Thursday, October 7, 2021

Streetcars: Peninsular Railway Company

Some railroad projects evolve naturally out of either local initiatives or corporate planning. The Peninsular Railway, however, was the closest thing to a covert takeover that ever happened with local railroad schemes. In April 1904, James W. Rea, leader of the San Jose & Los Gatos Interurban Railway Company, convinced the company's board of directors to sell their shares to a local banker and investor, O. A. Hale. Hale became president on April 9 and, a month later, rumors began to circulate that Hale was in fact a secret agent for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Yet nothing came of this speculation at first—Hale continued the expansion of the interurban's routes and unsubstantiated gossip continued throughout 1904 and 1905. Then, without much notice, Hale incorporated the Peninsular Railway Company on December 21, 1905, and the scheme began to reveal itself.

Peninsular Railway interurban car #102 at Saratoga, ca 1930. [Palo Alto Historical Association – colorized using DeOldify]

On the surface, this new electric interurban railroad—which was linked with but separate from the San Jose & Los Gatos Interurban—was intended to connect San José to San Francisco via a new interurban line. Yet from almost the beginning it was clear that Hale intended to merge the older interurban into his new company. Lines were projected to extend to Los Gatos, Big Basin, Oakland, and Alum Rock, the first two of which were either already on the existing line or anticipated future stops. But the company's first project was to construct a double-lane track to the most unlikely of places: Vasona, a freight-loading station on the San Jose to Santa Cruz route of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Peninsular Railway ballast train in Los Gatos, 1910. [Clarence Hamsher Collection, History Los Gatos – colorized using DeOldify]

The San Jose & Los Gatos Interurban Railway funded construction, which was suspicious in itself. Speculators also suspected that only one of the tracks, if any, would be used by the Peninsular because it was a dead end on the southeast: there was nothing at there except the Southern Pacific tracks and prune orchards. But Southern Pacific wanted to build a new San José bypass route that would more directly link Santa Cruz to San Francisco. This proposed route passed directly through the interurban's territory, so the Peninsular Railway was formed initially to build this route and disperse the legal and fiscal liability of such a venture.

Promotional map of the route of the Peninsular Railway, ca 1914. [History San José]

Construction began on the route in June 1906. The first section was in the north, between Mayfield (Palo Alto) and Cupertino. Hale died on July 20, 1907, while construction was ongoing. His successor was Jere T. Burke, a lawyer for Southern Pacific. The section opened on November 5, 1907 while the Los Altos Branch of the Southern Pacific—more commonly the Mayfield Cut-Off—opened on April 19, 1908. Indeed, no interurban track was installed south of Congress Junction and this section to Vasona remained simply a Southern Pacific right-of-way. Immediately after completion, the Peninsular Railway double-tracked its Stevens Creek/San Carlos section while Southern Pacific shifted to repairing and upgrading its tracks to Santa Cruz, which were narrow-gauge and had been damaged in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

Peninsular Railway station at Palo Alto, ca 1920s. [History San Jose – colorized using DeOldify]

While the tracks were upgraded, the interurbans continued to operate under the name San Jose & Los Gatos Interurban Railway. The company was only consolidated into the Peninsular Railway on June 30, 1909, about the same time that through traffic resumed along the Santa Cruz line. The San Jose & Santa Clara Railway was also consolidated into the Peninsular, and it became abundantly clear by this time that the Peninsular was a Southern Pacific entity, with most of its directors shared with other Southern Pacific subsidiaries. The curtain was drawn back and Southern Pacific was revealed as the owners of all South Bay railroad and interurban trackage.

Map of the complete Peninsular Railway network, 1915.

The Mayfield Cut-off was primarily an expressway with the Peninsular catering to intermediate stops. Close coordination of schedules was required to facilitate two-way traffic on mostly one-track sections, some of which were scheduled to sync with Southern Pacific trains. Indeed, there was some shared trackage between the Peninsular and Southern Pacific in Campbell, while freight trains occasionally accessed locations along the Peninsular line, specifically in the Saratoga area.

Peninsular Railway interurban car #58, ca 1920. [History San José – colorized using DeOldify]

The Peninsular maintained its carbarn close to the Southern Pacific tracks at the corner of San Carlos Street and Meridian Avenue. This allowed the two railroads to exchange rolling stock as needed. Electrical power stations were located in San José, north San José, Saratoga, and Los Altos. The rolling stock was decorated in a deep red color, which earned the cars the nickname "Big Red" by many riders. Most of the cars also featured large windows, including ones along the roof, that let in a generous amount of light.

Peninsular Railway interurban cars on all three sides of Saratoga station, ca 1910. [History San José – colorized using DeOldify]

For nearly thirty years, the Peninsular served the people of the western portion of the South Bay. Fares were reasonable at 50¢ a ride between Palo Alto and San José or 10¢ between adjacent stations. Interurbans ran once hourly in each direction. Popular stops along the line included the picnic grounds at Congress Springs, the stadium at Stanford University, and the trails and campgrounds at Alum Rock. Limited freight traffic catered to a quarry on the Congress Springs branch, various customers near Alum Rock, as well as several seasonal fruit growers across the network. The Peninsular also acted as a common carrier for parcels to several of its stations.

Peninsular Railway interurban car #108 parked on a stretch of double-track just beyond the company's repair car, ca 1920. [History San José – colorized using DeOldify]

The financial situation in the late 1900s made it difficult for the Peninsular to begin its proposed expansion projects, while increased supply costs during World War I further slowed any growth prospects. At the time of its incorporation and in the first years after, Peninsular management announced plans to built a route beyond Palo Alto to Menlo Park, where it would have connected with the Market Street Railway for a continuous run between San José or Los Gatos to San Francisco. The interurban also hoped to revive the Dunbarton Bridge and use it to connect San José to Oakland. The most ambitious plan was to build a branch to the top of Mt. Hamilton, which would have required revolutionary technologies to overcome the steep gradient of the mountain. Unfortunately, the rapid expansion of automobile technology following the war rapidly reduced the annual revenue of the Peninsular, rendering all of its ambitious plans infeasible.

Peninsular Railway interurban car on Santa Cruz Avenue in Los Gatos, ca 1932. [Los Gatos Public Library – colorized using DeOldify]

By the middle of the 1920s, it was clear that the Peninsular Railway would not survive the rise of the automobile. Road-building projects across the South Bay were encroaching on rights-of-way and in 1929, Palo Alto petitioned the Peninsular to abandon its track between Mayfield and Palo Alto Depot. While the Los Altos Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad was allowed to continue to Palo Alto, the Peninsular had lost an important corner of its network—Palo Alto was now a dead end and Stanford was cut off. Los Gatos soon began demanding more space on its roads, too, including down Santa Cruz Avenue and along the Los Gatos-Saratoga road. To make matters worse, the Peerless Stage Company was given permission to run buses along many of the routes catered to by the interurban. Whereas the interurbans had to maintain their own rights-of-way and pay property taxes, the buses only had to pay a fuel tax.

Peninsular Railway conductors beside an interurban car, ca 1930 [History San José – colorized using DeOldify]

The Great Depression was the final nail in the coffin, with far fewer people commuting to work due to a lack of jobs. Southern Pacific took the opportunity to end many of its branch lines and in the Bay Area including all of its streetcar routes in the Oakland area and the southern of the two New Almaden Branches in 1933. On September 30, 1934, the last Peninsular Railway interurban car made its run from Los Gatos to Saratoga and then to San José. The second New Almaden Branch, from Campbell, with which the Peninsular shared trackage, was abandoned in 1937.

Peninsular Railway #52 at the Western Railway Museum in Suisun City. Photo by Jay Cross. [Wikipedia]

Because much of the trackage was in or along roads, most of which have since been widened, almost nothing survives today of this important network. Several of the interurban cars were shipped to Los Angeles, where they were used by the Pacific Electric Railroad, another Southern Pacific subsidiary interurban system, until 1963. The Western Railway Museum in Suisun City, California, holds a still-operation Peninsular Railway #52 as well as an inoperative #61 trailer car in its collection.

Citations & Credits:

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Stations: Walti

No railroad station in Santa Cruz County had a more ephemeral existence than Walti on the Santa Cruz Branch. Established at some point in 1914, it was located at approximately the same place as Twin Lakes station on 7th Avenue in Live Oak, even though the latter continued to exist throughout this time. Southern Pacific's Agencies Book for 1915 notes that it was located 119 miles from San Francisco via Watsonville Junction and functioned as a B-class freight station, but no other information is provided. Only one Coast Division Employee Timetable (No. 102, April 20, 1916) included the stop 80.9 from San Francisco via the Mayfield Cutoff (the two locations are the same but the reference points differ). The stop included a spur of unspecified length but had no trains scheduled to stop there. Curiously, Walti was absent from the 1916 Agencies Book and when the next employee timetable was released on May 28, it was likewise gone. So what's the story of the elusive, short-lived station?

Walti & Schilling's El Dorado Market on Pacific Avenue, ca 1900. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

The station was named after Frederick "Fred" Rudolph Walti, a Swiss immigrant who established himself in Santa Cruz in 1886. He began his career in the city as co-owner of the Santa Cruz Brewery alongside August Peter. Together they operated as the Vienna Brewery from early 1887. On February 24, 1892, Walti married as his second wife Fredericka "Frieda" M. Schilling. Shortly afterwards, Peter and Walti's partnership seems to have dissolved because Walti was becoming interested in the meat industry. For the previous two years, Walti had periodically helped his brother, E. D. Walti, in Nevada with horse and cattle wrangling. He had a knack for it and began shipping cattle to Santa Cruz via train. He worked with local butchers, but at some point around 1893, they collectively tried to pull a fast one on him and reduce the price they were willing to pay. Rather than compromise, Walti fought back.

Ike Kent, Fred Walti, Pete Sonognini, Katie Bourcq, and Peter Bourcq inside the El Dorado Market, ca 1895. [Santa Cruz Sentinel – colorized using DeOldify]

In February 1895, it was announced that a new butcher shop was being constructed by Joseph Bourcq, owner of the East Santa Cruz Market, and Fred Walti. Their new El Dorado Market opened on April 3, 1895 in the Simpson building at 47 Pacific Avenue. The store specialized in fresh and salted meats and offered free deliveries across the city. In September 1897, Walti bought out Bourcq's share in the firm for $3,400. Not long afterwards, Walti asked his father-in-law, Henry Schilling, originally from Glückstadt, Germany, to come on as partner and they formed Walti & Schilling in August 1898. For the next few years, they focused on the El Dorado Market and East Santa Cruz Market, but they quietly expanded their cattle pens and retail reach beyond the bounds of Santa Cruz.

Advertisement for Walti & Schilling's El Dorado Market on Pacific Avenue, April 25, 1899. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]

This is where Walti station comes into the story. Bourcq & Walti owned stockyards at the bottom of Arana Gulch and along the east side of Woods Lagoon. It is unclear whether Bourcq owned these originally as a part of his East Santa Cruz Market or if it was a purchase made shortly after Bourcq partnered with Walti, but they owned the property by late 1895. They were probably purchased from Francisco Rodriguez, who owned 42.7 acres in the same location in 1891. Newspapers later reported that Walti owned 45 acres, but this may have just been lazy rounding on the part of the reporter. The property began at the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks and continued north toward Capitola Road, stopping in the vicinity of Taylor Lane. It was bounded by 7th Avenue on the east.

Subdivision of Manuel Rodriguez's property, showing Francisco Rodriguez's lot beside the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, August 1891. [Santa Cruz GIS]

On this property, Walti kept his slaughterhouse beside a large paddock where animals were held immediately prior to butchering. Several notices published in local newspapers from 1895 to 1922 warned hunters to stay away from the property, presumably because it put livestock at risk. Most of the stock was kept long-term at yards either in San José or San Juan Bautista, while most of the animals came from E. D. Walti's property in Fallon, Nevada. The yard beside Woods Lagoon was certainly the reason for the station on the railroad's timetable and in its agencies book. When precisely the property had a spur installed is not stated in newspapers, but the stock yard appears to have received stock by train as early as 1900, so a spur into the property must have been placed around this time, if not earlier.

View of Woods Lagoon from Seabright with the Walti-Schilling stock yard visible to the right of the railroad bridge, ca 1910. Photo by George Webb. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

As the 1900s continued, business expanded out of Santa Cruz to elsewhere in the Monterey and San Francisco Bay Areas. At the same time, Walti-Schilling sausages, cured meats, and salted meats were shipped around the world. The successes of the firm led to the incorporation of Walti, Schilling & Company on December 24, 1904. Although the company continued to grow and expand over the ensuing decades, nothing is really said in newspapers and other sources of the slaughterhouse in Twin Lakes. Why it briefly appeared in a Southern Pacific agency book and an employee timetable in 1915 and 1916 is unknown since the situation at the location appears unchanged in those years.

View of Woods Lagoon from just south of the Walti-Schilling stock yard, 1920s. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

In November 1922, Walti-Schilling purchased a new, larger property just north of the city limits on the former Tolle estate. This led to the abandonment of the Twin Lakes property in September 1923. All operations shifted to Orby station on the Davenport Branch, which functioned as a private station for the company until other businesses moved into the area. Walti, Schilling & Company closed its West Side slaughterhouse on July 1, 1977 and dissolved as a corporation on January 15, 1979, by which time the Walti and Schilling families had long been unassociated with the firm and the business's headquarters had moved to Los Banos.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9688N, 121.9992W
615 7th Avenue

The former Walti spur in Twin Lakes remained in place for several more decades, although it is unclear if later property owners actually used it. The property served as a county corporate yard for around three decades before it was sold to Coast Counties Gas & Electric in the early 1950s. Evidence suggests that the spur remained intact through the 1950s, but was removed at some point in the 1960s since it does not appear on later Southern Pacific records. Curiously, one of the reasons the property was originally sold was because suburban development in the area was encroaching on the stock yard, but no substantial development occurred until after World War II, and even then, only the PG&E Services Center (the successor to Coast Counties), three small housing subdivisions, and the Harbour Inn have moved into the area. All of the property is now privately owned, but it can be viewed along 7th Avenue and Brommer Street.

Citations & Credits:

  • Santa Cruz Evening News, various articles.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, various articles.
  • Santa Cruz Surf, various articles.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad Company. Corporate records. Sacramento, CA: California State Railroad Museum.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Sources: Secondary Books and Articles

A lot of ink has been proverbially spilt over the history of Santa Cruz County. There are hundreds of non-fiction books that have been written and thousands of journal and newspaper articles on the history of the area. Most of these bring something to the table. But each author comes with their own agenda, their own set of beliefs and biases, and their own methods of interpreting history, some of which are more professional than others. The task of parsing fact from fiction and quality research from drivel is an ongoing process every historian has to deal with throughout their research. The hardest part of this task is that sometimes a historian really wants speculation to be fact or the fiction to be real, but that's not how history works.

A selection of local railroading books' covers.

Secondary sources, as in books and articles written by historians, are the lifeblood of historical research, but they also can be the bane of good research. Historians really want to trust those high-quality works produced before us. We aspire to mimic them in some ways, but we also have a need and even obligation to surpass them. Every researcher in any field should build upon what came before to provide a new foundation for the next generation. The easiest visualization is a tall building: each floor is needed to support the floor above it, and each floor is important to the overall structure. That being said, not all historical sources remain relevant over time. Different interpretations, new or updated information, and changing societal views can all render earlier works less useful even if their impact on the subject area remains unchanged.

Ways of using this type of source:

As stated above, secondary sources are the lifeblood of research. In many cases they form the basis upon which further research begins. As such, it is a good idea for any historical researcher to seek out the major secondary sources on a subject before venturing on to add to it or make your own interpretation of the data. Indeed, most university postgraduate programs require students to produce historiographies or literary analyses to situate their work and prove that they have done the requisite reading before they embark on their own research. It is a useful, if sometimes tedious, task and can often reveal important, different perspectives.

Continuing on from using a secondary source for information, they can then be expanded upon. This is the most important function of secondary sources: they provide the basis for further research. Most historical pieces are not written in a void—they are building off of previous knowledge and expanding upon that in some way. Sometimes it is by consolidating information from several secondary sources. Sometimes it is by infusing previous information with newly-found evidence or a new interpretation. And sometimes it is by spinning-off from a loose thread in a source.

Depending on the circumstances and type of secondary source, a book or article can also establish a basis for a counter-argument. In these cases, the secondary source usually makes a statement about something: for example, the Ocean Shore Railway was destined for failure. In response, you as the researcher argue against that source's premise: for example, the Ocean Shore Railway failed through bad luck, not inevitable circumstances. These types of response pieces more often appear in academic journal articles than books, but they can also appear within books as chapters.

The most common use of a secondary source, however, is as a citation. This is a simple acknowledgement often in footnotes or endnotes that a piece of information has come from a specific source. Just like primary sources, secondary sources can be cited as places for information. This is most relevant in two cases: 1) when a primary source has become lost or is otherwise inaccessible; and 2) when the specific thing being cited within the secondary source is an opinion, argument, or other statement by the author. The reasons why secondary sources should not excessively be used in lieu of primary sources is discussed below.

Downsides and problems with this type of source:

The biggest potential problem with secondary sources is reliability. This is not an issue unique to secondary sources. Indeed, primary sources can be terrible one-sided and biases, and other common sources such as maps, photographs, government documents, etc., also all have their faults. But the fact that secondary sources are derived from other information and brought together, analysed, and interpreted by someone who generally did not experience the events depicted often leads to misinformation or misinterpretation.

While there are certainly valid reasons to use secondary sources throughout the process of researching—for that matter, a researcher is for all intents and purposes producing their own secondary source—it is best practice to minimize the use of secondary sources to avoid replicating or producing errors. A somewhat recent example of this in Santa Cruz County history circles is the history of Gharky's Wharf (for the full correction, see this article). Essentially, historian Leon Rowland, while preparing for his Annals of Santa Cruz book, misinterpreted a newspaper article and then later smoothed over his own uncertainty to assert that Gharky's Wharf (built in 1857) at the Santa Cruz Beach became the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad's Railroad Wharf in 1875. They were in fact two entirely different wharves that coexisted for seven years. Subsequent historians including Bruce MacGregor, Donald Clark, Margaret Koch, and Rick Hamman all replicated Rowland's mistake, leading to its perpetuation into the twenty-first century.

There is also the problem of misinterpretation or jumping to conclusions. The reality of researching local history is that new information is always becoming available while simultaneously there are a tremendous amount of gaps that may never be filled. It is a problem with history in general, but local history suffers from an overabundance of some types of sources (e.g., genealogical, newspaper, oral histories) but sometimes a dearth of other resources (e.g., personal writings, governmental or business documents, photographs). This forces local historians to often make some less-than-supported conclusions based on their available evidence, which in turn can lead to some gross misinterpretations. For example, the closure of the Southern Pacific Railroad's route through the mountains in 1940 is often attributed to a fear of Japanese invasion. Yet there is simply no contemporary evidence to support this. The conclusion is based more on ideas regarding the specific period in question (the pre-World War II years), a lack of evidence to the contrary, and the occurrence of events one would expect in such a situation (demolition of tunnels, the Army Corps of Engineers with explosives, building shore defenses). But a researcher should never allow their expected outcomes to drive the story.

More generally, though, the main reason not to rely too heavily on secondary sources is because doing so does little to advance a field. If you are just regurgitating what others have written before you without adding anything novel, you are less a researcher and more of a compiler. Granted, a lot of the most popular historians build their entire careers on consolidating other peoples' works, which can be useful in moderation, but true advancement comes only through primary source research, either to push the field forward or to correct what has come before. Thus, secondary sources are vital parts of the researcher's toolbox but should be used cautiously.

Local history resources:

The following authors and their books are considered prolific staples in Santa Cruz County historical circles. Most of these books also touch on railroading or railroad-adjacent topics. For the record, every single one of these books deserved to be read; however, the quality of some works is better than others.

John Young

Ghost Towns of the Santa Cruz Mountains by John V. Young is one of the earliest non-contemporary secondary sources of Santa Cruz County history. First published in 1979, its origins are actually San Jose Mercury News articles published in 1934. This makes Young the only author who wrote while the railroad route through the Santa Cruz Mountains still operated, which is relevant since his book includes several communities that were once patronized by that train.

Overall, this book is a unique look into life in the mountains before Highway 17 and mass commuting over the hill. It includes chapters on about a dozen mountain communities, many of which no longer exist and the rest of which exist but are now decentralized. He also discusses several important early settlers and personalities, as well as major events in the Summit area such as destructive fires. Now in its third edition, Ghost Towns is one of the most important secondary sources for the history of the Summit area.

There are nonetheless some items to be aware of when reading and using Young's work. First, his book makes the same mistake as many of those below: he does not cite his most of his sources. This problem is particularly bad with works that were originally serialized (i.e., in newspapers or magazines) but even later authors often trust exclusively in a bibliography, making it exceedingly difficult to determine from where a particular fact or idea derives.

Second, and also like several of the more general books below, Young does a very poor job of recounting local Native American, Spanish, and Mexican history. This is partially a product of his time, partially due to a lack of sources, and partially from disinterest or ignorance. In truth, accurately and fairly telling the history of indigenous peoples and earlier settler groups is something nobody is very good at, but the earlier the source, the poorer the depiction. 

Third, Young picks and chooses the stories he wants to tell based on his evidence, which was likely a combination of newspaper sources, oral histories (i.e., talking to people who lived there), and his own experiences. The problem with this approach is that it leaves a lot out. For example, he barely talks of the ghost town of Wright, except when noting the construction of the Summit Tunnel. He barely talks about Laurel at all. And the resorts on the south side of the Summit in Santa Cruz County are only relevant if they have a direct connection to Summit peoples, so places like Hotel de Redwood and Olive Springs are left out. This is mostly a problem of premise: Young claims his book is about ghost towns of the Santa Cruz Mountains, but what he really means is ghost towns on the Santa Clara County side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, specifically the ones he has a personal interest in.

Ghost Towns of the Santa Cruz Mountains (2nd edition, 1984) is available for loan from

Leon Rowland

Leon B. Rowland is frequently noted as the first proper historian of Santa Cruz County, and for good reason. His five short books, Old Santa Cruz Mission, Villa de Branciforte, The Story of Old Soquel, The Annals of Santa Cruz, and Los Fundadores (collected together in Santa Cruz: The Early Years [1980]) were for many Santa Cruzans their first peek into the early history of the county. Rowland was most interested in the Spanish, Mexican, and early American periods of the county's history, and dug deep into mission records, newspapers, and early government documents in an attempt to unravel the long neglected history. Like Young, much of his research was serialized in the Santa Cruz Evening News and the Santa Cruz Sentinel in the 1930s and 1940s.

Rowland was a persistent researcher who left no stone unturned. He extensively cataloged every possible fact of early Santa Cruz history that he could find and placed the information on cards that he could reference at will. This is now stored in the archives at UCSC. Overwhelmingly, his information is accurate and can be cross-referenced with the catalog, but he followed the pattern of most local historians of the time and did not include footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citations, making verifying his facts tedious. Nonetheless, Rowland's books are important foundational texts on Santa Cruz County history, despite their flaws.

Rowland's works suffer from some of the same flaws as Young's. His focus on the Spanish and Mexican periods do no favors for the earlier Native American history, and minor inaccuracies are dotted throughout the books intermixed with legitimate facts. This reflects his strong desire to tell a good story despite not having the evidence to support it. His writing style is also rather static, which can make things both seem more factual but also less interesting. More problematic, however, was his habit of taking things at face value. He taught himself to read Spanish, so accessing the Spanish and Mexican sources was not difficult, but he was a newspaper reporter at heart and left little room for interpretation or analysis. While this isn't in itself a bad thing, it meant that he doesn't always look for why something was the way it was, he just accepted that it as fact.

Santa Cruz: The Early Years is available for loan from

Bruce MacGregor

The modern era of local railroad history began a scant 28 years after the closure of the Mountain Route and only three years after the formal end of all permitted passenger service in Santa Cruz County. Bruce MacGregor's first book, South Pacific Coast (1968), provides a photographic and descriptive history of the South Pacific Coast Railroad and the line's continuation under Southern Pacific ownership until about 1908, when the line was standard-gauged. He followed this with a pictorial, Narrow Gauge Portrait: South Pacific Coast (1975), derived mostly from unused photographs for his first book with a few corrections, clarifications, and elaborations scattered throughout. A Centennial (1982), written with Richard Truesdale, was partially a revised version of MacGregor's first two books and partially a new book focused more on the stations and stops along the South Pacific Coast's route. Finally, MacGregor's magnum opus is The Birth of California Narrow Gauge (2003), which shifts the focus to all California central coast narrow gauge operations, although MacGregor still retains a specific fascination with the South Pacific Coast Railroad.

MacGregor did something none of the other local historians have really done: he learned from his past mistakes and corrected for them. His first book was unique when it released, but it perpetuated many of the earlier mistakes and also introduced some of its own. In fact, the photo on the cover is a mistake, conflating Camp Teller in northern California with Tank Siding above Mountain Charlie Gulch. Narrow Gauge Portrait addressed a few issues but was not very blunt in its corrections and included most relevant information in photo captions. A Centennial, on the other hand, was a great leap forward, streamlining MacGregor's original text into a more topical approach. The downside of this is that it lost some of its focus. Whereas the first two books were overwhelmingly interested in only the narrow-gauge tracks between Alameda Point and Santa Cruz, A Centennial pushed beyond those dates and even included some trackage that was never part of the South Pacific Coast's line. MacGregor returned to his roots, therefore, with Birth, and it is by far the best researched and most academic of any history of Santa Cruz County's railroads, although it's focus is very narrow—only 1875-1887.

The four books that MacGregor produced are a clear progression of ideas, focus, and methodologies. Each book improves on the previous in key ways, but the earlier three also introduce some problems. Nonetheless, any local railroad enthusiast should read all four books and especially the last. The extensive use of photographs and maps alone should attract readers, but MacGregor's research is also high quality and Birth also adds a vital academic quality that many local history books lack.

The Birth of California Narrow Gauge is available for sale on

Margaret Koch

Margaret Koch is one of the most well-respected general historians of Santa Cruz County history. The descendant of Charles Martin of Glenwood, she worked as a reporter at the Santa Cruz Sentinel for decades and also served as the last postmaster of Glenwood. The history of the county was personal to her in a way that it wasn't to many of the other historians. Her major contribution to local history is Santa Cruz County: Parade of the Past (1973).

In many ways, Parade of the Past is an attempt to update Rowland's book and correct many of his mistakes. Not all of them, though, as several of the assumptions he made are repeated in her work and she relies on his and other early historians' works to inform her own. Despite at least six reprints, Koch never substantially updated her text to address these mistakes. The style Koch adopted was of vignettes. Although largely chronological, each chapter is broken up into variably-sized sections linked to specific themes, some more relevant to the county's history than others.  In this way, she was able to tell a comprehensive history, but not entirely a coherent one. Her vignettes are informative and interesting, integrating photographs, quotes, and other information, but the somewhat haphazard organization leaves much to be desired.

Like other historians before and after, Koch did not use footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citations in most cases, relying instead on a bibliography. She did rely on newspapers articles a lot, which she noted even if not citing the specific date or page number, but other sources are more difficult to discern and much of it was probably gleaned from years of reporting and growing up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Parade of the Past nevertheless continues to be an important and influential work in Santa Cruz County history circles and the legacy of Margaret Koch should not be downplayed. She was the county's second-most prominent historian and she earned a right to that claim.

Secondhand copies of Parade of the Past can be purchased at

Jack Wagner

Almost as a counterpoint to MacGregor, Jack R. Wagner's The Last Whistle: Ocean Shore Railroad (1974) is an example how not to write history books. From its water-colored cover to its image-intense interior, the book is less a history than a photo album with detailed captions. The writing quality is fine and even much of the research is well done, but Wagner jumps to conclusions too easily and is far too heavily focused on the histories of a few specific places along the Ocean Shore's line. That leaves a lot out of the story.

Most importantly for Santa Cruz County historians, Wagner mostly neglects the history of the Ocean Shore within the county. He includes a few photographs and poorly-informed captions, but local researchers are more likely to come to the wrong conclusions if they read Wagner exclusively for information of the Ocean Shore within the county. Read Rick Hamman for a better account and supplement with newspaper articles when necessary. For those interested in the northern part of the Ocean Shore's history, then this is a good starting point, but it still is not comprehensive to any degree. Wagner was more interested in showing off photographs and fun facts than telling a detailed story, so other works still need to be considered.

Wagner actually presents a key problem with relying heavily on secondary sources: sometimes they simply don't exist. To this day, there has still not been a high-quality book on the history of the Ocean Shore Railway/Railroad. Wagner's failed in many ways. Western Railroader did a special issue, but most of it was just transcribing an old advertisement from 1907. Hamman covered the topic, but only the southern division and only in brief since it was part of a larger book. And Chris Hunter's Images of Rail: Ocean Shore Railroad is mostly a photo essay that, again, focuses much more on the northern division and is also limited in the amount of non-photographic material it can cover due to Arcadia Publishing's requirements. 

The Last Whistle is available secondhand on

Betty Lewis

Watsonville has not had as many historians as Santa Cruz or even Los Gatos, and Betty Lewis is inarguably the most best known. Much like Young and Koch, Lewis was a local reporter and worked for the Register-Pajaronian for most of her professional life. She was president of the Pajaro Valley Historical Association and Watsonville's City Historian, and was also won several awards for her writings and her impact on Watsonville's historical community.

Her first and most influential book is Watsonville: Memories that Linger (1976). Similar to other authors of the period, much of her writing is done in the form of short thematic chapters divided into vignettes with deep dives into very specific topics, such as events, people, or businesses. Her first book starts with the origins of Watsonville and moved slowly to the 1970s. A sequel, Volume 2 (1980), attempts to fill many of the gaps left by the first book, although this inevitably leads to it being a less cohesive work. 

Lewis is one of Santa Cruz County's only historians to use end-chapter citations, even if she is not thorough in her use of them. She also alternates her writing between quoting and paraphrasing, and she is not afraid to analyse her sources and make conclusions based on her findings. In this way, Lewis is undoubtedly one of the more academic historians within the county. She includes photographs but only sparingly. In the end, any researcher of Pajaro Valley history must read Memories that Linger and would benefit from reading Volume 2 as well.

A third printing of Memories that Linger is currently available alongside the second printing of Volume 2, both of which can be purchased from the Pajaro Valley Historical Association or obtained secondhand from The Betty Lewis Collection is housed at the Pajaro Valley Historical Association and can be viewed by appointment.

Charles McCaleb

Three books on Bay Area horsecar, streetcar, and interurban lines have been written by Charles S. McCaleb over the years, with Surf, Sand & Streetcars (1977) the most relevant for Santa Cruz County. McCaleb adopts a chronological narrative style that mostly works well and he included many dozens of illustrative images and maps that clarify his subject matter and really bring it to life. His writing style is fluid and accessible most of the time, and even his chapter organization mostly makes sense despite sometimes unclear chronologies.

McCaleb's only real difficulty is juggling coexisting narratives, namely the period between the formation of the Santa Cruz Electric streetcar line and end of the East Santa Cruz horsecar line. This period becomes complicated, with competing tracks, many different people involved, and strange behind the scenes politics that McCaleb does not always entirely grasp or depict clearly. That being said, the confusion does mimic the actual politics of the era, so it is not unwarranted. Otherwise, McCaleb follows the usual trend of the 1970s histories by not including any citations except a bibliography. And he also ignores the Watsonville Traction Company's line and downplays the importance of the Ocean Shore Railway in local streetcar affairs.

Currently, Surf, Sand & Streetcars is the only book on the topic of local horsecar and streetcar lines, but it does a good job at its task. A second edition that incorporated errata and an addendum was released by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History in 1995 and can be purchased from their store.

Stephen Payne

Alongside Young, Stephen M. Payne's A Howling Wilderness (1978) falls into the category of essential reads for anyone who lives in, has lived in, or is researching the Santa Cruz Mountains. Payne has lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains since 1968 and taught history at San José State University and served as Command Historian at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey. He is slated to become the next president of the San Lorenzo Valley Historical Society in 2022. In other words, this history is also personal to him and he has spent much of the past fifty years learning about it.

Payne's primary book in many ways parallels and expands upon Young's earlier work by providing more thorough histories of the resorts, the roads and turnpikes, and various personalities on the Summit. It also benefits from a more narrative style that does not attempt to adapt old newspaper articles into prose. Beyond this, I (Derek) must confess I cannot comment further because I do not have the book available to me at the present time and it is not readily available online in any format.

Secondhand copies of A Howling Wilderness are available for a high price on A second heavily-revised edition is scheduled for release in the near future. Several articles based on his writings can be found at the Santa Cruz Public Libraries' website.

Rick Hamman

Rick Hamman's magnum opus, California Central Coast Railways (1980), came out shortly after the viability of reopening the railroad route through the Santa Cruz Mountains was proven by Lockheed. It quickly became the text on Santa Cruz County railroad history because of Hamman's expansive view of the history. Whereas MacGregor and Wagner each focused on their own focus areas, Hamman looked at the history of local railroads holistically, from the days before there were railroads in the county all the way to the present. He also had a broader geographic scope, including the whole of the South Pacific Coast Railroad's route (albeit in brief outside of Santa Cruz County), the Santa Cruz Railroad/Santa Cruz Branch, the San Juan Pacific Railway/California Central Railroad, the southern division of the Ocean Shore Railway, the Coast Line Railroad/Davenport Branch, the Felton & Pescadero Railroad/Boulder Creek Branch, the Loma Prieta Branch, and the Valencia Creek railway, as well as other short-lived and minor lines. Indeed, the only topic he didn't touch on was horse- and streetcars, likely because McCaleb had already written an excellent book on that topic a few years earlier.

Any local historian would benefit from reading Hamman. In addition to his primary book, he also cowrote with Horace W. Fabing Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge (1985), which is the history of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, and he also wrote a short book on gold mining in Santa Cruz County. Both of these books were spin-offs of his original book that focused on areas that were either too large a topic or too off topic for inclusion. Overall, Central Coast Railways has withstood the test of time. It is largely a corporate and engineering study, but it integrates newspaper articles, personal accounts, timelines, and many photographs to provide a more rounded product in the end. Hamman also included custom maps, tables, and charts, many of which are included in an extensive appendix at the end of the book. And Hamman was no slacker—he went out in the field to verify his information and investigate what survives of the various lines. In fact, he became so enamored with restoring the route that he helped found the Eccles & Eastern Railroad and worked to reopen it throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

Nonetheless, Hamman still made some mistakes in his research. Like most local historians, he neglects to include sources for most of his information making it difficult to go back and verify. He also sometimes trusted too much in the writings of earlier historians, from whom he perpetuated several falsehoods. Unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Hamman wasn't afraid to speculate and analyse his findings, which is good, but he sometimes jumped to conclusions and some of his assertions have since been disproven. In the end, though, the biggest problem with Hamman's work is actually its sheer breadth. He wanted to tell the entire history of Santa Cruz County railroading, but he sacrificed depth to do so. This makes his work an important survey work but other sources must be consulted to dig deeper into the specific details of many items touched upon in the book. A second edition published in 2002 expanded the conclusion and made minor corrections throughout, but did not correct the earlier factual errors nor revise any arguments.

California Central Coast Railways is available secondhand on

Sandy Lydon

It is hard to argue that any local history book must be written, but Sandy Lydon has proven twice that some books need to be written. His seminal work, Chinese Gold (1985), paired with his shorter Japanese in the Monterey Bay Region (1997), are fundamental texts in understanding the history of Asians and Asian-Americans in the Monterey Bay area and their impact and influence on events. Lydon began his career as a teacher at Cabrillo College but also worked for KCBA Channel 35 news. He slowly gained a reputation as the "History Dude" and taught local history courses while writing and revising his books. He retired in 2000 but continued to periodically teach and lead educational field trips. He now runs the website Central Coast Secrets where he continues his tales of Santa Cruz County and Central Coast history.

Returning to Chinese Gold, the book carefully peruses all available known sources that discuss the Chinese presence in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties from the late Mexican period to the present. The book is extensive and highly detailed with detailed primary source quotes, photographs, proper historical contextualizing, and a high level of analysis. By the end of the book, a reader will realize just how vital Chinese immigrants and their descendants have been to the success of the coastal communities. For readers interested in railroad history, this is the only book that methodically discusses the important role Chinese workers played in building almost all of the railroads in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties.

As with any of these books, Lydon's magnum opus is not perfect. His citation style tries to balance readability with academic techniques and does not quite succeed. Rather than including proper endnote citations, Lydon cites works in page ranges. This is better than simply including a bibliography but is difficult to use and still requires the researcher to do work to match textual content to its source. The only major problem with the work is that of scope: the scope is massive—it covers nearly 150 years and two countries—and understandably many vital details are absent because the sources have been lost or the information was never recorded to begin with. Lydon as a good historian confesses this at times and tries to not overly speculate about things when sources are missing, but the end result is that many parts of the book lack a satisfying finality or decisiveness. This is a constant problem with books of this nature.

Lydon released an updated and expanded second edition of Chinese Gold in 2005. The first edition is available for loan from Secondhand copies of Lydon's books are available on

Donald Thomas Clark

The type of history Donald Thomas Clark wrote was very different from that of other local historians. His two books attempt to consolidate the entirety of local geography-based history into two large tomes. The results are decidedly mixed. His Santa Cruz County Place Names (1986) is a far superior work than its sequel, Monterey County Place Names (1991). This is due in large part to the different sizes and populations of the counties in question. Whereas Santa Cruz County clocks in at 607 sq. miles, Monterey County encompasses 3,771 sq. miles. At the time that the former was published, Santa Cruz County had a population of 216,661, while Monterey County had 361,559 in 1991. Thus, while the premise was solid and the enthusiasm was there, the implementation was inconsistent.

For Santa Cruz researchers, it is fortunate that the better book is on their subject. Clark digs into the minutiae of maps spanning the entire history of Santa Cruz County and pulls from those maps intricate details that many people would have missed. Every map he used he cited using his own system that mostly works. His alphabetical approach, while less narrative-driven than other local history books, makes it an excellent reference book to add to the shelf. And it is useful. It serves as a great starting point for any local history research topic.

That being said, it is only a starting point. Clark enthusiastically cataloged details from maps, but most of the history he wrote was repeated from secondary sources. And he was not as good at citing his sources, although he was far better than most other authors at the time. However, since he heavily relied on secondary sources, he also replicated their mistakes. This has become an increasing problem with using Clark today since those mistakes have only become more obvious over time. A key reason for so many mistakes is that Clark often had to infer information from sources that were not specifically discussing the place name that he was explaining. Thus, via these inferences, he sometimes made massive leaps to conclusions or wild assumptions with no primary evidence support. He also sometimes misread maps or took for granted the fact that maps could be wrong. An example of this is a promotional auto map from the late 1910s that shows Gibbs as a station on the Southern Pacific Mountain Route. This was never actually a station—Zayante was the station that catered to Gibbs Ranch Resort—but Clark assumed since "Gibbs" was written in the same style as the train stations that it must be one, despite no other evidence for this assertion.

So while Clark's first book is an important work of Santa Cruz County history, it must be read cautiously and should be treated more as an entry point for further research than a source all its own. A second revised edition of Clark's work released in 2008 with edits he had made in the years after the book's initial publication. Secondhand copies of the second edition are available for a high cost at

Peggy Conaway Bergtold

Los Gatos has not had as many historians as Santa Cruz, but considering its size and inclusion within the Santa Clara Valley, that is not entirely surprising. In recent years, Peggy Conaway has emerged as the leading historian in the community with Images of America: Los Gatos (2004), Images of Rail: Railroads of Los Gatos (2006, with Edward Kelley), Images of America: Los Gatos Generations (2007), Legendary Locals of Los Gatos (2014), and Images of Modern America: Los Gatos (2015). Former head of the Los Gatos Library, Conaway spent years gathering historical documents, local secondary sources, newspaper clippings, maps, ephemera, and other items of importance to Los Gatos history. She has benefited greatly from keeping her area of specific focus very tight—only the history of the area along Los Gatos Creek from today's Highway 85 and south. And she is thorough in her depth of research whenever she can be. Indeed, the only author who rivals her is George G. Bruntz, whose History of Los Gatos: Gem of the Foothills (1971) was the only real history of the area prior to Conaway.

The significant problem with Conaway's approach is that she has decided to publish her works exclusively via Arcadia Publishing. Arcadia is a massive international firm that also owns The History Press and has dozens of different avenues of publicizing and selling its goods. As such, they eagerly encourage local historians to write books for them. It is not a bad deal at all and many Arcadia books are of a high quality with good information. Conaway's fortunately fall into this category. Yet there are three major problems with Arcadia books in general. First, they are image dependent. If an author does not have an image to illustrate a point, they only have a very small place at the beginning of each chapter to discuss their point. And the captions for the photos are also very limited in space, so there is not a lot of room for elaboration. Second, they cannot be footnotes or endnotes—the only place for citations is a section at the back for a bibliography. Like most other local history books, this reduces its usefulness as a secondary source. And third, they have a surprisingly low bar for acceptance by Arcadia. This is a reflection of Arcadia's constant need for new content.

Conaway does the best she can with the format and all five of her books are worthwhile reads, especially for the great abundance of local images included in each. Her research is also top notch and based on her years of research while working at the Los Gatos Library. All five books can be found at

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Curiosities: The Ocean Shore Railway's 26-Mile Gap

The Ocean Shore Railway—a project over thirty years in the making—began with a bang and then died a slow and painful death as natural disasters, financial crises, bankruptcy, and mismanagement doomed the most optimistic railroad in the history of the Central Coast of California. On top of all the drama and failure, though, the most remarkably fact about the Ocean Shore Railway is how close it came to succeeding in a task that had dogged so many companies before it. The Ocean Shore's story is truly that of the Little Engine That Could, pushing on despite everything to finish its visionary route from San Francisco to Santa Cruz along the windswept margins of San Mateo County's foggy coastline.

An Ocean Shore Railway construction train atop a bridge near Davenport, 1907. [Western Railroader – Colorized using DeOldify]

Of course, the Ocean Shore Railway had not intended to fail. Indeed, right up until its declaration of bankruptcy in 1911, the company was working feverishly to achieve its primary goal. The Ocean Shore Railway Company had been incorporated in May 1905 to build two parallel eighty-mile-long standard-gauge electric railroad tracks down the coastline from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, where it would have linked up with other subsidiary networks and ultimately meet the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad at the Nevada state line. A branch line was planned for the hills above Pescadero with a possible extension to Big Basin and Boulder Creek. Other branches, most temporary for logging purposes, would likely have followed. Several town development projects were planned along the coast, most notably at Montara and El Granada north of Half Moon Bay.

An Ocean Shore construction train pouring fill below the bridge over San Vicente Creek south of Davenport, 1907. [Uncertain provenance – Colorized using DeOldify]

One immediate problem for the Ocean Shore Railway was the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Octopus controlled most land transportation on the West Coast and was not going to let an upstart railroad get in its way. Indeed, Southern Pacific preempted the Ocean Shore's incorporation by a month when it established its own Coast Line Railroad in April 1905 with almost identical goals as its rival, sans double tracks and electrification. Yet the Ocean Shore knew that Southern Pacific only really wanted the lucrative cement plant contract in Davenport, while the Ocean Shore hoped that the timber in the Pescadero and Butano basins would more than justify the loss of the plant's patronage. Nonetheless, Southern Pacific was certainly duplicitous in some of its dealings with the Ocean Shore Railway.

Ocean Shore Railway's depot in Santa Cruz overlooking the Southern Pacific yard, 1907. [Louis L. Stein, Jr. – Colorized using DeOldify]

In Santa Cruz, Southern Pacific leased land from the Cowell Lime Company at the beach and built a short spur for loading lime, conveniently blocking the Ocean Shore's access to land it had purchased to erect a deep-water pier. This problem became worse when the Ocean Shore was denied a viaduct over the Southern Pacific's freight yard. This viaduct was essential for accessing the company's proposed central depot in downtown Santa Cruz. Together, these two actions effectively stranded the Ocean Shore in West Santa Cruz with no outlet south, thereby imperilling its plans for a route across the county and beyond.

Meanwhile, the two railroads actually hired the same contractor to build both of its tracks north. Since the Ocean Shore had more ready cash and planned to build a double track, one of its tracks was built first. This benefited the Ocean Shore immensely in 1906. The earthquake delayed construction of a second track (Southern Pacific's) by a year, meaning that the Ocean Shore was able to profit off the cement plant's initial output during that time. However, once Southern Pacific did reach Davenport in 1907, it conveniently installed its wye in such a way to deny the Ocean Shore any further access to the cement plant. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, the completion of the Bay Shore Cut-off and the Mayfield Cut-off reduced travel time between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. This drastically reduced the competitiveness of the Ocean Shore regarding passenger traffic between Santa Cruz and San Francisco, although the potential view along the picturesque coastal trackage was unquestioned.

Work crews in the process of filling the tall trestle bridge over Panther Beach beside the Yellowbank Dairy, with the Coast Road visible through the bridge, 1906. [Covello and Covello – Colorized using DeOldify]

Construction of the Ocean Shore in Santa Cruz County began in mid-1905 and continued apace through to the earthquake on April 18, 1906. Although constructed using the same contractors as the Coast Line Railway, the Coast Line was running behind schedule so the Ocean Shore's initial single track was built to Davenport first. In February 1906, the Ocean Shore leased the Union Traction Company in order to extend its network further south to Watsonville—the anticipated next step in its scheme to build the line to Nevada. Beyond Davenport, grading crews made it to Scott Creek where they built a wye beside a small resort area the company hoped to develop called Folger, named after the coffee magnate. Freight traffic to Davenport began in late January 1906 and, following short delays from the earthquake, regular passenger service to Davenport began on June 15. Meanwhile, the track to Scott Creek was completed by October, several months behind schedule, but still not too far above upper estimates.

The long, partially filled trestle bridge across San Vicente Creek and Davenport Beach, 1906. [Gary Griggs – Colorized using DeOldify]

Along the route south of San Francisco, progress was moving more slowly. Track layers had only reached Mussel Rock outside Daly City by the time of the earthquake, but grading had been completed for many miles further south, with much of the equipment located on Devil's Slide, which was the most precarious part of the route. This proved disastrous when the earthquake struck, since much of that machinery was either buried or tossed into the sea. While railroad crews in San Francisco used its rolling stock to help remove debris following the quake and fires, the construction crews further to the south had weeks of work ahead of them recovering machinery, restoring rights-of-way, and reinforcing hillsides against further slides.  It was several months before actual progress resumed on the Northern Division, but work did slowly resume. Regular passenger service only began in October 1907 to Tobin (Pedro Valley).

The Ocean Shore Railway's Pedro Point Tunnel north of Devil's Slide following abandonment of the line, 1928. [Uncertain provenance – Colorized using DeOldify]

Unfortunately for the Ocean Shore Railway, many of its wealthier financiers pulled out of the company in the months following the earthquake. A few were ruined by the earthquake, but others just decided to be more cautious with their money. The resort at Folger was probably one of the casualties of this restructure even though construction on the Southern Division continued without more than a hitch. The railroad found more investors and scraped together enough funds to continue building through the rest of 1906 and into early 1907. Construction to Half Moon Bay resumed after the Devil's Slide mess was cleared. Meanwhile, a new contract was made with Shattuck and Desmond to continue building the line from Scott Creek to Pescadero. In June 1908, the subsidiary Scott Creek Railway was incorporated to extend a track up Scott Creek and Little Creek to the timber tracts of the San Vicente Lumber Company. This proved to be the Southern Division's most profitable and reliable customer throughout the 1910s.

Advertisement for the San Juan Pacific Railway, 1907. [Unknown provenance]

Optimism was always the Ocean Shore Railway's greatest strength and weakness. The earthquake led to the Ocean Shore abandoning its purchase agreement of the Union Traction Company, although it retained an option to purchase it at a later date. On December 28, 1906, the railroad incorporated its first subsidiary, the Monterey, Fresno & Eastern Railway, and soon afterwards this company leased the Watsonville Transportation Company in the hopes that it could extend the small interurban line to Hollister and Fresno. In February 1907, alongside the lease of the interurban, Ocean Shore incorporated another subsidiary, the Ocean Shore & Eastern Railway, which was intended to build a railroad line from Santa Cruz to Watsonville, likely using the Union Traction line, although it did not resume its deferred payments at this time. In April 1907, the San Joaquin Valley Western Railroad was founded to connect Watsonville to Fresno, and in May the San Juan Pacific Railway was incorporated to link Chittenden to San Juan Bautista and its new cement plant, with plans to eventually extend its line further south through the Gabilan Range. All but the last of these projects came to nothing.

Ocean Shore Railway train on a high fill across a beach near Davenport, ca 1908 [Western Railroader – Colorized using DeOldify]

The nail in the coffin of the Ocean Shore Railway proved to be neither Southern Pacific interference nor the 1906 earthquake. Instead, it was the Knickerbocker Crisis which led to the Panic of 1907. A stagnant economy following the earthquake had led to a recession and by October 1907, the New York Stock Exchange was half the value it had been the previous year. The actual panic occurred when several banks, most notably the Knickerbocker Trust Company, failed to seize control of the United Copper Company. The collapse of Knickerbocker led to a run on money and the withdrawal by many from high-risk investments. Although the crisis was short-lived, it led to many of the remaining and new investors in the Ocean Shore Railway to pull out. Funds were solicited locally in early 1908, allowing construction to continue, but the railroad was running entirely on rapidly-increasing debt.

Idealized postcard of Granada Depot on the Ocean Shore line, 1908. Image produced by Charles H. Kendrick Company. [Cambridge Lutece – Colorized by DeOldify]

Despite everything, optimism remained through 1908. Property along the San Mateo County coast was selling quickly, while farmers, quarriers, and lumber companies were eager to begin shipping via the completed railroad. Construction on the Southern Division was primarily focused on the Scott Creek Railway line rather than the route north, although surveyors were likely busy determining the best means of crossing Scott Creek. In the north, passenger and freight service to Granada opened in June 1908 and Half Moon Bay in October, while tracks were laid across the Tunitas Creek bridge by January 1909. Another bridge was built a mile south over Palmer Gulch (Trestle Beach), but no tracks were ever installed here. Grading, meanwhile, had progressed as far as Pigeon Point. At Pomponio Beach, two short tunnels were in the process of being bored when construction ceased on the line.

Ocean Shore Railway auditor Ted F. Wurm on right with family members standing on the tracks near Davenport, ca 1910. [Marvin T. Maynard – Colorized using DeOldify]

The end result of the Ocean Shore Railway's three and a half years of effort was approximately 54 miles built of an 80-mile-long railroad. The missing section, 26 miles between the southern bank of Tunitas Creek to the southern bank of Scott Creek, was never completed. However, grading south from Tunitas, including a bridge and two tunnels, was partially completed for around 12.5 miles to Pigeon Point, and possibly even further to the south, meaning that only 13.5 miles remained of heavy work on the line. Some of this may have been damaged in the heavy winter storm of 1909 that wrecked large portions of the right-of-way, effectively shutting it down until late April. This storm mixed with creditors finally calling in their debt put an end to the reckless optimism that had been motivating the company previously. The company was $2,321,740 in debt and had nowhere left to turn for help.

The Ocean Shore Railroad beside Islais Creek and Mission Street outside San Francisco, 1915. [OpenSFHistory]

The Ocean Shore Railway went bankrupt on December 6, 1909 and was reincorporated as the Ocean Shore Railroad on October 9, 1911, following nearly two years in receivership. Although the new firm stated its intention to fill the 26-mile gap between Tunitas Creek and Scott Creek, it never had the funds to do so. Estimates in 1911 placed the cost of finishing the line at $1,351,115, over $35,000,000 in 2021 money. Thus, the new company, sans the debts of its predecessor, never bothered to finish the final 26 miles of its route, which was the only way the railroad would survive in the long term. Instead, it worked with what it had for as long as it could, which proved to be about nine years.

An accident at Little Creek switch outside Swanton, 1916. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – Colorized using DeOldify]

Possibly as early as 1908, regular horse-drawn stage coach service connected Davenport or Swanton in the south with Tunitas or Half Moon Bay in the north. The details of this early connecting activity are obscure, although it is known that the Ocean Shore Railway funded the service in order to maintain the premise of their coastal railroad. However, it was slow, poorly patronized, and couldn't compete once automobiles began appearing on the coast in the early 1910s. A solution had to be found and the new Ocean Shore Railroad had an idea.

An Ocean Shore Auto Stage Stanley Steamer leaving Tunitas for Santa Cruz, ca 1914. [Uncertain provenance]

Rather than providing rather typical coach service between the railroad's two termini, it purchased a Stanley Motor Carriage Company autobus to bridge the 26-mile gap via a new subsidiary, the Ocean Shore Auto Stage Company, incorporated in March 1914. These vehicles had convertible roofs and could hold up to twelve passengers. They were operated by a thirty horsepower steam engine designed in a novel and space-saving manner, although they were known for burning through water quickly. Due to the initial popularity of the service, a second Stanley Steamer was added to the roster on June 10.

Both Ocean Shore Auto Stage Stanley Steamers in Pescadero, 1914. [Bob Gray]

Service between Tunitas and Swanton began on April 1, 1914 under the direction of James W. Gray, a former Ocean Shore brakeman. The second steamer was operated by Harry L. Staples. Through service from San Francisco to Santa Cruz via rail and steamer cost $4.50 a ticket and took a total of 8:15 hours northbound and 7:50 hours southbound. The Stanley Steamers called in at Waddell Creek, Gazos Creek, Pigeon Point, Pebble Beach, Pescadero, San Gregorio, Tunitas Glen, and Torquay, providing transportation to and from some of the most remote communities on the Central Coast. A separate bus service also transported people from Torquay to the California Redwood Park (Big Basin). During wet winters, when portions of the railroad's right-of-way were washed out or otherwise damaged, the steamers also provided service shuttling passengers around inoperable sections.

The never-used Palmer Gulch bridge, 1920s, already showing a distinct slump in the center. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – Colorized using DeOldify]

Most Ocean Shore Railroad services ceased on August 17, 1920. The Southern Division was subsequently leased to the San Vicente Lumber Company while the Northern Division was scrapped. Remnants of the right-of-way survive all along the coast, especially in San Mateo County. Between Tunitas Creek and Scott Creek, some cuts and fills can be found beside Highway 1, but much more was once visible. The bridges over Tunitas Creek and Palmer Gulch remained for many decades until they either collapsed or were demolished. The two incomplete short tunnels at Pomponio Beach existed into the 1970s before they collapsed or were demolished for safety reasons.  Another tunnel south of Pescadero Beach appears on the 1961 USGS quadrangle map but has also now disappeared. 

A Stanley Steamer somewhere along the 27-mile gap with its roof up, ca 1918. [Randolph Brandt]

Meanwhile, the autobuses of the Ocean Shore Auto Stage Company continued to operate across the entire line under emergency provisions. On January 14, 1921, Gray and Staples were granted a permanent franchise to continue running buses between San Francisco and Pescadero, which led to the incorporation of the Coastside Transportation Company later that year. Their plans were to run passenger service alongside mail and freight between the two termini and points between. The Railroad Commission, however, limited the franchise repeatedly, forcing Gray to redirect traffic to Colma and San Mateo, drastically reducing his potential profits. He became frustrated and looked for interested buyers of his franchise.

Coastside Transport Company advertisement from the Santa Cruz Evening News, March 15, 1940.

On July 16, Gray sold the company to Edward Serretto, Louis Alfred Mattei, and Emile Michel. In 1925, the company under William Azevedo petitioned to run freight between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay but was again denied by the Commission. The firm's persistence finally paid off in March 1927 when it received permission to run passenger, freight, and express service across the entirety of the old Ocean Shore route including all settlements along the way. Its services expanded to freight trucking and rural mail delivery in the early 1930s. The firm declared bankruptcy in late 1933 only to reform with the same franchise rights as the Coastside Transport Company in November of that year. The company eventually abandoned passenger services on August 25, 1937, with the Southern Pacific Railroad-backed Pacific Greyhound Company taking over, while Coastside shifted its focus entirely to freight and parcel delivery. Coastside survived for another five years before selling out to Highway Transport Company on August 4, 1942.

Citations & Credits: