Friday, June 15, 2018

Stations: Kenville

The probable location of Kenville, today marked by a chain and boulder to
stop cars continuing down the former right-of-way, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
Some Southern Pacific Railroad stations in the Santa Cruz Mountains were major industrial or tourist stops, catering to thousands of people during peak years. Others were of lesser importance. But one thing can be certain, none was less relevant than Kenville. Named after Joseph Sherman Kenville, an early resident of the area, Kenville Station was a private passenger and freight flag-stop catering to Kenville's farm that spanned both sides of Zayante Creek and included much of modern-day Quail Hollow Ranch.

Joseph Kenville was born in Coteau Landing, Quebec in 1823. He moved to Santa Cruz County in 1865 after spending some time as a gold miner and stage coach driver in Nevada. He soon married America Baker (1848-1929) and with her had at least seven and possibly ten children. He homesteaded a 44-acre tract of land just north of Rancho Zayante beginning in 1866. In 1870, he tripled the size of his property to 132 acres by purchasing the homestead of Amos Moon for $2,000. In 1878, the South Pacific Coast Railroad encountered his property as they were grading and leased an easement through it. As a likely perk of this deal, Kenville was probably given an informal flag-stop which he could use to ship out his goods to nearby settlements.

Kenville specialized in growing watermelons, although he also grew other crops on his farm. There is no evidence of any structures at his flag stop other than a station sign, but a platform may have been installed to facilitate the transfer of goods into boxcars. This station only officially appeared in station books in January 1893 and it never appeared in any other official railroad documentation, giving further evidence of its informal status.

Kenville and his unmarried children moved to Santa Cruz in 1902, selling the property to William and Leona Richards from Los Angeles. It is unknown if they ever utilized the stop. Kenville Station remained in station books until 1909, when the reopening of the route through the mountains following its upgrading to standard-gauge likely led to a reduction in the number of old informal stops. Joseph Kenville died at his home in Santa Cruz on January 4, 1911. Some of his descendants still remain in the Santa Cruz area. What would become Quail Hollow Ranch was sold by the Richards in 1910 to Emil and Genie Grunig, who called it Sun Kissed Ranch. They died in an automobile accident in 1936 and their heirs sold the ranch to Laurence Lane, publisher of Sunset Magazine. The railroad tracks at the former Kenville stop were dismantled in 1941 following the abandonment of the line by the railroad the previous November. The only relic that remains on the site other than the right-of-way is a semaphore foundation block that once supported an Automatic Block Signal that regulated traffic through the nearby Zayante Tunnel.

Geo-coordinates and Access Rights:
37.0828N, 122.0483W

The precise location of Kenville is not known for certain due to the fact that station books at this time rounded all station locations to the nearest mile. However, the presence of Old Kenville Road, which follows the former right-of-way for half of its length, gives a clue. Just before the road turns east and uphill, there is a former road to the west that branches off Sylvan Way. It seems likely that this road was one the main access road between the railroad and Kenville Station, since Old Kenville Road would not have been usable prior to the railroad's abandonment. If so, then this former junction probably served as the station point. This is further supported by the fact that there is a long cut to the south and a grade fill and equally long cut to the north. This one point is the only location between Eccles and Tunnel 5 where a station could have been located.

Personal Retrospective:
I visited this site in March 2012 a few months after hearing Brian Liddicoat speak on the topic of local railroads at a University of California, Santa Cruz, history lecture. I reached this location the same way many had before me: by following the Roaring Camp tracks beyond their terminus at a sandhill just south of Zayante School Road. It struck me then how obvious the former right-of-way was. Old Kenville Road was a mystery to me at the time—I had never heard the name before and was not curious in any way regarding its origins. Nonetheless, it was exceedingly obvious that the well-maintained dirt road that extended north from Zayante School Road was, in fact, the former railroad right-of-way. Walking this road was my first adventure—my first journey down a path that I still walk today. By walking down this dirt road, I finally began to envision how the railroad operated, where it went, and why it was important. I no longer saw this as some obscure rural driveway—which it is today—but rather a relic of a bygone era. It was revelatory and changed my entire worldview regarding where I had lived most of my life. On March 7, I setup a Blogger site dedicated initially to the South Pacific Coast Railroad, not yet understanding what journey I had begun (the underlying code for this website remains Over the next day, I began my research, using Kenville as one of my first keywords. I discovered, to my continuing amazement, a completely scanned copy of the Southern Pacific Railroad's 1899 Stations, Officers, and Agents book, which conductors and engineers carried with them to help them determine their locations and station specifications. Even today, this remains an important source since 1899 proved a very eventful year for the railroad. With this limited information, my own on-the-ground research, and a few random websites, I released on March 9, 2012, my first blog post on the subject of local railroads: "Kenville." In retrospect, it was a poorly-researched and exceedingly aspirational article, but without it, I may never have continued to explore the route. This was the first article—now there are well over 300 blog posts, two published books, two more books in development, and many more exciting things for Santa Cruz Trains coming in the future.

Citations & Credits:
  • Find-A-Grave, "Joseph Kenville".
  • Clark, Donald T. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Second edition. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007.
  • Lehmann, Susan Collins. Quail Hollow Ranch: a history. Santa Cruz, CA: Historic Resources Commission, 1992.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.


  1. Watermelons in the Santa Cruz Mountains? Glad that you took that walk Derek!

  2. Great stuff Derek! Keep doing what you love! :-)

  3. My first adventure with this abandoned railroad line also
    began at this same spot probably in 1964 when I guided my
    parents to this spot with the use of some old map. My father
    was afraid to drive up the old railroad bed because he was
    afraid we would not be able to turn around. So it wasn't
    until 1969 that I returned and headed up the railroad bed alone
    on foot, not knowing where I would end up. It didn't take
    long to reach a cyclone fence and the Western States Atomic
    Vault tunnel. That was as far as I went that day but through
    the years, I walked up almost everything else from Santa Cruz to
    Los Gatos on this fabulous railroad route!

  4. The basic ABS system protects trains between sidings. The mountain route had only light traffic, so intermediate blocks were unlikely. A little over a mile from a siding trains would pass a 'distant' signal (which duplicates the siding-entrance signal), then just outside the siding's switch - the siding entrance signal, outside the far switch - the siding-exit signal, and finally an overrun signal about two miles past the siding. So four signals per siding each way. The 'distant' and 'overrun' signals were there for insurance against opposing trains entering a segment of track simultaneously where the stop aspect would mistakenly appear too late for either one.

    The concrete signal foundations are notched and narrower at one end, and that would be the trailing, unimportant end where the ladder attached; the signal faced the opposite way. If the Kenville concrete foundation was 'facing' downhill and on the eastside of the right-of-way, this would probably be a 'distant' signal for the Meehan siding.

    Not all siding were recognized as a place where trains should bypass. My guess, the ABS was set for the sidings at Wright (east side of the creek), Glenwood, Meehan and Felton. So four sidings spaced about five miles apart, which was rather crowded.

    Alma: I've not seen a signal, and too close to Los Gatos.
    Wright: I've not seen a picture of ABS semaphores, yet. Not to be confused with the train order semaphore.
    Laurel: I'm confused by the pair of semaphores east, and only east, of the station. A siding-entrance signal has extra height for a second blade; my guess is that they were meant as advance notice for Glenwood and Wright.
    Glenwood: I'm confused by the pair of semaphores left behind after the area was single-tracked. They again seem cut down in height; maybe a traditional intermediate block was salvaged after the single-tracking.
    Tank: No photo of signals, and too close to other sidings (ABS wanted/forced miles of space).
    Olympia: too close to Meehan and Felton.
    Big Trees: Not a siding. It was probably meant for locomotives to switch ends.
    Rincon: Could this have been an official siding?

    Pairs of opposing semaphores were found just beyond the ends of sidings, otherwise they were mostly solitary.

    1. In my haste I put two rather different signals into one category.

      Distant signals: These occur about a mile and a half before a siding and simply relay the aspect that the siding-entrance displays, otherwise a caution would always come in case the track was blocked ahead. Relaying a clear would allow a train to keep the throttle open. These signals were altered in later years – distance to siding reduced and an upper blade installed.

      Siding-entrance signal: Placed in front of the siding, it had two blades – the top indicated the immediate block, the lower relayed the aspect of the exit signal.

      Siding-exit signal: A single semaphore blade that shows the condition of the entire length of track until the next controlled siding.

      Overrun signal: Two or three miles after the siding. It should show exactly what the exit signal indicated or else something unexpected had happened – two trains entered the block simultaneously, mechanical failure, or the exit was misread. Overrun signals from opposing sidings needed two train lengths of distance separating them.

      There were ‘stop and proceed’ indications instead of pure stop for many situations. Some railroads didn’t require the stop, but proceeding at half speed was very common. Opposing trains were easily governed – they had typed copies of orders to meet trains at particular points – but trains that followed one another were always risky. So, lots of creeping along with the whistle blowing.

      ABS only cared about the mainline. If a switch was opened the signals would move to caution. If a train went down a spur or one of the smaller non-signaled sidings and then lined the switches for the mainline, the train would become invisible to the ABS system. A train could immediately enter the mainline if an opposing train had just run by, otherwise the switch would be turned towards the spur and a waiting period of five minutes needed to be observed before a train could move onto the mainline.

      The signals at Wright should be easily seen on the eastern side of the creek, but no. While there are semaphores in Cats Canyon, I can’t see why there are no ABS semaphores near the water tower at Wright. Maybe their installation was interrupted by the closure of the Summit Tunnel, and maybe there was enough resistance to reopening the line that such projects were put on hold indefinitely? The line was a rather crowded with sidings, but Wright looks to have needed the signal system (and leaving a gap, the Glenwood siding was removed at some time, too). Maybe more pictures from the teens and twenties will include the missing hardware.

    2. Thanks for all the info, Grant. I clearly need to learn more about how ABS systems work. Yes, our mountains had far more sidings and spurs than one would consider normal. In some places there were up to three sidings/spurs within a mile stretch of track. Pretty crazy! Big Trees had a very short siding that I agree was probably mostly used for shifting locomotives, although the nearest turntable was at Felton, and that wasn't always there. There are a number of photos, however, of special 2-3 car excursion trains parked at Big Trees, so it wasn't used exclusively for switching locomotives.

      Regarding Wright, there are two ABS signals in the 1930s on the east bank of Los Gatos Creek just before crossing the bridge to the tunnel. They can be seen in both the photos on pages 156-7 of my book.

    3. Thanks, Derek. I will ask anyone who knows more (or differently), to jump in and add to or correct my comments. My record to date is probably around two-thirds sold information, one third complete nonsense. It's a pastime, and I'm no expert - not even close.

      ABS info was gleaned mostly from Carsten Lundsten's page on S.P signals.

      Big Trees: I took notice that San Francisco excursions would make the stop at BT, then return north to travel the Boulder Creek branch. Turning the locomotive probably occurred while the train occupied the mainline at Felton, not while it was clear over on the west side using the branch. I still feel that the turntable was removed between 1935 and 1940 - that photo looking north from c.1935.

      I came across an 1895 map of Wright showing the landslide and the nearly 250 foot excavation needed to rebuild Summit Tunnel. You probably have it, but I'll send it on with a few other items.

  5. Thanks for the information about my great grandpa. Good to know that I'm a direct decendant of a real pioneerand his hot little 14 year-old bride he met in Carson City.

    Yeah! You go, granddaddy.

  6. I'm not so sure - what makes you believe it was named for Joseph Kenville not Solomon Kenville?

    1. And I am not seeing Joseph Kenville's ranch spanning the creek.


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