Friday, December 26, 2014

Monte Vista

The Loma Prieta Lumber Company established two logging communities above its primary milling site at Loma Prieta. Both were uncreatively named the same: Monte Vista. The first Monte Vista was founded in 1883 five miles above Aptos at the end of the Loma Prieta Railroad. In the three miles that it took to get to the camp from Loma Prieta via Molino Switch, the railroad had to cross Aptos Creek five times. Two of the trestles that crossed the creek were over 200-feet long and one had a sharp bend in the middle. At Monte Vista, over 200,000 board feet of timber were cut and made into lumber at the small sawmill erected on the site. Other lumber was shipped down the grade to the larger mill to process. The first full harvest season began in 1884 and the mill at Monte Vista operated for the next five seasons as both a logging camp for the larger mill to the south and as a stand-alone milling operation.

The lumber train heading to Monte Vista, 1891.  (Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
Problems arose in the fall of 1886 when logging crews operating out of Monte Vista found their northward path blocked by the imposing hillsides of Aptos Creek. Despite plans to mill the miles of acreage north of the satellite mill, the company could move no further. The skid road required to reach the upper tracts of the timber field found no footing. This is why the Southern Pacific Railroad joined in and annexed the Loma Prieta Railroad, converting it into a branch line: to get to the timber further to the north. The railroad fought the so-called "Hell's Gate"—an especially narrow section of the canyon—and found a way to the land beyond. In March 1888, the route from Monte Vista to the new lumber tracts was opened, and the mill got up and relocated, taking its name with it, thereby founding Monte Vista #2.

Loma Prieta Excursion Train, c. late 1890s. (Paul Johnston Collection, MAH)
This was quite possibly the most rugged and remote sections of the Southern Pacific standard-gauged network and unfortunately few photographs of the area survive. The new camp was two miles to the north of the old one and the track hugged the west bank of the creek almost the entire stretch. The Southern Pacific Railroad included the new location in its agency books and timetables as the end of the line, placing it 120 miles south of San Francisco via Pajaro Junction. It was classified as an A-type station, which meant it had a platform and siding. A small station structure was erected there as well as numerous worker cabins and a small store for employees. Unlike Loma Prieta, this was strictly a work camp and most families lived in the larger village to the south. Monte Vista was a workers' camp, plain and simple. That being said, it was popular with tourists on weekends and, since the mill didn't run then, groups would visit the small community to enjoy the trees and dance under the stars at night. A tavern built at Monte Vista catered to both workers' and tourists' more base desires.

Only one train was assigned to work between Loma Prieta and Monte Vista, but it worked constantly each weekday, shuttling lumber and split stuff to the sidings at Molino or transferring logs to the planing mill. It was forced to backdown the canyon since there was no turntable or wye at Monte Vista, but it always ran at the head of the train to prevent runaway cars. At least two spurs branched off at Monte Vista, as well as a water tower.

Monte Vista #2 suffered terribly from a winter storm in early 1899. Hell's Gate collapsed atop the railroad right-of-way and the costs to rebuild or repair the track were deemed too much. The lumber camp was abandoned and its salvageable parts removed. Loma Prieta, in turn, was also abandoned and the company looked elsewhere for timber. The Southern Pacific Railroad pulled all the useable track between Molino and the slide, leaving the right-of-way behind to return to a state of nature. The Molino Timber Company would later come and reclaim a portion of that right-of-way to the bottom of its incline grade, but Monte Vista was gone forever. A victim of nature. Both Monte Vistas are located within the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, at undesignated locations along Aptos Creek. The later mill site is likely no longer accessible to the public due to its remoteness.


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

1 comment:

  1. Years ago, I tried to find the right of way for this railroad and found I could only go a short
    distance on it before I ended up in Aptos Creek itself trying to scramble over endless boulders
    to the point of exhaustion. It was so hard to believe a railroad had run up through here.
    But there were pieces of rail here and there in the creek which confirmed that there had been
    a railroad in this seemingly impossible and impassable narrow canyon. Thank you for another
    excellent article, Derek!


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