Friday, February 12, 2016

West Beach Road Spurs, Part I

The railroad spur that breaks off from the Santa Cruz Branch at Ohlone Parkway and runs to Industrial Road is one of the newest freight areas in Santa Cruz County. The first evidence for the spur there is in a 1931 aerial photograph that shows a single spur breaking off northbound and running alongside two large warehouses that sat between Beach Road and the right-of-way. The primary patron of this spur, and the probable patron for whom it was initially built, was the Apple Growers' Cold Storage Company facility, which maintained a large refrigerated building at the site. Apple Growers' first moved to the site in February 1929 on lands owned by Mitchell Resetar, a local fruit-growing magnate. In 1932, the company was renamed Apple Growers' Ice & Cold Storage Company, under which name it operated until 2011. A tiny little spur forked off at the end, running beside an outbuilding. By 1954, the main spur track had been extended to the edge of the Central Supply aggregates yard, which likely used that spur for importing supplies.

1969 aerial image of the West Beach Street spur (top-center) while only Green Giant and the Apple Growers'
occupied the site. Further growth is clearly planned considering the track's length. (UCSC Digital Collections)

In 1969, a long sweeping spur was broken off from these original spurs at the site of the northern-most warehouse (now demolished). This new spur crossed Beach Road and paralleled the newly-build Industrial Road before turning to the south where it dead-ended between a field and a large open lot. The original purpose for this spur was to cater to Green Giant, which installed its own short spur beside the large facility it built along Beach Road. Green Giant had maintained a small presence in Watsonville for decades at the corner of West Beach and Walker Streets, but in 1969, during a county-wide campaign to attract new businesses to the county (a project that also attracted Lipton to Santa Cruz's West Side), it relocated to West Beach Street directly across from the Apple Growers' facility. For the next 22 years, it remained on the site using the factory for packaging and cold storage until financial troubles forced the company to relocate to Mexico, where labor costs were lower. Pillsbury purchased the company in 1979, so it was they who were responsible for this move. When Green Giant first relocated to Industrial Road, great plans were in place to turn this area into an industrial neighborhood. A spur was broken off directly opposite Green Giant in anticipation of this, but no business ever appears to have used this spur.

Martin John Franich Company advertisement. Date unknown.
By 1973, when the Southern Pacific Railroad published a SPINS map of the area, one can finally get a good look at the types of businesses operating out of this upstart industrial district. Just after the initial break from the mainline track, a short north-oriented spur heads across Errington Road to cater to the Coast Counties Canning Company. The company was founded in 1956 and likely began construction alongside the Santa Cruz Branch soon afterwards. Eventually, this cannery spanned both sides of the road in 1973 and had a second south-oriented spur across the street that also catered to the Travers Cold Storage Company. Coast Counties was likely closed around 1984 when Del Mar Food Products Corporation purchased the company to obtain their processing equipment. The area north of Errington Road was still undergoing development in 1969, suggesting that Coast Counties only had the spur north of that road installed immediately prior to 1973. Ray L. Travers, meanwhile, founded his cold storage company in 1956, pioneering the first controlled atmosphere storage for apples. Over time, his company eventually came to own both Travers and the Apple Growers' facilities, but the ultimate fate of the former remains unknown. Further down the main spur along the original portion of this track, three patrons operated out of the area. Along the first offshoot spur, the Apple Growers Cold Storage Company still maintained its large freezer and facility. Meanwhile, at the end of the spur, the track forked to cater to Martin John Franich Co., a local apple grower, and Granite Construction Company, the successor to Central Supply. Mate Franić, a Croatian immigrant, was one half of the Franich Bros., which split in 1940 creating two separate firms. Martin probably relocated to this up and coming freight area at around that time, and he continued to operate there until his death in 1972. His son, Marty, later became a partner in the company while simultaneously running a car dealership, although when M.J. Franich Company finally closed is not presently known (Marty's dealership still operates, although Marty himself died in 1989). Back along the main spur, the track crossed Beach Road at Industrial Road and almost immediately forks into three segments. At the south, the spur to Green Giant ran alongside the warehouse, while at right, a short spur was built across Industrial Road in anticipation of future development that never came. The main spur itself continued through a gradual southward looping arch before terminating ingloriously at nothing. By 1998, this spur had forked and catered to Dean Foods Vegetables, a packing house, and Cascade Refrigeration, and both were still listed as the proprietors in 2003, although it is unclear whether the latter is still there today.

Google Street View image of the Apple Growers's Ice & Cold Storage grounds after the fire (burn damage at left), 2011.

Today, the majority of these spurs still exist within this area, although only a few of them are still used regularly. Names and ownership have changed as well. For instance, Errington Road is now known as the Ohlone Parkway and is a major thoroughfare across Watsonville Slough. The Coast Counties Cannery is now the Second Harvest Food Bank and the spur to it has long since been removed with no trace of it remaining. Similarly, the spur that went to Travers Cold Storage is gone and the building itself is occupied by Jackel Enterprises, Inc. Along the oldest track, only the main track remains with the track itself truncated and its parallel spur for Apple Growers mostly buried. Regarding the businesses themselves, the Apple Growers building burned down spectacularly in 2011 causing $3 million worth of damage to finished Martinelli's products. The site was bulldozed soon afterwards and is currently a vacant lot. Meanwhile, the truncated track no longer enters the Granite Construction grounds. However, all is not ended in this area. Northstar Biofuels LLC, a newer business occupying the area between the spur and the mainline track, has recently been using the spur (and others) for locally-sourced biofuels.

The full freight area between Ohlone Parkway and Industrial Road, c. 2015. [Google Maps – Satellite View]

Original cider plant on 3rd Street, c 1885. (Monterey Bay Area News)

Across West Beach Street (formerly Beach Road), the spurs to both Green Giant and to the undeveloped field have both been removed, leaving only the main spur track behind. The removal of the Green Giant spur, specifically, occurred after 2003 as it is still listed as being in place in that year. The former Green Giant property was purchased by S. Martinelli's & Company as their West Beach Plant in 1993. Stephen G. Martinelli began bottling Champagne cider in Watsonville in 1868 and after Prohibition, his company eventually switched to producing exclusively non-alcoholic bubbling apple juice (the alcoholic blend was finally discontinued in 1979). Their primary bottling plant and corporate headquarters remains on East Beach Street near Carr Street. In the early 1990s, the company planned to erect a new facility on Kearney Street, but the closure of the Green Giant plant allowed them to move to an established packing house. The West Beach Plant remains today their largest packing and bottling house, but they never used the tracks to export their goods (although Apple Growers', one of their largest distributors, probably did). This main spur track still curves and, when it straightens out, it forks and caters to Dean Foods and now AmeriCold Logistics (formerly Cascade Refrigeration). It is along this spur that the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railroad stores its rolling stock when they are not in use, suggesting that the adjacent businesses do not use them.

Official Railroad Information:
Like most patrons along private spurs, the Southern Pacific Railroad never considered these "stops" in the formal sense, so they never appeared in their station books or on their timetables. SPINS maps released over the years have mapped the ownership of spurs that those remain the only official railroad documentation for this area.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9037˚N, 121.7679˚W

Portions of this freight area can be viewed along Ohlone Parkway (where the spur breaks off from the Santa Cruz Branch), West Beach Street, and Industrial Road, but permission is required of the companies to visit any of the spurs that remain on private property. Most of the track in this area remains viably in use, so caution is warned when observing the tracks, and make sure to ask permission before following a spur into a private facility.

Citations & Credits:


  1. You can see the Martinelli's spur in the photo link below.

  2. Derek, Green Giant was certainly in Watsonville before 1969. The plant used to be at the corner of W. Beach and Walker.

    1. Thank you! That explains a mismatch in the sources, with one noting the "new" facility (built in 1969) and another the same year referencing the "old" facility. I just wish the Register-Pajaronian were published on

  3. Our friends at the SCMAH might be able to look in the directories to see when the Green Giant plant opened in Watsonville. There were so many frozen food plants in Santa Cruz County. My father-in-law had the contract at most of them to haul away the culls in the 1950s and 60s. Other people subcontracted with him to use the culls for cattle feed. It was a long ways from Birdseye in Santa Cruz to Aromas to dump out vegetable waste. Cooked spinach was the worst thing to haul; it was heavey and all came out in a blob. They turned over a truck or two trying to dump it out.


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