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Friday, September 7, 2018

Freight Stops: Santa Cruz Lumber Company

The new planing mill at Felton, 1949. [Jim Vail]
The area immediately to the west of Felton Depot was originally a massive meadow that had as its edges Zayante Creek, the San Lorenzo River, the Southern Pacific Railroad's tracks through the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Welch's Big Trees Grove. Historically, this has been known as the Ley Meadow, after George Ley, who purchased the property from Frederick A. Hihn in July 1893 for one dollar. In 1923, Ley founded the Santa Cruz Lumber Company, but it was in 1949 when the company, which milled old growth redwood trees along Pescadero Creek above Waterman Gap outside Boulder Creek, relocated its planing mill and wood-drying kilns to the meadow beside Felton Depot. The increased efficiency of milling equipment had rendered the original mill and drying yard at Waterman Gap, which had operated since 1923, incapable of keeping up with demand. Initial milling continued at this site, but further processing was moved to Felton where there was more room and direct access to railroad tracks. The mill machinery was installed over the summer of 1949.

The conveyor to the sawdust burner at the Santa Cruz Lumber Company mill at Felton, 1949. [Jim Vail]
For the first decade or so that the mill operated at the site, the railroad provided no direct access. But at some point in the late 1950s, Southern Pacific built a short, 380-foot-long spur that branched off the little-used stub spur of the Boulder Creek Branch, which was abandoned with the closure of the Holmes Kilns in 1939. This spur served two purposes: import and export. The lumber yard processed thousands of board feet of lumber per day, but only needed a small portion for its local yard. The rest was shipped out to other markets via the railroad, where it deposited loads of lumber in Santa Cruz, Live Oak, Watsonville, and elsewhere in California.  The spur also brought in finished goods that the company itself did not create to bolster the products offered at the yard's store. A warehouse was built at the end of the spur to protect workers who were loading and unloading material from the cars. The installation of this spur was probably the last significant addition to the former line through the Santa Cruz Mountains and, perhaps, one of the last additions to any line operating within Santa Cruz County.

A lumber car parked on the ProBuild spur in 2013, with the old loading warehouse beyond the end of the spur and Roaring Camp rolling stock to the east. [Google Maps]
The mill in Felton ceased operations around 1972, when the Pescadero Creek basin was logged out, and exports from the Felton yard mostly ceased from this point, although small quantities of lumber may have continued to be milled there until 1986. In that year, the Ley family, operating as Redtree Properties, leased the property to Mike and Bob Butcher, owners of the San Lorenzo Lumber Company, where the property continued to function as a lumber yard. San Lorenzo Lumber Company had been founded by Santa Cruz Lumber employees back in 1936 to provide building supplies to Santa Cruz County residents through retail stores.  In 2004, San Lorenzo Lumber was purchased by Lumbermens of Washington, which was absorbed by ProBuild (technically Fidelity Investments) in 2006. In January 2014, to increase its local marketing potential, ProBuild established its subsidiary San Lorenzo Lumber & Home Centers to cater to the local market. ProBuild itself was acquired by Builders FirstSource in 2015. Roaring Camp has expressed interest over the years of leasing the former warehouse for use as a repair and maintenance facility for its standard-gauge rolling stock, but this has not occurred as of the present.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0454N, 122.0649W

The Santa Cruz Lumber Company spur, now owned by Builders FirstSource, still exists although it has been truncated to end just outside the warehouse. Until recently, it was used for the delivery of lumber to the San Lorenzo Lumber & Home Center yard, but no deliveries have been made since late 2016. The spur is used by Roaring Camp Railroads to park excess rolling stock, especially rail cars and maintenance vehicles that are prone to vandalism. Access to the spur is limited to San Lorenzo Lumber & Home Center and Roaring Camp staff.

Citations & Credits:

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