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Friday, July 21, 2017

Railroads: Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company Railroad

The Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company in Davenport, first opened in 1905 and was initially serviced by the Ocean Shore Railroad, although the Coast Line Railroad, a Southern Pacific subsidiary, essentially took over operations in 1907 by placing their tracks between the Ocean Shore's and the refinery. Yet neither of these railroads were directly involved in the mining of limestone from the quarry above Davenport. Over the autumn of 1905 and winter of 1906, 300 men carved a right-of-way 3.5 miles long above San Vicente Creek. The journey to the quarry was rough, with sharp turns and deep cuts atop a steep gorge. A total of eight redwood trestle bridges crossed gulches and ravines and they were not entirely stable. The elevation difference between the base and the top of the grade was 550 feet, leading to a maximum incline of 2%.

SCPC #1 on a high trestle bridge, January 10, 1907. [Alverda Orlando]
The company built the railroad at the same time as the rest of the facility in 1905 using standard-gauge tracks, making it, at least technically, fully compatible with the adjacent Ocean Shore and Coast Line railroad lines. Why none of the lines connected is unknown, but perhaps there was simply no need for the two railroad lines to cross over onto the other's track or perhaps there were legal issues. A 129-foot grade also separated the two lines. The two tracks never joined throughout the history of the private railway.

SCPC #2 outside the tunnels to the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company quarry, c. 1910. [SCPC2]
Two custom Porter 0-4-0 locomotives operated on the line, one a 35-ton model built in 1906, the other a 45-ton locomotive, brought in to supplement the first in 1909. Within the quarry itself, a separate tiny narrow-gauge network of cars shuttled around, transferring their loads to the waiting standard-gauge trains. The first upgrade of the line occurred in 1913. Since the route had first been constructed, the rickety, cheaply-built bridges had frightened crews. Thus, the company decided to fill all eight trestles, with material probably gathered from the original construction of the line and nearby quarry refuse. Nonetheless, the task was not completed until 1916.

Electric train on the mainline heading down the hill, c. late 1920s. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
The entire railroad was overhauled in 1923 when the cement company purchased a narrow-gauge railroad from the Gastineau Gold Mining Company in Thane, Alaska. To support the new system, all the tracks had to be narrow-gauge, so, in as little as two days in 1924, all the tracks were shifted to new places on their old ties. Meanwhile, two 18-ton 1914 Baldwin electric locomotives replaced the original steam locomotives. Electric wires were strung overhead to power the trains. At the quarry, four battery-operated locomotives shuttled the 65 mine cars around the area.

Birdseye view of Bella Vista just below the glory hole, c. 1940. The railroad line passes directly through town. The large machine shop can be viewed at right, obscured by the trees. [Alverda Orlando]
Bella Vista was located just before the quarry across from the confluence of Mill Creek into San Vicente Creek. It was first established around 1920 when a hostel was erected for single quarry workers. It could house up to fifty employees and was operated by Frank Bellangero and Gino Catterni, as well as the former's wife, Angelina. The food served at the hostel was highly praised and compared to upper class fare in San Francisco and elsewhere. Over the years, the settlement grew. Throughout the 1920s, improvements were made to the hostel, expanding its capacity to 100 men. Small four-room homes were also built to support families, while mail deliveries from Davenport became a regular occurrence. A road was also built from Davenport to reach the town, although the company preferred people travel by rail. However, the lack of telephone service to the settlement meant that many visitors came to the village. The idyllic location was situated under the redwoods with a view of the ocean, hence its name. At its height, the houses in the town sported manicured yards, well-tended gardens, and sturdy structures. While most of the refinery workers lived in New Town, just north of the plant, most of the miners and quarry workers probably lived here.

Streetcar near Bella Vista, with a siding visible beside it, 1968. Photo by Robert W. Brown. [Industrial Railway Record]
For the first three decades of operation, transport between Davenport and the quarry was via rock hoppers or flat cars, depending on the weather. But as more families settled in Bella Vista, this became untenable. In 1942, the company folded to popular demand and purchased an electric interurban streetcar for passenger use. The car was originally from the Pacific Coast Railroad that ran between Santa Maria and Guadalupe in the 1920s. It was little used in the decade before it was purchased, and the company had to restore it to operational status when it purchased it. The car was never very attractive, but it did its job well enough for the people working and living on the line.

Map drawn of the railroading operations near Davenport, 1968. Designed by Robert W. Brown. [Industrial Railway Record]
A railroad worker tightening a plate outside the machine
shop. The two quarry entrances can be seen in the
background, c. 1960. [Lonestar Industries]
The railroad by 1968 had a surprising amount of trackage. At the base, beside the refinery, the mainline split between two spurs, one of which forked twice more resulting in five total spurs. The spur closest to the refinery went into a transfer facility that conveyed the limestone into the plant. Two holding spurs sat beside it, while a final pair of spurs ended in the engine house, allowing the locomotives to be parked safely at night. Along the route, there was a stop at a shale quarry and another at the railroad's powerhouse. Just before the quarry itself, at a site known as Bella Vista, the track split off along a tiny spur and two longer sidings. Two tracks passed into the glory hole, where transfers with the mine cars could be made. Another spur ended inside the railroad's maintenance shop, which was originally located in Bella Vista until 1962.

Quarry battery locomotive hauling mine cars, 1968. Photo by Robert W. Brown. [Industrial Railway Record]
The Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company was purchased by Pacific Cement & Aggregates in 1956. Plans soon were put in place to replace the railroad with an automatic conveyor system, but such a conversion did not occur immediately. However, on March 7, 1962, a landslide decimated Bella Vista, forcing the residents to relocate to Davenport or Santa Cruz. The lack of residents living on the railroad line undoubtedly made the decision to abandon the route much easier when Lonestar took over operations in August 1970. The original limestone deposit was tapped out and the company had to mine higher up the hillside, out of reach of the railroad. With little fanfare, the tracks were removed and the railroad was sold to a private party. Cement continued to be shipped out via the Southern Pacific tracks until the closure of the plant in 2011, but railroads would never again transport the limestone from the hills to the sea.

The Route Today: 
Very little remains of the original right-of-way. Portions of the tracks were taken over by service roads or the conveyor, while others were abandoned and allowed to overgrow. Google satellite images show virtually none of the right-of-way still intact.

SCPC #2 outside Chicken Kitchen in Stockton, c. 1990s. [SCPC2]
SCPCC #2 remains in service as a tourism locomotive. In 1924, it was sold to the Henry J. Kaiser Company quarry in Oroville. It remained in service until 1967, when it was purchased by Chicken Kitchen restaurant in Stockton. It sat outside the store, advertising the restaurant until 2006. During this time, it earned the nickname "Chiggen." It was restored to service over a period of eight years and is now at the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie, Washington. It briefly visited Santa Cruz in 2014 on its way to its new home.

SCPC #2 cruising north to Davenport on a special excursion, July 11, 2014. Photo by Elrond Lawrence. [railpictures.net]
Citations & Credits:
  • Brown, Robert W. "Santa Cruz Cement." The Industrial Railway Record 21 (1968): 314-316.
  • Gaudinski, Julia. 'The Other Railroad in Davenport." Mobile Ranger. 2014.
  • "Home of 'The Chiggen'". Santa Cruz Portland Cement Co. #2
  • Orlando, Alverda. "The Wildest Ride in Town: Davenport's Cement Plant Railroad System." Santa Cruz History Journal 2 (1992): 17-24.

2 comments:

  1. The right of way still exists on the hillside above San Vincente Creek. Sandy Lydon and I conducted tours of CDL lands last year and stopped to show people the train right of way. In the 1970s and 1980 I drove a vehicle up part of it with Fred Pfyffer, then the President of Coast Dairies & Land Co.

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