuk. Indeed, it was Ken's Westside Locomotive Works that provided much of the machinery, parts, and technical assistance needed for Holmes and his friends to build their myriad rolling stock. A relatively large locomotive was completed in the early 2000s. To act as rolling stock for these five locomotives, a flat car, gondola, tank car, ballast car, and caboose were created, primarily to assist in further construction of the railroad. Finally, a rarely-used electric motor car, running off of overhead wires, and a heavy-duty maintenance motorcar fill out the railroad's stock.

The railroad itself was named directly after the narrow-gauged Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad in Colorado which Jim admired. Glenwood, besides being the location of the railroad, was a historic railroad stop until 1940, while the name of the Clems stop on his line is after the real-life Clems station that sat at the south-western end of the Glenwood vale. Stovebolt was named after the Chevrolet engine that ran the mill. The etymology of Luteward Junction is not currently known to this historian.

#5 being worked on outside Glenwood, 1970s.  (Clark Bauman)
The railroad is definitely a bit of a roller-coaster ride in its design, with a simple U-shaped track that has numerous spurs to access car barns, engine houses, and the sawmill. Most of the route sits on about a 4% grade but the climb from the sawmill exceeds 7% and a very short stretch near the top of the line is 9%! The turn at the bottom of the U is especially tight. Four formal stations, Glenwood, South Park, Stovebolt, and Clems, pockmark the route, with each sitting at a strategic site: South Park doubles as an enginehouse at the bottom of the grade, Glenwood is a switch to the sawmill and a car barn, Stovebolt doubles as the mill, and Clems is another enginehouse, accessible via a switch at Lutewards Junction. As of 2000, 3,000 feet of track was laid, while new track was recently still being laid further up on the hillside.

Craig operating the #13 on the Hillcrest & Wahtoke Railroad line in the 2000s. (Mike Massee)
The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake did a number to the railroad, damaging a locomotive and shifting much of the track downhill. While it has since been repaired, the most damaging aspect of the earthquake was the change of the water table from a relatively soft, easy-to-steam tap water to a much harder water that unfortunately damages the locomotives' inner workings. Because of this, the railroad has only operated on-site sporadically over the past twenty-six years. Much of its rolling stock enjoys a second life now at the Hillcrest & Wahtoke Railroad in Reedley, CA, where it can be experienced by more people than the small group of friends responsible for the GSP&P's existence. In fact, the #13 is one of the railroad's primary locomotives!

#5 on the Hillcrest & Wahtoke Railroad line in the 2000s. (Mike Massee)
Unfortunately, Dick Holmes died in 1977, and Jim Holmes just passed on 5 January 2016, leaving the future of the Glenwood, South Park & Pacific Railroad up in the air. In addition, due to the problems caused by the earthquake, the original railroad site has largely been abandoned, with vandals and thieves destroying much of the infrastructure and machinery. Although the track still remains in place, it seems the railroad will never really operate on-site again. But regardless of the physical location's fate, the locomotives and rolling stock continue on either in Reedley. The precise location of Holmes' railroad remains a closely-guarded secret, but its existence in the Santa Cruz Mountains is further evidence of the love Santa Cruz County has for railroading.

Citations & Credits:
  • "Glenwood, South Park & Pacific #13". Hillcrest.
  • Mike Massee and Clark Bauman, photographs and personal correspondence.
  • "Narrow Gauge at Glenwood". The Grand Scales Quarterly 10 (Jan 2000), 10-14.
See Also:

Friday, January 1, 2016

Sierra Nevada & Golden West Railroad

Harvey West giving the final swing on the
golden spike, 1968. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
There are many peculiar railroad-related enterprises that have passed through Santa Cruz County over the years. One such company was the miniature railroad that operated in Harvey West Municipal Park from 1968 until 1992. Harvey West Park itself was dedicated on May 30, 1959, on fifty acres of land on the north side of the City of Santa Cruz beside Pogonip. It was named after Harvey E. West, the son of old Loma Prieta Lumber Company tycoon and former county supervisor Ed West. Harvey himself was an employee in his youth of Frederick A. Hihn's milling operation on Laurel Creek before founding his own lumber hauling company upon returning from service in World War I. He moved out of the area in the 1930s and founded the Placerville Lumber Company in 1936. West lived until 1979, twenty years after his eponymous park was founded. The park was named for him for multiple reasons: he was a well-known and influential local into the 1930s, he donated great amounts of money to private and public organisations, and he arranged for the purchase of the properties that would make up Harvey West Park, presenting the larger part to the city in 1955 and the Wagner Grove in 1958. Wagner was the original American owner of the land whose descendants had sold it to West for the creation of the park.

In April 1968, notice was given to the city council that a man named Dan J. Hurt was being solicited to install his still-under-construction miniature railroad to the park. Hurt, a friend of West as well as a former US Navy admiral and a local model railroader, proposed a 170-foot-long loop track that would initially operate with a single locomotive and two passenger cars, which would be installed with accompanying authentic railroad sounds. The locomotive was modelled after a 1860s wood-burning engine, although it operated off of a diesel engine. The gauge of the track was to be 18 inches. Hurt was required as part of the lease agreement to erect an enclosed station house and ticket office to protect the rolling stock when the train was not operating. It was intended to operate daily in the summer and on weekends for the remainder of the year. Hurt planned to charge 10¢ per passenger per ride and called his enterprise the Sierra Nevada & Golden West Railroad.

One of the first rides of the Sierra Nevada & Golden West Railroad, July 1968. [SC Sentinel]
Retired Admiral Dan J. Hurt in a press
photo from 1973. [SC Sentinel]
The new railroad opened in late July 1968 and was staffed that summer by Hurt and by volunteers. Harvest West became involved in the construction, donating ties to the track and striking the golden spike during the dedication ceremony. Because of the donations and city funds, he was able to expand the track to 0.25 miles, or around 1,300 feet, which was much longer than the proposed length. It ran in a figure-eight pattern around a good portion of the park. The SN&GWRR departed the station every 20 minutes (implying an approximately 15 minute ride) and it could hold 20 passengers, plus the engineer. Because of the increased costs of the longer track and the need for more cars, the cost of each ride was set at 25¢ for children and 50¢ for adults. Hurt operated the train through the 1975 summer season and then the concession went up for sale.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was not a lot of demand for a miniature railroad linked to a public space. As part of the concession, the railroad included a snack bar and hamburger stand, both of which operated out of the ticket station. Hurt listed the train and its accoutrements for $11,000, although its final sale price is unknown.

The station booth and snack shack, c. 1970s.
[Doris Emerick Correll]
Alberto E. and Gayle Vincent finally took over operations for the 1976 season, changing the name to the more straightforward Sierra Nevada Railroad. In 1977, Robert O. and Virginia M. Mock took up the lease, operating it through the 1979 summer season before putting it up for sale again. In April 1980, Hamlet Char Broilers, owned by Gary Parsons, purchased the railroad and ran it for two summers, renaming it the Harvey West Railway & Diner, although "diner" was a bit of a stretch. In November 1981, Richard E. and Barbara A. Gempler, in partnership with Helen Waldemar, took over operations, after which the ownership trail grows cold, unfortunately. Around 1986, it was sold to Chris Burden, but no information is known regarding any intervening owners and it seems that the train was not operating during much of this time.

The Sierra Nevada & Golden West Railroad parked on the tracks, c. 1970s [Doris Emerick Correll]
A real estate advertisement for the railroad, 1975. [SC Sentinel]
By March 1992, the railroad was in a serious state of disrepair. Only the locomotive and a single passenger car were in operable condition, running again under the name Sierra Nevada Railroad. Burden was only charging 75¢ per ride, which certainly did not help his financial situation. Maintenance and rising insurance costs made it so Burden couldn't afford to operate the train in the coming summer. Interestingly, a German tourist offered Burden $40,000 for the railroad and its track, but Burden decided instead to shut it down, thereby ending 24 years of service. The track was pulled up and the train disappeared. Where it went is not currently known. Harvey West today still has a train—the large Southern Pacific locomotive #1298 that was installed for children to play around and on—but the footprint of the miniature railroad that once looped around much of the park is gone and its memory quickly fading.

Citations & Credits:

  • Donald A. Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007).
  • Gary Parsons, personal correspondence.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1959 – 1992.