Thursday, September 29, 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).

Friday, July 8, 2022

Sources: Aerial Photographs

The invention of the hot air balloon, photography, and, many years later, airplanes, made capturing the passage in time over a large geographic area much easier. Whereas maps and surveys are incapable of capturing all of the contours and developments in an area with precision and completeness, aerial photographs can capture everything just as it was on the day a kite, balloon, or airplane flew over a specific place and took a photograph. Balloon- and kite-based aerial photographs usually only captured one or a couple photographs of a place, but airplane-based aerial photographs often captured a series of photographs that could later be pieced together to create a long sequence (a mosaic).

George Lawrence's panoramic photograph of the Santa Cruz Main Beach, 1906. [Bancroft – colorized using DeOldify]

When it comes to researching local history, aerial photography does not always come to mind. And this make sense. Assuming a researcher is looking into the history of a location, the first place they may turn is ground-based photographs. From there, they will likely look into primary and secondary sources, such as newspapers, land deeds, and history books. Even after that, they may turn to more specific visual resources such as fire insurance maps, panoramas and street scene photographs, and family or corporate histories to try and piece together what's missing from the earlier sources. Thus, aerial photographs are often forgotten and, even if not, may be a resource of last resort. That's because they can be difficult to use, are often low resolution, and often do not provide any additional information. Nonetheless, aerial photographs should not be dismissed out of hand.

Ways of using this type of source:

Like with much of the Central Coast of California, local aerial photograph dates to a coastal panorama of the Santa Cruz Main Beach captured by George Lawrence in mid-1906. He began his career using various balloons to take photographs, but after several accidents, he switched to using kites that carried 50 lbs. cameras and took photos with four feet wide negatives. These highly-detailed images were not taken from the top looking straight down, as with later airplane-based photographs, but were taken from about a 35˚ angle, which allows the contours of the horizon and the scale of buildings to be more prominent.

Close-up from the George Lawrence panorama of Bay St. at the Ocean Shore Railway crossing, with Gharkey St. in the foreground, 1906. [Bancroft]

These early aerials are more of a transition from traditional panoramic photography and airplane-based aerial imagery. This lends it the strengths of both. In regard specifically to Lawrence's photograph, you can see several features that a traditional overhead aerial photo would miss, such as the Bay Street bridge over the Ocean Shore Railway's tracks with a wagon passing over it, electrical or telephone lines running along West Cliff Drive, the pilings under the Cowell and Railroad wharves, or more generally the visual styles of the buildings on Beach Hill. Meanwhile, the photo also allows you to view the Santa Cruz Beach and downtown from an angle a traditional photograph would be unable to capture—taken as it is from high above the Point Santa Cruz Lighthouse—and it shows the viewer things that would probably not be photographed, such as how undeveloped the Seabright/Twin Lakes area was or how denuded the hills were of trees. For more on this specific aerial panorama, check out Peter Nurkse's article on the subject here: "Notes on the 1906 Aerial Panorama of Santa Cruz by George Lawrence."

The earliest aerial photograph of Santa Cruz County date to 1928, over twenty years after George Lawrence's kite cameras. The technology used was first tested during World War I, with airplanes flying high over battlefields and behind enemy lines looking for enemy movements and positions. The cameras and how they were mounted onto planes were refined substantially throughout the war but were still not entirely ready for public use afterwards. The cost of the technology alone made it difficult to justify. By the mid-1920s, though, aerial photography planes—many of them war surplus—became available for commercial use and several companies popped up across the United States to capture aerial images for use by local governments, companies, and individuals. Many of the early aerial photographs of Santa Cruz County were captured by Fairchild Aerial Surveys, incorporated in 1924.

1931 aerial photograph showing the remnants of the Ocean Shore Railroad right-of-way from Bay St. (top right) to Delaware Ave. (far left). [UC Santa Barbara]

Aerial photographs by their very nature need to be high-resolution. Thus, even in the 1920s, they show a high degree of detail. Their primary use in research is to identify when specific structures or other features visible from the air first were built and how they were situated. Parcels are quite often distinct due to boundary fences, roads, agricultural plantings, and different yard layouts, meaning that aerial photographs can be quite useful in determining the physical boundaries of an estate or business. They also can show to some degree the layout and quality of roads, waterways, railroads, and other human-made topographical features.

Over the decades, the quality of film changed, especially following World War II, when aerial photography shifted from a convenient tool for reconnaissance into a precision bomb-targeting tool. As before, technological improvements quickly dispersed from the military after the war into the public and private sectors. Thus, aerial photographs from the 1950s and 1960s are often of a very high quality, even by today's standards. From the early 1970s onward, color photographs increasingly replaced two-tone, allowing researchers to see an even greater range of details in the photographs. This remained the state of aerial photography more or less into the late 1990s.

Aerial photograph of Laguna St. and the former Ocean Shore Railroad right-of-way, ca 1964. [UC Santa Barbara]

One of the major features of later twentieth century aerial photograph was higher contrast photographs. In the first half of the century, photos were usually pretty flat, with shadows muted and even many details slightly fuzzy. World War II aerial photographers realized that higher shutter speeds could capture sharper images. This also resulted in sharper shadows and generally brighter photographs. Certain details, such as color shading on roofs and fields could be better discerned, often making property boundary markers easier to see, and features such as automobiles and railroad tracks also became more visible.

The late 1990s and especially the early 2000s had the most substantial shift in aerial photography in that it shifted from the troposphere to the exosphere. The first such global positioning system (GPS) satellites went into the upper atmosphere in the late 1970s, but it was not available to the public until the mid-1980s and not widely until 2000. The rapid expansion of GPS meant that commercial firms, non-profits, and public government agencies could take high-resolution photographs from space and send them back to earth. These can be taken constantly and are stored digitally, so they do not require the same type of infrastructure—planes, film, and photo paper—to maintain. While a few companies still capture aerial photographs in the old manner, this is usually done for specifically outlined reasons and the results are often not made public. The most recent airplane-based aerial survey of Santa Cruz County was made in 2003.

Google Maps satellite image showing Laguna St. and Delaware Ave., ca 2016. [Google Maps]

There are several different websites and applications that allow people to view GPS-recorded photographs, but none are more popular than Google Maps and Google Earth. Indeed, Google Maps always maintains two separate sets of satellite images, one called "Globe View" (which also allows for an artificial 3D effect based on stereoscopic technology) and one simply called "Satellite." The desktop app version of Google Earth, meanwhile, allows for limited historical views, which are made up of old airplane-based mosaics superimposed on an otherwise modern map. The benefits of Google Maps and Earth are obvious: a user can zoom in quite close with quite a good level of detail and then quickly move somewhere else without having to find another photograph or mosaic. The aerial photographs are so seamlessly sewn that you often don't even know you're looking at thousands of overlapping images. The compression factor in the file sizes also means that you don't have to download huge TIFF files to view details, as you do with traditional aerial photographs, and the color quality is maintained since the images are digitally native.

For researchers, there are many reasons why satellite imagery is superior. The color and level of detail often far outpace traditional aerial photographs. If you can find historical satellite aerials, such as on the Google Earth desktop app, you can see progressions of development in an area over a relatively short space of time. Even by comparing the two different Google Maps layers—"Globe View" vs. "Satellite"—you can see changes, since the two maps do not reflect the same exact moment in time and may be a few years different.

Whether you are looking at kite panoramas from 1906 or Google Maps from 2022, aerial photographs can be helpful when doing local history research. These photographs, unlike almost any other resource, depict visual representations of change over a long period of time. They can show urbanization, the expansion of roads and railroads, the development or collapse of industries, and even the damage caused by natural disasters. And unlike so many other sources, they show things agnostically: an aerial photo captures both the target of its attention and all the details around it, which sometimes is a lot.

Downsides and problems with this type of source:

Just because aerial photographs can be extremely helpful in research doesn't mean they don't have problems. Earlier aerial photos suffered from several issues. They depicted both a larger and a smaller area than airplane-based aerial photos—larger because they could see beyond the range of a top-down photograph, smaller because the details become increasingly difficult to discern the further the camera is from the subject. Airplane-based aerial photos capture everything from the same distance more or less. Earlier panorama aerials also were taken far enough away that individual details can't always be made out, such as business names, the routes of roads that may be obscured by buildings or trees, or the nature of features far in the distance.

Low-resolution aerial photograph of Laguna St. and the Ocean Shore Railroad right-of-way, 1957. [UC Santa Barbara]

Airplane-based aerial photographs became the standard from the 1920s and had several of their own issues. First and foremost, it is almost impossible to gauge depth on a single aerial photograph, especially in the first half of the century. While multiple photographs can be turned into stereographs—a technique used by the military to gauge the terrain and size of buildings—single photos just show rooftops. Thus, you can't get much detail from them regarding the style and makeup of structures except for their physical location, footprint, and maybe their roofing type. Similarly, other features such as trees and gardens, vehicles, and even roads can be difficult to discern. Roads can often be obscured by tree cover and railroads are sometimes too pale against the landscape to follow with accuracy. These issues improved after World War II, but they never disappeared entirely.

Low-resolution color aerial photograph of Laguna St. and Delaware Ave., 1972. [UC Santa Barbara]

A strange step-back occurred in the 1970s, as an increasing number of aerial photography cameras shifted to using color film. While adding color had its benefits, the film quality itself was often subpar, rendering blurrier photographs and low resolutions. Color film also had a strong tendency to fade over a relatively short period of time, especially when left out in any light. This problem persisted throughout the entirety of the color film period until digital photography replaced film in the early 2000s. In most cases and despite its clear downsides, two-tone photographs are often better for researching aerial photographs. Another problem with all film-based photography is that high-resolution versions are saved in TIFF files, which are immense, slow to download, and often difficult to browse online.

Color aerial photograph of Laguna St. and Delaware Ave., 2001. [UC Santa Barbara]

Satellite imagery has many different problems from its predecessors. Since satellite images today are all digital, the color doesn't fade. Also, compression software means loading the images is less of a problem. Downloading the images, however, is nearly impossible now since the mosaics are no longer separable—they are glued together prior to uploading. So if a person wants a satellite image of a place, they must use screen captures, which can be tedious and breaks copyright. Earlier satellite photos, such as those from the 1990s and early 2000s, are also often poor quality since the digital images were not yet of a sufficient quality. Even more problematic, though, it is often impossible to determine the precise date that a specific satellite image was taken since it is often a mosaic composed of several different photos taken over an unspecified period of time. For example, the "Globe View" of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk right now still shows the park's pre-2016 configuration, while the "Satellite" view shows its current layout.

3D technologies such as that used on Google Maps and Google Earth also sometimes distort things, making them appear different than they truly are. The superimposition of street Labels, too, can cause unconscious problems by giving you a false sense of a street's history based on its modern name. It's often a good idea to turn off Labels when researching if you feel it may distract. The seamlessness of Google Street View is another potential problem in that, much like the different aerial views, it may glue together photographs from several different photo shoots but gives you a sense of continuity. The Street View of the Boardwalk, for example, was taken in 2011, which fortunately is noted at the bottom of the screen.

Like all research resources, aerial photographs have their upsides and their downsides. In many cases, they are tools of last resort, but they should not be dismissed out of hand. Just be cautious when using them and remember that they depict a specific time and place and not everything may be as it appears.

Local History Resources:

The following is a selection of California-specific aerial photograph databases that have material available online. It is by no means a complete list and more material may be added as it is discovered or made available digitally.

UC Santa Barbara Library's Aerial Photography database

By far the most accessible source for California-specific aerial photographs is UC Santa Barbara Library's Aerial Photography database ( This repository includes millions of mosaics and individual aerial photographs from throughout the state and many of them can be downloaded for free directly from the website. The FrameFinder tool is the easiest means of finding photos, although it can be quite overwhelming. Individual dots are placed on the map, each oof which represents an aerial photograph, usually part of a larger mosaic. You can click the Flight ID record for information relating to the flight, including usually a list of all of the photographs that are include in the mosaic and their individual record numbers. More simply, you can click the Free Download link beside Scan to see and download the photograph. The FrameFinder is currently the best way of accessing photographs, unfortunately, because the other method—the AP Flights Catalog—doesn't allow you to select individual photographs to view.

Fresno State University Henry Madden Library's Map and Aerial Photograph Collections

Fresno State University has its own collection of maps and aerial photographs ( that cover all of California, although their collection is far less extensive than UC Santa Barbara's. Its MALT indexing tool is regrettably only useful for the Fresno area, so users from outside that area must search for photos from the Digitized Collections website, which can be more tedious. Nonetheless, nearly 4,000 photographs are available of Santa Cruz County ranging from 1937 to 1993.

UC Santa Cruz University Library's Maps & Aerial Photos database (currently offline)

The most convenient option would be to access UC Santa Cruz's collection of maps and aerial photographs (, but unfortunately the digitized photographs were taken down in 2020 and are still not back online. It is still possible to look through the Aerial Photo Flight Indexes to determine if UCSC has a photograph you need for your research. The index PDFs include specific details of the flight an the customized maps on the pages allow you to identify precisely what photograph would be the most useful.

Google Maps and Google Earth

The easiest and two of the best options for accessing current and near-current satellite photographs of Santa Cruz County are Google Maps ( and Google Earth ( On Google Maps, to avoid distraction, turn off Labels, and for the most recent map turn off "Globe View" (this will also avoid the 3D effect and avoid you accidentally going to Street View). Capturing images from it is a pain, so use your computer's screen capture app. Also remember that all Google Maps are under copyright, so using them in commercial products is legally not allowed.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Stations: Farley

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Claus Spreckels was a prominent individual within Santa Cruz County throughout his life. By 1871, he was already becoming the sugar king, importing 125 tons of raw sugar per day from Hawaii, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, and isolated areas of California to his refinery in San Francisco. But in 1872, he became interested in refining sugar from beets to maintain his thriving empire. He turned to Santa Cruz County and settled his eyes upon roughly 1,000 acres of Rancho Aptos.

Stereograph of the Aptos Hotel, late 1870s, by C. W. J. Johnson. [California State Library – colorized using DeOldify]

Rancho Aptos had been a Mexican land grant given to a member of the Castro family, Rafael de Jesús Castro, in 1833. Castro continued to hold most of the land for the next forty years, primarily using the sprawling marine terrace to raise cattle. However, he also built a 500-foot-long pier near the mouth of Aptos Creek around 1850, from which he shipped lumber, flour, and cattle hide. This was extended another 500 feet in 1867 by Titus Hale, allowing larger ships to dock at the pier. Hale used the pier during these years to ship cords of oak to San Francisco, where it was used to heat homes during the winter. Castro finally relinquished ownership of most of his property in 1872, when his wife, María Soledad Cota, abandoned him. Spreckels swooped in and bought it for $80,000.

Lithograph of Claus Spreckels, ca 1875. [Public domain]

In the grand scheme of his enterprises, Spreckels’ operations in the Aptos area were minor, although not insignificant. There were signs that the region was primed for beet growing and Spreckels needed to experiment before expanding his operations. However, Santa Cruz County was exceptionally isolated, with only a few rugged mountain roads and steamships providing ways out. To the south, however, the Southern Pacific Railroad had opened a new route to San Francisco the previous year. To make shipping goods easier, Spreckels joined with Frederick A. Hihn to finance and support the construction of the Santa Cruz Railroad, which passed through his property on its way to Pajaro in 1875. Meanwhile, Spreckels began planting beets while closely observing the activities of the nearby California Beet Sugar Company, based out of Soquel. Spreckels' precise relationship, if any, with this firm is unclear, and it is unknown if he ever produced a commercial crop at his Aptos property. Nonetheless, he saw the potential of Aptos as a tourist destination and continued to invest in the area.

Engraving of the Aptos Hotel complex, late 1870s. By W. W. Elliott & Company. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections]

On May 22, 1875, Spreckels opened the luxurious Aptos Hotel above the cliffs between the railroad tracks and the Monterey Bay south of Aptos. The Santa Cruz Sentinel of March 27, 1875, says of the hotel complex: