Friday, February 21, 2020

Stations: Eblis

Deep beneath the bowels of Holy Cross Catholic Church atop Mission Hill, under the old Spanish cemetery, mostly forgotten, lies a dark, dank tunnel through which the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway passes daily through Hell! Okay, not exactly Hell, but rather through Satan! Or at least a devil. Oh my, this has gone off track entirely. Let us begin again...

Advertising poster for the book release of Zoraida, 1895. [Public Domain]
In 1894, William Le Queux published the serialized novel Zoraida in local newspapers to great acclaim. The story told of an enchanting Algerian Moor who fell in love with a Spanish soldier and converted to Christianity in order to elope with him. The tale was racy, exciting, and quite popular with working class men who had Oriental dreams. And in the story, the name Eblis—Arabic for Satan or a devil—was invoked several times, often to describe the courtesan Zoraida.

Meanwhile back in Santa Cruz, the Southern Pacific Railroad right-of-way just to the north of Mission Hill was finally transitioning into an industrial district in the early 1890s. The mission orchards—the Potrero—had long been off limits to developers but the end of the cattle industry within the Santa Cruz city limits meant that the area could transition to other purposes. From the very beginning of the railroad in 1875, the area had hosted the old Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad's maintenance shops as well as served as the northern terminus of the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad. After the South Pacific Coast Railroad took over in 1879, the maintenance shop was moved down the track and the spur became host to the Cunningham & Company planing mill. But the railroad did not note most of these developments on timetables.

The year 1899 brought many changes to the local timetables, one of which was the addition of the Tunnel 8 Siding just north of the Mission Hill Tunnel. But this name did not stick. Registered officially in the station books, released January 1, 1899, the name was changed by April to Eblis in what can only be a reference to the siding's location in the shadow of the Holy Cross Church on Mission Hill. The church sat on the location of the original destroyed Mission Santa Cruz and was built between 1885 and 1889, so was a relatively new feature on the landscape. The word Eblis is extraordinarily rare in the United States and undoubtedly derives from the Le Queux's story that had circulated just four years earlier in local newspapers. It also is the only Arabic loan word used to describe a location in Santa Cruz County.

The specific station point for Eblis is just north of Mora Street, which is itself off River Street. It is at this point that a long siding breaks off the right-of-way. The siding originally continued north to Coral Street before rejoining the mainline, but this was truncated back to just south of Highway 1 when the freeway was built in 1956. Technically, Eblis station encompasses the entirety of the siding's length, from Mora Street to Coral Street, and all the spurs that once broke off from the parallel lines in this section. These businesses included Cascade Steam Laundry, the Santa Cruz Cement Block & Brick Company, the Santa Cruz City corporate yard, Sinkerson & Sons, the F. A. Hihn Company, Santa Cruz Lumber Company, Associated Oil, Standard Oil, Richfield Oil, Union Oil, Texas Oil, Poultry Producers of Central California, Graniterock, and perhaps even the Salz Tannery, which sits just beyond the northern end of the siding.

One of the first Beach Trains temporarily parked at Eblis, 1986. [Jack Hanson]
In what was probably intended as a rebranding effort, in September 1927, Eblis was removed from timetables and replaced with simply Mora Street, which was listed as a flag-stop rather than a more formal station. This likely reflected the fact that Eblis was and almost always had been exclusively a freight stop, and one in which the actual station point did not overly matter since all of the local customers had their goods delivered directly to private spurs. Like Eblis, Mora Street was a reference to Mission Santa Cruz and was named after Bishop Mora, the last head of the California diocese before the Mexican revolution forced the Spanish out of California. Mora was known to visit Santa Cruz frequently and the street was subsequently named after him by early town planners. Notably, station books from the time do not note Mora Street and continue to call the location Eblis, and confusingly both names appeared together on timetables from 1928 until May 31, 1931 despite the two names marking nearly identical locations.

A Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway locomotive parked on the Eblis siding during a track repair project, 2012.
[Howard Cohen]
Throughout most of its history, Eblis (and Mora Street) were considered flag-stops on the line, but no station structure other than a sign were ever erected for the location. When Roaring Camp Railroads purchased the route in 1985, the deal included the siding at Eblis and the right to handle any freight from nearby customers, which the railroad has periodically done. More often, the railroad uses the siding to temporarily park its tunnel repair car and other rolling stock.

The Eblis station point on Mora Street with the tunnel repair car parked on the siding, 2011. [Google Maps]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9804N, 122.0298W

Eblis remains an active station point for the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway. Although freight only rarely passes through the station and no freight patron has used the station for several decades now, it is still an officially registered station. As such, trespassing is not permitted on the right-of-way, although the station site is essentially the intersection of Mora Street and Amat Street, where the siding breaks off from the mainline.

Citations & Credits:


  1. After the Automatic Block Signal system was removed over most of the line
    between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz after the 1940 washout, a small vestige of
    this system remained between Eblis and Santa Cruz only, perhaps to protect
    train traffic in the Santa Cruz yard area. A 1951 Employees Timetable shows
    this. Sometime after this, in the 1950's, the signals were removed.

  2. I'd been told by locals that Eblis was a contraction of "eternal bliss" for the church on the hill.


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