|Map of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad,|
c 1900-1910. [George Pepper Collection]
Speckels had built his Western Beet Sugar Company refinery in 1888 along tracks that serviced the Southern Pacific Railroad. Unfortunately, the difficulty and high cost of growing sugar beets dissuaded many local farmers from growing it. The best soils for beets were along the marshy coastlands, and the Southern Pacific Railroad bypassed this area entirely. In 1889, Spreckels leased the entire Moro Cojo Ranch north of Castroville and planted 1,500 acres of beets. But, although this property was on the railroad line, the Southern Pacific was charging top dollar for Spreckels to shuttle his crop to Watsonville. In response, Spreckels founded on December 30, 1889, the Pajaro Valley Railroad.
While this may have been a bluff initially, the Southern Pacific did not bite, so by May construction was under way. Built using primarily Chinese and Japanese labour, this railroad departed from the Watsonville beet refinery, crossed Beach Road and the Pajaro River, and then passed into Monterey County, where it looped down to the coast and followed the outside edge of many of Spreckels' contract beet farms. A long spur terminated atop Moss Landing wharf, which Spreckels used to export his finished goods on Oceanic Steamship Company and Pacific Coast Steamship Company vessels. The main track ended at Spreckels Moro Cojo farm after crossing over the offending Southern Pacific mainline track. Via this narrow-gauged network, the Pajaro Valley Railroad both imported unprocessed goods in to the refinery and exported them out to market, thereby undermining attempts by the Southern Pacific to price gouge Spreckels. This track was finished in September 1890, just in time for the Autumn beet harvest.
|The Spreckels refinery near Salinas around 1910. [Monterey Bay Historical Society]|
|Claus Spreckels, c. 1890.|
The importance of the Watsonville factory declined rapidly over the next few years. It became a storage facility around 1900 and then was abandoned completely by 1908. Nonetheless, a turntable and engine house at the Watsonville site remained in place until the closure of the line, and the route between Spreckels and Watsonville continued to cater to local sugar beet farmers and was used frequently. Meanwhile, on the south side of the route, Claus Spreckels threatened the Southern Pacific again with a massive extension track up the Salinas Valley, but Southern Pacific lowered its rates once again and Spreckels satisfied himself by extending tracks only five miles up the valley to Buena Vista in December 1901, and this was largely to cater to some private beet farms in the area. At around the same time, a short track was finally extended directly to the Southern Pacific freight yard in downtown Salinas, which greatly expanded the passenger potential of the narrow-gauged line.
|The Western Beet Sugar Company mill at Spreckels. [Bancroft Library]|
|Bridge over Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. [Bancroft Library]|
The Route Today:
|Bridge abutments at Elkhorn Slough, 2005. (Garrett Keeton Collection)|
Citations & Credits:
- Hall, John. "Pajaro Valley Consolidated". PacificNG.org, 2015.
- Keeton, Garrett J. "Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad (Narrow Gage) – Monterey County, California." HistoryHunters.net, 2005.
- "Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad". Monterey County Historical Society, 2010.
- Robertson, Donald B. Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History. Volume IV: California. Caldwell, ID: Caxton Printers, 1998.