Friday, February 7, 2020

Freight Stops: Eblis Oil Spurs

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If you have information about or photographs of the former oil storage facilities
north of Santa Cruzleave a comment below or email author@santacruztrains.com.

The golden age of railroad-delivered oil reached Santa Cruz County in the 1920s and the practice continued well into the 1960s. While the various oil companies chose several different places initially to locate their regional petroleum and oil storage tanks and distribution facilities, all of them eventually settled upon a half-mile stretch of track between the Mora Street and Encinal Street, within the Eblis industrial zone. Five different companies ultimately set up shop along this stretch, each with its own freight spur, and they included some of the largest oil companies in the United States, such as Associated Oil (Flying A), Richfield Oil (ARCO), Texas Oil (Texaco), Union Oil (Unocol-Union 76), and Standard Oil (Chevron).

The Ocean Street and Soquel Avenue Associated Oil service station, 1930s. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
Quite unsurprisingly for the time, Standard Oil was the first to arrive in the Eblis area when it installed storage tanks beside the tracks on Potrero Street in 1912. Many books have documented the history of Standard Oil, but in brief, it was founded in 1870 by John D. Rockefeller and Henry Flagler and quickly became the largest oil refining business in the world. Simultaneously to this, Star Oil had been founded in California in 1876 and eventually evolved into the Pacific Coast Oil Company in 1879, under the leadership of Charles Felton, Lloyd Tevis, and George Loomis. This was subsequently bought by Standard Oil in 1906, but Standard Oil itself was dissolved in 1911 due to an antitrust suit. As a result, Standard Oil of California was formed and evolved into Chevron through the 1930s and 1940s. The location on Potrero Street was taken over by a subsidiary, Standard Heating Oils, in 1958, but this was eventually sold to Avex, Inc., owned by George E. Albers. Avex officially still had the spur registered as active in 1973, but it was out of use by the end of the decade.

Another Associated Oil Flying "A" station, circa 1939, at the corner of Mission Street and Younglove Avenue.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
Just next door to Standard Oil, along Madrone Street, the Associated Oil Company set up shop in 1913. They, like Standard Oil, had already maintained a presence at the Santa Cruz Union Depot but decided to move from that site, possibly to satisfy urban development needs. Associated Oil was founded in 1901 through the merger of several smaller California-based firms. In reality, the company was partially owned by both Standard Oil and Southern Pacific and provided the fuel for regional steam locomotives into the 1950s. It was merged with the larger Tidewater Oil Company in 1938, becoming the Tidewater Associated Oil Company, which used the Tydol Flying A brand to sell gasoline and oil products to the public. The company was purchased by Phillips Petroleum Company (ConocoPhillips) in 1966 and all of the petrol stations were rebranded to Phillips 66.

Across from Standard Oil and Associated Oil, the Union Oil Company set up shop as the only rail patron on the north side of the Eblis industrial zone. The location may actually have been a legacy of an earlier business, the Sinkinson & Sons Lumber Company, which had maintained a yard in that vicinity in the 1880s and 1890s and eventually developed into the sash mill that the area is known for today. Union Oil probably was a latecomer to the area, moving to the site in the mid-1920s around the same time that the Santa Cruz Lumber Company took over the sash mill site. Union Oil, incorporated in 1890, was another California company created through the merger of smaller regional firms. Little is known of its operations and presence in Santa Cruz, but its spur appears to have disappeared by the early 1950s, suggesting the company may have vacated the location at this time. The company sold the popular 76 Brand of gasoline from 1932.

Further to the north, across State Route 1, the Texas Oil Company paved the way for oil companies to operate on the far end of the Eblis industrial zone. Established in the early 1930s, the Texas Oil Company set up a storage facility and gasoline station on Fern Street. As its name suggests, the company was founded in Texas in 1902 but quickly spread into other areas, becoming the first company to use a single brand name, Texaco, across the continental United States. Its expansion into Santa Cruz in the 1930s was a natural development of its expansion strategy.

Likewise, the Richfield Oil Company established itself on Encinal Street at the northern limit of the Eblis zone in 1938. It already had a presence in the county but this distribution facility allowed it to expand and more rapidly resupply its service stations throughout the county. Unlike the other oil companies in the area, Richfield became a family business under the control of the Devins family, whose patriarch, Fred J., and son, Richard B., ran the business for several decades. A merger with the Atlantic Refining Company in 1966 caused the creation of the Atlantic-Richfield Oil Company, better known as ARCO. In 1976, Fred and Richard Devins incorporated the Devco Oil Company as a privately-run distributor of ARCO products. By this point, the family had abandoned the use of the railroad and switched to shipping via tanker truck. Devco finally sold to Flyers Energy in the mid-2000s after ARCO merged with The British Petroleum Company (BP) in 2000.

Three of the oil spurs were removed from service during a massive Santa Cruz yard cleanup project conducted by Southern Pacific in the mid-1960s. The spurs for Richfield Oil and Texas Oil were removed completely at this time, while the Associated Oil spur was spiked and eventually removed in the late 1970s. This might have reflected optimism in 1966 with the Phillips 66 takeover that the spur would be used again, but this clearly never happened. By 1973, the spur was listed as inactive and spiked. Only the former Standard Oil spur survived the purge completely, but it too was spiked by 1981 and it was probably put out of service completely around 1985, when Roaring Camp Railroads took over the line. Remnants of all five spurs survive, mostly through overly long crossties and adjacent structures once associated with the businesses, but only one location is still used for its original purpose, the former Richfield Oil property on Encinal Street, but it no longer has any rail service.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
The locations of all five petroleum spurs are off the current Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway right-of-way through the Eblis industrial zone and trespassing on the tracks is not advised, since these are active tracks. The locations of the businesses themselves are:
  • Richfield Oil: 139 Encinal Street (36.9863N, 122.0315W), now occupied by Flyers Energy.
  • Texas Oil: 133 Fern Street (36.9857N, 122.0317W), now an abandoned warehouse and dilapidated lot, probably still owned by Texaco.
  • Associated Oil: 199 Madrone Street (36.9825N, 122.0304W), now a warehouse of unknown ownership fenced off from the public with piles of old cars parked out back.
  • Standard Oil: 317 Potrero Street (36.9819N, 122.0303W), now part of a business block that includes Lighthouse Windows, Samaya's Eco-Flooring, and Great Infusions, all buildings of which postdate the original Standard Oil structures.
  • Union Oil: 303 Potrero Street (36.9822N, 122.0308W), now occupied by the Pacific Cookie Company and Covello & Covello Photography parking lot. The locations original facility is entirely gone, although several remnants of the storage facility have left impressions on the asphalt to the south of the main warehouse.
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