Friday, June 5, 2020

People: Chinese Railroad Crews

Most railroad companies have their secrets and those that operated in Santa Cruz County were no different. When railroad fever hit California shortly after the Civil War, it coincided with a lack of viable and affordable workers to build the many dozens of planned routes throughout the state. Famously, the Central Pacific Railroad arranged the importation of thousands of Chinese workers to construct its route through the Sierra Nevada and across the Great Basin to Promontory Summit, Utah where it connected with the Union Pacific Railroad, thereby creating the first transcontinental railroad. They were not the first Chinese in the state—several thousand had moved to San Francisco and the Gold Country in the late 1840s and throughout the 1850s—but they were the largest influx in the region's history. As soon as the railroad project was done in 1869, Chinatowns and Chinese villages popped up in every moderate-sized settlement in Central California and cheap manual labor flooded the market.

Chinese workers making a cut along the Monterey Extension Railroad near Pacific Grove, 1889.
[California State Library – Colorized using DeOldify]
Central Pacific quickly realized that their dream of connecting the continent was only the first step in a grand plan to dominate the Western United States, including Santa Cruz County. Acting quickly, Central Pacific bought the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1868 and immediately relocated some of its Chinese workers to San José, where they were employed in building the Santa Clara & Pajaro Valley Railroad to Gilroy between 1868 and 1870. Following that project, they continued on by grading the California Southern Railroad, which became Southern Pacific in October 1870. It was this route that first brought the railroad within range of Santa Cruz County and allowed for the plausible construction of a railroad line along the county's coast to the town of Pajaro.

The Chinese fishing village at China Beach (New Brighton State Beach), 1880s.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries – Colorized using DeOldify]
Like most California coastal towns, Santa Cruz had Chinese fishermen from early on, and they had a small settlement within modern-day New Brighton State Beach. Chinese laundries popped up in Santa Cruz and Watsonville as well, and at least one Chinese fruit dryer was active in the 1870s in Watsonville. These businesses formed the nascent cores of Chinatowns that arose in Santa Cruz and Watsonville in the 1860s, places where the local Chinese community congregated, traded goods, and often lived. Initially, they were almost entirely composed of working men and prostitutes, but over time families transformed these crude neighborhoods into insular villages within predominantly white towns.

The Front Street Chinatown beside the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz, late 1880s. [Colorized using DeOldify]
Racism forced these communities to be transient at times, with them often relocating as necessary to protect their residents. The first community in Santa Cruz was located on Pacific Avenue (Willow Street) between Lincoln and Walnut Streets. When the street was renamed around 1872 and the business district moved down from the Upper Plaza, Chinatown moved to Front Street, where it remained throughout the 1870s and 1880s. Following the relocation of the Santa Cruz railroad depots to the freight yard in 1893, Chinatown relocated beside it, between Chestnut Street and Neary Lagoon. The Watsonville Chinatown was initially located at the corner of Maple and Union, but it was forced to move across the Pajaro River to along Brooklyn Street in 1888.

Chinese workers working along the Monterey Extension Railroad near Pacific Grove, 1889. [California State Library]
California was geographically the nearest state to China and, as such, received the vast majority of Chinese immigrants into the United States. As the numbers of Chinese grew, so too did anti-Chinese sentiment, especially in the Bay Area where the population was the highest. As early as 1850, the Chinese were driven out of the gold industry and in 1858, a law was passed barring the entry of any Asian person into California, but this was overturned by the state Supreme Court in 1862. The depression of the 1870s led to further anger at the Chinese, whom many saw as stealing white people's jobs despite no evidence that this was actually the case. Indeed, the only reason the state government continued to allow Chinese to settle in California was because of their taxable income. By the late 1870s, Asians made up a quarter of California's wage-earning population but used almost no state resources since most were relatively young, healthy men without families. The final straw came in 1879, when California included the exclusion of Chinese in its new constitution, a decision that was expanded by the federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. But this did not stop opportunists like the railroads from employing Chinese workers in their construction efforts. With so many veteran workers of the transcontinental railroad stranded in California, it was worth the risk of fines and public censure for companies to hire cheap Chinese labor to affordably build their railroads.

In 1870, the population of Santa Cruz County was mostly poor and agrarian and had no time or money to build railroads, despite the need. The wealthy were more optimistic, but lacked the clout and money to hire locals to build their dream railroads. Thus, Chinese workers were brought into the county to do the work. It is unknown whether the grading for the San Lorenzo Rail Road, begun in 1868 but halted shortly afterwards due to property disputes, used Chinese laborers, but it seems likely considering the fact that all other railroads built in the county until the end of the century used them. The first railroad to be successfully built in the county, the Santa Cruz Railroad between Santa Cruz and Watsonville, certainly employed Chinese to do the grading and track-laying. A tent city was built beside the right-of-way in the vicinity of Live Oak where crews slept and enjoyed evenings before working long days at the end of track as it slowly progressed southeast toward the Southern Pacific tracks at Pajaro. These workers did not come from the established local Chinatowns and did not live in them, although they would visit them on their days off to buy food and enjoy the pleasures that such a community provided. Lotteries held in the Chinatowns advertised to the workers and runners collected bets in the morning and returned the next day with any prize money, undoubtedly taking a sizeable percentage for the trouble.

The Chinese worker village either along the Loma Prieta line or the Valencia Creek line, 1880s.
[Pajaro Valley Historical Association – Colorized using DeOldify]
Sandy Lydon in his book Chinese Gold outlines the forms of compensation that workers of the Santa Cruz Railroad received. These figures and benefits, with minor variances, can be assumed for all of the local railroads regardless of the company. On average, crews worked ten-hour days, six days a week at a rate of one dollar per day. Two dollars were deducted per week for food and another dollar was usually lost to pay for clothing, recreation, and upkeep, leaving workers with around three dollars per week in income. The railroad companies did provide tents and spaces to pitch them, but offered few other amenities. One benefit—or so it seemed at the time—was that any medical expenses for injuries sustained while on the job were covered by the railroad company and living expenses would also be paid for men unable to return to work. Since workers rarely had families with them at this time, no provisions were given for the care of wives and children.

The second railroad project in the county and the first to be completed was the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad between Santa Cruz and Felton high along the west bank of the San Lorenzo River. For eight intense months from late 1874 to mid-1875, Chinese workers scaled the sides of San Lorenzo Gorge cutting an at-times tenuous path along the hillside. It was these workers that built the first railroad tunnel in the Santa Cruz Mountains through the Hogsback of Rancho Rincon near today's Paradise Park. No worker died in these endeavors, although minor injuries were common. Since the city of Santa Cruz was staunchly anti-Chinese by this time, it did not allow construction crews to operate within the city limits, so construction of the Mission Hill Tunnel was done by Cornish miners while the Railroad Wharf and other bridges along the line were built by the all-white Pacific Bridge Company. Non-Chinese workers proved costly and a good portion of the overall cost of construction was to pay the wages of these workers.

Even before the Santa Cruz Railroad was completed, construction had begun on the South Pacific Coast Railroad along the East Bay. Like all the other railroads in the state, the company used Chinese workers extensively in the construction of its line from Alameda Point to Santa Cruz. The reason for this was sheer practicality, proven by the recent cost overruns of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad: Chinese workers could be employed cheaply and were, in the eyes of their employers, entirely expendable and replaceable. Through political bargaining and Comstock Lode money, the South Pacific Coast was able to safely ignore prohibitions on employing Chinese workers in the railroad industry and push to build its route through the Santa Cruz Mountains.

By 1878, 600 of the South Pacific Coast Railroad's 700 construction workers were Chinese. Crews working for the company were mostly from the Ning Yeung Company of San Francisco, which specialized in finding jobs for out-of-work Chinese manual laborers. Most work crews were composed of twenty to thirty men under a Chinese contractor, with a white site supervisor in charge of relaying tasks from the general manager. Rather than paying workers directly, the South Pacific Coast paid the Ning Yeung Company, which then sent funds to the supervisors to pay to the employees. Attempts by Santa Clara County to tax the workers mostly failed largely due to threats to the tax collectors' lives by the workers. The workers did everything from grading and track laying to tunneling and ballasting. The only thing they didn't do was build the bridges, which was handled by the Pacific Bridge Company.

Injuries were common in railroad construction projects and the Chinese workers received the brunt of the injuries. On the Santa Cruz Railroad in its final months of construction, several workers were maimed and severely injured and one man was killed when the construction train's brakes failed and ran over a group of workers. Indeed, for every mile of railroad built in Santa Cruz County, a Chinese worker died. And the deadliest place to work in the region was in the Summit Tunnel along the South Pacific Coast route along Los Gatos Creek.

A Chinese laborer outside the worker shanty at Wrights, c 1883.
[Bancroft Library – Colorized by Derek R. Whaley]
Wrights had been established around 1877 as a worker camp with around four dozen Chinese living outside the tunnel's north portal. A similar settlement arose on the opposite side along Burns Creek so that the tunnel could be bored from both ends. The tunnel crossed the San Andreas Fault and leaked methane and petroleum from a deep coal vein on the Wrights side. Initially, this threat was dealt with by regular burn-offs of the gas and oil, but more accumulated as crews dug deeper. The first major incident occurred on February 13, 1879, when a burn-off ignited a pocket of oil and fire roared out of the tunnel, singeing worker and timber alike. The intensity of the heat caused the tunnel to act like a cannon, blasting away machinery and structures near the entrance. Around a dozen workers were severely burned and five eventually died from their injuries, with many of the rest sent to San Francisco for treatment.

Chinese workers, white supervisors, and train crew working outside the Summit Tunnel, probably in early 1880.
Fear of returning into the tunnel led to several fights between supervisors and crew. The crews were briefly replaced by Cornish miners in late March, but these workers were even more problematic and new Chinese crews were convinced to work at an increased rate of $1.25 per day. Still, fear and animosity persisted between supervisors and workers, with Nick Borrosey shooting and killing a worker in June 1879. Despite adopting many different techniques to alleviate the gas and oil problem in the tunnel, disaster struck again on November 17. A stick of dynamite unexpectedly exploded igniting a massive cloud of gas and oil. Twenty-one workers and two supervisors were in the tunnel at the time, and another twenty workers ran into the tunnel to rescue their friends following the explosion. But the worst was yet to come. A second explosion followed shortly after the first, and twenty-four Chinese workers were killed instantly. The remainder as well as the supervisors were badly burned as they hobbled out of the tunnel portal into the smokey night air. Seven more workers died from their injuries after being transported by rail to Chinatown in San Francisco.

By January 1880, a permanent fire was alighted at the source of the gas leak in the Summit Tunnel and work resumed. Although new Chinese workers were coaxed into resuming construction, their efficiency and morale were so low that the railroad decided to bring back Cornish workers and reassign the Chinese workers to the other end of the tunnel, which had not experienced the same problems. This finally worked and the two crews raced each other to complete their ends. With the tunnel completed, air could flow through it regularly, dispersing the gas and reducing the risk of further fire and explosions. An out-of-the-way cemetery was established near the tracks at Wrights to mark the graves of the two dozen men who died there in November 1879, but the markers have long since disappeared and the location is now lost. No further workers died while building the line to Santa Cruz.

While the disaster in the Summit Tunnel was certainly the worst felt by Chinese railroad workers in the county, a mudslide in Felton in 1881 was a close second. Following the completion of the South Pacific Coast route, worker camps were established across the line, especially in the mountains, to maintain the trackage, top up ballast, and repair tunnels and bridges. Around twenty workers lived north of Felton, probably along Zayante Creek, when a mudslide fell on their settlement during a winter storm in February 1881. A dozen bodies were found in the slide but many more are thought to have been washed down the creek and river or been left buried.

Chinese crews heading out to work on the Loma Prieta Railroad, 1882.
[California Historical Society – Colorized using DeOldify]
When the Southern Pacific Railroad took over the Santa Cruz Railroad in 1881, it brought in thousands of Chinese workers for the dual task of standard-gauging the railroad and building a new branch line up Aptos Creek for the Loma Prieta Lumber Company. Broad-gauging took two years and in mid-1883, crews were redirected to the redwood forest of Aptos Creek to cut a crude railroad into the heart of the mountains. After reaching the new town of Loma Prieta, crews turned to the northeast and reached the narrow gorge nicknamed Hell's Gate, which proved to be the only obstacle in Santa Cruz County that required workers to hang on ropes from above to cut a grade in the cliffside. While major construction along the line ended in 1888, a reduced crew remained to oversee the continuous expansion of trackage deeper into the mountains.

The slide zone on the Boulder Creek Branch near Brackney were some Chinese workers died cutting the grade, 1885.
At the same time that the Loma Prieta Branch was under construction, the South Pacific Coast Railroad was building a new route up the San Lorenzo Valley from Felton to Boulder Creek. Most of the workers were veterans of the railroad's main route through the Santa Cruz Mountains. The route to Boulder Creek was less troubled than that through the mountains, but the difficult terrain in the Brackney area required careful construction and several Chinese workers died in the effort. These men may have been the last Chinese lives lost for the cause of Santa Cruz railroading. When the branch was completed, most of the crews were transferred to the Almaden Branch.

Chinese crew carving out the Valencia Creek grade, 1886. [Aptos Museum – Colorized using DeOldify]
Three private railroad projects were the last to utilize Chinese labor in the county. In 1886, Frederick Hihn hired Chinese crews to build a narrow-gauge railroad along Valencia Creek between Aptos and his mill three miles to the north, as well as the tracks' extension into the forests beyond the mill. Meanwhile, north of Boulder Creek, the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company likely used Chinese labor in early 1888 to build a low-budget narrow-gauge railroad on the San Lorenzo River. And in the Pajaro and Salinas Valleys in the early 1890s, Claus Spreckels employed multiple crews of Chinese workers to construct the Pajaro Valley Railroad along the Monterey Bay so that sugar beet farmers could more easily get their products to the large Western Beet Sugar factory in Watsonville.

Chinese workers on a flatbed car on the Monterey Extension Railroad near Pacific Grove, 1889.
[California State Library]
The mass employment of Chinese by the railroads ended around the turn of the century. By this point, the Chinese Exclusion Act had been in force for two decades and adherence to it had become more societally expected than in the boom days of the 1880s. Most of the Chinese men living in the state had been doing so since the 1860s and were now considered too old to work efficiently. Furthermore, outbreaks of plague in Chinatown in San Francisco beginning in 1898 led to further negativity toward the Chinese which added to the public opinion that the Chinese were unclean and diseased. Thus, when the Ocean Shore Railway and Coast Line Railroad projects to build a route along the coast between San Francisco and Santa Cruz were initiated in 1904, both companies chose not to employ Chinese workers. Chinese men and their families continued to live and work in several industries throughout the county, but their time as a labor force for the railroad was at an end.

Citations & Credits:
  • Lydon, Sandy. Chinese Gold: The Chinese in the Monterey Bay Region. Capitola, CA: Capitola Book Company, 1985.
  • Whaley, Derek W. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, forthcoming.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Freight Stops: Lower Chestnut Street Spur

Just to the south of the intersection of Chestnut and Laurel Streets in Santa Cruz, the Southern Pacific Railroad intended to erect a unified depot for its standard- and narrow-gauge railroad lines. However, not yet knowing the full scope of its plans and where it wished to locate the passenger and freight depots, the railroad purchased a large parcel of land between Chestnut and Washington Streets. At the beginning of 1893, the new depot opened at the southernmost end of this, where Pacific Avenue turns toward the beach, leaving the entire section to the north open for development. The first company to jump at this opportunity was Standard Oil, which was expanding rapidly across the United States as a primary provider of oil and petroleum.

View of the Lower Plaza from Mission Hill showing Hugo Hihn's flatiron building and the Williamson & Garrett building, 1905. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History – Colorized using DeOldify]
In 1895, Standard Oil erected two large oil tanks to the north of the depot. Southern Pacific installed a narrow-gauge spur with a southward exit beside the tanks and Standard Oil expanded its presence with the addition of a small warehouse to the north of the tanks. This small depot provided Santa Cruz with its first regular access to automotive oil. The tracks were upgraded in 1908 to standard gauge but it was not until 1912 that Southern Pacific requested Standard Oil to relocate in order to use its space for railroad facilities. Standard Oil moved them to a spur in the Mission Orchard area north of Mission Hill, where they remained for several years. By the late 1940s, new tanks were installed on a new site across from the Union Depot near the end of Center Street.

The Williamson & Garrett building at 1547 Pacific Avenue. Constructed in 1899, the second story housed the Santa Cruz Library from 1900 to 1904. From 1970 to the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, the building was home to Bookshop Santa Cruz, but was demolished after the temblor due to substantial damage.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries – Colorized using DeOldify]
Further north at the end of the spur, Williamson & Garrett, a local grocery firm run by James Williamson and Edwin H. Garrett, erected a warehouse to receive supplies of cement, grain, and feed for their grocery store located near the northern end of Pacific Avenue. This structure was installed no later than 1904. Williamson and Garrett had entered the local grocery market in 1876 when they purchased a store owned by J. H. O'Hara. City politics forced the company to relocate in 1899 to a new store, which was one of the city's more prominent buildings for several decades. Shortly after constructing the store, the firm bought the warehouse at the tracks and opened a wholesale store at the corner of Mission and Vine (Cedar) Streets near downtown. After fifty years in the industry, the business was taken over by W. J. Espindola in 1926, who converted it into exclusively a wholesale company. The business survived the Great Depression but was sold to the grocery chain Pure Foods in 1940. Pure Foods had already switched to using trucks by this time so leased its newly-acquired warehouse at the Santa Cruz Union Depot to the Herb Moore Produce Company.

The Lower Chestnut Street area with the Herb Moore Produce warehouse at left, 1953.
Photograph by L. L. Bonney. [Jim Vail – Colorized using DeOldify]
Herbert Moore was also a grocery wholesale distributor and continued the warehouse's tradition of being used to receive produce and supplies via rail. The facility on Chestnut Street was upgraded in 1947 once sheet metal was once again obtainable following the end of World War II. For several years, the company also ran one of the most discussed softball teams in the region. Moore continued in regular use throughout the 1940s until 1957 but then all mention of him and his company disappears from local newspapers. The company's later history and whether its warehouse at the Union Depot remained in use after this date is unknown. The spur was removed no later than 1973.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9678N, 122.0288W

The former Standard Oil and Herb Moore spur ran along the east side of the mainline track through what is now a parking lot for a mixed apartment and business complex at the corner of Laurel and Chestnut Streets. This parking lot continues behind several homes and businesses that line Washington Street. No trace of the spur survives—the current spur near this site is a team track that was added to the Union Depot in the 1950s.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, May 22, 2020

Freight Stops: Central Supply (Santa Cruz Union Depot)

Aggregate materials were not initially a common thing found at the Santa Cruz freight yard at the southern end of Chestnut Street. Despite several lime companies operating within the county, all of them had their own means of getting their goods to market via either steamship at the Santa Cruz wharves or via direct rail from their kilns. The freight yard catered primarily to lumber companies in the early years, but even as other freight patrons moved into the area, especially after the Union Depot was built in 1893 and the yard standardized around 1908, aggregate concerns did not follow. Indeed, the stretch of track between Sycamore (Jenne) Street and the end of Chestnut remained vacant throughout this period. However, the situation changed suddenly in the 1920s when Granite Rock Company spun off a retail aggregates business named Central Supply that needed quick and easy access to the railroad.

Suntan Specials parked on the sidings at the Santa Cruz Union Depot, c. 1950s. In the distance behind the freight depot can be seen the Central Supply Company's facilities along the aggregate sidings and spurs, with hopper cars at left and multiple bulk aggregate distributor towers high overhead. Photograph by Gene O'Lague Jr. [Jim Vail]
Graniterock had been running a highly successful quarry out of the Aromas area along the Pajaro River and Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Line since 1900. The business picked up several important customers in the aftermath of the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906 and continued to build its base as it acquired additional property and machinery across the Central Coast. Despite being based in San Benito County, the company had close connections to Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, with one of its founders being Warren R. Porter, a major owner and investor in the Aptos lumber industry. In 1924, after having already spun off Granite Construction Company as its own firm two years earlier, Graniterock president A. R. Wilson incorporated the Central Supply Company as the first and only retail outlet for the company. With the addition of Central Supply, Graniterock controlled most of the local aggregates and construction market, with rock material brought in from its quarry and used in public and private construction projects throughout the region.

Central Supply focused on ready-mix cement and building materials—the Home Depot of its day. But this required access to the public, something the Graniterock facility in Aromas lacked. Therefore, Central Supply purchased a vacant lot at the Santa Cruz Union Depot yard at the corner of Sycamore and Chestnut Streets, just across the street from the Union Ice Company. Southern Pacific, which catered to all of the transportation needs of Graniterock, installed a spur at the Central Supply facility where hopper cars full of aggregate material could be unloaded and sorted. The facility was rather small initially but grew over the years. Throughout the Great Depression and World War II, Graniterock alongside Central Supply provided material for thousands of building projects of all scales throughout the region, ensuring that it survives where many other businesses did not.

Soon after the war, Central Supply decided to increase its presence at the freight yard. In 1946, an aggregate warehouse was erected to enclose the rock material that was brought in from Aromas and elsewhere. Nine years later, a massive wooden bulk aggregate distributor bunker was installed, which became one of the most recognizable features of the Union Depot throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Other smaller aggregate unloading and loading equipment was also installed throughout these years including a concrete batching plant and a large materials yard. Graniterock also installed its own bulk aggregate distributor bunker near the Central Supply one, likely to ensure that there was plenty of material available for governmental projects as well as private.

The full extent of Central Supply's operations is unclear since the two sand quarries operating in Olympia during this time shared siding space with Central Supply and may have even provided some of the sand sold at the aggregate depot. Freight cars from Aromas and elsewhere refilled the rock, gravel, and sand pits every day, after which the materials were screened for debris and elevated to the top of the bunkers, from which dump trucks could be filled. Operations at the freight yard involved dozens of hopper cars operating on several spurs and sidings located at the southern end of the yard near the Central Supply tracks. It was truly the heyday of railroading in Santa Cruz, but Central Supply's reliance on trains was not to last.

Newspaper photograph of the Central Supply bulk aggregate distributor bunker on its last day before demolition,
August 8, 1968. Note the collapsed supports underneath. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
By the late 1950s, trucks had become much cheaper to operate and train deliveries for short distances, such as that between Aromas and Santa Cruz, proved too expensive. In December 1964, the company purchased the Santa Cruz Aggregate Company facility on Coral Street north of Santa Cruz. Southern Pacific installed a new spur at the site, capable of holding two cars, albeit on the opposite side of the tracks from the aggregate facility. Shortly afterwards, Central Supply packed up at the Union Depot and relocated, abandoning the site. In October 1967, the vacant corporate offices of the company on Chestnut Street burned down and Central Supply decided to demolish everything that remained. By 1971, Southern Pacific designated all of the former aggregate sidings as disused, although it did not spike the switches at this time. Central Supply was reabsorbed into Graniterock in the early 1970s. The spurs and sidings that once catered to its sprawling facility at the Union Depot were finally removed in the early 1990s during the remodeling of the Union Depot yard.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9662N, 122.0287W

The site of Central Supply at the Union Depot was south of the intersection of Jeanne and Chestnut Streets, primarily occupying the current location of the Mariners Apartments until the bend in Chestnut Street, which marks the point where the freight yard once expanded substantially in all directions to the south. As with most of the area, nothing remains of the Central Supply facility.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, May 15, 2020

Freight Stops: Daniels' Transfer Express Company

In a time before FedEx, UPS, and DHL, parcel delivery was the purview of individual companies scattered across that country. For railroads, the solution was eventually the Railway Express Agency, established in 1918, but before that time, Santa Cruz had the Daniels' Transfer Express Company.

Fourth of July Parade, 1903, with Daniels' Transfer Express Company horses leading
the Companions of the Forest wagon. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
Luther Alonzo Daniels established his express business in 1872 with a single wagon and two Mustangs. He was a native of Vermont and lived there until he was 30, learning all of the ins and outs of manufacturing scales. He arrived in San Francisco in 1868, where he worked in a box manufacturing plant for a year. He then left for the Gold Country but gave up shortly after and joined a locomotive crew of the Central Pacific Railroad in late 1869. In early 1871, he quit the railroad and learned about Ford's City Express Company in Santa Cruz, which he promptly purchased and renamed the Daniels' Transfer Express Company the next year.

Daniels ran his business out of a shop and office space at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Locust Street, next door to the Cooper House. Within a decade, he had secured exclusive contracts with the Southern Pacific Railroad, the South Pacific Coast Railroad, and the Pacific Coast Steamship Company to be the exclusive shipper and deliverer for all parcels, baggage, and United States mail received from or sent to trains and ships. Agents of the company had offices at both of the railroad depots below Mission Hill and on the Railroad Wharf. Daniels used red-painted wagons to haul all of its express loads throughout the county, so its wagons had instant brand recognition.

The company also provided moving services and rental wagons to help people relocate within the region. An advertisement in 1890 notes that "piano and furniture moving [were] a specialty." Perhaps as a part of this aspect of the business, Daniels partnered with George C. Pratchner, owner of Excursion Stage, in 1889 to run picnic and camping parties out from the express company's office on Pacific Avenue. These advertisements were the only to run in 1889, suggesting that Daniels' wagons were likely leased to facilitate the service. This arrangement only appears to have lasted the year, though.

Advertisement for the Pacific Transfer Express Company, November 26, 1890. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
Luther Daniels finally retired from the business in October 1893 and sold the company to J. W. Dodge of the Pacific Transfer Express Company. Daniels died on November 12, 1909. Pacific Transfer Express had operated in Santa Cruz for at least six years before this point but ran a much smaller organization since it lacked the official contracts for parcels and mail. Instead, it focused on shifting freight from the Railroad Wharf to various warehouses in town, although it did some business in moving and delivering baggage as well. The merger of the two firms effectively ended the existence of Pacific Transfer Express. Dodge ran Daniels' Transfer Express for the next eight years.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Daniels' Transfer Company yard at the Santa Cruz Union Depot, 1917.
[University of Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
Dodge sold the combined firm to George Burkett and Joseph Mikel in November 1901. Burkett was a former employee of Daniels' and Mikel's brother also had worked there in the 1890s. The partners owned a large transfer system in San José, San Francisco, and Oakland, and added Daniels' to its combined holdings. It was under their leadership that a new barn was erected at the Santa Cruz Union Depot freight yard. This structure was to serve as a temporary warehouse for short-term storage as well as a feed barn for the several horses the company kept at the yard. The barn sat on the west side of the tracks north of the freight depot near the intersection of Chestnut and Laurel Streets.

Burkett and Mikel did not retain the company for long—on July 16, 1903, they sold it to Frank J. Schwing of San Francisco and Mr. Staubes of the Ben Lomond Wine Company. These partners suffered an unfortunate loss a few years into their ownership which eventually forced them also to sell. On January 29, 1906, an old barn at the corner of Chestnut and Lincoln Streets which had been used primarily for feed burned down. The barn had been built for the Howe estate as a carpenter shop around 1870 and the Daniels' Transfer Express Company had used it for many years. What was unfortunate was that it was temporarily storing furniture, a piano, and some valuable oil drilling equipment at the time of the fire. All of these were expected to be removed the following day. Schwing & Staubes had violated a storage contract by storing the items there, and Agnes M. Bragg, the owner of the material, sued for damages. Schwing & Staubes sold the business in July 1907 to escape litigation, although Schwing remained as manager.

Newspaper advertisement for the Daniels' Transfer Company, November 2, 1907. [Santa Cruz Evening News]
The buyer of the company in 1907 was none other than George Pratchner, who had partnered with Daniels eighteen years earlier. Pratchner had spent the last two years working with the Ocean Shore Railway to construct its Southern Division trackage to Davenport and beyond. By 1907, construction had mostly stalled and Pratchner was on the lookout for new ventures. The benefit of buying Daniels is that it already had an extensive freight delivery service, which Pratchner could exploit to deliver freight to more far-flung areas of Santa Cruz County, including his construction projects to the north. Thus, Daniels became a mixed business of freight, parcel shipment, and construction.

Business continued as usual under Pratchner's ownership for the next nine years with few items of interest published in local newspapers. Pratchner temporarily accepted a contract for picking up the city's garbage in 1915 but promptly reneged on it when his firm was unable to consistently keep up with demand. Then, on February 10, 1916, D. A. and J. B. Owens purchased the company from Pratchner. However, a strange coup happened a month later, on March 15, when James A. Harvey, former owner Frank Schwing, and George W. Sherman filed their own intention to buy the company. Whether the Owens Brothers dropped their bid or Harvey, Schwing, and Sherman purchased it from them is unclear, but the latter certainly became the owners for a while. However, by mid-1919, the Owens Brothers were once again in charge, so the sequence of ownership here is unclear.

Archival photograph of the Daniels barn fire at the Santa Cruz Union Depot, 1918. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
Troubles became the norm for the company beginning with a massive fire that levelled its barn at the Union Depot on December 30, 1918. The fire cost the company nearly $5,000 in damages and destroyed several express wagons, two jumbo wagons, a Ford automobile, a roller wagon, harnesses, piano trucks, and many other tools, as well as an expensive washing machine owned by the Santa Cruz Canning Company. Insurance covered $1,500 of damages, which covered most of the loss except for the car. Rather than rebuild, Daniels abandoned the freight yard and leased several other warehouses and barns located along the railroad right-of-way elsewhere in the city. Lilly promptly sold the property to the Union Ice Company, which eventually built a large freezing plant on the site.

Increased costs of shipping and warehouse storage and a decrease in revenue, undoubtedly linked to the opening of the Railway Express Agency at the Union Depot and the resultant loss of railroad parcel service tossed Daniels into a rapid decline. Throughout 1919, the Owens Brothers sold many of their horses and raised prices to increase revenue. Downtown, the office that had been occupied by the company for nearly forty years moved down Pacific Avenue a block, likely to cut down on rent. The company also began investing more in trucks to replace its wagon fleet, but the vehicles were constantly the victims of accidents with other vehicles. It all became too much and in early June 1922, the company was listed for sale in regional newspapers. The company tried to keep the sale secret by not listing it locally, but the news leaked late in the month.

In May 1924, the company was finally sold in a court auction to John C. Geyer, who bought it for $5,000, beating a bid from the Owens Brothers. Two years later, on August 18, 1926, Raymond and Harry A. Adams purchased the business and renamed it Adams Motor Drayage, finally putting an end to Daniels after over fifty years of business. They sold all of the remaining stock and wagons and switched permanently to vehicular transport. However, the company did reappear again in 1928 under its old name, now based out of a storefront on Front Street, but its days as a freight transport company coordinating with the railroad and steamships was at an end. Another fire in August of that year burned down another barn and several neighboring buildings, further imperilling the company just before the start of the Great Depression. Successors nonetheless continued for another five years or so until the company quietly shut down around 1933.

Successors to the original company remained in business under several owners throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s, at which time it quietly shut its doors.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.9682N, 122.0294W

The Daniels property at the Santa Cruz Union Depot freight yard was sold to the Union Ice Company in early 1918. The large freezing plant built on the property remained in place until August 1990, when it burned down. It has since been converted into a residential housing subdivision known as Chestnut Street Apartments. The office on Pacific Avenue is now occupied by Bookshop Santa Cruz.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, May 8, 2020

Freight Stops: Sperry Flour Company

The Santa Cruz Union Depot's freight yard was mostly confined to the area south of Laurel Street, but that didn't stop the Sperry Flour Company from erecting its flour refinery at the northwest corner of Laurel and Chestnut Streets in 1907. Flour had been one of the earliest American industries introduced to Santa Cruz County after statehood in 1850. But by the turn of the century, the industry had mostly died in the region.

The Sperry Flour Company corporate office in San José, c. 1905. [History San José – colorized using DeOldify]
The Sperry Flour Company was in many ways a local business long before it had a formal presence in the county. The origins of the company date back to Ransom G. Moody and his flour mill on Coyote Creek near San José in 1854. Moody began operating his mill using water power but relocated to Third Street in 1858 and switched to steam power. Over the next decade, his operations expanded to encompass most of the area between Third and Fourth Streets near Santa Clara Street. Moody retired around 1862 and his sons, Charles, Volney, and David B. Moody took over operations, although Volney soon left to become a banker in Oakland. It was Charles and David who first began shipping flour to Santa Cruz following the collapse of the Centennial Flour Company in the mid-1880s.

The Moody brothers sold the company in 1887 to the Central Milling Company, which had been formed to control most of the flour milling operations on the Central Coast. David Moody became secretary of the new company and it was in this capacity that he made much of his wealth. The Moody mill in San José remained the primary mill of the new company until interest in growing grain along the Central Coast dried up around 1890. Another corporate merger brought Central Milling to the Sperry Flour Company, which was founded in August 1892 to control flour interests statewide. This move halted the death of the industry and it slowly rebounded over the subsequent years, eventually expanding into Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Utah. David Moody remained secretary of the new firm until around the end of the century.

Laurel Street looking north from Pacific Avenue, with the top of the Sperry Flour building at center-right, 1920s.
[California State Library – colorized using DeOldify]
In the year after the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, the freight yard at the Santa Cruz Union Depot underwent a massive upgrade, with all of its narrow-gauge trackage removed and replaced with standard-gauge track. It was during this changeover that Sperry finally came to Santa Cruz. A. M. Johnston Company had been selling Sperry flour from its store at the Farmers' Union Building at the corner of Soquel and Pacific Avenues since 1895, but this was insufficient for the demand. Sperry took over the building in July 1902 but it was still reliant on constant shipments from San José. So in May 1907, Sperry began erecting a large grain warehouse on Chestnut Avenue just north of Laurel Street.

Sanborn map showing the layout of he Sperry Flour facility on Chestnut Street, 1917.
[University of California, Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
With upgrades still ongoing at the yard, Sperry ordered a spur to be extended along the trackside of its refinery to expedite the shipment of flour to the rest of Santa Cruz County. The finished structure included grinding and rolling mills, a corn cracker, seed cleaners, coal bunkers, a hay barn, and a wagon shed, as well as offices for management. It formally opened in October with the old Farmers' Union building abandoned at the same time. The spur's installation was delayed until November due to public fears that the freight yard would eventually span the length of Chestnut Street to the Mission Hill Tunnel.

The Sperry Flours storefront on Laurel Street, with various products advertised in the window, 1920s.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History – colorized using DeOldify]
Sperry's grain refinery in Santa Cruz proved to be a massive success. Most of the grain and corn was brought in via steamship at the Railroad Wharf, making it one of the last railroad patrons of that decaying structure. It also was one of the earliest patrons of steamship and rail traffic from the Municipal Wharf when that opened in 1914. Additional grain supplies came via either of the railroad routes into Santa Cruz. By the end of the 1910s, the company provided most of the grain products used within Santa Cruz County.

Eugene Van Antwerp in front of Sperry Air Service Loft I, 1930s, and a March 1939 cartoon parodying the service from The Modern Millwheel [Photo from Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History – colorized using DeOldify]
Demand for a retail store prompted the company to open a small outlet beside its factory in 1911. Eugene M. Van Antwerp was manager of the store and travelled regularly up the San Lorenzo Valley to take orders for delivery. To place orders, Van Antwerp founded the Sperry Air Service in 1917, which relied on carrier pigeons to take orders back to staff working at the store. This system allowed Sperry to make next-day deliveries throughout the county. This method of placing orders proved so popular that Sperry facilities throughout the system began adopting it.

Eugene Van Antwerp and others posing with carrier pigeons provided by the Sperry Air Service, 1930s.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History – colorized using DeOldify]
The end for Sperry came slowly. General Mills took over the company in 1929 but the refinery continued operating through most of the 1930s under the new name. However, in May 1939, likely due to financial pressures caused by the Great Depression paired with cheaper delivery costs for finished products via trucks and trains, General Mills shuttered the facility. The buildings were sold to the East Bay Packing Company in November the next year. Almost nothing is known of this company's operations in the county. The facility and its railroad spur were removed at some point prior to 1973.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9689N, 122.0296W

The site of the Sperry Flour refinery in Santa Cruz is now occupied by the 7-Eleven at the corner of Chestnut and Laurel Streets. No remnant of the factory or the railroad spur remains.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, May 1, 2020

Maps: Lower San Lorenzo River

The route of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad south of Tollhouse Gulch outside of Felton was one of the most scenic five miles of trackage in the Bay Area and still remains so today. The sharp curves of the San Lorenzo River far below the tracks compliment the sheer hillsides above the west bank, where the railroad follows a precarious grade through lush second growth redwood forest. Yet hints of civilization were once more present than they are today. The noisy Cowell limeworks at Rincon were followed closely by the sulphurous California Powder Works, with its occasional test (explosions rattling the valley). And suddenly, after miles of vibrant wilderness, the route opens up into the grassy fields of Pogonip and the lazy city of Santa Cruz beyond.

Marketing postcard for the Lompico subdivision showing the view of San Lorenzo Gorge
at Inspiration Point, 1920s. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History – colorized using DeOldify]
Heading south from Felton Junction, the route of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad—later the South Pacific Coast Railroad and, later still, the Southern Pacific Railroad's Santa Cruz & College Park Branch—entered San Lorenzo Gorge. This five-mile stretch remains one of the most problematic today, with landslides common every winter and numerous. The river sometimes meanders and sometimes rages far below, while the tracks (and Highway 9) carves a tenuous passage along its upper flanks. At the first major turn south of Felton, a tunnel once sat beneath Inspiration Point until a fire destroyed it in 1993. To the south of the tunnel, at a site originally called Coon Gulch, a concrete arch bridge and two concrete fills mark places where even bridgeworks and fills were not enough to overcome the trials of Mother Nature.

Map of the railroad trackage between Felton Junction and Tunnel #8 in Santa Cruz. [Derek R. Whaley]
The route south of Coon Gulch passes through lush forest with occasional peeks at the river beyond. At Rincon, where mountain bikers often assemble today for travels up or down the mountainside, the last major local lime kilns for the Cowell Lime Company once operated. Spaced along the west side of the tracks along a siding and a spur, the kilns and their supporting structures once proved a formidable site to passing trains. Once the area became Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, the buildings fell into disrepair and were eventually demolished. Now only a large clearing and mounds mark where once there was industry

The Cowell limeworks warehouse along Highway 9 at Rincon, 1950s. Photograph by John Cummings.
[Jim Vail – colorized using DeOldify]
Beyond Rincon, Tunnel #7 once broke the Hogs' Back, as the geographic feature there is called, but subsequent erosion and repairs turned the tunnel into a simple cut. Around the next curve, the tracks cross Highway 9 and then Shady Gulch over a high bridge visible from the adjacent road. Originally the road passed beneath this bridge twice in order to circumvent the gulch, but engineers during the Great Depression bypassed this dangerous obstacle and Highway 9 now continues below the railroad grade unimpeded.

A Big Trees excursion train heading north across the Shady Gulch bridge, 1950s. Photograph by Fred Stoes.
[Jim Vail – colorized using DeOldify]
Around three more turns, the track reaches the site of the Powder Works depot. It was at this place that narrow-gauge box cars would run down a switchback to Highway 9, cross the road, and then enter today's Paradise Park, which was until 1914 the California Powder Works—the first blasting powder company on the West Coast. Within the park, tracks paralleled the San Lorenzo River to the north until arriving at the main powder works, where it circled the plant and boxcars, now fully-loaded, could be hauled back up the grade by horses where passing trains picked them up and took them to the Railroad Wharf or over the mountains to a site near Campbell.

A view of Santa Cruz from Pogonip, with the Holy Cross Church in the distance at right, 1930s.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using DeOldify]
Around another curve and the train once arrived at Golf Links, where vacationers could detrain and climb up the long stairway to the Casa del Rey Golf Links. A short while later and the train finally enters the city limits of Santa Cruz and the redwoods give way to the wide floodplain of the San Lorenzo River and the Mission Orchard. It was here that the city built a water pumping station, which briefly had its own spur. A tiny bridge over Golf Course Drive brings the train to the north end of the Eblis industrial area.

A worker raising the flag over the oldest surviving building at the A. K. Salz Company, with a wagon ready to cross River Street to pick up more hides for tanning, 1955. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using DeOldify]
No fewer than nine spurs and a siding once spanned the tracks between Pogonip Creek and Tunnel #8 in the area alternately named the Potrero or Mission Orchard. Only two spurs, both out of use, and a truncated siding remain. From the north, the train once passed the A. K. Salz Leather Company, Richfield Oil, Texas Oil, and the Central Supply Company spurs. Even earlier, a spur in this area catered to the Santa Cruz Cement Company, a failed Portland cement venture attempted in the 1880s. South of Highway 1, the siding begins and from it broke off spurs for the Poultry Products of California, Associated Oil, and Standard Oil, while a spur off the mainline to the west catered to the Union Oil Company.

Map of Mission Santa Cruz lands, including the lands of the Mission Orchard, c. 1878. [Bancroft Library]
At the bottom end of the area, near to the Eblis station point and the southern end of the siding, the old Santa Cruz & Felton mainline to Pacific Avenue once cut through today's San Lorenzo Lumber & Home Center. This track was later replaced with Tunnel #8, which was built in 1876 and cuts beneath the Holy Cross Catholic Church on Mission Hill. Later patrons who used the cut-back spur included Cunningham & Company, the Cascade Laundry, and the City of Santa Cruz as a corporate yard.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, April 24, 2020

Freight Stops: Union Ice Company

In an age before refrigerator cars or home freezers, there was the Union Ice Company. Incorporated on December 21, 1875, the company focused initially on patenting and buying patents for technologies that could be used to create cold storage places and commercial-grade ice. After securing said patents, it reincorporated on November 3, 1882 under the management of the Bay Area entrepreneur Lloyd Tevis. This allowed the company to rebrand itself as a commercial freezing business rather than simply a patent collector.

A Union Ice delivery carriage making a delivery, c. 1900. [Banning Library—colorized by DeOldify]
By March 1883, the Union Ice Company began operating off Fourth Street in San Francisco and I Street in Sacramento with its first cold storage facilities. The water was not local but rather brought in by train from several springs in the Sierra Nevada. The company quickly established a relationship with the Southern Pacific Railroad, allowing it to expand throughout the Central Coast over California and become the primary bulk freezing business in the state. Small ice depots were built in Oakland, Stockton, and San José, and others began to appear over the next few years.

Ice harvesters in the Sierra Nevada with Southern Pacific Railroad boxcars in the background, c. 1880s.
[The Sun—colorized by DeOldify]
During this time, Santa Cruz had no local ice supplier. For the most part, ice was brought in over the mountains from the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company, which had converted one of its out buildings to a freezing works. By February 1889, pressure from the Union Ice Company was such that the Los Gatos company leased its buildings for ten years to its competitor. This allowed that status quo to remain, but it did not fix the problem of hauling large blocks of ice over the mountains to Santa Cruz almost daily nor address the rapidly escalating price of ice deliveries in the Santa Cruz area.

An ice harvesting and cutting plant in the Sierra Nevada, 1886. [Arctic Glacier—colorized by DeOldify]
The threat of competition in Santa Cruz in 1890 is likely what prompted the Union Ice Company to finally build a small ice house within the city. A local office on Pacific Avenue was set up in June 1891 to oversee local operations. A few years later, an ice house appeared at the site of the old South Pacific Coast Railroad's Beach Station near the modern intersection of Pacific Avenue and Beach Street. This location was ideal since it sat near the crossroads of the Southern Pacific Railroad's narrow-gauge and standard-gauge tracks and just at the base of the Railroad Wharf, upon which freshly-caught fish were loaded into waiting boxcars. Once filled, the boxcars could easily be moved down the track to the ice house where crews could load in ice blocks to keep the fish cold for their transport to the Bay Area and elsewhere along the Central Coast.

For unknown reasons, the Union Ice Company decided to relocate its ice house at the beach to the site of the old Park Street depot at the top of Chestnut Street in June 1908. A single spur left after the upgrading of the lines to standard-gauge catered to the spot, but why it was chosen remains a mystery. The ice house appears to have been the same as that at the beach and never received significant improvements or expansion. The building may have been moved due to some legacy of the 1906 earthquake, or perhaps in anticipation of the construction of the Municipal Wharf in the coming years. In any case, it was only a temporary relocation lasting just over ten years.

The Santa Cruz Union Depot yard with the Union Ice Company at right, 1953. Photograph by L. L. Boney.
[Jim Vail—colorized by DeOldify]
In December 1918, the Daniels Transfer Company's warehouse on Chestnut Street burned down. The Union Ice Company quickly moved in and began restoring the warehouse and expanding its facilities. Within a few years, the company had expanded to take over the adjacent Burnett Brothers property as well. Simultaneously to this, a new ice house was built at the Watsonville Junction yard in 1927, allowing the company to expand to South County for the first time.

A Union Ice delivery man loading ice into a truck, c. 1940s. [Arctic Glacier—colorized by DeOldify]
At its height, the Union Ice Company provided many services to the community. Its primary business was commercial grade ice, which was sold to the railroad, local businesses, and individuals for many different uses. Ice blown into refrigerator cars kept fish, meats, and produce cold as it travelled throughout the country. In a time before flash frozen food, this was the next best option. Ice blocks were sold to individuals and businesses for use in their ice boxes. This business remained popular throughout the 1920s and 1930s until electricity became widespread even in rural areas and private refrigerators became more affordable. Locations such as the Ben Lomond Inn became places for locals to top up their ice stores. The company also sold wood and coal throughout the 1920s.

A Union Ice deliveryman delivering ice to a private home, c. 1940s. [Arctic Glacier—colorized by DeOldify]
Success in the 1930s allowed further expansion of its facilities throughout the 1930s. All of the structures were replaced in late 1929 and early 1930 with an industrial fruit-packing plant and egg storage room attached to its original freezing works. A new railroad spur was extended to the facility, replacing two earlier spurs, and this remained in place until the late 1990s. Eventually a creamery and dairy storage warehouse were added as well as a flash freeze plant in 1938 in coordination with the Santa Cruz Fruit Packing Company. The Union Ice Company property ended its expansion in 1941 with the addition of a larger freezer behind the main freezer.

Despite its financial victories, the company pulled out of Santa Cruz around 1951, when it leased the facilities in Santa Cruz to Stokely Foods Company, which had previously operated out of a warehouse in Seabright. After only four years, Stokely left and the facilities on Chestnut Street were leased to John F. Inglis Frozen Foods Company (Jiffco), which returned the site to its use as a flash freeze plant for two decades. Following Jiffco's acquisition by United Foods in 1970, the plant at Santa Cruz began a slow decline.

Despite minor upgrades in the early 1970s, by the beginning of the 1980s, the facility had shut down and sat vacant beside the railroad tracks. Periodic fires inside the building caused by vagrants led to an inferno on August 15, 1990 that levelled the building.  The property had already been sold to Maynard Manson and Jeff Canepa by this point, and the pair of property developers wished to demolish the structure and turn the site into an office complex. When push came to shove, they decided to build low income housing instead. Union Ice Company was eventually acquired by Arctic Glacier Inc. in 2007.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Main Beach Ice Box: 36.9533N, 122.0237W
Park Street Ice Box: 36.9759N, 122.0299W
Chestnut Street Freezer: 37.9682N, 122.0294W

The site of the original Beach Street ice house is now occupied by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The Park Street ice house, meanwhile, was located near at approximately 702 Chestnut Street and is now occupied by a private home. The main freezing plant, later John Inglis Frozen Foods, was between Laurel and Jenne Streets along Chestnut Street and is now a residential housing subdivision known as Chestnut Street Apartments. No remnant of any of the three ice facilities remains today.

Citations & Credits: