Monday, April 29, 2013

Journeys: Harmony Acres to Waterman Switch

After three emails from two colleagues praising the exploration value of the upper Dougherty Extension Railroad, I could not help but check it out. As a bit of background, the Dougherty Extension existed between 1887, when Dougherty's original mill in Zayante burned down, and 1915, when the lumbering north of Boulder Creek ended. Parts of the line remained in use until 1917 to sell land at the Riverside Grove and Wildwood subdivisions, though the tracks north of those subdivisions may have been pulled earlier. By the late 1910s and early 1920s, nature was retaking the stretch of tracks north of Boulder Creek and the tracks had been removed. The line was narrow gauged throughout its existence and when the tracks were removed, the 30-year-old ties were abandoned, maintaining a 96-year vigil to the present along parts of the right-of-way.

To get to the site, Duncan Nanney described it to me with Brian Liddicoat supporting the directions. After entering Castle Rock State Park along northbound CA Route 9, look for a sign advertising 1/4 mile to a pullout, which is immediately followed by a fire road on the right that doubles as the original Saratoga Toll Road with two mailboxes at the end of it. The pullout sign is sitting on the right-of-way and the road is roughly the site of Waterman Switch. The northbound right-of-way is obvious and easily navigable as it parallels the Saratoga Toll Road (a state park fire road and hiking trail) for some time before breaking off again (and eventually dead-ending). Southbound, though, is another story. The San Lorenzo River dives through an 8' high culvert under the highway and there is something of a trail heading down to it on the south side of the road. Once beside the burgeoning river, head up the opposite hillside. Do not cross the river, just cross the small stream bed and onto the flat clearing opposite. From there, you should be able to easily spot the slightly recessed right-of-way. Begin your journey southbound along the Boulder Creek & Pescadero Railroad!

Chart of artifacts and locations between "Harmony Acres" private drive and Waterman Switch
The right-of-way looking northbound from CA Route 9 near Saratoga Toll Road.
The right-of-way looking northbound toward CA Route 9. A gully and embankment temporarily interrupt the ROW.
The ROW looking southbound from the gully. It remains miraculously exposed.
The ROW looking south through a cut.
The ROW looking north toward the gully.
The ROW looking north past a small washout. The ROW has become somewhat overgrown here.
The ROW looking south in a clearing. Again, it is somewhat overgrown here.
The ROW looking north from the clearing. A young redwood tree has made a home here.
The ROW looking south at a slide. The cut on the right spilled over the tracks many years ago judging by the aged moss that has collected on the rubble.
The ROW looking south through another cut. Here, fallen trees block the original path of the train.
The ROW looking north from the same spot. The slide can just be seen and the ROW is somewhat overgrown.
The ROW looking south at another small clearing.
The ROW looking north. A crushed tree shows evidence of recent human hikers. 
The ROW looking south at yet another small clearing. Access to light here has given rise to numerous young redwood trees over recent years.
The ROW looking north from roughly the same place.
The ROW looking south. The small redwoods have had their fair share of problems, though, as evidenced by the numerous fallen trunks that litter the trail.
Eureka! The fabled exposed (and bent) rail sits comfortably beside the ROW above the San Lorenzo River.
The ROW looking south from the site of the rail.
The ROW looking north from the site of the rail.
Railroad ties are also visible and in miraculously good shape at the site of the rail. Ties like this are visible for much of the remainder of the southward hike though none were spotted before this point.
The rail from a different angle. Duncan Nanney mused that this rail seems stronger and larger than what he expected for a narrow gauged rail. I can't help but agree, but from all existing information, the Dougherty Extension Railroad was never broad gauged. The reason for this single rail's continued existence is likewise a mystery.
The rail as later viewed from CA Route 9 across the San Lorenzo River. It is visible from a pullout at mile marker 18.97, about a quarter mile south of Saratoga Toll Road.
More railroad ties along the ROW. These ones don't have any moss on them like most of the others do.
The dark ROW looking north through a cut in the hillside.
The ROW looking south and seeming fairly clear of debris. The San Lorenzo River can be seen at left.
The ROW looking south through a small cut.
An exposed tie hanging off the edge of the ROW.
The ROW looking south toward a washout.
The ROW looking south after the washout. Human-made trails loop around the washout.
The washout along the ROW looking north. The degree of destruction is more evident from this angle.
A large clearing along the ROW after the washout, looking south. This area is wide enough to have supported a short holding spur, though the length of the section is fairly marginal. It is possible that a small support structure was here such as a water tower or loading platform, though no evidence of either was apparent.
The ROW looking south from the clearing.
The narrow end of the clearing looking south along the ROW.
A timbered tree trunk with a scaffold hole visible beside the ROW just south of the clearing.
The ROW looking south along yet another washout just south of the clearing.
Exposed ties, at left, beside a minor washout. At least five ties were still on the bed while
the fallen trees broke two ties which lay beside the ROW in pieces.
The same washout looking north, showing four of the ties at right.
The ROW looking south from the washout.
The ROW continuing south through a minor cut.
A whole tie uplifted from the rail bed and tossed aside. The forest is slowly reclaiming it.
A stretch of exposed ties along the ROW looking south. At least a dozen ties were visible
at even lengths here, showing how little the forest has reclaimed most of the old bed.
The ROW continuing south.
The ROW continuing south through a minor cut with a clearing at left.
The ROW, looking southbound, breaks off at this point as a gulch passes through it. The gulch seems to be old and well-established suggesting that a short trestle was probably built here when the line was in operation. Slides and washouts at this location have erased any obvious evidence of such a trestle, though one must have existed.
The gulch as viewed looking north continues almost as if it doesn't careen off of a 20 foot ledge, again supporting the argument that a short trestle was probably here and has since washed away. The ROW on the opposite side of the gulch can clearly be seen continuing northbound. The gulch also appears to establish the boundary between properties.
The ROW continuing south from the Harmony Acres dirt driveway. We did not continue our journey past this point on this day, though we plan to in the future. The ROW appears to be covered in grass at this place and can be seen passing by a two-story home just a little further down. About a quarter of a mile south, it should pass over McGaffigan Mill Road, where evidence of a mill site may be observed. Stay tuned for the next journey to the Dougherty Extension RR.


  1. Great article! The weird thing is that when I was down in this area a few
    weeks ago, I completely missed the rail you located which was probably the one I saw when I was down there years ago. What I DID find was ANOTHER rail
    farther down the right of way on what I soon saw was somebody's private property. The problem with this roadbed is I do not recall seeing any sign
    indicating where the private property begins and Castle Rock Park or any
    other area ends.

  2. That must have been such a fun & beautiful ride, back in the day! Automobiles suck.

  3. I really enjoyed your article. I live on top of the old Mcgaffigan mill office site and have spent time at the old mill site 300 yards away. With the exception of a winch engine, bumper, and old well head, nothing exists above ground. We have found a few artifacts but nothing more. The old bar and brothel are now homes. Id be happy to show you the site. It is on PRIVATE land and can not be accessed without notifying the owner as our property is behind a security gate.

    1. Michael, email me at We'll arrange a time to meet. I heard that there was a trestle in that area that got washed out during the 1982 flood. I doubt much survives of it, but the area used to be a gold mine of railroad materials. Is the security gated home the "Harmony Acres" property, or is it further south down the road? In any case, I'd love a personal tour, if nothing else to view the right-of-way through the property.

    2. I love the article and it helps me put into perspective the portion of the Doughertry Extension Railroad in Castle Rock State Park. One thing I would like to add of interest: the right of way (ROW) north of the crossing on State Highway 9 (see the above picture with the sign "TURNOUT 1/4 MILE") is what I consider the location of Waterman Switch. Unless someone can convince me otherwise, this is the logical location for the terminus of what Rick Hamman's book (pg. 123) states is where saw-logs felled in the Pescadaro watershed (west side of Waterman Gap) were brought to be loaded onto the Dougherty Extension Railroad. According to Hamman's book, there was a sort of incline skidway operated by two donkey engines and lubricated by a two-inch waterline that brought sawlogs from the Pescadaro side of the ridge to Waterman Switch for transport to the Dougherty Mill four miles above Boulder Creek (Ferguson Ranch site?). An inspection of the area shows at least one -- and possibly two -- spurs in the flat and plenty of room for a cold deck. The ROW continues north from the site to the terminus of the railroad further up the San Lorenzo River. There is a large flat just south of the crossing of the old Beekhuis Road that is the probable location of the highest logging camp on the railroad.

    3. Miles, all I can tell you about the right-of-way north of the junction is that it keeps going on...for a long time. And I really mean that. It appears to branch at a few spots and I definitely lose it every once in a while, and I know it criss-crossed the river at least four times and probably more. Granted the river is more of a creek here, but it still was something to cross.

      Regarding the location of Waterman Switch, it may very well have been at or around the crossing over Hwy 9. However, there is a Waterman Gap Loop road that travels down from CA 236 and heads toward the Saratoga Toll Road somewhat. This may be further proof, except it comes in from the south at a very steep angle. Also, Waterman Creek is further north than this site and any machinery would have to pass over Pescadero Creek to get to the incline here. Just looking at Google Maps, I'd actually suggest that Beekhius Road leads to Waterman Switch rather than the clearing near the Toll Road. There is the alternate probability, though, that "Waterman Switch" led away from the San Lorenzo River and up a slight grade to a spot where it could collect logs from the incline. Otherwise, there isn't much of a reason for it being a "switch", which means split in the line. I'd presume that there is a Waterman Spur associated with the Waterman Switch. Where either of these are is still unclear at present.

    4. I should add something I just realized. Duncan Nanney has on his topographical map "Waterman Gap" marked as the junction of CA 9 and CA 236. It is printed on the map. He also marks Waterman Switch as the junction of CA 9 and the Saratoga Toll Road, which is where you mark it as well. I believe it's closer to the clearing where the little kiosk booth is, but that's still in the same area.


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