Friday, April 3, 2015

Moss Landing

1914 USGS Map showing Moss and the PVCRR trackage.
The small town of Moss Landing located almost precisely midway between Santa Cruz and Monterey near the mouth of the Salinas River began its life as the community of "Moss". The name was not in reference to plant growth, but rather to Charles Moss, who erected a pier at the site for the purpose of whaling in 1866. Moss built the pier with the help of a Portuguese whaler, Cato Vierra. It measured 200 feet and attracted local whalers, fishermen, and salt harvesters. Moss eventually sold the pier to the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, which operated steamships off the Powder Works Wharf in Santa Cruz. The wharf was destroyed in the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and was never rebuilt.

The destroyed pier at Moss in 1906, from the roof of a PVCRR box car.
(Pat Hathaway Collection)
The Southern Pacific Railroad first passed Dolan Road in 1873 when it was constructing its route between Pajaro and Castroville. With no major industry at Moss Landing, which was nearly two miles away in any case, no stop was established for the village. When the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad ran between Watsonville and Spreckels, however, it passed directly through the town. The combination of the pier and the railroad greatly improved the status of Moss and contributed to its rapid growth. In response to this, a post office was established in the town in 1895. The town was renamed Moss Landing in 1917 when the port became a major commercial whaling station. Financial troubles and a lack of purpose shut down the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad in 1928 (the tracks were removed in 1931), leaving the town once again without railroad access. Meanwhile, the whaling business at Moss Landing had mostly declined to a point of nonprofit and by 1931 a fish cannery had been established in the town with commercial fishing taking over whaling. More canneries opened up throughout the 1930s, settling on the inlet between Elkhorn Slough and the bay. This led to the establishment of the Moss Landing Harbor District in 1943, which sought to convert the makeshift port into a more formal harbor. The harbor opened in 1947 but few commercial industries used it since the whale and fishing industries had dried up during World War II. While fishing has continued to bring in limited revenue, it never reached the level of the 1930s. The landing is now a small-craft harbor capable of supporting around 600 vessels at docks and buoys.

Broken PVCRR tracks after the 1906 earthquake. (Bancroft Library)
Things changed drastically in 1949 when Pacific Gas & Electric built the Moss Landing Power Plant at the corner of State Route 1 and Dolan Road. To support this new operation, the Southern Pacific finally turned its eye toward the coastal town, setting up a nearly two-mile-long spur to the facility around 1950. The spur broke off from the end of the long Elkhorn siding and followed Dolan Road on the north all the way into the power plant grounds. Once inside the facility, the tracks split, with the mainline branching off a siding to run beside the gas tanks and stacks. At the same point, two spurs broke off to the south, ending just short of State Route 1. Yet another spur branched off earlier and ran on the north side of the gas tanks, with a fourth spur running parallel to it. The exact purpose for these spurs is not entirely known but it can be assumed that they were used to import materials and export products from the power plant. The plant uses natural gas to generate electricity and its two tall stacks are visible from all corners of the Monterey Bay on clear days. As of 2013, the plant is capable of producing 2,560 MW of energy, though it usually runs slightly below that amount. The plant was sold to Duke Energy (DENA) in 1998 and then sold again in 2006 to LS Power Equity Partners. The next year, Dynergy wholly purchased LS Power Equity Partners.

Moss Landing spur track with the power plant at left and the switch (station point) at right, 1965. (US Geologic Survey)
Official Railroad Information:
The Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad stop for Moss Landing was located 9.8 miles from the company's Watsonville station (roughly 0.1 miles from its switch with the SP at Watsonville) and 17.4 miles from Spreckles. The facilities at Moss Landing included a wye, 42 car-lengths of track (roughly 1,500 feet), and two spurs catering to local freight concerns. The PVCRR allowed passenger and freight service on all of its trains at all of its stops. Moss Landing Station was abandoned in 1928 and the tracks pulled in 1931.

Moss Landing switch as of 2004. Clearly the track is not heavily used
anymore, if it is used at all. (
The Southern Pacific Railroad stop for Moss Landing was located 103.8 miles from San Francisco via Watsonville Junction and San José. it was also 27.4 miles from Santa Cruz. The spur supported 7 cars (roughly 3,850 feet of track) and included both passenger and freight services. By 1954, the stop had become a flag-stop, although all previous services remained available. Passenger service was finally abandoned around 1959. A passing siding was installed at the switch prior to 1963, although this likely was simply the long siding at Elkhorn, which was abandoned as a stop at the same time. The 1987 employee timetable records that the total available trackage at Moss Landing had increased to 13,340 feet of track, although this number likely now includes track which had previously been within the power plant grounds and therefore not included in total track measurements. The trackage is still intact although it does not appear to be in use by the Dynergy or the Union Pacific Railroad.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Pajaro Valley Consolidated station: 36˚N 47' 57.551", 121˚W 47' 9.602"
Southern Pacific station: 36˚N 47' 54.211", 121˚W 45' 10.023"

The site of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad's Moss Landing Station is approximately at the site of the Moss Landing KOA Express park, at the junction of Moss Landing Road and Sandholdt Road. A spur ran beside Sandholdt to the beach while the wye made up much of the center of this jetty.

The Southern Pacific station at Moss Landing is still located just north of the intersection of Dolan Road and the Union Pacific mainline track, where an overpass runs above the tracks. There were never many services there since most activity took place within the power plant itself. Access to both the tracks and the power plant is restricted to the appropriate staff and since the track is still considered active, trespassing is not encouraged.

Citations & Credits:

  • "History", Moss Landing Harbor District.


  1. Vista del Mar was a town that existed where the power plant is now. It is shown on the 1898 'Official Map of Monterey County' compiled by Lou. G. Hare (I found this map at the UCSC digital archives). There is no trace of it on either the 1877 county map or the 1914 USGS map, but it was a five block by eight block town, and may have been a stop for the PVC RR.

  2. I expect most structures at the highway and south of Dolan have something to do with the Kaiser Refractory Brick Plant. If one likes, there is a 1951 movie online to watch titled 'Bricks from the Sea: Kaiser Refractories, Moss Landing, CA' (about 37 minutes long with a railcar - Southern Pacific open hopper #13592 - at the 19 minute mark). Some of the smaller circles on the map were probably the purging pools used in a process.


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