Friday, August 17, 2018

Bridges: Zayante Creek

The route of the South Pacific Coast Railroad down Zayante Creek to Felton had very few natural obstacles. Only one solid granite outcropping required tunnelling and early bridges along the eastern ridge above Zayante Creek were quickly filled and the seasonal streams culverted after the initial track was installed in 1880. By the time the Southern Pacific Railroad took over the route in 1887, there were a total of three railroad bridges that crossed Zayante Creek, two along the mainline and one on the Boulder Creek Branch. Smaller structures undoubtedly existed to bridge the countless minor tributaries above Zayante Creek, but no evidence of these has survived to the present.

The northernmost bridge over Zayante Creek as it stands today, 2013.
[Derek R. Whaley]
About a mile north of Felton along the mainline, the most northernly of the Zayante Creek bridges is colloquially named the Jackass Flats bridge, after a the adjacent property. It is unclear what the original narrow-gauge structure looked like, but it was probably built entirely out of redwood beams. It is unclear when the standard-gauge bridge replaced the original structure, but it likely predates the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake since the foundation aggregate material appears to have a heavier concentration of lime than the other piers and abutments in the area, which all date to after 1906, when the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company undoubtedly provided the cement for construction. 

The current structure is a 245-foot-long standard-gauge bridge with three cement supports, one in the creek and two on either end. A driveway to the Jackass Flats property passes under the bridge on the south end, while the former East Zayante Road passed under the northern end, although it is heavily overgrown with poison oak now. The center of the bridge is supported by an open-deck steel Warren truss span that bridges the creek. Remains of access ladders hang beneath the truss on both ends. On the northern side, a redwood open-deck girder connects the abutment to the truss. On the southern side, a shorter open-deck steel girder links connects a redwood open-deck span to the truss by crossing over a concrete pier installed beside the Jackass Flats driveway. The southern abutment has been repaired extensively over the years to counter its slow cracking and decay. This bridge also has endured significant stress caused by sixty years of sand trains passing over it almost daily.

The northernmost bridge over Zayante Creek, as viewed from the north looking south, 2013. [Derek R. Whaley]
Today, the bridge is in an advanced state of decay. While owned by Roaring Camp Railroads since 1985, it is very rarely used and, when used, only the lightest service equipment pass over the bridge. Many of the ties are rotten and the tracks themselves are rusting. In recent years, Roaring Camp has expressed interest in restoring the bridge for full use, but little has been done yet to accomplish this goal. The primary reason it remains intact is so that Roaring Camp can retain property rights to property north of the crossing.

Postcard showing the bridge over Zayante Creek near Mount Hermon, c. 1908. [Mount Hermon Association]
Just south of Mount Hermon, the railroad crosses over Zayante Creek a second time. Like most of the early bridges in the area, it is unclear precisely what the original narrow-gauge structure looked like, although it was very likely a redwood-frame truss bridge of some sort, much like the structure that replaced it around 1907. This second structure is composed of a 335-foot-long steel open-deck truss bridge with short redwood timber trestlework on either side. The truss is mounted atop two concrete piers with redwood abutments on either side to return the track to the grade.

A group of picnickers passing over the bridge heading toward Felton Depot, c. 1910s. [Mount Hermon Association]
Due to the presence of Mount Hermon just to the north of this bridge, the original structure was designed with pedestrian walkways on either side of the track and wooden railings. Photographic evidence shows that this bridge was heavily trafficked in its early years by campers and vacationers staying at Mount Hermon. 

The bridge over Zayante Creek near Mount Hermon as it appears today, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
Unlike the more northernly Zayante Creek bridge, this bridge remains in regular use by Roaring Camp. During the summer, special excursions of the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railroad crosses the bridge to pick up campers at Redwood Camp and take them to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. As such, the bridge has been continuously maintained since it was first erected. At some point, the wood railings were replaced with metal wire and the wood decks with metal grates, but otherwise the structure remains the same.

Photo of Southern Pacific Railroad locomotive 2088 crossing over the trestle at the eastern end of the lower Zayante Creek bridge, c. 1908. [Aram Family – SLV Museum]
A woman standing on the new Graham Hill Road Bridge around
1930. The bridge is clearly visible behind her with telephone

wires spanning overhead. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
The southernmost bridge over Zayante Creek was not located on the mainline but rather on the Boulder Creek Branch (originally Felton & Pescadero Railroad and, subsequently, Felton Branch). Of the three, it is the only bridge that does not survive, although its pier and western abutment still can be found alongside Graham Hill Road. When the Felton & Pescadero Railroad was first constructed between 1884 and 1885 from Felton Depot to Boulder Creek, it crossed over Zayante Creek just west of the depot, near the southern end of (East) Zayante Road. Like the other bridges over the creek, the original narrow-gauge structure was unknown. However, it must have been designed to a standard-gauge scale since it was not actually replaced until 1917, despite the tracks themselves being broadened in 1907.

The reason for the replacement was likely due to the increased weight the bridge had to sustain as boxcars carrying loads of processed lime began crossing over this bridge in 1909 when the former Old Felton Branch was closed and a new route was built over the San Lorenzo River beside the Felton Covered Bridge. After eight years of regular heavy traffic, the old structure likely required upgrading.

The second structure, measuring 285 feet, was a steel open-deck bridge over the creek supplemented with a long redwood trestle that ran east until meeting grade level. Although the Boulder Creek branch closed in 1934, the track between Felton Depot and the Holmes Lime Kiln remained intact until October 1939, when the tracks were finally dismantled and the bridge demolished.

A water conduit running through the western abutment and over the concrete center pier of the lower Zayante Creek bridge, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
The western abutment with the date "1917" printed on both sides,
2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
The concrete abutment and pier remain today. The San Lorenzo Valley Water District repurposed these at some point for the valley's water system. A pipe now runs through the abutment and atop the pier before going underground on the east bank of the creek. These features can be easily viewed from the Graham Hill Road bridge over Zayante Creek or by parking at Felton Bible Church and walking to the creek. Date stamps for when the abutment was installed can be found clearly defined on either side of it. On the eastern embankment, there are  some remnants of posts hiding in the foliage and the redwood abutment that ended the trestle sits just beside the dirt driveway that leads into San Lorenzo Home & Garden Center (which was once the former Boulder Creek Branch right-of-way).

The eastern abutment of the lower Zayante Creek bridge, partially buried and overgrown across the street from Mount Hermon's physical plant, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
Citations & Credits:


  1. The pipe that crosses Zayante Creek on the bridge abutments south of the Graham Hill Road bridge belongs not to the San Lorenzo Valley Water District but, rather, to the water department of the Santa Cruz Municipal Utilities, and connects the pumping station on the northeast corner of the intersection of East Zayante Road and Graham Hill Road with the inflatable dam on the San Lorenzo River just north of the day-use entrance of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and then on to the water-treatment plant located farther south along Gram Hill Road.

  2. The #2088 is a bit tough to locate, and was probably part of some renumbering program after it was delivered. It apparently had a problem in Oakland on January 15, 1903 with its boiler exploding. It was rebuilt at that time, and may have had new parts installed - metal cab for a wooden one(?). The numbers on the tender, road name on the cab - a little unusual, but correct for this locomotive. Gas headlight.

    I see these 'Ten-wheelers' (4-6-0) in photos of Brookdale and the colorized postcard of Ben Lomond: they were the locomotive of choice before and after standard-gauging, having replaced the 'American' (4-4-0). A narrow-gauge 'Ten-wheeler' is seen in one of the Boulder Creek photos. The 1908 photo from the lower Zayante Creek bridge could have been copied to many other locations - Newell Creek, Love Creek, Siesta, Clear Creek: it would be a common sight along the branch for twenty years.


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