Friday, April 1, 2016

West Beach Street Spurs, Part II

Aerial photograph of the main Watsonville Depot freight area, 1935.
Central Supply at left. (UC Santa Cruz Aerial Photograph Collection)
The 0.8-mile stretch of Southern Pacific mainline track between the final curve out of the Watsonville Depot area and Lee Road, paralleling West Beach Street for the entirety of it, catered to a rather random assortment of industrial businesses over the decades. Indeed, for much of its history, literally nothing was along this stretch except farmsteads. By the 1940s, industrial expansion was finally moving outside of the traditional freight area allocated to Watsonville Depot. Central Supply, an aggregate company, was the first to establish itself at the gentle curve of the track as it redirected toward the beach. A spur was eventually extended to the supplier from the north, probably to allow for the easier importation of aggregates from Davenport and Olympia, where the cement plant and quarries were still active on the rail route. The spur has since been spiked and buried. Slightly further down the track, Phillips Products, an oil supplier, had a short parallel spur set up in the 1960s for shipments. The spur was still listed in 2003 as owned by Phillips Drisco Pipe, but almost all traces of it are gone. A short platform behind Pacific Agricultural Packaging (Pacific Agpak) is all the evidence that remains of this spur, suggesting they removed it when the took over the operation in the 2000s.

Aerial photograph of Bud Antle's operation, 1954.
(UCSC Aerial Photograph Collection)
At modern-day Ohlone Parkway, two spurs broke off. One long spur is the topic of another article (West Beach Street Spurs, Part I) but the other smaller spur appeared in the early 1950s, looping in a gentle arc to terminate at Beach Road. By the 1960s, a parallel spur broke off from this and ran alongside it. These catered to Bud Antle. Antle was a Watsonville native who became one of the largest lettuce producers in the country. He died in 1972 and then his son, Bob, took over, merging the company with Castle & Cooke in 1978 (it later merged into Dole Foods). The spurs were probably removed around this time as, today, only their imprints remain. The original structures that Bud used are now occupied by A.L. Lease Company—Wholesale Plumbing Supplies.

Aerial photograph of the Harris Pine Mills and Bud Antle properties, 1969. (UCSC Aerial Photograph Collection)
The Antle spur also prompted in the 1960s the start of a small runaround track (short siding) that catered to two other businesses: Harris Pine Mills and Big Creek Lumber (also known as Little Lake Industries). For the latter, one may want to read Lock, Stock & Boards: The Harris Pine Mills Story, which tells how Clyde Harris donated his entire operation to the Seventh-day Adventist movement in 1959, the year the company's second mill was built in Watsonville. Aerial photographs from 1969 show that one of the spurs catered directly to a small lumber yard on the north side of the lot while a shorter spur terminated at their planning mill. Harris shut down in 1987 and the spurs are spiked and mostly buried now, although a small bit remains behind Sambrailo. Little Lake Industries (Big Creek) occupied these structures until 1991, at which point Morgan Industries leased them for the manufacture of amusement park rides. All of the structures still remain on site and are today used by Sambrailo and ORDO Equipment Company.

Couch Distributing facility, 2016. Spur at right.
(Google Maps Satellite View)
Next door, Big Creek Lumber, a relatively major operation with its harvesting facilities near Waddell Beach on the San Mateo County line, moved in around 1971. A gently curving spur was installed with a southbound exit. The primary purpose of this spur is to import supplemental woodstuffs from elsewhere, since their local lumber operations are trucked in from Davenport. The spur remains in active use. The end of the runaround track is just before the freeway.

Across the freeway to the south, two final spurs mark the absolutely southern (or northbound) terminus of the Watsonville freight area. Breaking off from the mainline at Lee Road and curving north to parallel State Route 1,  the spur was installed after 1973 and caters to Couch Distributing Company, primarily an alcohol distributor. Although the company does not appear to use its spur currently, it remains useable and runs behind the main storage structures alongside a long loading platform.

Del Mar Foods facility, with track running down
middle of photograph. (Google Maps)
The final freight patron along West Beach Street is and has been for over 50 years, Del Mar Foods. Established in 1959, the spur probably dates to around 1967 after the company developed new techniques for quick freezing foods and required larger facilities. It first appeared on SPINS in 1973 off of a southward-sloping spur from Lee Road, with an exit in the southbound direction. Despite the relatively large size of the facility, it only has one single spur that runs directly through the middle of the buildings. The spur remains active and in use by Del Mar.

Official Railroad Information:
Since none of these places were formal Southern Pacific or Union Pacific Railroad stops, the only official information related to them comes from SPINS produced in 1973, 1998, and 2003. Most of the information above comes from these sources.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
From 36.907˚N, 121.768˚W to 36.899˚N, 121.779˚W

This stretch of right-of-way runs from the Granite Construction site across and slightly to the west of Harvest Drive all the way to Lee Road, excluding the long spur that runs across West Beach Road. The entire right-of-way is publicly owned by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission and is leased to the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway. In other words, no trespassing is allowed. Parts of the track can be viewed from Ohlone Parkway, State Route 1, and Lee Road. The private spurs in question currently cater to A.L. Lease Company—Wholesale Plumbing Supplies (track is now removed and paved over), Sambrailo (track is spiked and mostly buried), Big Creek Lumber, Couch Distributing (accessible from Lee Road), and Del Mar Food Products Corporation. Access to any of these facilities must be provided by the companies in question.

Citations & Credits:
  • "MBA History". Monterey Bay Academy Alumni, 2007.
  • Pepper, George. Personal correspondence.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad, SPINS "Watsonville", 1973. California State Railroad Museum.
  • Union Pacific Railroad, SPINS 1998, 2003.

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