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Friday, January 10, 2014

Clear Creek Trestle

One of the least-accessible trestles along the Felton & Pescadero Railroad's historic right-of-way is the Clear Creek Trestle located just above the San Lorenzo River in Brookdale. Though the trestle was built by the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1885 for its subsidiary F&P RR, Clear Creek itself was quite famous as the meandering brook that passes through Brookdale Lodge. While the lodge is currently closed pending numerous problems, the creek continues to pass through its Brook Room as it has since 1924. Like the others trestles along the route, the Clear Creek Trestle was originally narrow-gauged and probably built of locally-milled lumber. The trestle, as with its successor, was likely a short causeway. The wooden trestle was the first along the Boulder Creek branch to be removed and upgraded when the Southern Pacific Railroad decided to standard-gauge their lines.

The northern concrete bridge abutment at Clear Creek, c. 1980s. (Courtesy George Pepper)
The current trestle remnants date to September 26, 1903, when the Southern Pacific Railroad began standard-gauging its trestles along the Boulder Creek branch beginning with the Clear Creek Trestle. From that date forward, all the trestles along the branch would be upgraded to support standard-gauged tracks and engines. Two large concrete curbs were installed on either side of the Clear Creek gulch and a large prefabricated steel causeway trestle was set atop them. There is no evidence of a support pier or wood pilings assisting in the support of the trestle. It was undoubtedly built by the American Bridge Company which built most of the standard-gauged trestles for the Southern Pacific.

View across the gulch looking toward the southern end of the bridge, 1980s. (Courtesy George Pepper)
As with the rest of the Boulder Creek branch, the trestle was removed in the early months of 1935 after the route had been abandoned by the Southern Pacific. The tracks, ties, and trestle were all lifted but the concrete curbs remained behind. The ledge that once supported the steel trestle is very obvious in the photographs. The tops of the curbs have eroded considerably over the years, exposing the concrete frame which was once covered in wood and ballast. The curbs themselves were in excellent condition as of the late 1980s.

Another photograph of the northern abutment of the Clear Creek Trestle, 1980s. (Courtesy George Pepper)
Regrettably, this historian has yet to visit the Clear Creek trestle site due to properties blocking access. The trestle is best access through 240 Pacific Street in Brookdale. After passing through the property (with permission), follow the right-of-way for a short distance. The San Lorenzo Water District owns the two properties along the right-of-way beyond the home and the trestle can be found astride the dividing line, with the creek acting as the boundary.

  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).


  1. I believe the Brook Room opened in 1924.

  2. The same style of curbs as the west bank of the Felton Grove trestle. I wonder if the gap was 'bridge-able,' as it looks lengthy. It's a little perplexing that the Brookdale Station photos didn't catch any of this structure, and that the '09 survey map didn't even suggest that there was much here. I'm surprised it wasn't one of the small wooden trestles that are still common today for clearing creeks; it suggests a floodway was needed.

    1. Indeed, it is a bit surprising that such a large trestle is required so close to where the creek meanders through a dining room. I wonder if any other small creeks or anything feed into it on the downstream side of the lodge. I won't know if there is any other remnant of wood supports or a concrete pier until I visit myself, but George Pepper seemed pretty clear that this was all that was observable. There does seem to be some strange wood thing between the two abutments, but I think that is some sort of arbor or something and I don't expect it to still be there thirty years later when I visit. I have two photographs that I believe may be of this trestle, but I won't post them until I can confirm my suspicions.

  3. I'm not sure of what I'm seeing in the photo with the second curb visible. Is it really the far curb? It looks a little like a building with metal objects placed around. I kind of wish details like which one was pictured could be included in any description... 'north' or 'south,' or 'looking south' etc. It might be nice to number the photos in spots where there won't ever be very many, so one can easily explain what they want to say.

    I think that the two 'mystery' Brookdale photos belong here, which would make this trestle about the right size. It, however, is still curious that metal was used rather than timber, and that no pilings are to be found.

    Also, this site lists that only the north curb remains (?).

    1. I'm answering my own questions as I go.

      1. All of the current 1980s photos show the north curb, that dark item that is low and obscured by brush is the south (or eastern) curb.

      2. The trestle was about fifty-feet long and the gorge that it crosses might be as much as twenty-feet deep (notice the larger, well developed branches that are rising).

      3. Those two 'mystery' Brookdale photos belong here because they are labeled as being here, the mountains are identifiable, the bridge and track correspond to the surveyor's map (on the Brookdale Station page), a third rail for the dual-gauge has left traces in one of the images.

      I don't know what kind of bridge would hook into such curbs yet.

      I wish that I could see the path that the earlier Steen's spur may have taken. It should be only a tenth of a mile away from Reed's spur, and the surveyor's map shows properties that were awkwardly expanded in a fashion to include the abandoned land, and the telephone line takes a strange short-cut through the curve.

    2. I can reply to that as well. I have identified both photos as of the Clear Creek bridge, taken from different directions. The cut beside the bridge no longer exists—it has been enlarged greatly to allow for a swimming pool, which is probably why the southern abutment is covered today: it was filled in with fill material left behind from enlarging the cut. It also explains why the bridge seems shorter today than it would have been then.

      The bridge itself was an open deck plate girder span, though it appears the deck may have actually been entirely made of wood (this wasn't uncommon in Santa Cruz County). There is a concrete culvert beneath the bridge, but I suspect this predates the later bridge and was built earlier so that the water of Clear Creek would not undercut trestle pilings. There were no piers beneath the bridge and I agree that it was about 50-feet long.

      Regarding Steen's Spur, it was much further to the south, south of the Fish Hatchery and now almost atop Larkspur where the road becomes the right-of-way briefly. Reed's Spur, meanwhile, was the slightest bit north of where Brookdale station would be built and it ran up Pacific Ave a short distance before terminating suddenly. I have two photographs that show the spur, heavily overgrown, from about 1904. One will be appearing in my book. I think that covers everything except the actual nature of the original narrow-gauged bridge.