Friday, January 10, 2020

Bridges: Gharky's Vineyard

The grade between Mission Hill in Santa Cruz and the Hogsback within Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is relatively steep for a railroad. Designed as it was in 1875 to access the Davis & Cowell property in Rancho Rincon—a requirement if the railroad wished to build through the property—meant that certain benefits of the earlier route surveyed by the San Lorenzo Valley Railroad in the late 1860s had to be sacrificed. Numerous solutions, too, had to be adopted, such as a tunnel through the Hogsback and substantial bridgework along the slide-prone Coon Gulch. One lesser known, but vitally important, section of track, though also had important bridgeworks installed.

Birds' Eye View of the City of Santa Cruz, 1907. Gharky's Vineyard is at the center-top of this painting, although at this time it is mostly just undeveloped land with an indistinguishable fill for the railroad right-of-way (an unseen train on the tracks is billowing smoke). Downtown Santa Cruz is from the center down and the San Lorenzo River is at right.
[Bancroft Library]
Along the northern boundary of the Santa Cruz city limits, David Gharky owned an 18.893 acre plot that ran beside the west side of (West) San Lorenzo River Road (State Route 9). The awkwardly-shaped property contained a small stream that watered private vineyards owned by Gharky. Unlike the route to the north, through which all gulches and gullies were culverted, Pogonip Creek through Gharky's Vineyard supported a small floodplain that made the grade into the forest all the steeper. To rectify this issue, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad constructed a substantial fill between today's Encinal Street and the northern boundary of Gharky's property, through his lands and those of J. Heller, with an 80-foot bridge across the creek itself, which passes under the right-of-way between modern Golf Club Drive and Encinal Street. The grade remained relatively steep since the fill was not heavily reinforced and, therefore, settled more than was desirable. Nonetheless, this worked for the light-weight rolling stock of the narrow-gauge Santa Cruz & Felton during the four years that it ran as an independent railroad.

Survey map of the City of Santa Cruz showing the location of David Gharky's land at the northern city limits, 1866. Map by Thomas W. Wright, Santa Cruz County Surveyor. [Jason Christian]
In 1879, the Santa Cruz & Felton was taken over by the South Pacific Coast Railroad, which ran heavier rolling stock and longer, heavier trains, despite remaining narrow-gauge. One of the company's many improvements along the Santa Cruz & Felton line was properly reinforcing the fill through Gharky's vineyard. In August, Chinese work crews moved in and completely regraded and refilled the stretch of track and removed the bridge, replacing it with a culvert and diverting the creek through a canal. It is probably around this time that the pond on the east side of the tracks along Pogonip Creek first formed. It remains today as the Salz Pond, although it is relatively inaccessible to the public. For three decades, nothing changed except the fill's widening around 1907 to support standard-gauge rails. At this time, the culvert was broadened slightly to an approximately five-foot-long ballast-deck bridge that runs over Pogonip Creek.

The creation of the Casa del Rey Golf Links at Pogonip in 1912 prompted the need for an access road. Rather than purchasing several easements from neighbors further south, Fred Swanton purchased only two: one through Gharky's old vineyard, and the other that continued through the adjacent lands once owned by Thomas W. Hinds. This new route met the railroad grade at a point where the tracks were high above the surrounding land, so a cut was made through the fill, and a new bridge installed atop the road.

The bridge over Golf Club Drive on a rainy day, c. 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
The new bridge above Pogonip Avenue (later Golf Links Boulevard and now Golf Club Drive) was only 20 feet in length and involved no trestlework at all. Instead, a wood ballast bridge was installed over the road supported by two redwood piers, which were eventually shielded from damage with lumber coverings. This unassuming structure has remained in place for over one hundred years, in a sense marking the gateway to Pogonip to visitors of the park. The bridge remains in use by the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway and is now owned and maintained by Roaring Camp Railroads.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Northern (Western) abutment: 36.9897N, 122.0335W
Southern (Eastern) abutment: 36.9895N, 122.0334W

The bridge remains quite visible and accessible to the public along Golf Club Drive. Visitors, however, are advised that the tracks atop the bridge remain an active railway and the area is also heavily frequented by the homeless, so caution is advised at all times. Furthermore, crossing the bridge or walking the tracks is considered trespassing without receiving permission from Roaring Camp Railroads.

Citations & Credits:

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