Friday, May 4, 2018

Stations: Tank Siding

High above Mountain Charlie Gulch only 0.4 miles from Virginia to the east and 0.6 miles from Zayante to the west sat unassuming Tank Siding. Nowhere else along the Southern Pacific Railroad line through the Santa Cruz Mountains was a station name so blunt, so obvious. Serving as the half-way point between Wright and Felton—the two other stops along the line that hosted water towers—Tank Siding was located conveniently beside a natural spring that provided a constant source of water for passing locomotives that were struggling to make it through the mountains. Although the stop never appeared on South Pacific Coast Railroad timetables, its entry in the first Southern Pacific timetable of the route in 1888 suggests it was an original, albeit undocumented, station along the line. The original water tower was gravity-fed from a holding pool up on the hillside that delivered water to the tank via a short redwood box flume. Following the upgrading of the tracks to standard gauge in 1908, the water tower and the box flume and box flume were replaced. The larger tank was fed via a pipe that was drilled directly to the water source.

March 1, 1940, Southern Pacific survey photograph showing significant sinking in the area across from the Tank Siding water tower. The eastern edge of the siding can also be seen here, which wraps around the next curve in the photo below. The station sign is visible center-right. [Bruce MacGregor]
For such a remote and seemingly straightforward stop, Tank Siding actually had multiple sidings and spurs, as well as a freight patron. Extant photographs from 1940 show a siding splitting off to the west immediately in front of the water tank, which continued for some distance. Meanwhile, a freight spur was on the other side of the water tank, terminating just before it, which originally had a 96-square-foot platform running alongside it for freight loading. The freight patron was the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company, which operated a clay quarry in the gulch. Immediately after the route between Santa Cruz and Tank Siding was cleared after the San Francisco Earthquake, around 1908, the quarry began operations, shipping loaded clay gondola cars to the cement plant in Davenport, which had opened in 1906. The company also briefly operated a lumber mill here, with accompanying support structures, although those disappear from records within a few years.

Another Southern Pacific photograph from March 1940 showing the double track just to the west of Tank Siding, curving around the sandstone hillside. [Bruce MacGregor] 
How long the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company operated at the site is unknown, but it was no longer using the station by the 1930s. Throughout much of the station's history, it acted as an official flag stop of the line and appeared on both public and employee timetables, as well as all agency books. Abandonment records for the line in 1940 show that around 40 people still lived within the vicinity of the station and, at least hypothetically, were potential customers. However, Tank Siding's stated purpose as a fuel stop declined as locomotives became more efficient. With the upgrading of the tracks to standard gauge in 1908, the water tower there was reclassified for emergency use only. How frequently locomotives used it in either period remains unknown.

Photograph looking west from beyond the end of the double track, with a large sink area beside the tracks emphasised by Southern Pacific surveyors, March 1940.
[Bruce MacGregor]
Like the rest of the line in 1940, the station was abandoned and the water tower scrapped. Indeed, quite a lot of the damage to the line in the February storm occurred in the Tank Siding area due to the sedimentary nature of the topsoil. Sinks appeared under the tracks in multiple places and the constant run-off from the water tower certainly did not improve the situation. Southern Pacific Railroad survey crews photographed this area extensively and a number of these photographs survived to provide the images of the station above. No earlier known photographs survive—the image used on the cover of Bruce MacGregor's original South Pacific Coast book was misidentified and is, in fact, Camp Teller in Northern California. The natural spring that once fed water into the tank at the site also appears to have either dried up or been closed due to some natural event, possibly the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.103˚N, 122.014˚W

The site of Tank Siding is owned by the Santa Cruz City Water District and trespassing is not allowed, although rarely enforced. There are a few relics of the railroad at the site, including a telephone pole and pipes in the hillside. Metal detectors would doubtless discover more material just beneath the surface. The site is easily identifiable by the wide clearing on either side, the creek side of which has sunken significantly.

The site of Tank Siding along the route near the end of the Santa Cruz Water District property, c. 2010. [Brian Liddicoat]

Citations & Credits:
  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • MacGregor, Bruce A., and Richard Truesdale. South Pacific Coast: A Centennial. Boulder, CA: Pruett Publishing, 1982.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.


  1. We did some exploring last weekend, and the two biggest clearings we found along the line were:
    1. At the SC Water District access road, where the square that says "Zayante" on your topo map is located. The dirt road leads down to E. Zayante Rd. This is quite a large clearing-- the biggest of the four.
    2. Just before the Clems south portal. There also happens to be an access road that crosses the line there. This must be coming down from Mtn. Charlie Rd. Second largest of the four.
    In between these two large clearings are two smaller ones, including the one marked on your map as "Tank Siding". That area is very dry, so it is hard to imagine where they'd get the water. Also, the two midway clearings are quite small compared to the ones at either end.
    There are a few springs around the clearing marked "Zayante" above, including one that has seriously washed out the old rail line. SCWD built a new road that goes over the washout. All this makes me suspect that if there was a tank, and later a mining operation, it would have been at the "Zayante" point on your map, and if there was a Virginia lumber mill, it would have been near the Clems portal. They have the advantage of being accessible by road, which the two middle clearings do not.
    Both of these roads (E. Zayante & Mtn Charlie) already existed when the rail line was first built. I imagine both operations would want road access, so they would not be completely at the railroad's mercy!

  2. Hey Lawrence, I agree with you that the location of Zayante Station is the same as the place where the fire road off of E. Zayante Rd. meets the right-of-way. It has to be this place and it is a rather large clearing up there. I only wish I had a photograph of what Zayante Station looked like during its existence.

    South of Clems, I think you are correct in guessing that the Virginia siding is where the road crosses the tracks. I didn't explore either direction on that road because I had a panicked former drug dealer with me (long story and no longer associating with the guy, but he was panicking the further we went up into Zayante basin). From what I understand, Tank Siding was separate from Virginia and located slightly closer to the tunnel portal, suggesting it may have been a small clearing before the crossroad. Brian Liddicoat provided the image above which I agree was the spot of the tank. The image of the location up top, though, is not actually of tank siding according to a few sources now. Apparently it may be a tank siding along the North Pacific Coast RR's near the Wine Country.

    Regarding accessibility, from what I understand, there were and remains no real roads between Mtn Charlie and Zayante, and that Zayante Station's location was the first chance for passengers to ride to Santa Cruz (or elsewhere) after coming out of the Bean Creek basin of Glenwood. Between Clems and Zayante, Tank Siding and Virginia were simple resupply or industrial stops. Neither had an amenities at all and I don't think either had so much as a picnic area. I could be wrong, but that region is poorly documented. I find it highly possible that there were long sidings, possibly stretching from Clems south portal all the way beyond Tank Siding and Virginia. The parts where you say the right-of-way is wide enough for a siding may just be remnant parts, with the other sections washed or filled in from land slides (and I know where you are talking about with the huge Water District reroute; what a mess). I don't think there were any formal flag-stops between Clems and Zayante, only the two sidings. Virginia was not in use for many years so that may have even been the same thing as Tank Siding. We probably will never know for sure.

  3. Hello Derek;

    It's hard finding a good hiking companion who is also interested in history.... I kept annoying my wife by stopping to examine culverts and embankments. So if you ever feel like making a 2nd trip up there, I'll be happy to join you! Unfortunately tick season is just starting with the recent rains, but I'm willing to douse myself with DEET and take my chances!

    I also plan on visiting the other portals further up the line when I get the chance. If you ever feel like walking the line, let me know and I'll join you. I dropped you line on Facebook, or you can find my blog.

    Take care,

  4. The water tank and the siding are 2 different things that happen to be at the same place because of the natural resources available. The water tank is on the opposite side of the tracks as the loading platforms for the sidings. The large flat areas that are on the Mountain Charlie Gulch side of the tracks at Tank Siding were for loading only, not for the water tank. If you examine photo #22 of Derricks Tank Siding storm damage photos from 1940 you will notice that the tank is butted up very close to the tracks and if you look more closely at all the photos from 1940 you will notice that in every photo all the telephone poles are on the right side of the tracks. A while back my friend Ben and I went on a telephone pole finding mission at Zayante railbed. We found 5 telephone poles in good condition, 4 in the Tank Siding vicinity (as Derrick mentioned) and 1 further down towards the Zayante Stop and 6 cut down ones in between. The good ones were identical to the ones in the old pictures. There was never a pole found or indication of a pole on the right when heading east. All are on the left side facing east. This indicates that whoever wrote the caption at the bottom of the pictures labeled them wrong. They should say facing west. If you take this into consideration, this actually puts the tank on the uphill side of the railbed (as in photo #22) and all the poles on the downhill side (Mountain Charlie Gulch side). The 1899 S.P. Stations Book defines Tank Siding as a class B siding capable of loading freight. The book defines the loading platform as being on the right (as you are traveling further from milepost 0 and San Francisco). There is no indication of the water tank or what side of the tracks it was on. It was just assumed to be on the right. Back in 1879, the planners of the tracks did things for a reason and one of them was to capture the spring water from the mountain to fill the water tank. There just happens to be a fairly strong running spring spilling down the side of the mountain and it matches the location of Tank Siding as noted on Duncan Nanney’s map at ( 37.102028 lat, -122.006111 long). This would be an excellent way to fill the water tank all year long and have the overflow go down the pipe, under the tracks and into the gulch as picture #22 shows. That is why the tank would be on the uphill side of the tracks. There are also a series of “S” turns at this location as depicted in the old pictures from 1940 which further supports this location as Tank Siding.

    Rob Lange

    1. I've been confused by the text on the 1940 survey photos, too. While the portals seem to be correctly labeled (using the San Francisco equals west railroad system scheme (or whatever it is called)), I want to use my trusty compass when I'm "facing" in a general direction; the 1940 photos continue to be reversing my wishes. Who's right?

  5. An update on the previous post. Hey Derrick, those old pictures are really great to have on your site. Without them we could not solve many railroad mysteries. My bushwacking buddy Ben and I found the supply water pipe for the water tank at the spring at location (37.102222 lat, -122.008111 long). The spring location in the previous post is incorrect. If anyone is serious about finding the true location of the water tank at Tank Siding then go to the coordinates shown above. Follow the spring up the mountain from the railbed for about 125 feet and there to the right, you will find the original, rusty 2 inch pipe protruding from the mountain that was the water supply for the water tank. It is diagonal to the mountain and heading east indicating that the actual location of the water tank is not right below the spring but about 50 to 75 feet east of the spring on the railbed judging from the trajectory of the pipe. We had a hunch it might be there. If you can climb like a mountain goat and are not affected by poison oak, ticks, or mosquitos then follow the spring up the mountain and you will find that the pipe is extremely long and it can be seen in the bottom of the spring ravine all the way up. It seems to curve away from the spring ravine only near the bottom so as to be directed to the actual location of the water tank which was further up the railbed east. This seems to be (smokin gun) proof that the old water tank was fed by a spring, and was on the mountain side of the tracks and not the gulch side. This also indicates (from the old pictures) that the track sidings started here and continued west for a ways around the next bend. (picture # 27)

    1. Thanks for your insight, Rob. I actually just reformatted and updated the article last night and took into account at least some of your previous notes. Too bad I'm very allergic to poison oak, but I still may try to find this pipe sometime. Just knowing its location is wonderful, and it makes me wonder how many water tanks on the Mountain Route may have been spring-fed. Makes for easy maintenance, for sure, though they still probably had to filter the water somehow.

  6. I remember a few old tanks up the mountain from the rail road bed. Between the random green gate and the tunnel, there were 2 or 3 large old tanks randomly in the forest, were we turned around assuming it was a grow operation, but now that I found all this info, i think it was a holding tank that was fed by a spring/well, and had a line that ran down to the locomotive filler thingy. I want to say they were made of wood, with metal band or threaded banding around it every 18 inches.


  7. On my last hike up to the Mt. Charlie tunnel many years ago, I happened to stop to tie my shoe about halfway between Zayante and Tank Siding. I looked
    to the east and saw something I had not noticed on previous hikes. Way down
    below, there was a sort of short cement "canal" which I found upon going down there led into a long drainage tunnel which I was able to easily walk through under the railroad bed to the other side. Due to it's more modern
    design, I assumed the railroad must have built this shortly before the
    abandonment in 1940. Has anyone else seen this?

  8. One of the peculiarities of Tank Siding is that the only train stopping on
    flag here in the final years was the evening train out of Santa Cruz bound
    for San Francisco. This is shown in a 1937 Employee Timetable. It was also
    shown this way in the Employee Timetable of March 30, 1940 which was never
    implemented due to the washout in the previous month.


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