Friday, November 24, 2017

Curiosities: Proposed Routes Out of the San Lorenzo Valley

Lumber companies, residents, and railroad firms operating within the San Lorenzo Valley were never very content with the limited extent of their railroads. As early as November 18, 1876, a company was incorporated by the board members of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad entitled the Felton & San Lorenzo Railroad with the expressed purpose of extending their existing narrow-gauge railroad line from Felton to the headwaters of the San Lorenzo River eight miles north of the future site of Boulder Creek. The reason for this venture was to provide a more functional replacement of the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Lumber Company V-flume, which ran between those points, but the boldness of the directors went further. They also wished to run a line up Bear Creek for seven miles and Boulder Creek for ten miles, thereby replacing not just the primary flume, but two of its major feeder lines. This would have revolutionized the lumber industry within the San Lorenzo Valley a full decade before a similar project came to fruition. Unfortunately for the optimistic board, there was no money for the project. Most wealth firms had already paid for the flume and short-line railroad to Felton and they were still awaiting more significant dividends. The project was shelved and the board began looking for other means to building the route.

It would be the South Pacific Coast Railroad that would ultimately come to the rescue. After purchasing the flume and Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad companies, they began the process of upgrading the entire system. One obvious thing that needed replacement was the flume. On June 21, 1883, a subsidiary entitled the Felton & Pescadero Railroad Company was founded by the South Pacific Coast with the explicit intention of connecting Felton to the small seaside town of Pescadero in San Mateo County. Their original goal, however, was to reach Boulder Creek, which they accomplished on April 26, 1885. For whatever reason, the South Pacific Coast stopped construction at Boulder Creek and never crossed Bear Creek and continued to the north. Within two years, the South Pacific Coast consolidated all their holdings and leased their entire network to the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Felton & Pescadero Railroad became the Felton—and later Boulder Creek—Branch of their vast octopus and thoughts of building a railroad to Pescadero died again.

The "Dinky" locomotive with the Boulder Creek & Pescadero livery, c. 1913. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
In early 1888, the privately-build and operated Dougherty Extension Railroad began operating north of Boulder Creek. Initially, this route was intended solely for the purpose of connecting lumber mills and timber tracts to the Southern Pacific yard at Boulder Creek, but by 1897, rumors began circulating in local newspapers that Southern Pacific intended to take over the Dougherty track and extend it to Pescadero. Commentators, forgetting recent history, began conflating the old Felton & Pescadero Railroad with an imagined Boulder Creek & Pescadero Railroad, and suddenly, the Dougherty line found itself with a new name and inexplicably decided to run with it. When the railroad's single locomotive returned from the maintenance shops in Newark in March 1903, the abbreviation of "B.C. & P. RR" was written on the side of the tender.

Approximations of the various routes proposed to branch off from the Dougherty Extension Railroad, 1905-1917.
Interest in such a line greatly increased in 1902, when California Redwood Park (Big Basin Redwoods State Park) opened up to the public. Access to the park was difficult, with the only road being one from Saratoga Gap. The next year, the California Timber Company formed to harvest eight miles of timber along the headwaters of Waterman and Pescadero Creeks. They, too, would benefit greatly from a railroad line that bridged the two watersheds, although the timber company seemed uninterested in actually building the line.

Meanwhile, along the coast, multiple competing railroad firms had been come and gone since the 1870s with proposals to connect Santa Cruz to San Francisco along lines that would pass directly beside the town of Pescadero. Only two companies, however, actually built tracks. On April 15, 1905, a Southern Pacific subsidiary, the Coast Line Railroad Company, was incorporated with the expressed goal of building a line between Redwood City and Boulder Creek, presumably by linking up with the Peninsular Railway at Congress Springs. As part of this project, a twenty-mile branch line was planned to connect Pescadero to Boulder Creek. A month later, the Ocean Shore Railroad Company was incorporated with the goal of connecting San Francisco and Santa Cruz via a coastal route, with a branch line up Pescadero Creek to Boulder Creek. The Ocean Shore got a head start and built a line up to Scott Creek prior to the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The Coast Line finally completed a route to Davenport the next year but never made any progress toward Redwood City. Although neither railroad would make it past Scott Creek, much less to Pescadero, the future was unknown to the competing firms in 1906.

In 1903, surveyors for the Southern Pacific Railroad led by C.S. Freeland headed into the Pescadero basin surveying for a line that could connect Pescadero and Boulder Creek. By July, a route had been agreed upon for the relatively low coast of $500,000, half of which would be paid for by the California Timber Company. Freeland would conduct two more surveys, eventually determining that a single, 2,000-foot tunnel located at the end of Feeder Creek six miles north of Boulder Creek would be the optimal place to enter the Pescadero watershed. However, the Ocean Shore also sent out surveyors and did their own studies. In 1905, an engineer for the company mapped a route to Boulder Creek from Pescadero, which included a short branch along the ridge to Big Basin. The newspapers at this time also spoke frequently of an electric line that would run up Boulder Creek and beyond to enter Big Basin from the south, an idea that would be repeated frequently over the next decade.

The 1906 earthquake, perhaps surprisingly, was not the primary reason why these proposals all came to nothing, although at least one source suggests the Southern Pacific survey maps burned in the fires that consumed San Francisco (no known survey maps of this proposed line by the Ocean Shore exist either). After the earthquake, priorities briefly reoriented toward restoring service along existing lines and standard-gauging the various Southern Pacific tracks in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but both the Ocean Shore and the Southern Pacific remained optimistic about the prospects of a line north of Boulder Creek to Pescadero. In 1907, it was announced by Southern Pacific that the Dougherty tracks would be standard-gauged and that two lines would be constructed, one to Pescadero and one to Congress Springs via a track to be installed along King's Creek. The newspapers also spoke of a great struggle between the Southern Pacific and the Ocean Shore over which railroad would win the bid to buy the Dougherty line. But just as these projects were beginning to seem likely, a financial panic struck the United States in late 1907 that decimated the lumber industry for the next two years. All plans to connect Boulder Creek to Pescadero were shelved and the Ocean Shore Railroad up the coast ran out of money, leaving twenty-six miles of right-of-way unfinished between Tunitas Glen and Scott Creek, between which points sat Pescadero, still without rail service.

For the next decade, speculation and proposals for a route over the mountains continued to appear in local newspapers but none of them came to fruition. In 1908, rumors circulated that the F.A. Hihn Company, tired of the battling Southern Pacific and Ocean Shore railroads, planned to build a standard-gauge line to its mill on King's Creek, which the columnist hoped would lead to an extension of that line to Mayfield near Palo Alto. But Hihn ended up selling his firm to the A.B. Hammond Lumber Company in 1909 instead, and the new owner had little interest in such an expensive project. Also in 1909, the Sentinel speculated that the Southern Pacific-owned Peninsular Railway, primarily an electric streetcar line, would eventually be extended to Big Basin and the Dougherty line via Saratoga and Congress Springs, although it is unclear whether this reflected any actual statements by the railroad. In 1910, the California Timber Company expressed plans to extend their railroad to Pescadero Creek themselves, but they also decided against it. The company shut down operations in 1913 and the Dougherty line went dormant except for short excursion runs between Boulder Creek and the new Wildwood subdivision.

At the same time that Southern Pacific was considering a new route via King's Creek, they also proposed an entirely new route that would have mostly bypassed the San Lorenzo Valley entirely, redirecting traffic down Branciforte Creek. Surveyed from summer 1908 until February 1909, this new route intended to branch off from the mountain route at Glenwood near the modern-day Glenwood Cut-off. From there, it would pass beside and then under Summer Home Farm through a roughly 2,000-foot-long tunnel, that would deposit the right-of-way in the vicinity of Villa Fontenay. This location would host a station for the residents of Scotts Valley, who until this time were entirely neglected by the railroad. From there, the route would pass through a second, 1,700-foot-long tunnel, popping out at the top of Granite Creek, where it would meet up with Branciforte Drive and continue all the way to Santa Cruz, through two more short tunnels built at especially narrow points. At Santa Cruz, the railroad would cross the river at roughly the location of State Route 1 today before turning and meeting the mountain route just north of the Mission Hill Tunnel. The entire length of this new section would be 10 miles, or 32 miles between San José and Santa Cruz. Interestingly, the railroad also proposed making this entire section double-tracked, which would have continued the already present double-track that existed for a mile south of Glenwood. Besides the new depot at Scotts Valley, Glenwood would have received a new depot structure to mark its new importance as a junction. Ostensibly, the reason for this new route was to create a safe alternative to the steep and dangerous route up San Lorenzo Gorge south of Felton, but new industrial interests along Branciforte Creek likely motivated the railroad as well. The idea that the dangerous route between Felton and the California Powder Works could be abandoned was simply icing on the cake. All mention of this proposed route ended in February 1909.

A final serious proposal was entertained by the Southern Pacific in 1912 which would have connected Boulder Creek via a track up King's Creek to Vasona near Los Gatos. Although company officials denied this report, one did explain that such a route would only be possible as a modern electric line due to the severe grade along portions of the proposed right-of-way. The total length of the line was estimated to be 20 miles. At the same time, the representative stated that an extension of this line to Big Basin would be likely. But this line had a condition that the railroad representatives deflected and it ultimately ended any hope for a route out of the upper San Lorenzo Valley. The only real reason the Southern Pacific was still entertaining the idea of a line out of the valley was because the Ocean Shore Railroad continued to advertise their plans to link their disconnected tracks and build a line up Pescadero Creek to Big Basin. If any sign of this were to occur, then Southern Pacific would respond accordingly. But until that time came, which it never did, Southern Pacific felt comfortable waiting. They could get the lumber to market via the existing line and the Pescadero basin remained untouched by either railroad. For Southern Pacific, the status quo was the best and cheapest option.

One last gasp occurred in February 1917, only months before the Dougherty line would be scrapped, when news leaked that the major lumber concerns in the Pescadero basin planned to consolidate and extend the railroad six miles beyond the end-of-track to Pescadero Creek. Whatever happened with this lumber concern is unknown. The United States' entry into World War I in April 1917 caused demand for scrap steel to skyrocket and the eight miles of track north of Boulder Creek were cashed in by the remnants of the California Timber Company. The line disappeared, its ties still rotting along large portions of the route as evidence of something that could have been so much more. The Santa Cruz Lumber Company, which located its mill atop Waterman Gap in 1923, eventually built its own eight-mile track down Pescadero Creek, but it remained an isolated line, detached from any larger railroad project.

Citations & Credits:
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • San Francisco Call, 1908-1909.
  • San Francisco Chronicle, 1900-1917.
  • Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, 1900-1917.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1900-1917.
  • Whaley, Derek. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.