Friday, June 6, 2014

Wilder Creek Trestle

As the now-joint Coast Line and Ocean Shore Railroad right-of-way—triple tracked—curved northward out of Santa Cruz on its heading toward Davenport and beyond, it narrowed into a single lane as it passed over its second trestle at Wilder Creek. The creek is an expansive waterway breaking quickly into branches as it travels from Ben Lomond Mountain to Wilder Beach. The largest of these branches required an impressive redwood truss bridge to cross. The trestle began southeast of the Wilder Ranch dairy and ended just slightly southwest of it, spanning roughly 850 feet.

A freight train heads north to Davenport over the Wilder Creek Trestle, c. 1950. (MacGregor)
The creek itself had not always named Wilder Creek, nor do all consider it called that today. The earliest name attributed to it is Bolcroff Creek, for an early Santa Cruz settler, while Meder Creek, named after Moses A Meder, was the name it had until the Wilder family moved in to the property. That name is after Deloss D. Wilder, the first Wilder to own the property beginning in 1871. But the government remains inconclusive on the name, often using Wilder and Meder interchangeably, a debate that still quietly continues to this day in paperwork.

Double-headed excursion train heading toward Santa Cruz, 1948 (Rice & Echeverria)
Unlike the other trestles along the joint-SP/OS right-of-way to Davenport, the trestle over Wilder Creek was never filled in. First built in 1905, it remained a full-exposed wood-frame trestle right into the present, finally being filled at some point after 1951, probably in the 1970s. It is instantly recognizable compared to other water spans in the county due to a darker wood or heavier tar used in the center of the trestle, as is visible in all three photographs here. Because it was not filled, the trestle was heavily reinforced for use along a line that primarily supported cement trains heading out from Davenport, thus photographs show extensive crossbeams with closely-packed pilings. Though heavily photographed in excursion trips that passed the Wilder property, pedestrians were not encouraged to cross the bridge and no walkway or railings were provided for such a use. A sign in the photograph above looks similar to other signs along the Southern Pacific's routes warning people to stay away from the tracks and trestle.

A northbound double-header taking an excursion group to Davenport, c. 1950. (Hamman)
Wilder Creek now travels through three separate culverts under the right-of-way, one under the former trestle near its eastern end, and two east of the former trestle through additional culverts. The filled trestle can be easily viewed from the Wilder Ranch State Park property as a steep hillside just south of the former houses of the dairy farm. No evidence of the physical trestle remains, though the tracks continue to pass over the top of the fill. The right-of-way is currently owned by the City of Santa Cruz as part of its Iowa Pacific-operated Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway project.


  • Donald Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008).
  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).
  • Bruce MacGregor, South Pacific Coast: An Illustrated History of the Narrow-Gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad (Howell-North Books, 1968).
  • Walter Rice & Emiliano Echeverria, Images of Rail: Rails of California's Central Coast (Arcadia, 2008).


  1. I wonder who organized, and how popular, all these excursion trains were. I see them in the 1930s taking one last trip on shortlines that have dropped passenger service. I also wonder who rode them and why more photos are not in circulation.

    It looks like these were larger groups of people from the bay area. The more powerful locomotives would stop in Watsonville to be replaced by smaller items that could handle sharp curves. Still, for the 1940s, I don't see what all the bystanders were looking at; these are typical steam locomotives towing a bunch of day coaches.

    In the 1960s, I can remember taking rides on the 'Santa Claus Special' along the Pacific Grove shoreline. It was sponsored by Holman's department store, and it probably wasn't easy as the 'Del Monte' was on a seven-day schedule, leaving no spare equipment on the Monterey branch.

  2. Derek,

    I think that you are confusing a "truss bridge" with a trestle. The images show a trestle, not a truss bridge.

    Also, if you compare the Rice and Echeverria image carefully to the others, I think that you will see that it is flipped horizontally from the correct orientation. i.e, The three images you posted are all captured from the same general location at what I would call the south west embankment.

    1. Hey Mike,
      Right on both accounts. One of the photographs is definitely flipped. That's not the first time such a thing has happened. It's also one of the reasons why I've switched to discussing just the stations and stops for a while. The trestles are a bit more cumbersome and problematic.

      Regarding the trestle, you are correct in that this is a trestle and that there is no truss span involved. However, most of the trestles in Santa Cruz County do have a truss bridge or a prefabricated steel span bridge involved somewhere in its construction. The Wilder and Moore Creek trestles are somewhat rare in that they don't include these features. Thanks for pointing it out, though. Someday I am going to have to go through all of these comments and integrate them into the main articles. I just don't have the time right now.

  3. What was the source of material used for the embankment? In 1906, fill material would have been readily available from the substantial cuts being made during construction of the line. Post 1950, the fill might be expected to be imported exotic material. Examination of the Wilder Creek embankment shows that it is constructed from local Santa Cruz "mudstone" fragment similar to that used in some of the other embankments between Santa Cruz and Davenport.

    1. I am unaware of the source of the fill material. I figure it probably comes from the Davenport plant, possibly from rubble materials and rejected rock, but I don't know for sure. I know it was filled and but I don't know from where.

  4. Nice photo of the freight, it looks to be very typical of the operations around the county. A "twelve-wheeler" (4-8-0) pulling some older outside-braced cars.

    The story seems to be that these locomotives, built in the 1890s, were either given a pass or bought in such small quantities as to leave them misfits in the roster. Never used to a great deal, they were eventually coming to the end of their practical lives. Southern Pacific bought almost a hundred and then scattered them across their system, making them a nuisance for the various maintenance departments. In the 1920s the Trainmaster in Watsonville asked to have them saved from the scrappers and sent for their extended lives to work in Santa Cruz. So from 1930 to about 1950 this is the look of many of the trains, though photos still seem scarce.

    That one above looks like the #2917 with an altered position for the headlight. The #2913 is in the "last train leaving Boulder Creek' photo. The #2914 is the only survivor and is on display in Bakersfield (look for photos by searching). The "Twelve-Wheelers" look like any other locomotive until you're thirty-degrees out, then one can see that they are longer; they had a lot of low-end torque to move up steeper grades.

    1. That now looks like the #2817, not the #2917, but they are both of the same style. The headlight is lowered, silver paint applied, a headlight on the tender for backing up the hill to Olympia, and the square (coffin-style) tender has been replaced by a rounded (haystack-style) tender in order to see more easily while operating in reverse. The #2921 is pictured on the 'Inspiration Point Tunnel' page.

      While this site would like to focus on trackside structures, and identifying a specific locomotive falls clearly outside of that, I felt that this might be of some interest to Santa Cruz County historians; they made an odd and unique cluster of equipment specifically suited for the terrain and the heavy loads that needed to be pulled.

    2. Grant, I can't agree with you more. I still have around 50 stations, stops, spurs, sidings, mills, trestles, etc. to cover before I tap out at Pajaro/Watsonville Junction. After that point (in other words, in a year or so) I will probably be looking for new content. Streetcars have been one suggestion but I think a thorough discussion of the engines used on the line may be another. Perhaps I could even enlist your aid in doing some of these articles since I will not be as available in one year's time.


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