Author Statement

If you have information on local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, email me at author@santacruztrains.com. This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

At what speeds did the railroads in Santa Cruz County operate?
The railroads operating in Santa Cruz County never ran very quickly. Through the Santa Cruz Mountains, trains never exceeded 25 MPH due to the sharp curves and high likelihood of debris on the rails. From Los Gatos to Eva, trains ran even slower at 20 MPH due to the sharp curves of Los Gatos Canyon. Along the Santa Cruz Branch, passenger trains were restricted to 30 MPH between Watsonville Junction (Pajaro) and Davenport due to the number of crossings. All freight operations in the county ran at a maximum speed of 25 MPH and 15 MPH through residential areas. Only the trackage at Chittenden on the southeast fringe of the county allows a higher speed limit at 60 MPH. The Ocean Shore, meanwhile, ran relatively slowly, averaging less than 20 MPH, with stops, between Santa Cruz and Swanton.


How long did it take to get to San Francisco from Santa Cruz via train?
The answer to this question changed as technology improved and as the route to San Francisco shifted. When the South Pacific Coast Railroad first opened the route through the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1880, a trip between Santa Cruz and San Francisco took 4 hours, including a 30 minute ferry ride from Alameda Point. This was slowly cut back of the next decade, but never substantially. Once the Mayfield Cut-Off (Los Altos Branch) was completed in 1908, the route became slightly faster since the diversion to San José was no longer required. Through service between Santa Cruz and San Francisco operated for roughly thirty years via this branch, which cut the time down to 2 hours, 45 minutes. That service ended in 1938, forcing passengers to divert through San José. This new route was slightly longer at 2 hours, 55 minutes.

When the Southern Pacific took over the Santa Cruz Railroad in 1883, the coastal route via Pajaro to San Francisco took 4 hours, 15 minutes, although no ferry was required. At the time that the Santa Cruz Branch closed to passenger service in 1938, a trip along the coast via Watsonville Junction to San Francisco took 3 hours, 12 minutes. It would be this route after 1940 that the Suntan Special would take, although it was able to go significantly faster since it included only a few stops along the way. Freight trains operating along this route today average just under 3 hours between Watsonville Junction and San Francisco.

The Ocean Shore Railroad never made it to San Francisco, but a ride from Santa Cruz to Swanton took between 40 and 50 minutes to cover 15.5 miles.

Abbreviated timetable for the San Francisco Subdivision – San Jose-Santa Cruz Branch, March 30, 1940.

What private industrial railroads operated within Santa Cruz County?
There were several private industrial railroads that operated within Santa Cruz County. None of these were owned by larger firms and most did not provide official passenger service.

The Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad undoubtedly qualifies as the oldest local industrial line, having been built in 1875. It operated independently as a lumber and lime railroad for four years before being purchased as the final leg of the mainline for the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1879.

The earliest dependent private spur-line railroad was a roughly four-mile-long isolated route that ran along Zayante Creek on behalf of the Santa Clara Valley Mill and Lumber Company between 1880 and 1887. The same company relocated to Boulder Creek in 1888 and built an eight-mile long route to the headwaters of the San Lorenzo River, known as the Dougherty Extension Railroad,  that existed until 1917.

Along Valencia Creek, Frederick A. Hihn operated a short-line narrow-gauge railroad between Aptos and his lumber mill at Valencia, which operated from 1886 to 1895. Hihn then relocated to Gold Gulch south of Felton, where he ran another short-line railroad in the Forest Lakes area from 1895 to 1898.

In 1889, Claus Spreckels founded the Pajaro Valley [Consolidated] Railroad to more efficiently bring sugar beets to his refinery in Watsonville. This was later extended considerably to a point south of Salinas and also expanded to include passenger service. This operation only shut down in 1929.

The Santa Cruz Portland cement Company operated two separate railroad systems within their properties in Davenport. From 1907, tracks were laid up to the glory hole mine just outside of Bonnie Doon. Initially this was a standard-gauge, steam-powered line, but it was actually replaced in 1923 with a narrow-gauge, electric line. This line remained in regular use until 1970.

From 1908, the San Vicente Lumber Company operated a railroad within its lumber tracts along Little Creek north of Davenport. They shipped out their goods via the Ocean Shore Railroad, which terminated at nearby Swanton. This operation continued until 1923, when the tracts were all harvested.

Following the failure of the Ocean Shore Railroad and the San Juan Pacific Railroad, the California Central Railroad was created to act as a freight conveyor between San Juan Bautista and the Southern Pacific tracks at Chittenden, right on the county's edge. This route operated from 1912 to 1930, after which both the route and the cement plant it catered to shut down.

The last industrial railroad in the county was the Santa Cruz Lumber Company's line along Pescadero Creek. Built in 1923, this route ferried cut logs to the company's mill at the top of the grade for cutting and shipment out of the valley.  The route was abandoned in 1950


What types of locomotives were used in Santa Cruz County?
Santa Cruz County has hosted a number of different locomotive types throughout its history, each suited to specific tasks. Here is a quick summary of the known locomotives used in Santa Cruz County (from Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways, 304-309):

Santa Cruz Railroad:
  • 0-4-0 • Unknown make ("Betsy Jane")
  • 4-4-0 • Baldwin ("Jupiter")
  • 4-4-0 • Baldwin ("Pacific")
Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad:
  • 0-6-0 • Porter ("Santa Cruz")
  • 0-6-0 • Porter ("Felton")
Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company (Dougherty's):
  • 0-6-0 • Porter ("Felton" or "Dinkey") (previously used by Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad)
  • 0-4-0T • Porter ("Kitty")
Loma Prieta Railroad (Southern Pacific Subsidiary):
  • 0-4-0 • Unknown make
  • 2-4-2T • Stevens [Southern Pacific]
  • 2-4-2T • Baldwin
  • 2-4-2T • Baldwin
  • 2-4-2T • Baldwin
F.A. Hihn Company:
  • 0-4-2 • Porter ("Betsy Jane")
Loma Prieta Lumber Company: 
  • 2 truck Shay • Lima (also used by Molina Timber Company)
  • 2 truck Shay • Lima
  • 0-4-0 • Hall-Scott
A South Pacific Coast locomotive idling at Wright, 1907.
Photo by Frank Herman Mattern. [Greg de Santis]
Ocean Shore Railroad/Railway Company, Southern Division:
  • 4-4-0 • Baldwin
  • 4-4-0 • Hinkley
  • 4-6-0 • Schenectady
  • 2-6-0 • Baldwin
  • 2-6-0 • Baldwin
  • 2-6-0 • Baldwin
Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company:
  • 0-4-0T • Porter
  • 0-4-0T • Porter ("Chiggen")
  • 0-4-0 electric • Baldwin
  • 0-4-0 electric • Baldwin
San Juan Pacific Railway / California Central Railroad:
  • 4-4-0 • Schenectady
  • 4-4-0 • Rogers
  • 2-6-0 • Baldwin (previously used by Ocean Shore Railroad)
  • Climax
  • 0-4-0T • Porter
  • 0-4-0T • Porter
  • Plymouth diesel
  • Plymouth diesel
San Vicente Lumber Company:
  • 2 truck Shay • Lima
  • 2 truck Shay • Lima
  • 2-6-0 • Baldwin (previously used by Ocean Shore Railroad)
  • 2-6-0 • Baldwin (previously used by Ocean Shore Railroad)
Santa Cruz Lumber Company:
  • 2 truck Shay • Lima
South Pacific Coast Railroad and Southern Pacific Railroad:
  • Numerous locomotives. South Pacific Coast operated 25 narrow-gauge locomotives, many of which operated within Santa Cruz County. Southern Pacific operated hundreds of steam and diesel locomotives within the county throughout its existence.

What happened to the narrow-gauge rolling stock in Santa Cruz County?
It was sold or scrapped. When the narrow-gauge trackage in the county was replaced with standard-gauge between 1906 and 1909, most of the old rolling stock had to be sent elsewhere or scrapped. Operations north of Boulder Creek, along Newell Creek, and near Aptos Creek continued to use narrow-gauge rolling stock, but they already had everything they needed for their operations. Most of the locomotives used within the county were sold to private lumber and mining companies across the Americas. Sometimes rolling stock accompanied these purchases, other times the excess stock was simply scrapped. Everything owned by the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company was scrapped in 1917 since steel prices were high due to the war. During less financially profitable times, some of the stock just sat rusting, waiting for a better time to sell. The "Jupiter" of the Santa Cruz Railroad is perhaps the only surviving early steam locomotive to have operated in the county. It now sits restored in the permanent "America On The Move" exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Santa Cruz Railroad's "Jupiter" locomotive on display at the Smithsonian. [National Museum of American History]

What was the relationship between the Southern Pacific Railroad's Davenport Branch and the Ocean Shore Railroad?
For all intents and purposes, the Coast Line Railroad, founded as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1905, is completely independent from the southern division of the Ocean Shore Railroad, also founded in 1905. Much of the confusion regarding the two lines is due to the fact that construction of both began at roughly the same time, both were built by the same contractors, and both paralleled each other for nine miles between Wilder Creek and Davenport. Beyond that, however, they were entirely different entities with no shared management. Both companies expressed an intent to construct a railroad route between San Francisco and Santa Cruz along the coast, but only the Ocean Shore actually attempted this feat—the Coast Line stopped all construction once it reached the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company plant in Davenport (ostensibly due to the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake). The Ocean Shore's southern division continued to Scott Creek and then, in 1908, was extended to Swanton in order to access the properties of the San Vicente Lumber Company along Little Creek. When the Ocean Shore went bankrupt in 1920 and the route was abandoned completely in 1923, they remained in possession of the right-of-way since they had purchased most of it outright. Beginning in the 1930s, tracts were sold off and seized by the courts but large portions still remain. The Southern Pacific, which formally took over the Coast Line in 1917, never purchased any of the right-of-way of the Ocean Shore in Santa Cruz County. It remains intact along its original alignment as the northern section of the Santa Cruz Branch Line.

Map showing the Coast Line and Ocean Shore Railroads running parallel at the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company plant, 1907. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]

Are locomotives buried in the Santa Cruz Mountains or in the tunnels?
Despite persistent rumours to the contrary, there is no evidence that any locomotives were buried in Santa Cruz County. When the tunnels were demolished in 1942, the tracks were already pulled and the cost of steel was high owing to the war effort—any large collection of metal such as that found in a steam locomotive would have been scrapped rather than abandoned. Furthermore, the locomotives operating along the mountain route were standard designs that could operate along any Southern Pacific trackage—there would have been no practical reason for abandoning them.

Similarly, locomotives derailed all the time and sometimes even became buried in landslides, such as those caused by the 1906 earthquake. Known locomotive derailments occurred along Zayante Creek, in Ben Lomond, along Aptos Creek, and on the Dougherty Extension Railroad, but none of these resulted in abandonment of rolling-stock. In each case, the locomotive was righted, repaired, and returned to service. Indeed, modern people often discount the ingenuity and skill of turn-of-the-century railroad crews. Special crane cars could fairly easily right a toppled locomotive, while crews themselves could often correct a simple derailment.

The only possible cases of locomotives lost in landslide are those of the Dougherty mill on Zayante Creek and the Loma Prieta Mill on Aptos Creek. According to urban legend, the Doughertys lost two locomotives in a landslide somewhere along the west bank of Zayante Creek (now East Zayante Road) in 1884. There are numerous problems with this story but the fact remains that the type and model of the locomotives used at Zayante are unknown, as are their disposition. They would have probably been small locomotives capable of sharp turns and steep, heavily-laden climbs, suggesting one may have been the Santa Cruz, which disappeared from records at around the same time that the Dougherty mill opened in 1879. The fate of this locomotive remains a mystery. It seems likely to this author that both the Felton and the Santa Cruz operated at the mill, and only one was actually buried in 1884. Less is known about the wrecked Loma Prieta locomotive. In the 1980s, visitors to the Forest of Nisene Marks claimed to have seen an engine rusting up a remote gulch, but later witnesses have been unable to confirm this. The heavy use of steam donkeys in the area makes it unlikely that this was actually a train locomotive, especially since documentary evidence records that all the Loma Prieta locomotives were sold.


Why was the mountain route closed?
Technically, it was closed because it cost too much to reopen from winter storm repairs. The route through the mountains ceased to be profitable in the early years of the Great Depression. Nonetheless, Southern Pacific maintained the route with only a few runs operating across the line each day. Most heavy freight went via the coastal track and commuter traffic had almost entirely ceased along the line. When a heavy winter storm battered the route in the afternoon of February 26, 1940, crews quickly realized that the damage was severe. Sinks and landslides impacted locations across the route, especially around Laurel and Tank Siding. The railroad had already expended most of its annual repair budget just keeping the route maintained through the winter. The new damage equalled the entirety of the annual repair budget and did not protect the line from future damage. Despite initially suggesting that the line would be repaired and upgraded, Southern Pacific decided to seek abandonment, which was provisionally approved in June and confirmed in November 1940.

Southern Pacific survey photograph of storm damage to the mountain route near Olympia, February 29, 1930. [Bruce MacGregor]

Why were the tunnels along the mountain route destroyed?
To reduce liability. Beginning in the spring of 1941, Southern Pacific Railroad crews ripped out the tracks, reusable ties, and prefabricated bridges along the line through the mountain. Afterwards, H.A. Christie & Son was hired to scrap remaining ties, bridge supports, and tunnel infrastructure. In April 1942, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, by request of Southern Pacific, demolished the portals to three of the tunnels, sealing them from trespassers. Although many people have written and claim that the threat of use by Japanese spies is why the tunnels were destroyed, there is no evidence to support this. The tunnels were remote and locals were known to use them to travel between towns, especially between Glenwood and Laurel. Retaining them would have been a major liability to the railroad. At the same time, the decision not to demolish them outright suggests the railroad at least considered the possibility that they could be reopened at some point in the future.


Why hasn't the mountain route been rebuilt?
There are a lot of reasons why the former Southern Pacific Railroad route through the Santa Cruz Mountains hasn't been rebuilt. The top reasons, though, are money and public disinterest. A number of proposals and studies to restore the route have been proposed since the late 1960s, a summary of which can be found here.


What happened to all the abandoned railroad stations in Santa Cruz County?
The same thing that happens to many old buildings: they were repurposed, moved, and/or demolished. When a station was abandoned, the railroad usually tried to auction it off for use as a local business or residence. If that failed, then they were demolished and their wood sold for firewood, like any other demolished structure. Parts of structures, especially signs, often were salvaged and a number of them survive today in various places in Santa Cruz County, including a station sign for Brookdale, Robroy, and Eccles.

Mount Hermon station today, as a bunk house for Redwood Camp's male camp director. [Derek Whaley]
A number of station structures still survive at roughly their original locations. Mount Hermon, Felton, and Capitola stations have been restored and repurposed to some degree near their original locations. Watsonville Depot remained for decades as a freight warehouse and office building until it recently (2018) was condemned due to fire damage. Similarly, Santa Cruz Depot burned down in a fire in the mid-1990s. Other stations survive but are hardly recognizable, including those at Siesta, Brookdale, and Harris, all of which now serve as homes or as parts of homes.

Los Gatos depot demolition, 1964. [Hooked on Los Gatos]
A number of stations in the county were demolished outright, including those at Davenport, Boulder Creek, Old Felton, Laurel, Glenwood, Seabright, Aptos, and Watsonville Junction (Pajaro). Along the mountain route outside the county, similar fates awaited the stations at Vasona, Los Gatos, Alma, and Wright. Most of the shelters simply disappeared from public records, although persistent rumours hint that the structures for Zayante, Eccles, Olympia, Twin Lakes, and Robroy all survive under private ownership.


Where can I find an interactive map of Santa Cruz County railroads?
There is currently no 3D map of the railroad routes in Santa Cruz County and, frankly, such an interactive map would be huge and not practically feasible for a website. A 2D map of all local railroad lines, including industrial tracks and streetcar lines, can be found here (all accessible from the Maps tab at the top of the screen).


Where can I find videos of local railroad operations?
YouTube videos relating to local railroad operations and local Santa Cruz history can be found in the tab at the top of the screen. For easier access, the website can also be accessed here.


Where can I find information about current local railroad operations and projects?
There are a number of places to find current information regarding the local railroads. For anything relating to the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railroad (i.e., the Beach Train), go to www.RoaringCamp.com. For the latest information on the Santa Cruz Branch Line, between Pajaro and Davenport, go to the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission's website, https://sccrtc.org. The current common carrier on the line is Iowa Pacific Holdings, running as the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway, but they are currently in the process of terminating their contract. The future common carrier will probably be Progressive Rail, operating as the Santa Cruz Scenic Railway, whose website can be found at http://www.progressiverail.com. For a good source of information regarding the ongoing rail and trail project, visit Friends of the Rail & Trail at https://santacruztrail.org. And lastly, for information relating to the main Union Pacific line that runs between Gilroy and Salinas (and beyond), visit http://www.up.com and https://www.amtrak.com.

2 comments:

  1. Nice column Derek!
    I have never seen any evidence from timetables or other references that
    there were ever any transfers for the Santa Cruz service from Mayfield,
    Vasona Junction, or San Jose. That March 1940 Employees Timetable DOES
    show both pairs of Santa Cruz passenger trains now were to go via San Jose
    instead of one pair on the Los Altos branch. If you will look at the
    1937 Employees timetable on pages 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 you will find that
    Trains 31,32,33,34 and 47 are all shown as through trains from San
    Francisco to Santa Cruz. The public timetable for 1937 shows the
    identical through service. Where did you find evidence that there
    was ever a need to transfer trains on a trip from San Francisco to
    Santa Cruz? What timetable shows this after 1937?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Derek, I think you said this yourself in an earlier article.
    The passenger service from Watsonville Junction to Santa Cruz
    was discontinued on February 8, 1938. CENTRAL COAST RAILWAYS,
    first edition, says this on p. 229.

    Speed limits varied through the years. In 1937, the speed limit between
    Los Gatos and Eva (in the Los Gatos Canyon) was 20 MPH and from Eva to Santa Cruz, 25 MPH. Vasona Jct.- Los Gatos, Watsonville Jct. to Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz - Davenport all 30 MPH at that time. (Page 21 of Coast Division
    Timetable # 144 of 3-21-37)

    ReplyDelete