Friday, January 8, 2016

Glenwood, South Park & Pacific Railroad

Deep in the redwoods in the mountains north of Scotts Valley, a small private miniature railroad once thrived under the guardianship of Jim "Homer" Holmes. Holmes was not new to the miniature railroad game—he had helped Billy Jones build his small railroad on Jones's ranch in Los Gatos and Holmes had also assisted Erich Thomsen. In addition, Jim was an employee of the Southern Pacific Railroad, working out of their signal department for decades. Thus, in 1959, Jim and his brother Dick decided to purchase land in Glenwood for the purpose of constructing their very own railroad. Now Glenwood once had a much larger railroad of its own, but the disastrous winter storms of February 1940 put an end to that line and for  nineteen years, Glenwood sat quiet, largely forgotten by the rest of the county. Holmes had no ambition to put the former town back on the map, but he did aspire to turn his 15 acres into a miniature railroad paradise. He dubbed his creation the Glenwood, South Park & Pacific Railroad, and over the next thirty years, it would continue to grow without end.

A ride behind the "One Spot", with crowded gondola and flatcar, 1970s. (Clark Bauman)
#5 outside South Park enginehouse, 1970s. (Clark Bauman)
Construction of the 15-inch-gauge track was the first task completed, with a small fully-functional sawmill erected to cut the ties and other wood materials for the line. By 1962, the first locomotive was completed, which was essentially a custom-built steam donkey on wheels. Soon after its completion, a second locomotive, this one an oil burner that resembled a much larger narrow-gauge engine, was assembled on site. The track was slowly extended outward, covering much of the property over the years, with many friends of the Holmes' volunteering to help build and operate the trains. Two additional steam locomotives were added in the early 1980s, with one using a design based on Erich Thomsen's Redwood Valley Railway (Berkeley, CA) stock and another shop-built by Ken Kukuk. Indeed, it was Ken's Westside Locomotive Works that provided much of the machinery, parts, and technical assistance needed for Holmes and his friends to build their myriad rolling stock. A relatively large locomotive was completed in the early 2000s. To act as rolling stock for these five locomotives, a flat car, gondola, tank car, ballast car, and caboose were created, primarily to assist in further construction of the railroad. Finally, a rarely-used electric motor car, running off of overhead wires, and a heavy-duty maintenance motorcar fill out the railroad's stock.

The railroad itself was named directly after the narrow-gauged Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad in Colorado which Jim admired. Glenwood, besides being the location of the railroad, was a historic railroad stop until 1940, while the name of the Clems stop on his line is after the real-life Clems station that sat at the south-western end of the Glenwood vale. Stovebolt was named after the Chevrolet engine that ran the mill. The etymology of Luteward Junction is not currently known to this historian.

#5 being worked on outside Glenwood, 1970s.  (Clark Bauman)
The railroad is definitely a bit of a roller-coaster ride in its design, with a simple U-shaped track that has numerous spurs to access car barns, engine houses, and the sawmill. Most of the route sits on about a 4% grade but the climb from the sawmill exceeds 7% and a very short stretch near the top of the line is 9%! The turn at the bottom of the U is especially tight. Four formal stations, Glenwood, South Park, Stovebolt, and Clems, pockmark the route, with each sitting at a strategic site: South Park doubles as an enginehouse at the bottom of the grade, Glenwood is a switch to the sawmill and a car barn, Stovebolt doubles as the mill, and Clems is another enginehouse, accessible via a switch at Lutewards Junction. As of 2000, 3,000 feet of track was laid, while new track was recently still being laid further up on the hillside.

Craig operating the #13 on the Hillcrest & Wahtoke Railroad line in the 2000s. (Mike Massee)
The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake did a number to the railroad, damaging a locomotive and shifting much of the track downhill. While it has since been repaired, the most damaging aspect of the earthquake was the change of the water table from a relatively soft, easy-to-steam tap water to a much harder water that unfortunately damages the locomotives' inner workings. Because of this, the railroad has only operated on-site sporadically over the past twenty-six years. Much of its rolling stock enjoys a second life now at the Hillcrest & Wahtoke Railroad in Reedley, CA, where it can be experienced by more people than the small group of friends responsible for the GSP&P's existence. In fact, the #13 is one of the railroad's primary locomotives!

#5 on the Hillcrest & Wahtoke Railroad line in the 2000s. (Mike Massee)
Unfortunately, Dick Holmes died in 1977, and Jim Holmes just passed on 5 January 2016, leaving the future of the Glenwood, South Park & Pacific Railroad up in the air. In addition, due to the problems caused by the earthquake, the original railroad site has largely been abandoned, with vandals and thieves destroying much of the infrastructure and machinery. Although the track still remains in place, it seems the railroad will never really operate on-site again. But regardless of the physical location's fate, the locomotives and rolling stock continue on either in Reedley. The precise location of Holmes' railroad remains a closely-guarded secret, but its existence in the Santa Cruz Mountains is further evidence of the love Santa Cruz County has for railroading.

Citations & Credits:
  • "Glenwood, South Park & Pacific #13". Hillcrest.
  • Mike Massee and Clark Bauman, photographs and personal correspondence.
  • "Narrow Gauge at Glenwood". The Grand Scales Quarterly 10 (Jan 2000), 10-14.
See Also:


  1. I grew up in Glenwood and rode on this train in the late 70's early 80's. Great memory thanks for sharing.

  2. Sorry to hear of the passing of Jim. He was a great guy. I boiught a house on Glenwood cutoff in 1972 and that summer I was working out in front of the house and heard a train whistle in the distance. Thinking it was Roaring Camp I did not think much about it as the sound travels through the valleys well up here. One of my neighbors from up the hill (Mrs Ridley who was then in her 80's) came down to visit and I commented on the whistle and she said it was the boys playing with their trains up the road. She gave me directions and since I was done working for the day I headed up the hill with a Bud in my hand.

    As I made my way donw the hill and then up the driveway I heard the whistle agina but this time very close and knew I ws on the right track (so to speak :)). When I goto to the top of the driveway I see a full size wig wag signal flashing and ringing and then look to see a steam engine (of sorts) roll by with a flat car on the back with two old wooden chairs on the deck. the guys sitting in the chairs had beers in their hands and cheered as they rolled by. That was my introduction to Dick and Jim Holmes.
    My wife and daughters enjoyed many an afternoon riding the trains and talking to the Holmes brothers. At that time they had a old tent (like a Yosemite tent) set up and it was filled with train books and tools. Dick was a little older and did more of the sitting and talking while Jim did the work. The little trestle they built on the line was fantastic. They aslo had a single cylinder pump donw the hill to pump water and I remember that motor spinning to bbuild up pressure and then firing to provide more power. The diesel generator (to provide power for the 200 DC) was powered by a old fishing boat motor. Later they somehow got PG&E to run 3 phase power up Glenwwod Drive to provide the power directly to a rectifier that could generate the DC power needed for the interurban car.

    Great memories.

    Steve Joesten

  3. Hi Derek, Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences. My boys are always excited to ride on train. I also enjoy this train journey. Keep it up!

  4. Hi Derek,
    Great article, great memories. I've never been to the GSP&P though I lived up Hwy 1 in Half Moon Bay, I have followed its development through the years as we built our 18" gauge line here in Idaho, also now gone. Thanks for the links so I have everything in one place and thanks to the commenters too for their great memories.

  5. I enjoyed riding the train at the school during the 1970s

  6. Wow, This is amazing! I missed my childhood life.


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