Thursday, March 9, 2023

Companies: Glenwood Lumber Company

The Glenwood Lumber Company was one of the longest running logging businesses to originate in Santa Cruz County. Prior to the company’s founding, William Farrington purchased over 500 acres of timberland near the top of Mountain Charlie Gulch, a tributary of Zayante Creek. The land had been owned by Horatio Weymouth, who lost his home on the Santa Cruz Turnpike in a fire on February 20, 1880. In late 1882, Farrington opened a shingle mill near the toll road and operated it through the 1883 logging season. What precisely motivated him to take on partners is unclear, but on March 19, 1884, William H. Covell became the senior partner in the creation of the Glenwood Lumber Company, named after the nearby railroad station from which the firm would ship its lumber. Considering the sheer size of the property, it is surprising that the company only operated on Mountain Charlie Gulch for two more years.

Oxen team operating on the hills new Glenwood, ca 1890. Photo by the studio of E. B. Andrews. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

In September 1885, the shingle mill closed and the machinery was moved three miles to the east to Covell’s property near Vine Hill on the West Branch of Soquel Creek. The new mill was scheduled to open May 1886 and would ship lumber from Highland (later Laurel). As part of this move, the company was reincorporated with Farrington becoming a full partner alongside William Covell’s brothers, Frank M. and Prentice E. Corporate offices were maintained at Glenwood and Laurel, suggesting some residual milling may have continued at the former site. Frank was made superintendent of the Soquel Creek mill.

Advertisement from the Los Gatos News, May 7, 1886.

Beginning in May 1886, advertisements for Glenwood Lumber began appearing in Bay Area newspapers. The business sold a combination of locally sources and imported lumber at its San José yard, which was situated on White Street beside the South Pacific Coast Railroad’s yard. Another retail yard was also maintained briefly in Los Gatos. The Covells left the business in September 1887 and William J. Rogers was brought on as a new partner and superintendent of the mill. At this time, the Glenwood office was closed, suggesting operations had ended on Mountain Charlie Gulch. The company’s Laurel office served as its primary place of business until July 20, 1890, when it was destroyed in a fire. All the company’s paperwork and books were lost.

Early the next year, Rogers became involved in multiple ongoing lawsuits against the Southern Pacific Railroad. The issue related to freight rates discrimination, with Rogers arguing that the railroad unfairly charged more for shipping lumber to San José from Laurel than it did for shipping from the North Bay, which was further away. He dropped this suit in April but then in September, he testified on behalf of the Santa Cruz Lumber Company, which was suing for the same reason. In June 1892, Rogers petitioned the Railroad Commission with a new complaint that shipping from Boulder Creek was cheaper than shipping from Laurel, which was closer to San José and on the same route. Eventually, the disputes were settled when Southern Pacific adjusted its rates in October. 

(Clockwise) The Glenwood Lumber Company's wharf at the Port of Alviso, its lumberyard at the port, the South Pacific Coast Railway's tracks outside its San José lumberyard, and the main mill and offices of its San José yard, 1895. From Sunshine, Fruits & Flowers: Santa Clara County, California

By this point, Rogers had effectively taken control of the Glenwood Lumber Company. On April 29, 1892, it was formally incorporated with a capital stock of $100,000. Its corporate offices moved to 34 N Third Street in San José. On the new board of directors, Rogers served as president, C. M. Ayers was elected vice president, and Joseph B. Collins was made secretary, with William Knox Beans and David B. Moody as additional directors. William Rogers’ brother, Charles A. Rogers, was appointed general manager and served in that role until March 1898, when he left for the Alaskan goldfields. One of the reasons the Glenwood Lumber Company was incorporated was to bypass Southern Pacific’s monopoly. It began reaching customers directly in whatever ways it could. The company provided most of the lumber to build the town of Morgan Hill in 1893, opening a retail outlet there to speed along construction. The next year, it opened a yard at Rucker, midway between Gilroy and San Martin, probably hoping to repeat the trick. North of Santa Clara at the Port of Alviso, the company built at least two wharves and purchased at least one steamship. This brought in lumber imported from Northern California to supplement the company’s local stock. To reduce the costs of imported lumber, the company bought a substantial stock in the Cottoneva Lumber Company, which operated out of Rockport in Mendocino County. Rogers took on the role of superintendent at the Rockport mill and erected a general store and hotel there. With its lumber empire firmly established, the Glenwood Lumber Company no longer feared the power of the railroad.

Nevertheless, the company suffered during the financial crisis of the mid-1890s. In July 1896, the company joined the Santa Clara County Lumber Dealers Association, which was an anti-competitive collective that set lumber prices in the depressed market. It also decided to cut costs and closed its retail yard at the end of 1896. From this point onward, the company focused exclusively on wholesale. Another casualty of these cost-cutting measures was likely the closure of the Soquel Creek mill and the sale of its stocks in the Rockport mill. This allowed the company to focus more on resale rather than production. It was around this time that E. Walter Schnabel became vice president of the company, replacing Ayers.

Over the next several years, William Rogers became distracted with politics and other ventures. He was elected to the San José City Council in 1901. The next year, he became the lead supporter of the Watsonville Transportation Company’s plan to turn Watsonville into a seaport. Rogers made the poor decision on March 31, 1903 to sell the Glenwood Lumber Company to J. H. Routt, owner of the startup San Jose Lumber Company. The set price was $36,000, with $3,000 paid up front. While Routt took control of the company, he would not own it outright until he paid the balance. As insurance, Schnabel remained on the board of the new company as vice president. Routt spent the next year scamming several local logging businesses out of their lumber. Between March 31 and September 10, 1903, he purchased $1,500 of lumber from I. T. Bloom, $800 from the Gualala Mill Company, $1,600 from the Virginia Timber & Lumber Company, $5,000 from the Wendling Lumber Company, $300 from the Santa Cruz Lime Company, and $90 from the Hartman Bros. To make matters worse, he mixed all the lumber together and gave all of the money he made directly to Rogers rather than repaying the businesses that sold him the lumber. The Glenwood Lumber Company’s reputation took a dive and Rogers sued Routt in February 1905 for damages and failure to fulfil his contract. Rogers had already regained control of the company, but the lawsuits took about two years to resolve. In every case, the judge ruled against Routt.

Around August 1904, Rogers decided to open a new mill in the Santa Cruz Mountains, possibly to restore local confidence in his firm. He hired the well-respected lumberman I. T. Bloom as manager and opened a mill somewhere near the mountain town of Boulder Creek. According to later reports, Rogers only owned a single share in the company at this time. The controlling interest was held by the Schnabel family, with Bloom and Jacob Miller holding the remaining 999 shares. Walter Schnabel served as general manager. This imbalance may have set Rogers against his partners, though this was not apparent immediately. The Boulder Creek venture wrapped after only two seasons and Rogers sought new tracts to harvest.

A San José Daily Mercury photo of the burned mill in San José, taken March 31, 1906.

He decided to jump on the Ocean Shore Railway bandwagon and, on November 14, 1905, the company bought stumpage rights to 1,450 acres on Gazos Creek in San Mateo County from L. Woodard. The cruising report for the acreage, which sat directly north of Big Basin, estimated that it contained 60 million board feet of timber. Before even the first trees were felled, though, disaster struck. On March 31, 1906, the company’s lumber yard on Fourth Street and St. John in San José burned to the ground, taking with it the company’s records and over $10,000 in lumber. As was common at the time, none of the property was insured. Arson was expected, but the arsonists were never found. Less than three weeks later, the San Francisco Earthquake struck and everything in the Bay Area came to a standstill.

After over a years’ delay, the first trees on Gazos Creek were felled in spring 1907. The mill, which cost around $30,000 to build, opened in mid-summer of that year. The company cut around 5,000,000 board feet of timber in its first two seasons of operation. However, the earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 caused the halting of construction on the Ocean Shore Railway. Without the railroad, the Glenwood Lumber Company could not ship its lumber. For the 1907 season, the company negotiated shipments with Loren Coburn, who owned a freight warehouse and shipping pier at Pigeon Point. However, in January 1908, Coburn denied them further use of the facilities. The company ignored him and used them anyway. In June, Coburn sued the company and Schnabel decided to shut down the mill the next month. His timing was perfect since a fire burned through the forest in early August, decimating much of the company’s timberland.

The history of the company after it abandoned Gazos Creek is less clear. Rogers appears to have left the company around the time that the mill opened. Miller was president for a time, but Schnabel eventually rose to the rank no later than 1911. By this point, the company’s offices had moved to 521 South Fifth Street in San José. A proposal to build a new lumber yard at Sixth and Julian Streets in 1913 was rejected, but it is unclear whether the company owned another yard at this time. It still maintained offices in June 1925, and it reportedly auctioned off 150,000 board feet of lumber on March 27, 1954 from a yard at 96 North Twenty-eighth Street. When the Glenwood Lumber Company ultimately closed is unknown.

Farrington's original timber tract on Mountain Charlie Gulch was later acquired by the Virginia Timber & Lumber Company, which operated a small mill beside the railroad tracks. The former Covell Bros. property south of Laurel was eventually bought by John Dubuis on July 27, 1910, who registered it as the Glenwood Basin tract. He converted the property into twenty-nine 5-acre residential lots, most of which never sold as intended. The subdivision is at the end of Tucker Road, accessible off Highway 17 via Sugarloaf Road.

Citations & Credits:

  • Various newspapers including the Los Gatos NewsSan Francisco Examiner, Jose Daily Mercury, Santa Cruz Evening News, Santa Cruz Sentinel, and Santa Cruz Surf.
  • San Jose Mercury. Sunshine, Fruit & Flowers: Santa Clara County, California. San Jose, CA: San Jose Mercury Publishing and Printing Company, 1895.
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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Curiosities: Storms and the Railroads

The watersheds of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay have never been kind to the region’s railroad infrastructure. From the earliest days of local railroading, landslides, sinks, cave-ins, and flooding have been commonplace, rendering various regional branch lines out of commission for months while bridges, tunnels, and rights-of-way are repaired. Because winter storms in particular have historically been so destructive, it is not surprising that some of these have been photographed by the railroad companies and interested parties. However, many storms have gone little recorded and unphotographed. making the creation of a full history of storm damage to local railroad lines nearly impossible.

A major washout at Edric near the southern (railroad east) portal of the Summit Tunnel, 1909. [Courtesy Neil Vodden Collection, courtesy Jack Hanson – colorized using MyHeritage]

As with similar blog posts of this nature, this article will evolve over time as more information and photographs come to light. If you know of any storms that significantly impacted local railroads not recorded below, or have photographs of any local railroad infrastructure damage from storms, please share your information on Facebook in the Santa Cruz Trains group.

The Storms of 1875-1876

Not long after the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad opened in 1875, a winter storm threw a section of track south of Felton below Inspiration Point into the San Lorenzo River far below. This became an annual occurrence and the short line railroad did not have the funds to finance a more formal fix to the situation. Each year, the company just cleared slides and repaired damage right-of-way along the stretch of track known as Coon Gulch, and then resumed operations.

When the South Pacific Coast Railroad took control of the right-of-way in 1879, it attempted to remedy the worst of the problems. It reinforced the hillside trestles along the gulch and built a tunnel underneath Inspiration Point to avoid an especially sharp turn around a rock outcropping that was prone to rockslides. Yet these did not stop the problem—they only made the problem easier to repair. Each year, more rocks would fall on the tracks and the Southern Pacific Railroad (after 1887) gradually extended a shed over the tracks to protect them from these falls. Meanwhile, the largest of the hillside trestles was eventually replaced in March 1905 with a beautiful concrete arch bridge, which has since been the subject of many photographs since it can be viewed from Inspiration Point. Even these adaptations, though, only lessened the financial impact of slides; they did little to stop them from happening. Today, Roaring Camp Railroads clears slide activity along this stretch regularly after even the mildest storm or windy day.

One other result of the storms of 1875-1876 was the destruction of the Santa Clara Valley Railroad between Alviso and Dumbarton Point. This line was incorporated to build a railroad from Oakland to Santa Cruz via a route through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Its destruction in the storm led to its reincorporation as the South Pacific Coast Railroad in May 1876 with new financial backing but a similar proposed route.

The Storm of 1881

Storms did have a habit of undermining the short-line railroads of the region. An aggressive January storm in 1881 went so far as to wash out large portions of the Santa Cruz Railroad line, which had experienced annual storm damage since it had first opened less than five years earlier. By January 1881, the company was running on fumes with much of its revenue lost to the South Pacific Coast Railroad, which had a more direct route to the Bay Area. On January 27, the railroad bridge at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River was completely destroyed. The cost to repair the bridge and the rest of the line was too much, so the company fell into receivership. Not long afterwards, it was purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad in a bankruptcy auction. While the line was rebuilt, it was now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Southern Pacific.

Collapsed trestlework at the approach to the San Lorenzo River bridge in Santa Cruz, January 1890. [Courtesy University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

The Storms of 1889–1890

December 1889 was an exceptionally wet month across California that saw damage to nearly every railroad line in the state. Slides and fallen trees were the main hazard to the railroad and shut the route through the mountains and to Boulder Creek down on multiple occasions. As had become a trend, the steep hillside below Highway 9 and south of the Inspiration Point Tunnel (Tunnel No. 6, later No. 5) collapsed. Other slides happened near the Powder Works station and south of Glenwood above Bean Creek. The entire Boulder Creek Branch was out of commission, with slides most likely happening in the vicinity of Brackney, where the hillside was steepest.

Another major storm struck in late January 1890 which caused far more destruction than the first. All of Front Street in Santa Cruz was under water on January 25, but more troubling was that the railroad bridge over the San Lorenzo River at the beach had fallen off its foundations. A logjam piled up under the bridge, putting immense pressure on its piers. Crews spent the week after the storm repairing the bridge and also clearing several slides and sinks from across the route to Watsonville. The station in Watsonville, meanwhile, was under water. Elsewhere in the county, the bridge over Newell Creek on the Boulder Creek Branch was heavily damaged, though still in place, and the long bridge over Zayante Creek near today’s Mount Hermon was in a similar condition.

By the end of the 1889-1890 rainy season, over 124 inches of water had fallen in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The damage was so widespread across the region’s railroad lines that the Santa Cruz Surf speculated it may be easier to grade entirely new routes than restore caved-in cuts and repair sinks, especially south of Felton. Damage to the northern end of the route between Oakland and San Jose was also immense, with much of the trackage flooded around Alviso.

Reconstruction of the west portal of the Summit Tunnel, 1893. [Colorized using MyHeritage]

The Storm of January 1893

The year 1893 was ushered in by yet another monstrous storm. In addition to widespread damage throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains, the main casualty of the tempest was the northern (railroad west) entrance of the Summit Tunnel (Tunnel No. 2, later No. 1) at Wright’s Station. About 100 feet inside the portal, a complete cave-in occurred that resulted in a total reconstruction of that end of the tunnel. In the meantime, the Southern Pacific Railroad’s mountain route was closed and all traffic diverted through Watsonville. The new tunnel that was constructed was made of concrete in an oval shape with a concrete channel beside it to divert run-off from the hillside above.

Reconstruction of the Summit Tunnel nearing completion, Spring 1893. [Colorized using MyHeritage]

One benefit of this reconstruction was that the tunnel was built to standard-gauge scale, meaning it did not have to be rebuilt when the line was standard-gauged from 1906-1909. It also was of sufficient quality that it suffered only minor damage in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. However, a downside is that it was also built of slightly inferior materials, so when the tunnels were dynamited in 1942, the portal at Wrights exploded, whereas the other seven abandoned portals have survived to the present.

The Storm of 1899

While the Loma Prieta Branch north of Aptos was always an industrial line focused exclusively on logging, it did offer some passenger and excursion services on request and the occasional alternative freight was shipped on the route. Nonetheless, it was a storm in March 1899 that cut the life of the line short. Logging north of the village of Loma Prieta had been on the decline for a few years when the mid-March storm struck. The initial damage to the route was focused in the vicinity of Hell’s Gate, an especially narrow section of Aptos Creek on the road to Monte Vista near Five Finger Falls. While slides along this stretch were not uncommon, the ones in 1899 were severe. Initial reports suggested that the line would be shut down and Monte Vista abandoned, but that wasn’t strictly true. Southern Pacific did, in fact, repair the line and continued to harvest timber beyond it for the next three summers. But the cost of restoring the line to full operations likely convinced the railroad company to downgrade it and wrap up operations north of Hell’s Gate. The passenger station at Monte Vista closed in November 1899, and the route to Monte Vista was abandoned on June 30, 1902.

A temporary trestle installed south of Rincon above the San Lorenzo River, 1909. This has since become a permanent raised section of track. [Neil Vodden Collection, courtesy Jack Hanson – colorized using MyHeritage]

The Storm of 1909

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake did a number on all of the region’s railroad lines, knocking the route through the mountains completely out of commission in the process. Rather than repair and reopen, Southern Pacific decided to keep the line closed until all of the tracks could be upgraded to standard gauge. This meant enlarging all six remaining tunnels along the mountain route and rebuilding or expanding many bridges. Most of this work was completed by early 1909 when a sudden storm swept through the Bay Area on January 20.

Receding floodwaters beside the Southern Pacific track at Ellicott, 1909. [Neil Vodden Collection, courtesy Jack Hanson – colorized using MyHeritage]

The next day, Santa Cruz County was struck by the storm and the Pajaro Valley flooded. Traffic between Santa Cruz and Watsonville was cut, while traffic along the Boulder Creek Branch was also paused due to slides. At Laguna (Nuga), railroad crews dumped hundreds of carloads of ballast into Watsonville Slough in an attempt to stabilize the right-of-way, but most of it washed away soon after being dumped. In the fruit-packing district along Walker Street, the tracks were undermined and washed away. Meanwhile, the main road and railroad between Alma and Wrights at Eva washed out, cutting railroad service between Los Gatos and Laurel. It was only after repairs to the line were made that Southern Pacific was able to finally reopen the full mountain route following three years of closure.

Landslide covering the tracks across from the east portal of the Summit Tunnel, February 29, 1940. [Courtesy Bruce MacGregor – colorized using MyHeritage]

The Storm of 1940

Jumping ahead several decades, the storm of the night of February 26, 1940, was the most catastrophic to local railroading. Over one night, such extreme damage from weather impacted the railroad route through the Santa Cruz Mountains that Southern Pacific estimated it would cost $46,220 ($966,180 today) to repair. The company’s usual annual cost of maintaining the right-of-way between Los Gatos and Felton was already the relatively high amount of $25,000 ($522,600 today) for about 20 miles of track. Thus, one storm incurred almost double the cost of annual repairs of the line. Only three years earlier, Southern Pacific had spent a considerable sum upgrading track, smoothing curves, reinforcing retaining walls, and making other repairs to the line to ensure its long-term feasibility. Yet none of that mattered in the face of a powerful storm.

Shifting ground across from the water tower at Tank Siding, March 1, 1940. [Courtesy Bruce MacGregor – colorized using MyHeritage]

After long discussions and public debates, Southern Pacific decided to abandon 17 miles of track between Los Gatos and Eccles, north of Felton. It would operate the two lines separately. All of the track and infrastructure worth salvaging was removed in 1941 and 1942, and then three of the tunnels were dynamited by the Army Corps of Engineers around late April 1942. Whereas earlier storms had led to buy-outs, reincorporations, and abandonments of short segments of track, this storm led to the end of a 60-year-old railroad route. It also marked the end of regular railroad passenger service in Santa Cruz County, since all earlier passenger lines had already converted to autobuses.

Collapsed Soquel Avenue bridge over the San Lorenzo River, January 1982. [Courtesy Gary Griggs, Santa Cruz Sentinel]

The Storm of 1982

One final line in Santa Cruz County was abandoned because of a storm. Over the winter of 1981-1982, constant heavy rains pounded Santa Cruz County, inundating the soil and causing slides and sinks across the northernmost 8.8 miles of the Santa Cruz Branch between Santa Cruz and the former Eccles station. This section had been retained by Southern Pacific because of the two sand quarries located in the Olympia area above Zayante Creek, but by 1981 the company had increased prices such that the remaining company decided to shift to trucks for freight. Southern Pacific was likely to abandon this section anyway, since it was expensive to maintain, but the storm made the decision easier. With so much damage on a line that paid almost nothing, Southern Pacific finally had the excuse it needed to abandon this 107-year-old railroad line. F. Norman Clark had a different idea, though.

The owner of the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad, Clark saw the potential of the standard-gauge railroad line to Santa Cruz and offered to buy it from Southern Pacific. He knew that acquiring the line would mean his small amusement park would become a common carrier for San Lorenzo Lumber, other local businesses, and any future quarry traffic. He also knew that his company would be responsible for any annual damage to the line. Despite all of this, he decided to buy anyway. On August 12, 1985, Clark incorporated the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway and purchased the line. It has been running between Felton and Santa Cruz almost continuously ever since as the Beach Train.

Undermined tracks beside Gallighan Slough outside Watsonville, 2017. [Courtesy Ben Rylander]

The Storm of 2017

Even in more recent times, storms continue to impact local railroading. Besides annual maintenance required along the Beach Train’s line, the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, now routed from Pajaro to Davenport, has required constant repairs. Between 1996 and 2012, this was done by the Union Pacific Railroad, but in more recent years it has been the responsibility of common carriers acting on behalf of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, which now owns the line in trust for the people of Santa Cruz County.

Overgrown tracks and mud at the washout, October 2017. [Courtesy Derek Whaley]

Iowa Pacific Holdings, operating as the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway, was the first firm to take responsibility for local lines. However, in early 2017, winter storms undercut the right-of-way beside Gallighan Slough outside Watsonville rendering the entire line beyond that point unusable. Storm water from adjacent agricultural fields was allowed to drain into the right-of-way, which had no drainage system to address this issue, so the result was undermining of the tracks. The storm damage and repair quickly became a political talking point, delaying repairs for over two years. Iowa Pacific pulled out of its contract and Progressive Rail, operating as the St. Paul & Pacific Railway, took over.

Crews cutting down a fallen tree on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, June 2017. [Courtesy Howard Cohen]

Due to all of these delays, other portions of the right-of-way have since fallen into disrepair, including multiple large bridges that have been condemned, a perpetually flooded right-of-way near Wilder Ranch, and a migratory sand dune south of Davenport that has entirely consumed the railroad tracks. Roaring Camp Railroads now operates trains along the line on behalf of St. Paul & Pacific, but when rail traffic beyond Ellicott can resume remains an open question. In the meantime, freight traffic remains restricted to the first few miles of track from Pajaro, while separate traffic can hypothetically operate between Olympia, Wilder, Santa Cruz, and Capitola.

Citations & Credits:

  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways, second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2007.
  • Powell, Ronald G. The Reign of the Lumber Barons: Part Two of the History of Rancho Soquel Augmentation. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, 2021.
  • Santa Cruz Evening News, Sentinel, and Surf. Various articles.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Stations: California Street

The Coast Line Railroad had already been operating for six years when it established a flag-stop at the intersection of Bay Street and California Street on the West Side of Santa Cruz. While the reason for the station is not entirely clear, it does follow a pattern begun in June 1910, when the railroad added five new flag-stops along its route, probably to undermine the customer base of the rival Ocean Shore Railway. Some of these stops later became permanent stations. On November 16, 1913, California Street first appeared on employee timetables.

A Southern Pacific Railroad excursion train crossing Bay Street at California Street on its way to Davenport, ca 1947. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

Why the railroad created a flag-stop at California Street is not entirely clear. Since it does not appear in agency books, the station was likely considered within the boundaries of the Santa Cruz freight yard. Its inclusion as a flag-stop in employee timetables, however, suggests it was primarily a passenger stop. If so, the easiest explanation for its existence is that it was the nearest stop to Santa Cruz High School. Students who lived north of the city along the Coast Line Railroad route could catch a morning southbound passenger train and get off at California Street, where they could then walk the half mile to the school.

The original Santa Cruz High School on fire, October 1, 1913. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using MyHeritage]

The timing of the station’s opening is important, though. The June 1913 timetable does not show the station, while the November timetable does. An intermediate timetable released on September 21 has been lost. As a result, it is unknown if the station was established before or after the October 1 fire that burned the high school to the ground. Assuming it was founded after that fire, the flag-stop was probably intended to support students moving between various teaching locations, since classes were decentralized until the school was rebuilt. When the new facility opened in fall 1915, the railroad left the flag-stop on its timetables to continue to support students who lived north of Santa Cruz. As late as the mid-1920s, the station was mentioned in property advertisements as an incentive. A Southern Pacific survey map from 1949 even shows a shelter shed at the location, though no further description of this structure seems to have survived. However, on August 1, 1932, California Street was removed as a flag-stop when regular passenger service ended along the Davenport Branch.

Southern Pacific proposed improvement map showing the Bay and California Streets intersection. Although dated September 15, 1949, this is clearly based on an earlier plan since it shows both a station shelter and the start of the pumpworks spur. [California State Archives]

California Street also marked the junction point of the municipal pumpworks spur with the Davenport Branch. The construction of a sewage pumping station on the west side of Neary Lagoon had been approved in a special election held on June 20, 1887. Bids for construction only went out in March 1888 and the facility was completed in August. In addition to pumping sewage, the Santa Cruz Electric Light and Pump Company was able to produce electricity through the excess power created from the seventy-two horsepower Pitchford Improved Corliss steam engine, which ran the pump.

Lands acquired along the Davenport Branch for the sewage pumping plant, 1927. [Santa Cruz GIS]

A spur off the Coast Line Railroad to the pumpworks was a natural conclusion since the right-of-way passed directly beside the facility. The idea was first suggested in June 1908 and Southern Pacific quoted the city $891 to install a 580-foot-long spur. The primary purpose of this spur was to park oil cars that would provide fuel to the plant. Relocating the oil tankers to this spur would also allow the old oil tanker spur on Park Street, at the site of the former Santa Cruz Railroad depot, to be abandoned. In November, the price was accepted but the spur was not installed due to a dispute over payment between the city and railroad. Southern Pacific finally laid the spur in March 1909, but would not allow the city to use it until the city paid the amount that it owed for the installation. When this amount was paid is unknown.

Sanborn fire insurance map showing the pumping station and incinerator, 1917. [Library of Congress]

The next year, the city announced its intention to build a garbage incinerator beside the wastewater pumping station. The matter went to a long public debate with the plant only opening at the site in early 1915. The facility featured a 176-foot-high chimney and was oil powered, allowing it to use the adjacent oil cars on the spur track. Below the incinerator, the city’s dump quickly emerged, attracting rats, foul odors, and widespread complaints.

View across Neary Lagoon looking toward the Santa Cruz Union Depot, ca 1920. [UCSC Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

By the 1920s, the company that controlled the pumpworks had merged with other local power companies to become Coast Counties Gas & Electric. Under increasing pressure from the public due to water pollution in Neary Lagoon and Cowells Beach and vile smells emanating from the incinerator and wastewater, Coast Counties and the city began downsizing its operations along the Bay Street spur. The incinerator and dump were closed in early 1927 with a new city dump opening on the Scaroni Ranch four miles north of Santa Cruz. Meanwhile, Coast Counties shut down the old sewage plant and relocated it in 1928. Responsibility for the spur and oil tankers was taken over by Central Supply Company also in 1928. Over the next few years, the plant came to rely less on crude oil for fuel. At the same time, a new oil tanker spur had been installed in 1932 on the northern edge of the city limits at the end of Vernon Street. The city eventually negotiated the sale of the old incinerator property in June 1933 for $800 and, at the same time, asked Southern Pacific to remove the spur. 

The empty lot beside the railroad tracks where the California Street shelter once stood, 2022. [Google StreetView]

The Santa Cruz Wastewater Treatment Facility still occupies the southern end of the property. The former site of the incinerator is now the location of the Neary Lagoon Park tennis courts and playground. Between these and the lagoon is the former dump site, which is now reclaimed forest. The site of the California Street flag-stop still exists as the undeveloped section of land beside the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line at the corner of California Street and Bay Street.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9636N, 122.0357W

The railroad right-of-way across California and Bay Streets is included within Segment 7 of the Santa Cruz Coastal Rail Trail, which is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed in summer 2023. Once completed, pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to pass directly beside the site of the former flag-stop. Currently, the location is still a stop for Metro buses. Perhaps at some point in the future, when passenger rail service is restored, passengers may be able to entrain and detrain at the Bay Street/California Street stop once again.

Citations & Credits:

  • Koch, Margaret. Santa Cruz County: Parade of the Past. Santa Cruz, CA: Western Tanager Press, 1991.
  • Santa Cruz Evening News, various articles, 1908-1932.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, various articles, 1888-1933
  • Santa Cruz Surf, various articles, 1887-1888.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad, various records, 1905-1941.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Bridges: Woods Lagoon

The area known as Twin Lakes referred to a section of unincorporated Santa Cruz County land between Woods Lake and Schwan Lake, both actually lagoons formed at the outlets of Arana and Leona Creeks respectively. While Schwan Lagoon retains much of its wetland charms, Woods Lagoon endured a substantial transformation in the 1960s when it became host to the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. Yet long before this event occurred, the lagoon suffered its first major human terraforming effort, when the Chinese workers of the Santa Cruz Railroad installed a bridge across its midsection in 1875.

Southern Pacific #2764 running a Sun Tan Special across the Woods Lagoon bridge, July 28, 1940. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail – colorized using MyHeritage]

Woods Lagoon was named after John Woods and Mary Ann Silvey of Georgetown, Ohio. The Woods family moved to California during the Gold Rush but soon gave up and moved to Santa Cruz County. In 1849, John worked at the Bennett mill on Love Creek (today's Ben Lomond). Soon, though, he applied for recognition of a tract of land that he had acquired on the west bank of Arana Creek, which was registered to he and his wife on November 14, 1849.

Woods Lagoon, ca 1895. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using MyHeritage]

Over subsequent years, the lagoon became a popular picnic and swimming spot, and it also later became well known to duck hunters. When the Santa Cruz Railroad's surveyors arrived in 1874, the Woods sold them a right-of-way through their property. The completion of the railroad two years later led the Woods to sell substantial acres of their property to interested parties, though the family kept a large section for themselves until after John's death on October 11, 1887. One such party was Samuel Hall, who founded Lake Marina in 1880, in the process briefly renaming Woods Lagoon. His resort failed after only one season, though. Shortly before John Woods' passing, Foster N. Mott founded Camp Seabright in 1884 on a small twelve-acre tract beside the lagoon. As a result, Woods Lagoon was sometimes called Seabright Lake in promotional material.

Early Southern Pacific diamond stack locomotive hauling a strange mixed train over the Woods Lagoon bridge, ca 1888. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

Woods Lagoon proved to be a mostly insubstantial impediment to the railroad's Chinese construction crews. The western approach to the bridge required a shallow cut that John Woods and his son dug by themselves. Beyond that, the bridge crossed Woods Lagoon at the narrowest point. Although no photographs survive of the original narrow-gauge bridge, it is likely that the later standard-gauge bridge, enlarged by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1883, was in fact just an upgrade to the original structure. The photographs that survive show an austere open deck trestle viaduct with sixteen redwood piling piers, all standing almost perfectly upright, and wood abutments at either end. Some of the fill material pulled out of the shallow cuts on either approach to the bridge may have been dumped at the ends of the bridge to  reinforce the abutments.

Excursion train passing over the Woods Lagoon bridge, July 7, 1950. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail – colorized using MyHeritage]

This structure remained across the lagoon until Spring 1911, when it was replaced with a sturdier, more modern design. The new structure was composed of eighteen redwood piling piers, all tilted inward to provide additional support. These supported a redwood girder closed ballast deck with concrete abutments on either end. The abutments were likely installed to help reinforce the fills behind them. This also resulted in a slightly shorter span across the lagoon, with the bridge measuring around 282 feet. Most historical photographs of the lagoon date to this period.

Southern Pacific survey map showing a proposed pedestrian sidewalk on the north side of the Woods Lagoon bridge, 1946. [Vasona Branch]

After over fifty years of relative peace and quiet on Woods Lagoon, things changed rapidly. In 1964, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged out the section of Woods Lagoon between the lagoon mouth and the railroad bridge in order to create the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. Until this time, Santa Cruz did not have a proper harbor protected from the elements, and commercial use of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, built in 1914, had declined to almost nothing. With the new harbor, residents would be able to safely protect their yachts, sailboats, and motorboats from the elements. In the process of creating the harbor, East Cliff Drive was bisected. To correct for this, a new vehicular bridge was extended from the end of Murray Street, which had previously ended at Seabright Avenue, to Eaton Street.

Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor with the Glen E. Coolidge Memorial Bridge and railroad bridge at upper-center, 1973. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]

Plans to replace the railroad bridge began in July 1968. The trestle viaduct blocked access to Woods Lagoon beyond the railroad grade. Plans for a new bridge were finalized in December 1969 and work began the next year. To maintain continuous rail service, the railroad bridge was built between the viaduct and the Murray Street bridge. Rather than a trestle, which would not allow boats to pass under it, the new design called for a concrete girder closed ballast deck bridge suspended above the lagoon via six concrete piers and two concrete abutments. The bridge reached a height of 31.88 feet above the mean tide line. To achieve this extra height, the bridge had to begin further back along the railroad grade, extending the final length of the bridge to 425 feet. Once the new bridge was completed, the old viaduct was completely dismantled. The expansion of the upper harbor began in 1972 and was completed the following year, adding 560 more berths for boats.

The bridge over the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor, 2017. [Derek Whaley]

The 1971 railroad bridge remains in place today and is one of the more recent bridges along the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. However, due to the closure of parts of the line further to the east, the bridge is only currently used for maintenance-of-way vehicles.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Western abutment: 36.9681, -122.0036
Eastern abutment: 36.9681, -122.0022

The Woods Lagoon bridge is one of the easiest railroad bridges to view since it runs directly to the north of the Glen E. Coolidge Memorial (Murray Street) Bridge over the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. It can also be viewed from below by parking at the northern end of the Mariner Park Way parking lot off Atlantic Avenue and taking the road under the bridge alongside the harbor. Another road beneath the railroad bridge is accessible off Murray Street on the east side of the harbor. As with the entire Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, the railroad right-of-way is owned by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission and any walking along the tracks without permission is trespassing.

Citations & Credits:

  • Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary, second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Santa Cruz County GIS maps.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel. Various articles 1874–1973.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Railroads: Bridge Creek Railroads

From the earliest years of logging activity within the Aptos Forest, the narrow canyon of Bridge Creek has attracted the interest of lumber companies. Three companies built railroads along the feeder creek's banks and each railroad required creative engineering to overcome the obstacles of such a confined space. Today, remnants of all of these railroads can be found in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.

Carolyn Hansen and Christinia Johnston walking on the Big Tree Gulch railroad line near Hoffman's Camp, ca 1919. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

Bridge Creek Spur (1898)

When the Loma Prieta Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad was first constructed up Aptos Creek, the company and its associate, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, decided not to extend a track up Bridge Creek. The reason was rather straightforward: the west bank of the creek was owned by Timothy Hopkins, the east bank by the lumber company, and the headwaters by the F. A. Hihn Company. The complicated relationship between the three made any effort to extend a railroad through the narrow canyon something to postpone until all other timber tracts were spent. In the meantime, a long, switchbacking spur starting near Spring Creek meandered over the east bank of Bridge Creek so that logging crews could harvest the timber within the lumber company's land.

Location of the Bridge Creek Spur and Baird's skid road, 1898. Map by Ronald Powell.

In 1898, after the last timber was cut at the headwaters of Aptos Creek, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company finally decided it was time to harvest timber along Bridge Creek. The Hopkins property extended about 0.7 miles north of the Loma Prieta Branch just north of the village of Loma Prieta. The terrain through this section was fairly level, so the lumber company paid the railroad to extend a spur 1,700 feet along the west side of the creek to a point just north of the confluence of Bridge and Aptos Creeks. The route required at least four bridges, three small ones across seasonal streams and a more substantial bridge across Porter Gulch directly behind the Porter House.

William Baird built several long skid roads up China Ridge down to this new spur, the longest measuring around 3,000 feet. These met the spur at two points. The northernmost was in a roughly 500-foot-long cut, which allowed logging crews to roll logs directly onto waiting flatcars. The cut can still be seen today on the west bank of Bridge Creek. A little to the south, a loading ramp was built beside the track where logs brought down from Hinckley Ridge could be pulled onto waiting flatcars with assistance from a donkey engine that was installed across on the east side of the tracks. This loading ramp still existed until the storm of January 1982 washed all traces of it away. No known photographs of this short-lived spur survive.

At the end of the 1898 logging season, the lumber company decided to shift its focus further south to Love Gulch, so Southern Pacific tore up the tracks to repurpose them. Although most of Hopkins' land was logged out as a result of this harvesting effort, portions of the Loma Prieta Lumber Company's land on the east bank of the creek and all of the Hihn Company's land remained available for harvesting.

Splitstuff Area Railroad (1912–1918)

In coordination with the construction of the Molino Timber Company's railroad along China Ridge to Hinckley Gulch, the F. A Hihn Company decided in 1911 that it was time to harvest the timber in its property at the headwaters of Bridge Creek. The new railroad would be passing right above the property, so the opportunity was too good to let pass. The problem, however, was that the terrain was too steep from the top of the ridge to the shelf below, a distance of 350 feet, to actually connect the two areas. As a result, the Hihn Company built its own narrow-gauge railroad on the shelf and transferred pallets of splitstuff up to the other railroad via a cable hoist situated at Sand Point.

Approximate layout of the Splitstuff Area at the headwaters of Bridge Creek, ca 1915. Map by Ronald Powell.

The Molino railroad reached Sand Point around May 1912 and installed at least two short spurs to hold flatcars. From this point, the Hihn Company set to work laying the groundwork for its own railroad below. The so-called Splitstuff Area is actually two separate shelves that encompass about 100 acres. A 200-foot drop separates the upper from the lower shelf. The shelves are not level, but have a more even grade, which gave room for pieceworkers to cut splitstuff. Railroad tracks were only laid in the upper landing—the lower was accessed via a steep skid road that passed through a narrow cut.

The Loma Prieta Lumber Company's largest steam donkey operating on Bridge Creek, ca 1920. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

The upper landing grew into a maze of tracks, although it is likely that the tracks were moved once one section was cleared of usable timber. A long track ran from the bottom of Sand Point west before curving around the side of the hill toward today's West Ridge Trail Camp. Many spurs broke off of this main track, some curving in curious ways to follow the contours of the land and maintain a manageable grade. One spur even reached today's Hinckley Fire Road and followed it a short length before descending back down toward a feeder stream of Bridge Creek. The precise arrangement of the tracks and the order in which they were built remains a mystery since the Hihn Company did not document such details and no known photographs survive of the operations here.

A donkey engineer on his engine in a clearcut area of Bridge Creek, ca 1920. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

This isolated railroad relied upon the services of the company's Betsy Jane locomotive, which had been used at the Valencia Creek and Gold Gulch mills before disappearing from the records for a decade. The locomotive was disassembled, hauled to Bridge Creek in parts, and then reassembled on site.

Following Frederick Hihn's death in 1913, the F. A. Hihn Company was reincorporated as the Valencia–Hihn Company and continued operating as it had previously. However, low profits and tensions between Hihn family members finally led the company to sell its Bridge Creek holdings to the Loma Prieta Lumber Company in 1917. The lumber company immediately took over operations and expanded its vision for the area. The company would extend a railroad up Bridge Creek from the south and link into the railroad already at the headwaters. The issue of different gauges of track would be dealt with when the time came. In the meantime, Loma Prieta began sending large logs via highline from Hinckley Gulch to Bridge Creek. A new spur was extended across the Hinckley Fire Road specifically to collect these logs, which were directly loaded onto waiting flatcars. The cars took the logs to one of several small millponds, where they would await the extension of the Bridge Creek track to the Splitstuff Area.

Bridge Creek Railroad (1918)

By the spring of 1917, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company was already anticipating its coming acquisition of the Valencia–Hihn Company's Bridge Creek property. As such, it began grading a new railroad along the east bank of Bridge Creek from just behind the Porter House. While the ultimate plan was to connect this track with the Splitstuff Area, the interim plan was to extend the railroad to Maple Falls. To construct this line, Loma Prieta disassembled the Molino Timber Company's trackage beyond Sand Point and repurposed the tracks. Since that railroad was still operating in some capacity, Loma Prieta also bought a new narrow-gauge Shay locomotive that it could use along the new trackage.

Composite map showing the routes of the Molino Timber Company's railroad on China Ridge, the isolated Splitstuff Area railroad, the Bridge Creek railroad, and the Big Tree Gulch railroad, with modern trails noted, 1917-1921. Map by Ronald Powell.

Actual construction of the new line did not begin until after the 1917 logging season had ended. The route was about 1.85 miles long and crossed Bridge Creek twice. Indeed, at least fourteen bridges and half-bridges were needed to take the track this distance along an increasingly narrow gulch. Along a short section of track on the east bank, an intricate pile of redwood logs were stacked to allow the right-of-way to cross a deep depression. This feature still exists today along the Bridge Creek Trail as one of the only noticeable remnants of the former railroad grade. Near the end of the track, Camp 4 was established—retaining its numbering from the Molino Timber Company's camps—and several short spurs were built here for transloading stations.

Loma Prieta's Shay locomotive helping grade the Bridge Creek line, early 1918. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

The camp operated effectively through the 1918 season and plans were still in place to extend the line further north the next year, but fate stepped in. On the evening of September 11, an unusually violent storm struck the Aptos Forest with devastating effect. Both the Splitstuff Area and Camp 4 were devastated, with large sections of track destroyed or rendered unusable. The Betsy Jane, meanwhile, fell off its rails and into one of Bridge Creek's feeders, where it was soon buried under piles of mud and debris. Once all of the damage was inspected, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company decided to give up on the Splitstuff Area and abandon its Bridge Creek trackage in favor of a new line located further up the western ridge. The loss of so much track also led the company to abandon the Molino railroad along China Ridge so that it could reuse the tracks along the new railroad grade it intended to build to Big Tree Gulch on Bridge Creek.

Steam donkeys and a train operating on Bridge Creek, ca 1918. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

Big Tree Gulch Railroad (1919–1921)

Following the destruction of the Splitstuff Area and the lower railroad along Bridge Creek, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company decided to build a new track along the western wall of Bridge Creek gulch. The initial route was surveyed to be three miles to a section known as Big Tree Gulch due to an especially large tree that stood there. Like its predecessor, the company hoped to extend the line all the way to the Splitstuff Area so that it could recover its abandoned logs and harvest the remaining timber along the way.

Layout of Hoffman's Camp along the Big Tree Gulch railroad, 1920. Sketch by Ronald Powell.

To access the new railroad grade, a switchback was built behind and above the Porter House. The switchback had a 20˚ grade, which the company's two Shay locomotives could surmount, but only if they were hauling no more than four empty flatcars. Gravity and brakes were responsible for returning rolling stock to the bottom of the switchback. The main track only had a 3˚ grade but crossed over several gullies and sinks resulting in at least ten bridges and half-bridges, though none as substantial as those found on the lower track. Large portions of this right-of-way are now part of the Loma Prieta Grade Trail beyond the Porter House.

Hoffman's Camp viewed from a distance, ca 1920. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

Just within the boundary of the former Valencia–Hihn Company's land, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company built Camp 5, more commonly known as Hoffman's Camp. It featured one long spur, used mostly for maintenance, and a full camp for workers, including cabins, stables, a bunkhouse and cookhouse, and other amenities. The camp's superintendent was Louis Hoffman, and his wife served as the cook. The track extended 0.6 beyond the camp to Big Tree Gulch, where a final switchback brought the line to its terminus just beside the eponymous big tree. Frederick Hihn had left this and three other trees standing in the hope that they would be preserved as the last of the old-growth giants in the Aptos Forest. The lumber company only saw profit, though, and cut them down. A further extension of the line 1.5 miles to the north into the Splitstuff Area never happened, either due to lack of funds or insufficient timber to justify the expense.

Molino's shay hauling splitstuff shortly after it was moved to the Big Tree Gulch railroad, 1919. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

Logging crews worked along the Big Tree Gulch railroad for two and a half seasons before they were rather deceptively dismissed midway through the 1921 season. The truth is that the Bridge Creek operations did not result in a profit. The trees along the creek, especially in the Splitstuff Area, were poor quality, and there was also less timber available for harvesting than had been estimated. Costs had also gone up since the end of World War I. Thus, after the last of the Big Tree Gulch trees were harvested, the lumber company decided to wind up operations in the Aptos Forest. It shut down its mill on Aptos Creek and shipped its remaining uncut logs to the San Vicente Lumber Company's mill on Santa Cruz's West Side. The tracks and ties along Bridge Creek were pulled and sold for scrap, and the rolling stock was placed in storage to be sold. Over the years, the company sent crews to the Splitstuff Area at least two times to retrieve logs and pallets abandoned there in 1918, but these were hauled out by truck rather than train.

Large logs from Big Tree Gulch being hauled behind the Loma Prieta Lumber Company's mill on Aptos Creek, ca 1920. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using DeOldify]

Citations & Credits: