Thursday, January 5, 2023

Stations: California Street

The Coast Line Railroad had already been operating for six years when it established a flag-stop at the intersection of Bay Street and California Street on the West Side of Santa Cruz. While the reason for the station is not entirely clear, it does follow a pattern begun in June 1910, when the railroad added five new flag-stops along its route, probably to undermine the customer base of the rival Ocean Shore Railway. Some of these stops later became permanent stations. On November 16, 1913, California Street first appeared on employee timetables.

A Southern Pacific Railroad excursion train crossing Bay Street at California Street on its way to Davenport, ca 1947. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

Why the railroad created a flag-stop at California Street is not entirely clear. Since it does not appear in agency books, the station was likely considered within the boundaries of the Santa Cruz freight yard. Its inclusion as a flag-stop in employee timetables, however, suggests it was primarily a passenger stop. If so, the easiest explanation for its existence is that it was the nearest stop to Santa Cruz High School. Students who lived north of the city along the Coast Line Railroad route could catch a morning southbound passenger train and get off at California Street, where they could then walk the half mile to the school.

The original Santa Cruz High School on fire, October 1, 1913. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using MyHeritage]

The timing of the station’s opening is important, though. The June 1913 timetable does not show the station, while the November timetable does. An intermediate timetable released on September 21 has been lost. As a result, it is unknown if the station was established before or after the October 1 fire that burned the high school to the ground. Assuming it was founded after that fire, the flag-stop was probably intended to support students moving between various teaching locations, since classes were decentralized until the school was rebuilt. When the new facility opened in fall 1915, the railroad left the flag-stop on its timetables to continue to support students who lived north of Santa Cruz. As late as the mid-1920s, the station was mentioned in property advertisements as an incentive. A Southern Pacific survey map from 1949 even shows a shelter shed at the location, though no further description of this structure seems to have survived. However, on August 1, 1932, California Street was removed as a flag-stop when regular passenger service ended along the Davenport Branch.

Southern Pacific proposed improvement map showing the Bay and California Streets intersection. Although dated September 15, 1949, this is clearly based on an earlier plan since it shows both a station shelter and the start of the pumpworks spur. [California State Archives]

California Street also marked the junction point of the municipal pumpworks spur with the Davenport Branch. The construction of a sewage pumping station on the west side of Neary Lagoon had been approved in a special election held on June 20, 1887. Bids for construction only went out in March 1888 and the facility was completed in August. In addition to pumping sewage, the Santa Cruz Electric Light and Pump Company was able to produce electricity through the excess power created from the seventy-two horsepower Pitchford Improved Corliss steam engine, which ran the pump.

Lands acquired along the Davenport Branch for the sewage pumping plant, 1927. [Santa Cruz GIS]

A spur off the Coast Line Railroad to the pumpworks was a natural conclusion since the right-of-way passed directly beside the facility. The idea was first suggested in June 1908 and Southern Pacific quoted the city $891 to install a 580-foot-long spur. The primary purpose of this spur was to park oil cars that would provide fuel to the plant. Relocating the oil tankers to this spur would also allow the old oil tanker spur on Park Street, at the site of the former Santa Cruz Railroad depot, to be abandoned. In November, the price was accepted but the spur was not installed due to a dispute over payment between the city and railroad. Southern Pacific finally laid the spur in March 1909, but would not allow the city to use it until the city paid the amount that it owed for the installation. When this amount was paid is unknown.

Sanborn fire insurance map showing the pumping station and incinerator, 1917. [Library of Congress]

The next year, the city announced its intention to build a garbage incinerator beside the wastewater pumping station. The matter went to a long public debate with the plant only opening at the site in early 1915. The facility featured a 176-foot-high chimney and was oil powered, allowing it to use the adjacent oil cars on the spur track. Below the incinerator, the city’s dump quickly emerged, attracting rats, foul odors, and widespread complaints.

View across Neary Lagoon looking toward the Santa Cruz Union Depot, ca 1920. [UCSC Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

By the 1920s, the company that controlled the pumpworks had merged with other local power companies to become Coast Counties Gas & Electric. Under increasing pressure from the public due to water pollution in Neary Lagoon and Cowells Beach and vile smells emanating from the incinerator and wastewater, Coast Counties and the city began downsizing its operations along the Bay Street spur. The incinerator and dump were closed in early 1927 with a new city dump opening on the Scaroni Ranch four miles north of Santa Cruz. Meanwhile, Coast Counties shut down the old sewage plant and relocated it in 1928. Responsibility for the spur and oil tankers was taken over by Central Supply Company also in 1928. Over the next few years, the plant came to rely less on crude oil for fuel. At the same time, a new oil tanker spur had been installed in 1932 on the northern edge of the city limits at the end of Vernon Street. The city eventually negotiated the sale of the old incinerator property in June 1933 for $800 and, at the same time, asked Southern Pacific to remove the spur. 

The empty lot beside the railroad tracks where the California Street shelter once stood, 2022. [Google StreetView]

The Santa Cruz Wastewater Treatment Facility still occupies the southern end of the property. The former site of the incinerator is now the location of the Neary Lagoon Park tennis courts and playground. Between these and the lagoon is the former dump site, which is now reclaimed forest. The site of the California Street flag-stop still exists as the undeveloped section of land beside the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line at the corner of California Street and Bay Street.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9636N, 122.0357W

The railroad right-of-way across California and Bay Streets is included within Segment 7 of the Santa Cruz Coastal Rail Trail, which is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed in summer 2023. Once completed, pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to pass directly beside the site of the former flag-stop. Currently, the location is still a stop for Metro buses. Perhaps at some point in the future, when passenger rail service is restored, passengers may be able to entrain and detrain at the Bay Street/California Street stop once again.

Citations & Credits:

  • Koch, Margaret. Santa Cruz County: Parade of the Past. Santa Cruz, CA: Western Tanager Press, 1991.
  • Santa Cruz Evening News, various articles, 1908-1932.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, various articles, 1888-1933
  • Santa Cruz Surf, various articles, 1887-1888.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad, various records, 1905-1941.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Bridges: Woods Lagoon

The area known as Twin Lakes referred to a section of unincorporated Santa Cruz County land between Woods Lake and Schwan Lake, both actually lagoons formed at the outlets of Arana and Leona Creeks respectively. While Schwan Lagoon retains much of its wetland charms, Woods Lagoon endured a substantial transformation in the 1960s when it became host to the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. Yet long before this event occurred, the lagoon suffered its first major human terraforming effort, when the Chinese workers of the Santa Cruz Railroad installed a bridge across its midsection in 1875.

Southern Pacific #2764 running a Sun Tan Special across the Woods Lagoon bridge, July 28, 1940. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail – colorized using MyHeritage]

Woods Lagoon was named after John Woods and Mary Ann Silvey of Georgetown, Ohio. The Woods family moved to California during the Gold Rush but soon gave up and moved to Santa Cruz County. In 1849, John worked at the Bennett mill on Love Creek (today's Ben Lomond). Soon, though, he applied for recognition of a tract of land that he had acquired on the west bank of Arana Creek, which was registered to he and his wife on November 14, 1849.

Woods Lagoon, ca 1895. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using MyHeritage]

Over subsequent years, the lagoon became a popular picnic and swimming spot, and it also later became well known to duck hunters. When the Santa Cruz Railroad's surveyors arrived in 1874, the Woods sold them a right-of-way through their property. The completion of the railroad two years later led the Woods to sell substantial acres of their property to interested parties, though the family kept a large section for themselves until after John's death on October 11, 1887. One such party was Samuel Hall, who founded Lake Marina in 1880, in the process briefly renaming Woods Lagoon. His resort failed after only one season, though. Shortly before John Woods' passing, Foster N. Mott founded Camp Seabright in 1884 on a small twelve-acre tract beside the lagoon. As a result, Woods Lagoon was sometimes called Seabright Lake in promotional material.

Early Southern Pacific diamond stack locomotive hauling a strange mixed train over the Woods Lagoon bridge, ca 1888. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

Woods Lagoon proved to be a mostly insubstantial impediment to the railroad's Chinese construction crews. The western approach to the bridge required a shallow cut that John Woods and his son dug by themselves. Beyond that, the bridge crossed Woods Lagoon at the narrowest point. Although no photographs survive of the original narrow-gauge bridge, it is likely that the later standard-gauge bridge, enlarged by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1883, was in fact just an upgrade to the original structure. The photographs that survive show an austere open deck trestle viaduct with sixteen redwood piling piers, all standing almost perfectly upright, and wood abutments at either end. Some of the fill material pulled out of the shallow cuts on either approach to the bridge may have been dumped at the ends of the bridge to  reinforce the abutments.

Excursion train passing over the Woods Lagoon bridge, July 7, 1950. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail – colorized using MyHeritage]

This structure remained across the lagoon until Spring 1911, when it was replaced with a sturdier, more modern design. The new structure was composed of eighteen redwood piling piers, all tilted inward to provide additional support. These supported a redwood girder closed ballast deck with concrete abutments on either end. The abutments were likely installed to help reinforce the fills behind them. This also resulted in a slightly shorter span across the lagoon, with the bridge measuring around 282 feet. Most historical photographs of the lagoon date to this period.

Southern Pacific survey map showing a proposed pedestrian sidewalk on the north side of the Woods Lagoon bridge, 1946. [Vasona Branch]

After over fifty years of relative peace and quiet on Woods Lagoon, things changed rapidly. In 1964, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged out the section of Woods Lagoon between the lagoon mouth and the railroad bridge in order to create the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. Until this time, Santa Cruz did not have a proper harbor protected from the elements, and commercial use of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, built in 1914, had declined to almost nothing. With the new harbor, residents would be able to safely protect their yachts, sailboats, and motorboats from the elements. In the process of creating the harbor, East Cliff Drive was bisected. To correct for this, a new vehicular bridge was extended from the end of Murray Street, which had previously ended at Seabright Avenue, to Eaton Street.

Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor with the Glen E. Coolidge Memorial Bridge and railroad bridge at upper-center, 1973. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]

Plans to replace the railroad bridge began in July 1968. The trestle viaduct blocked access to Woods Lagoon beyond the railroad grade. Plans for a new bridge were finalized in December 1969 and work began the next year. To maintain continuous rail service, the railroad bridge was built between the viaduct and the Murray Street bridge. Rather than a trestle, which would not allow boats to pass under it, the new design called for a concrete girder closed ballast deck bridge suspended above the lagoon via six concrete piers and two concrete abutments. The bridge reached a height of 31.88 feet above the mean tide line. To achieve this extra height, the bridge had to begin further back along the railroad grade, extending the final length of the bridge to 425 feet. Once the new bridge was completed, the old viaduct was completely dismantled. The expansion of the upper harbor began in 1972 and was completed the following year, adding 560 more berths for boats.

The bridge over the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor, 2017. [Derek Whaley]

The 1971 railroad bridge remains in place today and is one of the more recent bridges along the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. However, due to the closure of parts of the line further to the east, the bridge is only currently used for maintenance-of-way vehicles.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Western abutment: 36.9681, -122.0036
Eastern abutment: 36.9681, -122.0022

The Woods Lagoon bridge is one of the easiest railroad bridges to view since it runs directly to the north of the Glen E. Coolidge Memorial (Murray Street) Bridge over the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. It can also be viewed from below by parking at the northern end of the Mariner Park Way parking lot off Atlantic Avenue and taking the road under the bridge alongside the harbor. Another road beneath the railroad bridge is accessible off Murray Street on the east side of the harbor. As with the entire Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, the railroad right-of-way is owned by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission and any walking along the tracks without permission is trespassing.

Citations & Credits:

  • Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary, second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Santa Cruz County GIS maps.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel. Various articles 1874–1973.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Railroads: Bridge Creek Railroads

From the earliest years of logging activity within the Aptos Forest, the narrow canyon of Bridge Creek has attracted the interest of lumber companies. Three companies built railroads along the feeder creek's banks and each railroad required creative engineering to overcome the obstacles of such a confined space. Today, remnants of all of these railroads can be found in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.

Carolyn Hansen and Christinia Johnston walking on the Big Tree Gulch railroad line near Hoffman's Camp, ca 1919. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

Bridge Creek Spur (1898)

When the Loma Prieta Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad was first constructed up Aptos Creek, the company and its associate, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, decided not to extend a track up Bridge Creek. The reason was rather straightforward: the west bank of the creek was owned by Timothy Hopkins, the east bank by the lumber company, and the headwaters by the F. A. Hihn Company. The complicated relationship between the three made any effort to extend a railroad through the narrow canyon something to postpone until all other timber tracts were spent. In the meantime, a long, switchbacking spur starting near Spring Creek meandered over the east bank of Bridge Creek so that logging crews could harvest the timber within the lumber company's land.

Location of the Bridge Creek Spur and Baird's skid road, 1898. Map by Ronald Powell.

In 1898, after the last timber was cut at the headwaters of Aptos Creek, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company finally decided it was time to harvest timber along Bridge Creek. The Hopkins property extended about 0.7 miles north of the Loma Prieta Branch just north of the village of Loma Prieta. The terrain through this section was fairly level, so the lumber company paid the railroad to extend a spur 1,700 feet along the west side of the creek to a point just north of the confluence of Bridge and Aptos Creeks. The route required at least four bridges, three small ones across seasonal streams and a more substantial bridge across Porter Gulch directly behind the Porter House.

William Baird built several long skid roads up China Ridge down to this new spur, the longest measuring around 3,000 feet. These met the spur at two points. The northernmost was in a roughly 500-foot-long cut, which allowed logging crews to roll logs directly onto waiting flatcars. The cut can still be seen today on the west bank of Bridge Creek. A little to the south, a loading ramp was built beside the track where logs brought down from Hinckley Ridge could be pulled onto waiting flatcars with assistance from a donkey engine that was installed across on the east side of the tracks. This loading ramp still existed until the storm of January 1982 washed all traces of it away. No known photographs of this short-lived spur survive.

At the end of the 1898 logging season, the lumber company decided to shift its focus further south to Love Gulch, so Southern Pacific tore up the tracks to repurpose them. Although most of Hopkins' land was logged out as a result of this harvesting effort, portions of the Loma Prieta Lumber Company's land on the east bank of the creek and all of the Hihn Company's land remained available for harvesting.

Splitstuff Area Railroad (1912–1918)

In coordination with the construction of the Molino Timber Company's railroad along China Ridge to Hinckley Gulch, the F. A Hihn Company decided in 1911 that it was time to harvest the timber in its property at the headwaters of Bridge Creek. The new railroad would be passing right above the property, so the opportunity was too good to let pass. The problem, however, was that the terrain was too steep from the top of the ridge to the shelf below, a distance of 350 feet, to actually connect the two areas. As a result, the Hihn Company built its own narrow-gauge railroad on the shelf and transferred pallets of splitstuff up to the other railroad via a cable hoist situated at Sand Point.

Approximate layout of the Splitstuff Area at the headwaters of Bridge Creek, ca 1915. Map by Ronald Powell.

The Molino railroad reached Sand Point around May 1912 and installed at least two short spurs to hold flatcars. From this point, the Hihn Company set to work laying the groundwork for its own railroad below. The so-called Splitstuff Area is actually two separate shelves that encompass about 100 acres. A 200-foot drop separates the upper from the lower shelf. The shelves are not level, but have a more even grade, which gave room for pieceworkers to cut splitstuff. Railroad tracks were only laid in the upper landing—the lower was accessed via a steep skid road that passed through a narrow cut.

The Loma Prieta Lumber Company's largest steam donkey operating on Bridge Creek, ca 1920. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

The upper landing grew into a maze of tracks, although it is likely that the tracks were moved once one section was cleared of usable timber. A long track ran from the bottom of Sand Point west before curving around the side of the hill toward today's West Ridge Trail Camp. Many spurs broke off of this main track, some curving in curious ways to follow the contours of the land and maintain a manageable grade. One spur even reached today's Hinckley Fire Road and followed it a short length before descending back down toward a feeder stream of Bridge Creek. The precise arrangement of the tracks and the order in which they were built remains a mystery since the Hihn Company did not document such details and no known photographs survive of the operations here.

A donkey engineer on his engine in a clearcut area of Bridge Creek, ca 1920. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

This isolated railroad relied upon the services of the company's Betsy Jane locomotive, which had been used at the Valencia Creek and Gold Gulch mills before disappearing from the records for a decade. The locomotive was disassembled, hauled to Bridge Creek in parts, and then reassembled on site.

Following Frederick Hihn's death in 1913, the F. A. Hihn Company was reincorporated as the Valencia–Hihn Company and continued operating as it had previously. However, low profits and tensions between Hihn family members finally led the company to sell its Bridge Creek holdings to the Loma Prieta Lumber Company in 1917. The lumber company immediately took over operations and expanded its vision for the area. The company would extend a railroad up Bridge Creek from the south and link into the railroad already at the headwaters. The issue of different gauges of track would be dealt with when the time came. In the meantime, Loma Prieta began sending large logs via highline from Hinckley Gulch to Bridge Creek. A new spur was extended across the Hinckley Fire Road specifically to collect these logs, which were directly loaded onto waiting flatcars. The cars took the logs to one of several small millponds, where they would await the extension of the Bridge Creek track to the Splitstuff Area.

Bridge Creek Railroad (1918)

By the spring of 1917, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company was already anticipating its coming acquisition of the Valencia–Hihn Company's Bridge Creek property. As such, it began grading a new railroad along the east bank of Bridge Creek from just behind the Porter House. While the ultimate plan was to connect this track with the Splitstuff Area, the interim plan was to extend the railroad to Maple Falls. To construct this line, Loma Prieta disassembled the Molino Timber Company's trackage beyond Sand Point and repurposed the tracks. Since that railroad was still operating in some capacity, Loma Prieta also bought a new narrow-gauge Shay locomotive that it could use along the new trackage.

Composite map showing the routes of the Molino Timber Company's railroad on China Ridge, the isolated Splitstuff Area railroad, the Bridge Creek railroad, and the Big Tree Gulch railroad, with modern trails noted, 1917-1921. Map by Ronald Powell.

Actual construction of the new line did not begin until after the 1917 logging season had ended. The route was about 1.85 miles long and crossed Bridge Creek twice. Indeed, at least fourteen bridges and half-bridges were needed to take the track this distance along an increasingly narrow gulch. Along a short section of track on the east bank, an intricate pile of redwood logs were stacked to allow the right-of-way to cross a deep depression. This feature still exists today along the Bridge Creek Trail as one of the only noticeable remnants of the former railroad grade. Near the end of the track, Camp 4 was established—retaining its numbering from the Molino Timber Company's camps—and several short spurs were built here for transloading stations.

Loma Prieta's Shay locomotive helping grade the Bridge Creek line, early 1918. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

The camp operated effectively through the 1918 season and plans were still in place to extend the line further north the next year, but fate stepped in. On the evening of September 11, an unusually violent storm struck the Aptos Forest with devastating effect. Both the Splitstuff Area and Camp 4 were devastated, with large sections of track destroyed or rendered unusable. The Betsy Jane, meanwhile, fell off its rails and into one of Bridge Creek's feeders, where it was soon buried under piles of mud and debris. Once all of the damage was inspected, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company decided to give up on the Splitstuff Area and abandon its Bridge Creek trackage in favor of a new line located further up the western ridge. The loss of so much track also led the company to abandon the Molino railroad along China Ridge so that it could reuse the tracks along the new railroad grade it intended to build to Big Tree Gulch on Bridge Creek.

Steam donkeys and a train operating on Bridge Creek, ca 1918. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

Big Tree Gulch Railroad (1919–1921)

Following the destruction of the Splitstuff Area and the lower railroad along Bridge Creek, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company decided to build a new track along the western wall of Bridge Creek gulch. The initial route was surveyed to be three miles to a section known as Big Tree Gulch due to an especially large tree that stood there. Like its predecessor, the company hoped to extend the line all the way to the Splitstuff Area so that it could recover its abandoned logs and harvest the remaining timber along the way.

Layout of Hoffman's Camp along the Big Tree Gulch railroad, 1920. Sketch by Ronald Powell.

To access the new railroad grade, a switchback was built behind and above the Porter House. The switchback had a 20˚ grade, which the company's two Shay locomotives could surmount, but only if they were hauling no more than four empty flatcars. Gravity and brakes were responsible for returning rolling stock to the bottom of the switchback. The main track only had a 3˚ grade but crossed over several gullies and sinks resulting in at least ten bridges and half-bridges, though none as substantial as those found on the lower track. Large portions of this right-of-way are now part of the Loma Prieta Grade Trail beyond the Porter House.

Hoffman's Camp viewed from a distance, ca 1920. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

Just within the boundary of the former Valencia–Hihn Company's land, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company built Camp 5, more commonly known as Hoffman's Camp. It featured one long spur, used mostly for maintenance, and a full camp for workers, including cabins, stables, a bunkhouse and cookhouse, and other amenities. The camp's superintendent was Louis Hoffman, and his wife served as the cook. The track extended 0.6 beyond the camp to Big Tree Gulch, where a final switchback brought the line to its terminus just beside the eponymous big tree. Frederick Hihn had left this and three other trees standing in the hope that they would be preserved as the last of the old-growth giants in the Aptos Forest. The lumber company only saw profit, though, and cut them down. A further extension of the line 1.5 miles to the north into the Splitstuff Area never happened, either due to lack of funds or insufficient timber to justify the expense.

Molino's shay hauling splitstuff shortly after it was moved to the Big Tree Gulch railroad, 1919. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

Logging crews worked along the Big Tree Gulch railroad for two and a half seasons before they were rather deceptively dismissed midway through the 1921 season. The truth is that the Bridge Creek operations did not result in a profit. The trees along the creek, especially in the Splitstuff Area, were poor quality, and there was also less timber available for harvesting than had been estimated. Costs had also gone up since the end of World War I. Thus, after the last of the Big Tree Gulch trees were harvested, the lumber company decided to wind up operations in the Aptos Forest. It shut down its mill on Aptos Creek and shipped its remaining uncut logs to the San Vicente Lumber Company's mill on Santa Cruz's West Side. The tracks and ties along Bridge Creek were pulled and sold for scrap, and the rolling stock was placed in storage to be sold. Over the years, the company sent crews to the Splitstuff Area at least two times to retrieve logs and pallets abandoned there in 1918, but these were hauled out by truck rather than train.

Large logs from Big Tree Gulch being hauled behind the Loma Prieta Lumber Company's mill on Aptos Creek, ca 1920. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using DeOldify]

Citations & Credits:

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Tunnels: Sand Cut

In the late spring of 1871, construction along the Southern Pacific Railroad's Watsonville Branch was progressing at a feverish pace between Gilroy and Watsonville. The grade was relatively flat and there were few technical obstacles. A brief debate over whether the railroad would continue along the north or south side of the Pajaro River ended when the citizens of Watsonville failed to fund a $50,000 "subsidy" for the railroad. As a result, the Big Four chose a southerly route, which crossed the river at the western end of Pajaro Gap and continued west until reaching the tiny hamlet of Pajaro in Monterey County. This petty jab at Santa Cruz County proved to be an expensive misstep for the railroad barons, however, since it meant that the right-of-way now had to pass through the northernmost leg of the Gabilan Range.

Survey photograph showing storm damage at Sand Cut between Aromas and Vega stations on the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division mainline, 1909. [Neil Vodden – colorized using MyHeritage]

The width of the hill was wider in 1871 than it is today. Over 150 years of farming in the adjacent fields have slowly eroded it away where it is now about 1,600 feet across in the area where the railroad passes. When grading crews first encountered the hill, it was probably over 4,000 feet across and presented an imposing roadblock to progress. Southern Pacific decided that the best course of action was to build a tunnel through the impediment. The Alta California reported that the “great tunnel…will, we believe, be when finished, the second largest in the State,” although it neglected to mention its actual anticipated length. Around 300 Chinese laborers were brought in to perform the task under the watchful eye of Superintendent Strowbridge. Construction began in September 1871. In the meantime, a bypass was built that likely followed the contour of the river further to the north until reconnecting with the mainline near San Juan Road west of the hill.

It seems that, while still under construction, the tunnel completely collapsed in mid-December. What was left was a deep, sandy sink that the San Francisco Examiner described as a sand cut. The name stuck, and from that point forward, regardless of the nature of the right-of-way between the former Mexican land grants of Rancho Las Aromitas y Agua Caliente and Rancho Vega del Río del Pájaro, the Coast Division mainline through the hill has been known as Sand Cut. Indeed, the name was so popular that the train station for the rural hamlet and workers’ village to the east of the tunnel became known officially as Sand Cut, a name that stuck until 1894 when it was renamed Aromas, after the rancho.

Map of Samuel Rea's subdivision of the Bardue Ranch, showing the Southern Pacific Railroad's right-of-way and the railroad west (geographic east) portal of the Sand Cut Tunnel, 1893. [Stanford University]

According to the records of J. W. Snyder, an early resident of Watsonville, it took two around two years for workers using pick, shovel, and dump cart, to clear the cut and reduce the grade sufficiently for a train to pass through it. Southern Pacific attempted to keep the cut open as a thoroughfare, but this proved a costly endeavor that set back the railroad many times what it would have saved had the track remained on the northern bank of the Pajaro River. Later accounts suggest that every vibration caused sand to fall back onto the railroad tracks, forcing crews to clear the right-of-way constantly. Within a few years, the railroad had enough and rebuilt the tunnel. Rather than bore a hole through the sand, though, the cut was cleaned and a shed was installed over the tracks. This was then backfilled with sand. This tunnel was open no later than December 1875.

For the years that it existed, the Sand Cut tunnel marked an important transition point on the Coast Division’s mainline. To the east of the tunnel was the curvy, narrow, and mountainous Pajaro Gap. To the west was the open plains of the Pajaro Valley blending seamlessly into the Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Yet the tunnel was always troubled by cave-ins and sandy tracks. For example, in November 1900, a dry summer and fall led to a catastrophic collapse of the Sand Cut tunnel when a heavy rain saturated the foothills. It took several days for the cave-in to be repaired and service through the tunnel to be restored.

Aromas Station with boxcars being loaded with apricot pits. The Sand Cut is visible in the distance behind the depot, 1920s. [Monterey County Libraries – colorized using MyHeritage]

The tunnel was not a complete financial drain, though. Sand from around the tunnel was essential in the expansion of the freight yard at Pajaro in 1901. As the Coast Division neared its long-awaited connection with Los Angeles, Southern Pacific expected a huge uptick in freight passing through the Pajaro Valley and heading south. As a result, it upgraded and realigned much of the trackage at Pajaro, and all of this required tons of ballast and fill. According to the Pajaronian, more than 300 carloads of sand were hauled from Sand Cut and taken to the yard to fill holes and provide a bed for the crossties.

United States Geological Survey map of Aromas, with the Sand Cut at left, 1914.

Tunnel or cut, Sand Cut was destined to be a problem. When the San Francisco Earthquake struck on April 18, 1906, the tunnel was a mostly unremarked casualty. A simple report in the Santa Cruz Surf stated that “the sand cut between Watsonville and Gilroy is said to have been filled in by the temblor.” Considering the tunnel suffered cave-ins from even moderate storms, an earthquake with its main fault less than a mile away would certainly make in impression. In June 1906, Southern Pacific announced that the tunnel would be daylighted. Section Foreman Donahue with two work trains, a steam shovel, and about twenty men tore down the structure and leveled the cut. Sixty flatcars of sand were hauled out daily during the operation, and the final cut was about 60 feet wide when it was completed around mid-August. Southern Pacific hoped that the wider cut would “prevent any possible chance of a slide damaging the track.” However, turning the Sand Cut Tunnel into just Sand Cut was easier said than done.

In early March 1907, reports reached the Evening Sentinel that “all of the workmen within a long distance of Pajaro have been rushed to the [Aromas sand cut]. It was stated Monday evening that the sand was sliding into the cut almost as fast as it was taken out.” The slide was a result of a recent rainstorm. In an attempt to remedy it, Southern Pacific installed a retaining wall along the north side of the track. The problem never stopped, though, and every storm caused more sand to fall into the cut. On New Years’ Day 1910, the cut washed out again prompting “a big force of men” to drop what they were doing to help reopen the line. A second storm later in the month repeated the problem. The Evening News noted that “the sand is washing onto the tracks during rains, requiring constant work to keep it clear.” This is still the case even today.

View of the Sand Cut from the curve on Aromas Road, 2011. [Google Street View]

Over the past century, the gradient through the Sand Cut has been gradually lowered and the width of the cut increased until today it supports two parallel tracks. But sand remains a constant problem. The high, steep walls at the center of the cut are now supported by trees and anchor plants, yet sand still seeps through the roots, especially during winter storms. While no remnant of the old tunnel survives at Sand Cut, passage through the cut is still a claustrophobic journey along an otherwise pleasant stretch of railroad.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:

East (Railroad West) portal: Approx. 36.8911N, 121.6512W
West (Railroad East) portal: Approx. 36.8928N, 121.6646W

The Sand Cut is located to the west of Aromas Community Park along the trackage of the Union Pacific Railroad. This stretch of right-of-way remains in daily use. No trespassing is allowed and doing so can be highly dangerous.

Citations & Credits:

  • Alta California
  • Evening News
  • Evening Pajaronian
  • Evening Sentinel
  • Salinas Morning Post
  • San Francisco Examiner
  • San Jose Herald
  • San Jose Weekly Mercury
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel
  • Santa Cruz Surf
  • Southern Pacific Railroad, various timetables.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Curiosities: Travel Times and Speeds

Railroads do not operate in a vacuum—they run according to schedules. For large-scale railroad companies such as Southern Pacific, these are extraordinarily complex schedules that must take into account hundreds of its own trains as well as the schedules of other railroad companies and various bus systems. Thus, it should be unsurprising that railroad timetables, both public and internal-use, are invaluable sources of information to railroad historians. Yet, in the end, the primary purpose of any timetable is to keep a schedule. In fact, the entire standarization of time itself into zones was done for this precise purpose: to make it possible for railroads to run on time. And like all railroads, those that operated in and around the Santa Cruz Mountains ran according to these published schedules.

Men at the ticket window of the Santa Cruz Union Depot, 1911. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

Travel times for regularly-scheduled trains can vary greatly depending on the length of the route, the terrain, the gauge of rail, and the type of train. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the terrain was a major factor, with many sharp curves and steep grades. Travel speeds through the forest were also often quite slow due to the risk of debris falling on the track that could potentially derail the train. As a result, Southern Pacific passenger train speeds were limited by 1940 to:

• 30 miles per hour between Vasona Junction and Los Gatos
• 20 mph between Los Gatos and Eva
• 25 mph between Eva and Santa Cruz, with a brief 15 mph section between Wright and Glenwood
• 20 mph between Santa Cruz and Davenport
• 30 mph between Santa Cruz and Watsonville Junction (Pajaro)
• 20 mph between Felton and Boulder Creek
• Between 40 and 75 mph (depending on locomotive type) between Gilroy and Watsonville Junction

In the earliest days of travel in Santa Cruz County, most trains ran as mixed, which means they carried both passenger and freight cars. On the other hand, the South Pacific Coast Railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad both ran dedicated, regularly-scheduled passenger trains from the early 1880s. They did continue to operate mixed trains, but many of their trains were either regular or express passenger trains. Regular trains could stop at any registered station or flag-stop, as well as various recognized but unrecorded stops. These are, therefore, the slowest trains. Express trains, in contrast, usually only stop at a few locations along a line in order to achieve a faster travel time. Some express trains, such as the Del Monte Limited, Santa Cruz Limited, San Francisco Limited, and the seasonal Sun Tan Special were given names due to their popularity.

Early Santa Cruz County railroads, namely the Santa Cruz Railroad and the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad, were narrow-gauge and rather crudely-built. This meant that they had slow travel times and often experienced delays or outright cancellations of service due to problems with the line or mechanical failures. When the railroads were operating normally, though, they were much better means of conveyance than the alternative of wagons or walking between destinations.

Santa Cruz Railroad's Santa Cruz depot on Park Street (now Chestnut Street), ca 1880. [Harold van Gorder Collection, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History – colorized using DeOldify]

Santa Cruz Railroad and Branch

The earliest schedule that exists for a county railroad is that of the Santa Cruz Railroad, published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on May 15, 1875. At this time, the line was only completed between Santa Cruz (Park Street Station) and Aptos on a journey that took about 50 minutes to cover 8.7 miles of track resulting in a train running at about 10.4 miles per hour. The first full timetable for the 21.5-mile-long Santa Cruz Railroad from Santa Cruz to Pajaro was released on June 10, 1876. At the time, an express train from Santa Cruz to Pajaro took 1 hour, 50 minutes, which translates to an average speed of 11.7 mph. The regular mixed train, in contrast, took 1 hour, 55 minutes, resulting in an average speed of 11.2 mph. Both of these trains were scheduled to meet with Southern Pacific passenger trains travelling along the Coast Division line between San José and Salinas. By 1879, the schedules had become drastically reduced, with the regular having a 1 hour, 45-minutes run and the express 1 hour, 25 minutes, resulting in speeds of 12.3 mph and 15.2 mph respectively.

When Southern Pacific took over in 1881, it immediately set about streamlining the system. The regular passenger train's time was reduced to 1 hour, 40 minutes run, while the express train was reduced to 1 hour, 3 minutes. On the final timetable before the line was standard-gauged in 1883, the time of the regular train was reduced further to 1 hour, 30 minutes, while that of the express increased slightly to 1 hour, 10 minutes. These meant that regular trains were running at 14.3 mph and express at 20.5 mph at the end of the narrow gauge era.

The upgrade to standard gauge tracks made trains larger but slightly safer to operate. Over time, this led to a gradual reduction in travel times across the Santa Cruz Branch. In 1890, regular trains took 1 hour, 25 minutes to travel from Pajaro to Santa Cruz, but express trains could make the distance in only 53 minutes. That resulted in speeds of between 15.2 and 24.3 mph. These were reduced further to 1 hour, 10 minutes for regular trains and 50 minutes for express trains by 1909. The speeds by this time, therefore, reached an average of 18.4 mph and 25.8 mph. These times remained the standard for the next 29 years, until regular passenger service ended along the Santa Cruz Branch.

Southern Pacific Railroad schedule published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, February 10, 1883.

San Francisco to Santa Cruz via Pajaro

The Santa Cruz Railroad was the first system in the county with the ability to connect to the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division mainline at Pajaro, later Watsonville Junction. Once Southern Pacific took over and upgraded the line, a fluid exchange could happen linking Santa Cruz directly to San Francisco, although in reality there was rarely a through line between the points. Most of the time, passengers had to detrain at Pajaro and board a local train.

Passenger travel between Santa Cruz and San Francisco via the Coast Division mainline was never fast. In 1882, travel between the points—a distance of 121 miles—took around 5 hours, 10 minutes. This meant that the average speed of a journey to san Francisco was 23.4 mph. Around 1890, an express option was added that took just over 4 hours, which averaged 30.1 mph.  Over the next twenty years, the time was cut down further, eventually reaching 3 hours, 35 minutes in 1913. That brought the average speed up to 33.8 mph. From there, though, times increased again since all through traffic to San Francisco was directed north along the former South Pacific Coast route and then via the Los Altos Branch, popularly called the Mayfield Cutoff. By the end of passenger service along the Santa Cruz Branch in 1938, travel time from Santa Cruz to San Francisco via Watsonville Junction was 4 hours, 11 minutes, averaging a speed of 28.9 mph. Sun Tan Specials running from 1940 used this line to bring people to the Santa Cruz Beach and its travel time was 3 hours, 30 minutes, essentially the same as the regular passenger trains of the early 1910s.

Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad Time Table No. 2, from the Sentinel, February 10, 1877.

Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad

In some ways, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad was the shortest-lived of all the railroads in the county since it was wholly absorbed into the South Pacific Coast Railroad's mainline system in May 1880. It also did not formally engage in passenger service until several months after it began freight service in late 1875. But during the four years that it operated as a passenger railroad, it had a set scheduled that appeared in the local newspapers. Its No. 2 timetable, published in February 1877, gave travel time between Santa Cruz—then located at the Railroad Wharf—and Felton—near the Mountain Community Resources—as 1 hour exactly. This means that the 7-mile-long route transported passengers at a speed of...7 miles per hour. The Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad offered three runs in each direction. Later in the year, this was reduced to two runs, and in mid-1878 only one run each direction. This remained the status until the South Pacific Coast took over.

Cover of South Pacific Coast Railroad time table no. 3, March 28, 1886.

South Pacific Coast Railroad and Railway

The opening of the South Pacific Coast Railroad to Santa Cruz in 1880 heralded the first (nearly) seamless direct service between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Nearly because a ferry was still required to transfer passengers from San Francisco to the Alameda Mole near Oakland. The South Pacific Coast was a narrow-gauge railroad that ran directly through the Santa Cruz Mountains, passing through Fremont, San José, Los Gatos, and eight tunnels before reaching the seaside town. Little changed along the line even after Southern Pacific acquired it in 1887, by which point it had reincorporated as the South Pacific Coast Railway. The entire line was not standard-gauged until spring 1909, after which most Santa Cruz–San Francisco traffic went via the Mayfield Cutoff rather than by the original Alameda route.

In the nearly thirty years from 1880, travel times between Alameda Junction and Santa Cruz remained remarkably stable. The speed of the train was always fastest between Alameda and Los Gatos, after which trains encountered a meandering track of steeper grades and sharper curves. Nonetheless, the route as a whole made good time. The April 4, 1881 timetable gave the travel time as 3 hours, 37 minutes, which resulted in an average speed of 20.8 miles per hour across 75.3 miles of trackage. Two years later, the time was reduced to 3 hours, 19 minutes leading to an uptick in the average speed to 23 mph. The timetables soon stabilized for the next decade at the slightly faster time 3 hours, 22 minutes, with trains travelling at an average speed of 22.4 mph. Perhaps due to safety concerns or constant repairs along the line, Southern Pacific eventually moved the time up around 1894 to 3 hours, 30 minutes, averaging 21.5 mph, which it retained until the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake shut down the line and it was standard-gauged.

Passengers boarding a South Pacific Coast Railway train at Ben Lomond, ca 1907. [UCSC Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Felton & Pescadero Railroad and Boulder Creek Branch

Travel time on the 7.30-mile-long Felton & Pescadero Railroad, a subsidiary of the South Pacific Coast Railroad, varied depending on which direction the train was travelling between Felton and Boulder Creek. If the train was heading north, it took 45 minutes to reach Boulder Creek. If it was heading south, possibly because trains needed to use their brakes more, it took 50 minutes to reach Felton. This meant that trains were travelling 9.7 and 8.8 miles per hour respectively. When Southern Pacific took over the line in 1887, it managed to cut the average travel time down to 33 minutes, which more or less remained standard for the next twenty years. Trains, therefore, could transport passengers between the two termini at a speed of 13.3 mph.

In 1908, when the line shifted to standard gauge, trains were finally able to run at a faster clip. For the first year, trains transported passengers between Felton and Boulder Creek in only 22 minutes! This meant the trains were running at an average speed of 19.9 mph. Clearly this was deemed unsafe, or perhaps the company changed to less efficient locomotives, since in 1909 the time was moved back to 30 minutes. Over two decades, the speed bounced between 25 and 30 minutes for the remainder of its time as a passenger line, which ceased around May 1931. Taking an average travel time of 27.5 minutes, the trains during the final years of the Boulder Creek Branch ran at a speed of 15.9 mph.

Ocean Shore Railway timetable no. 19, July 16, 1911.

Davenport-bound Railroads

Two railroads traversed the northern marine terraces of Santa Cruz County: the Ocean Shore Railway, later Railroad, and the Coast Line Railroad, a subsidiary of Southern Pacific. Both standard-gauge railroads were built at about the same time—between 1905 and 1907—and both had the stated, though unrealized, goal of linking Santa Cruz to San Francisco via a coastal route. The Ocean Shore did make it as far north as Swanton, 15.5 miles from Santa Cruz, but the most important destination along the line was Davenport, at least in the earlier years. This location was 10.8 miles from Santa Cruz on the Ocean Shore Railway, and 11.4 miles on the Coast Line Railroad.

The Ocean Shore's short, fourteen-year existence running passengers along the coast was a relatively consistent affair. All of the company's regular trains were mixed and trains took 28 minutes to run between Santa Cruz and Davenport. This resulted in an average speed of 23.1 miles per hour. The Coast Line, in contrast, began running incredibly slow trains. Initially, mixed trains took up to 1 hour, 15 minutes to transport passengers from Santa Cruz to Davenport, probably due to the number of freight stops trains along the way. So much time resulted in a dismal 9.1 mph speed. This soon picked up, though, and Southern Pacific managed to cut the time to 1 hour in late 1909, allowing trains to run at 11.4 miles per hour. By 1913, enough passenger traffic had picked up that dedicated passenger trains could operate, and these only took 30 minutes, matching the Ocean Shore's travel time and running at a far more comfortable speed of 22.8 mph. Both railroads retained this time for passenger trains until each ceased regular passenger service, in 1920 for the Ocean Shore, and in 1932 for Southern Pacific.

Southern Pacific's morning Santa Cruz express train arriving at San Francisco, August 19, 1937. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker [Jim Vail – colorized using DeOldify]

The Mayfield Route

The most efficient service that ever ran between Santa Cruz and San Francisco was the direct trains that Southern Pacific ran along the Los Altos Branch, commonly called the Mayfield Cutoff. What it "cut off" was San José, saving trains a major bottleneck of a station and saving several miles of track miles travelled. The Los Altos Branch, between Vasona Junction and Mayfield near Palo Alto, opened in 1908 and allowed through service from Santa Cruz beginning in mid-1909. The route proved so efficient that the mile markers along the Santa Cruz Branch were actually reversed so that they oriented north through the mountains rather than south toward Pajaro. By 1909, the latter route had been reduced to 120.5 miles between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, while the new Mayfield route was a trifling 79.2 miles.

In the early years of the Mayfield route, trains running between the two termini took 3 hours, 20 minutes to reach their destination. That meant they ran at an impressive average speed of 23.8 miles per hour. As with the South Pacific Coast Railway before it, the speed would have been considerably faster north of Los Gatos and slower through the mountains. In the early 1920s, Southern Pacific managed to shave off nearly half an hour from travel, reducing the time to 2 hours, 52 minutes, resulting in trains running at 27.6 mph. Over the subsequent twenty years, this time only got faster. By February 1940, just prior to the sudden shutdown of the route, regular trains travelling on the Mayfield route could reach San Francisco from Santa Cruz in only 3 hours, 9 minutes at a speed of 26.0 mph. But more incredible was the travel time of express trains, which could make the morning commute in 2 hours, 38 minutes at the then-incredible speed of 30.1 mph.

This was the end of regular or express commuter service in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Except for the occasional excursion train and the seasonal Sun Tan Specials, locals who wished to travel anywhere by train first had to drive or take a bus to Watsonville Junction, Los Gatos, or San José. An era of efficient, comparatively rapid transport had ended.

Citations & Credits:

  • Nanney, Duncan. Personal correspondence.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel. Various articles, 1875-1940.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad Company, various records. California State Railroad Museum.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Stations: Eva

One of the primary appeals of a railroad through the Santa Cruz Mountains was its picturesque nature. However, much of the route through which the South Pacific Coast Railroad passed in 1880 was less verdant than it is today. Logging along Los Gatos, Bean, and Zayante Creeks had largely deforested the areas. Nowhere was untouched and only the Welch’s Big Trees Grove near Felton and parts of San Lorenzo Gorge to the south retained a semblance of wilderness. Because of this and because the South Pacific Coast Railroad was focused primarily on expanding its lines, the company never established its own picnic stop in the mountains. But when the Southern Pacific Railroad took over in 1887, it found a ready picnic ground on the east bank of Los Gatos Creek at a place it christened Forest Grove.

Members of the Toro Club gathering at Forest Grove, November 4, 1894. [Colorized using MyHeritage]

What would become Forest Grove had probably existed as an informal stop since the arrival of the South Pacific Coast Railroad to the area in 1879. In the first Officers, Stations & Agencies book published by Southern Pacific following the acquisition of the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1887, the location was named Casey’s. This likely derived from the South Pacific Coast Railroad’s former roadmaster and superintendent of bridges, Thomas Casey, who was responsible for maintaining the right-of-way between San José and Santa Cruz between December 1880 and June 1884. He had previously worked in the same role for the Central Pacific Railroad during the construction of the first transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s. In summer 1884, he was given the task of laying the track for the Felton & Pescadero Railroad to Boulder Creek. Casey was well-respected by his peers and known in settlements across the South Pacific Coast Railroad’s network. He fell ill in January 1886 and died November 4, 1888 in San Francisco.

San Francisco Examiner advertisement for Forest Grove, printed June 2, 1899.

The seventeen-acre rectangular property was mostly on the east bank of Los Gatos Creek just south of Hooker Creek and 5.8 miles south of Los Gatos. The railroad purchased the land from John Young McMillan and Dr. William S. McMurtry of the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company on June 15, 1878 under the condition that the right-of-way remains in continuous use and maintenance. Considering the location—1.6 miles north of Wrights and the Summit Tunnel—it seems likely that the station began life as a staging ground for construction and maintenance crews. After the line was completed in May 1880, Casey’s probably became a maintenance yard, which would explain why the property was so large and why it was named after the roadmaster, who would have operated out of the station to perform many of his duties in the mountains.

Woman on the Hooker Creek bridge north of Eva, 1912. [Ginger Constantine Navarrete – colorized using DeOldify]

Southern Pacific clearly had less interest in maintaining a remote maintenance yard, but it was looking for potential picnic stops in the mountains. Although the area around Hooker Creek had been logged over in the 1860s and early 1870s, second growth redwood trees were already appearing and the large meadow where the maintenance equipment had likely sat was ideal for a picnic ground. The railroad sent out W. T. Fitzgerald, general passenger and freight agent for the narrow-gauge division, to inspect the property and make sketches of it that could be used in marketing.

Members of the local Elks Lodge vacationing at Eva Vista, ca 1910. Printed in the Los Gatos Times–Saratoga Observer, July 23, 1974.

The picturesque station opened under the name Forest Grove on April 20, 1888, with a group of Presbyterians traveling from Brooklyn, New York, as its first visitors. The railroad provided picnic tables and accessories, and the people were responsible for bringing food. Though few amenities were provided to the revelers, they loved the place, noting that the “mountains covered with redwood forests, valleys and ravines in which marvelous ferns grow and wild flowers abound, and through which gurgling brooks flow in crystal streams, give abundant scope for romping and climbing by young America.” Over subsequent years, many different groups held annual picnics at Forest Grove, including the Knights of Pythias, the Native Sons of the Golden West, and Southern Pacific itself. The popularity of the picnic stop was such that in 1889, the Oakland Tribune declared it superior to Big Trees.

View of the resort looking south, with the Southern Pacific tracks to the left of the photographer and Los Gatos Creek to the right, ca 1909. Printed in the Los Gatos Times–Saratoga Observer, July 23, 1974.

Forest Grove continued to serve Southern Pacific as its chief picnic resort in the Santa Cruz Mountains until the end of the 1895 summer season. The next spring, the company opened Sunset Park south of Wrights and all picnic traffic was redirected there. For two years, Forest Grove seems to have languished, but in 1899 it was leased to Thomas M. Silvey of Wrights, who promoted fishing, hunting, and bathing in the San Francisco Examiner. In late 1889, W. R. Sterne of Los Angeles took over the lease and purchased the adjacent estate of the late Frederick A. Marriott, editor of the San Francisco News Letter tabloid.

Eva Vista Hotel beside the artificial lake and outbuildings, ca 1910. Printed in the Los Gatos Times–Saratoga Observer, July 23, 1974.

Sterne dammed Los Gatos Creek in order to create a small lake in which people could swim. He also began improving his newly-acquired property, erecting the Eva Vista Hotel up on the hill overlooking the lake and railroad tracks. The station, meanwhile, was renamed Eva to better promote the resort. Sterne never enjoyed the property, though. In May 1903, he sold the estate and the lease to H. R. Judah, assistant general passenger agent for the Southern Pacific. Judah soon erected a tent city and club house on the picnic grounds and expanded the hotel’s restaurant to support a larger crowd.

Postcard of Lake Evavista with an inset image of the cookhouse, 1910. [WorthPoint – colorized using DeOldify]

Unfortunately for Judah, his resort was not to last. When the San Francisco earthquake struck before the start of the 1906 season, it caused a landslide that blocked Los Gatos Creek causing it to overflow and flood the railroad tracks and much of the resort grounds at Eva Vista. Railroad traffic was canceled beyond Alba until August 1907, with only repair trains passing through to fix the right-of-way and widen the Summit Tunnel at Wrights. However, the flooded resort was only cleared in December, long after the picnic season had ended. The Panic of 1907 and the widening of the tunnel between Laurel and Glenwood in 1908 made the prospect of reopening Eva Vista infeasible.

San Francisco Chronicle advertisement for Evavista Resort, printed June 2, 1909.

When it finally welcomed visitors again in 1909, the resort was under the management of Peter Charles Trobock and his brother, Barton N. Trobock, who rebranded it Evavista. The resort’s ultimate fate three years later was outside anyone’s control. On August 27, 1912, mice nibbling on matches in the hotel started a fire. The structure burned to the ground, taking several nearby buildings with it. The last recorded picnic excursion to Evavista was on October 16, 1915 by juniors and seniors from Los Gatos High School.

Storm damage to the Southern Pacific right-of-way near Eva, 1909. [Neil Vodden – colorized using DeOldify]

The resort site quickly fell into disrepair but the railroad station remained on timetables for 25 more years. When the line was standard-gauged in 1905, a long siding measuring 2,340 feet—capable of holding 28 cars—was installed along the east side of the right-of-way. It broke off from the mainline just south of the Hooker Creek bridge and paralleled the main track for most of its length, reconnecting with the mainline just beyond the border of the rectangular parcel. A short spur continued from the end of the siding to allow up to three cars to park at the station without blocking the siding. The siding was cut back in late 1909 to 1,821 feet, enough space for about 22 cars.

Flatcars parked on the siding at Eva, 1909. [Neil Vodden – colorized using DeOldify]

The long siding may not have been intended just for passenger trains. During standard-gauging, Eva was likely used as a staging ground in the off-season for work crews. This was even more likely in the three years after the earthquake, where Eva probably served as a storage site for repair equipment and building supplies, considering the land to the east of the tracks remained Southern Pacific property. Meanwhile, in 1900, a vein of copper was discovered on the eastern hillside a mile south of Eva near the railroad right-of-way.

Southern Pacific locomotive and caboose parked on the siding at Eva, 1914. [Ginger Constantine Navarrete – colorized using DeOldify]

Perhaps because of the resort, no mining was performed until 1917, when an experimental adit was dug by H. E. Casey, J. E. Casey, and G. W. Stollery of San Mateo. The partners employed fifteen men for several months, who dug two tunnels, one 300 feet long and the other 185 feet. They found high concentrations of copper, and smaller veins of chalcopyrite, azurite, malachite, gold, and silver. However, due to poor market conditions and a lack of interest by potential buyers, they decided not to pursue further mining. The mines were sold to Dr. H. C. Adair in 1929, who promptly resumed prospecting. Four adits were dug into the hillside, with the largest supported by a timber frame. Large quantities of pyrite and other sulfides were discovered. A second attempt by Adair in 1936 found a quantity of gold and silver, resulting in the only profit gained from mining operations near Eva. The two longest tunnels, 235 and 500 feet in length, were abandoned in 1938. It is unclear if these operations used Eva station, but they are likely the reason why the railroad retained the station for so many years after the closure of the resort.

A Southern Pacific commuter train stopped at Eva, July 9, 1939. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail]

Eva Station was approved for abandonment on August 9, 1937 due to disuse, with Southern Pacific records showing it closed on October 15 of that year. It was removed from employee timetables in May 1939. The closure of the mountain route the following February put an end to any hope of rejuvenating the area around Eva. Following the legal abandonment of the line on March 25, 1941, the property reverted to its original owners, who had several years earlier sold the property to the San Jose Water Company. At the time, nobody lived in the vicinity of Eva to contest abandonment.

Southern Pacific survey photo of the Hooker Creek bridge just to the north of Eva, March 1940. [Bruce MacGregor]

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:

37.153˚N, 121.960˚W

The San Jose Water Company continues to own the land, though the right-of-way through the former site of Eva is so overgrown with poison oak and Scotch broom that it is virtually impassable. As a result, the company has not blocked access to this section of the grade, though trespassing is not advised for health and safety reasons.

Citations & Credits:

  • Bender, Henry, "SP22."
  • California Division of Mines, California Journal of Mines and Geology, 50 (January 1954).
  • California Journal of Mines and Geology 50 (January 1954).
  • California Public Utilities Commission, Decision No. 30018.
  • Hamilton, Fletcher. Report XVII of the State Mineralogist (San Francisco, CA: California State Mining Bureau, 1921).
  • Interstate Commerce Commission, Vol. 242.
  • Los Gatos Mail, 1915.
  • Oakland Tribune and Evening Tribune, 1884–1890.
  • Record-Union, 1888.
  • Sacramento Bee, 1882.
  • San Francisco Call, 1905.
  • San Francisco Examiner, 1899.
  • San Jose Daily Mercury, 1903.
  • San Jose Evening News, 1912.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1885–1903.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad Company, various records.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains (Santa Cruz, CA: 2015).
  • Wiley, Marlene. “Riding the Picnic Trains,” Mountain Network News (date unknown).
  • Young, John V. Ghost Towns of the Santa Cruz Mountains, expanded edition (Santa Cruz, CA: Western Tanager Press, 1984).