Thursday, December 28, 2023

Stations: Spring Creek

Like all of the other railroad branch lines in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Loma Prieta Branch played host to a few short-lived stations. Spring Creek takes the award for being the shortest, while also being the first and least remembered. In an unusual twist, though, it is one of the easiest station sites within The Forest of Nisene Marks to identify and visit today.

Southern Pacific Railroad locomotive no. 80 pushing a logging train down the grade from Monte Vista (II), ca 1890 [Paul Johnston Collection, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History—colorized using MyHeritage]

Spring Creek’s name refers to the fact that the creek provided drinking and fuel water to the village of Loma Prieta 0.6 miles to the south. Catchments were installed by the Loma Prieta Lumber Company about 440 feet above the village and these provided sufficient pressure that the water supply did not require pumps. Unfortunately, the creek did not provide sufficient water during the summer months, so wells closer to the village were also dug to supplement the supply.

The Loma Prieta Lumber Company’s primary mill at Monte Vista 1.4 miles to the north of Spring Creek burned down on May 13, 1885. While a temporary mill was reopened later that year and continued to operate from the original site, it would be two seasons before a new mill to the south opened to replace the facility. During this time, the company still needed to produce lumber to fulfil its contracts. In the preceding years, cruisers had scouted the forest and identified the southern slopes of China Ridge as a good target once principal harvesting around the mill was completed. With the area immediately around the mill partially inaccessible or damaged in the fire, the lumber company decided to accelerate its plans. The problem was how to get there.

An approach up Spring Creek Gulch seemed the most logical option. Gradual in its descent, the gulch provided a nearly level landing for a train to operate, assuming one could get to this place from across Aptos Creek. Sometime in mid- to late 1886, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company approached Southern Pacific to install a standard-gauge spur across Aptos Creek to Spring Creek Gulch. The railroad accepted, presumably with the lumber company footing the bill.

While the gulch could support the track, there was no way to get to it other than cutting, so workers cut through the sandstone hillside beside the main branch line following the curvature of a natural promontory that jutted into Aptos Creek. A bridge of unknown type was built across Aptos Creek and then the spur continued up into Spring Creek as far as it could go before the track became too steep. The first of several switches was installed at the bottom of this section and the spur then followed the ridgeline to the southwest. This allowed crews to directly load logs onto waiting flatcars from the hillsides above.

Map of the Spring Gulch spur. Drawn by Ronald G. Powell.

The spur connected with the main branch in a way that directed cars to the old mill site, so presumably the plan was to send logs there for processing. Once the new mill opened to the south, this became a more complicated transfer, with trains backing onto the branch before heading south to the new mill. This extra step may have been one of the reasons the line did not last long, though such arrangements were hardly unusual for logging railroads. Spring Creek was designated a freight stop, but no facilities were reported there suggesting it was solely a switch and likely only had a sign marking its status.

The track was extended by the lumber company as needed, eventually switchbacking again and then continuing due west to above Bridge Creek, where another switch brought it back east just above Aptos Creek. At some point, a short switchback was also extended to the east to collect timber from above Aptos Creek near the spur’s bridge. Crews extending the track had to remain below the water cisterns further up Spring Creek Gulch so as not to foul the village’s water supply—the timber above this line was not collected until the early 1900s, when the lumber company harvested the last of the standing trees along Aptos Creek.

The spur at Spring Creek may have only been used for two seasons, after which the track beyond Monte Vista was opened and logging crews moved north. A truncated spur—just the part on the south bank of Aptos Creek—may have continued to function as a holding spur for many years, though there is no evidence for this. The station remained on record in Southern Pacific books until some time in 1890. The Molino Timber Company later erected its incline directly through this section in the mid-1910s, but it did not use any of the previous infrastructure.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0307N, 121.8930W
116.3 miles from San Francisco via Pajaro

The site of Spring Creek station is easy to visit. Follow the Aptos Creek Trail from where it splits from the Aptos Creek Fire Road and cross Aptos Creek. Once you ascend the opposite bank, continue through a deep cut through the hillside. Spring Creek Station was located at the opposite end of this cut, identifiable by the cut to the left that follows the curvature of the promontory out toward Aptos Creek.

Citations & Credits:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.