Friday, May 1, 2020

Maps: Lower San Lorenzo River

The route of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad south of Tollhouse Gulch outside of Felton was one of the most scenic five miles of trackage in the Bay Area and still remains so today. The sharp curves of the San Lorenzo River far below the tracks compliment the sheer hillsides above the west bank, where the railroad follows a precarious grade through lush second growth redwood forest. Yet hints of civilization were once more present than they are today. The noisy Cowell limeworks at Rincon were followed closely by the sulphurous California Powder Works, with its occasional test (explosions rattling the valley). And suddenly, after miles of vibrant wilderness, the route opens up into the grassy fields of Pogonip and the lazy city of Santa Cruz beyond.

Marketing postcard for the Lompico subdivision showing the view of San Lorenzo Gorge
at Inspiration Point, 1920s. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History – colorized using DeOldify]
Heading south from Felton Junction, the route of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad—later the South Pacific Coast Railroad and, later still, the Southern Pacific Railroad's Santa Cruz & College Park Branch—entered San Lorenzo Gorge. This five-mile stretch remains one of the most problematic today, with landslides common every winter and numerous. The river sometimes meanders and sometimes rages far below, while the tracks (and Highway 9) carves a tenuous passage along its upper flanks. At the first major turn south of Felton, a tunnel once sat beneath Inspiration Point until a fire destroyed it in 1993. To the south of the tunnel, at a site originally called Coon Gulch, a concrete arch bridge and two concrete fills mark places where even bridgeworks and fills were not enough to overcome the trials of Mother Nature.

Map of the railroad trackage between Felton Junction and Tunnel #8 in Santa Cruz. [Derek R. Whaley]
The route south of Coon Gulch passes through lush forest with occasional peeks at the river beyond. At Rincon, where mountain bikers often assemble today for travels up or down the mountainside, the last major local lime kilns for the Cowell Lime Company once operated. Spaced along the west side of the tracks along a siding and a spur, the kilns and their supporting structures once proved a formidable site to passing trains. Once the area became Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, the buildings fell into disrepair and were eventually demolished. Now only a large clearing and mounds mark where once there was industry

The Cowell limeworks warehouse along Highway 9 at Rincon, 1950s. Photograph by John Cummings.
[Jim Vail – colorized using DeOldify]
Beyond Rincon, Tunnel #7 once broke the Hogs' Back, as the geographic feature there is called, but subsequent erosion and repairs turned the tunnel into a simple cut. Around the next curve, the tracks cross Highway 9 and then Shady Gulch over a high bridge visible from the adjacent road. Originally the road passed beneath this bridge twice in order to circumvent the gulch, but engineers during the Great Depression bypassed this dangerous obstacle and Highway 9 now continues below the railroad grade unimpeded.

A Big Trees excursion train heading north across the Shady Gulch bridge, 1950s. Photograph by Fred Stoes.
[Jim Vail – colorized using DeOldify]
Around three more turns, the track reaches the site of the Powder Works depot. It was at this place that narrow-gauge box cars would run down a switchback to Highway 9, cross the road, and then enter today's Paradise Park, which was until 1914 the California Powder Works—the first blasting powder company on the West Coast. Within the park, tracks paralleled the San Lorenzo River to the north until arriving at the main powder works, where it circled the plant and boxcars, now fully-loaded, could be hauled back up the grade by horses where passing trains picked them up and took them to the Railroad Wharf or over the mountains to a site near Campbell.

A view of Santa Cruz from Pogonip, with the Holy Cross Church in the distance at right, 1930s.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using DeOldify]
Around another curve and the train once arrived at Golf Links, where vacationers could detrain and climb up the long stairway to the Casa del Rey Golf Links. A short while later and the train finally enters the city limits of Santa Cruz and the redwoods give way to the wide floodplain of the San Lorenzo River and the Mission Orchard. It was here that the city built a water pumping station, which briefly had its own spur. A tiny bridge over Golf Course Drive brings the train to the north end of the Eblis industrial area.

A worker raising the flag over the oldest surviving building at the A. K. Salz Company, with a wagon ready to cross River Street to pick up more hides for tanning, 1955. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using DeOldify]
No fewer than nine spurs and a siding once spanned the tracks between Pogonip Creek and Tunnel #8 in the area alternately named the Potrero or Mission Orchard. Only two spurs, both out of use, and a truncated siding remain. From the north, the train once passed the A. K. Salz Leather Company, Richfield Oil, Texas Oil, and the Central Supply Company spurs. Even earlier, a spur in this area catered to the Santa Cruz Cement Company, a failed Portland cement venture attempted in the 1880s. South of Highway 1, the siding begins and from it broke off spurs for the Poultry Products of California, Associated Oil, and Standard Oil, while a spur off the mainline to the west catered to the Union Oil Company.

Map of Mission Santa Cruz lands, including the lands of the Mission Orchard, c. 1878. [Bancroft Library]
At the bottom end of the area, near to the Eblis station point and the southern end of the siding, the old Santa Cruz & Felton mainline to Pacific Avenue once cut through today's San Lorenzo Lumber & Home Center. This track was later replaced with Tunnel #8, which was built in 1876 and cuts beneath the Holy Cross Catholic Church on Mission Hill. Later patrons who used the cut-back spur included Cunningham & Company, the Cascade Laundry, and the City of Santa Cruz as a corporate yard.

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1 comment:

  1. The whole Santa Cruz to Boulder Creek route would have been scenic and worth preserving. I read - possibly here, but certainly in other places - that the SC-BC passenger service was the first on the Southern Pacific System to be converted to their new bus line, so I expect the purge of the four passenger trains in the late twenties was hastened to show results. The track between Olympia to Wright, I feel, was doomed almost from the beginning, not so if it had taken the Los Gatos to Soquel route, but the Boulder Creek line should have remained.

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