Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Waterman Switch

Location of Waterman Switch. (Google Maps)
The last significant stop along the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company extension railroad, Waterman Switch was located 7 miles north of Boulder Creek Depot on the west bank of the San Lorenzo River. Whether there was an earlier purpose for the site is unknown, but in 1902 it was here that the SCVM&L Co. built a transfer yard for logs sent from Waterman Creek. Waterman Creek was a small branch stream of Pescadero Creek in San Mateo County named after a resident who lived on the site in the 1860s and 1870s, though his full name or origin is unknown at present. It was along Waterman Creek that the milling company established a temporary logging camp. There was not enough lumber to justify a full milling operation along the creek, so the company built a mile-long skid road from Waterman Gap over Waterman Ridge to Waterman Switch. This entire line was supported with water taps to lubricate the skid road and with two steam donkeys to facilitate the transfer of logs. This operation was known as the Dougherty Wire Cable Logging Road. At Waterman Switch, there was at least one spur (Waterman Spur) that would allow parked flatbed rail cars to be loaded. Since the upper San Lorenzo River had already been logged off in the previous season, it is likely that both the mainline and the spur were used for loading logs. The logs were then shipped down the extension railway to the primary Dougherty Mill at Riverside Grove, where they were processed. This rather complex, though inexpensive, method of retrieving logs from Waterman Creek only lasted through the 1902 season, at which time it was declared that the creek had been thoroughly logged. Dougherty Mill shut down, and its equipment moved to a small operation along Deer Creek, a feeder steam of Bear Creek.

The California Timber Company Mill along Waterman Creek, c. 1910. (Santa Cruz Museum & Art & History)
The story of Waterman Switch, though, continued. In April 1903, the wives of the Dougherty brothers, as well as numerous other investors, combined to form the California Timber Company. Their first task was to build a modern milling operation at the headwaters of Pescadero Creek. As a part of this operation, they built a two-mile long localized railroad that brought logs from the upper basin to the mill. A record 109,441 board feet of lumber were milled in one August day in 1905. It's daily output was between 50,000 and 75,000, which was still very impressive. To ship this milled lumber, wagonloads would cross down the old skid road, now refurbished to support wagon traffic, and unload onto flat cars at Waterman Switch, where the lumber would ship to San José via the Southern Pacific Railroad. Plans were put in place almost immediately to build a full railroad right-of-way through to Pescadero Creek from some site above Boulder Creek. Southern Pacific Railroad even incorporated the Coast Line Railroad partially for this purpose. Plans were put in place to standard-gauge the line through to an agreed-upon tunnel site near the old Chase Mill.  Regrettably, the earthquake in 1906 shelved the idea and Waterman Switch remained the transfer yard for the California Timber Company until it closed in 1913. The site served little more as a loading facility during these ten years, and when the mill closed, the tracks were abandoned. While they were not likely removed until the U.S. entry into World War I in 1917, they did not see use as the property developers stopped at Riverside Grove, never venturing farther up the route.

The clearing 1/8-mile down Saratoga Toll Road in Castle Rock State Park is the historic site of Waterman Switch, with the right-of-way for both the main extension line (that once passed the site for another mile north) and the small Waterman Spur still visible in the underbrush opposite the clearing. The old wagon road is likely the overgrown and gated fire road that is located across the street and at a 30˚ westward angle from the entrance to Saratoga Toll Road. The right-of-way through this area is still visible, especially when heading southward. Any relics of the Waterman Switch operation itself, if there were any, are no longer extant. Along Waterman Creek, it is unknown whether any remnants of the mill remain, though an extant log dam continues to block the stream today according to the 'Pescadero-Butano Watershed Assessment: Final Report" of March 5, 2004.


  • Donald Thomas Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographic Dictionary (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008).
  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz: Otter B Books, 2002).

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