Friday, September 29, 2017

Maps: Vasona to Cats Canyon

The 4.5 miles of South Pacific Coast and Southern Pacific Railroad trackage that once ran from Vasona, near modern-day California State Route 85, to the top of Cats Canyon, now the James J. Lenihan Dam, was both a scenic and industrial stretch. Miles of prune orchards gave way to scenic Vasona Reservoir, after which the railroad passed by the industrial part of Los Gatos, where numerous businesses maintained businesses alongside the track. Then, almost immediately after leaving Los Gatos, an untamed wilderness consumed the railroad right-of-way as the tracks entered into Cats Canyon. While these extremes were not unique on this line—the tracks in Santa Cruz accomplished a similar feat—they certainly made the ride to Santa Cruz multifaceted.
Vasona Junction and registry booth, c. 1940s. [James Bunger]
Map of Southern Pacific trackage between Vasona and Limekiln Canyon, c. 1900-1920.
The end of Cats Canyon near Limekiln Canyon,
August 1, 1904. [Ken Lorenzen]

Santa Cruz commuter train passing by Vasona Reservoir, March 11, 1939. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
Hunt Bros. Cannery siding, February 12, 1930. [NUMU]
Abandoned Los Gatos Manufacturing Company mill, c. 1910.
[San Jose Public Library]
Southern Pacific visibility photo, showing the curve at Gray's Lane near Elm Street, July 10, 1928. [NUMU]
Another visibility photo, showing the Royce Street crossing,
looking south, 1928. [John & Barbara Baggerly]
Another visibility photo, showing the Elm Street crossing, looking south, 1928. [NUMU]
The Spanish-Revival-style Los Gatos Station and freight depot, July 8, 1939. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
Gateway Garage Shell Station, February 12, 1930. [NUMU]
Union Ice Company ice house beneath the railroad's water tower, c. 1910. [Elayne Shore Shuman]
Dual-gauge Southern Pacific tracks beneath the
San Jose-Santa Cruz Road, c. 1906. [Ken Lorenzen]


  1. Neat! Thanks! Please add a couple modern location reference points to the map to help identify the location of "Los Gatos Creek Bridge #1" and "Tunnel #1" (I suppose you mean the tunnel that daylighted soon after it was constructed.)
    Also, one typo: guage > gauge

    1. Thanks for the spell check—it has been corrected. Regarding the tunnel, it was the one that was daylighted in 1904. I still haven't determined precisely where the older tunnel was located and the USGS maps are annoyingly unhelpful in discovering the location. The terrain is steep all along the road south of Los Gatos but there aren't any noticeable promontories that would need tunneling. Regarding the locations of the bridge and creek, there isn't much I can really do to give modern reference points since both are just in Cats Canyon. What I can say, though, is that the bridge piers are still there and can be seen if you hike the Los Gatos Creek Trail. When the trail suddenly climbs up the hill just before the Lenihan Dam, look down into the creek and the piers are still standing there. You can also bushwack a bit beneath that hill and get to the northern abutment. The tunnel site is buried under the dam now so there's nothing to see there. I hope that helps a bit. Check the tunnel article from a few weeks back for more info on that. A new version of the bridge article will be out next week.

  2. I look forward to more of your maps! What about adding the Peninsular
    Railroad's crossing of the Southern Pacific at the Main Street grade crossing in Los Gatos? I know of no other railroad which crossed the Southern Pacific between San Jose and Santa Cruz. It was more than just a streetcar line but an electric interurban railroad which handled freight and was a subsidiary of Southern Pacific. And technically entered the Santa Cruz Mountains between Saratoga and Congress Springs.

  3. I vote to have the old maps remain on the individual pages; the penciled ones were fine. While this page is okay, a quick reference helps to orient especially when depots are correctly placed and shown to be on one side of the tracks or the other.

    1. One could also start with a clean topographic map cut into smaller localities, and then build it up in photoshop using layers containing lines for track, small blocks for stations, carefully placed print, brackets and dashes for bridges and tunnels. Small corrections would be relatively easy when new information shows that something is in error.

    2. Greetings Grant. These maps are not intended to be 100% precise and, indeed, they really can't be. May stations actually moved slightly over the years—three in the upper Los Gatos Creek area switched sides of the tracks and one, Wright, actually relocated entirely twice. I added blocks on the Upper Los Gatos Creek map, but they are out of proportion and some locations such as Eva had no actual station structure so the presence of a block there is actually ahistorical. Bridges, meanwhile, are usually obvious and can be assumed when I include a waterway that the tracks cross over, although some smaller bridges may be missed regardless. I do mark tunnels with thicker lines. I use USGS maps to base these maps on, so they are accurate to that, but I don't include the maps themselves because they are far too messy to look at. I make all the maps in Illustrator and they are quite easy to correct, if necessary.

  4. In the photo titled,"Dual-gauge Southern Pacific tracks beneath the
    San Jose-Santa Cruz Road, c. 1906" at the bottom left of the photo the tracks are straight and angle to what appears to go to the right for a little ways then curves to the left. To the right of that bend in the bushes is a wooden bridge of some kind.
    I took a liberty of saving photo then enlarging it. You can clearly see a bridge. Not sure if that held something.

    1. It was unrelated to the railroad. I've never figured out what that bridge *was* for, though. It is visible in a number of photos of the canyon.


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