Friday, July 13, 2018

Freight Stops: Kaiser Pavement Company

Sentinel photographs of Kaiser quarry machinery, including the mobile conveyors and
the railroad loading dock, February 28, 1941. [SC Sentinel]
The only reason that railroad tracks still meander up the San Lorenzo River to Olympia today is because of the sand quarry built by the Kaiser Pavement Company in June 1936. Henry J. Kaiser purchased a 200-acre tract of sandy hillside land just to the south of Olympia in order to fulfil a long-term contract for the Columbia Construction Company. The quarry provided concrete-grade sand to Columbia and was intended to be used in some of the Works Progress projects funded by the federal government during the Great Depression.

To support this operation, the Southern Pacific Railroad installed a fairly extensive spur track within the quarry grounds. At Olympia itself, a gravel dump was installed alongside a spur that sat beside the tracks. Further south, the long siding reunited with the mainline but also continued as a spur into the quarry. Within the quarry, the spur forked so that mobile conveyors could pour sand into waiting gondola cars. The loading stations were permanently installed, but the conveyors were extended as quarry-work pushed into the hillsides. Back at the main track, filled gondolas were parked on the long siding between the quarry and Eccles.

It was the existence of these two quarries and their relative isolation that convinced the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1940 to retain trackage to a point just south of Eccles, not far beyond where the siding reconnected with the mainline track. Thus, the quarries at Olympia saved the track for posterity. The Kaiser quarry continued to operate through World War II, where up to 300 cars of sand per month were shipped out. Kaiser's spurs could hold up to twenty-five gondolas on its siding at any one time. Around 1968, Hanson Aggregates purchased Kaiser and switched to shipping sand via trucks. The spurs were retained, but were quickly buried. The company remained in operation until 2003. Damage to the railroad route in 1982 caused by an especially fierce winter storm prompted the adjacent Pacific Aggregates (formerly McMillan) to switch to using trucks for shipment, as well. Southern Pacific decided it was time to abandon this stretch of track and Roaring Camp Railroads came in to buy it from them. The track has been owned by Roaring Camp since 1985, although all of the trackage north of Mount Hermon has only been infrequently maintained.
A modern map showing the former layout of the Kaiser-Hanson quarry complex, with modern reference points, 2011. [Water District Watershed Management Plan]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0713N, 122.0547W

The site of the Kaiser/Hanson quarry was purchased by the San Lorenzo Valley Water District in the late 2000s and has become a nature park and habitat rehabilitation area. As such, it can be visited, with access available from a driveway beside the Zayante Fire Station. The railroad tracks remain owned by Roaring Camp Railroads and, although trespassing is discouraged, it is quite frequent by both locals and visitors. The spur begins just north of the fire station and turns sharply into the Water District property, where it is almost immediately buried under sand and underbrush. The siding continues to the north toward Olympia. Until recently, two flatcars (with a third upside down atop one) were parked on the former Kaiser spur, but those were removed in 2017 by Roaring Camp crews seeking to recycle parts and clean up the track.

Citations & Credits:

  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.


  1. Hansen must have occasionally shipped sand via rail into the late'70's at least. In January 1978 on a Wednesday afternoon, I was at the Garden of Eden and a lengthy SP train of covered gondolas rumbled by down the hill with 3 Geeps straining to hold them back. It was the last time I saw a freight train on the line north of Santa Cruz.
    Mike in Tracy

    1. doesn't seem so long ago...

    2. That must have been a Pacific Coast Aggregates train. That quarry used the line until 1982.


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