Sunday, March 8, 2020

End of the Line, From the Editorial Pages

Eighty years ago, the last trains went along the Los Gatos-Santa Cruz line. It’s hard to remember with this bone-dry February, but January and February are usually the wet months here in California. Some of those years are wetter than average. Some years, we’ll get a couple good storms; we’ll hear about Highway 17 being closed for a day or two. Some years, storms can wash out the road to Big Sur or Half Moon Bay, and limit access for days or weeks. Some years, the rain comes down at biblical scale.

We’ve all heard the stories about how the Los Gatos line closed. There was a big storm in late February 1940 that washed out the railroad in several places. The SP didn’t want to keep the line open. The ICC abandonment decision highlighted just how little business was on the line, and how little traffic was being carried across the Santa Cruz mountains. Away goes the railroad, away goes the route between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz, away go the tunnels and bridges. Stories in various books hint at how the summit tunnel was either blown up by the army for demolition training or to get rid of a nuisance.

At best, those books cover the story in a paragraph or so. We don’t really know if the army blew up the tunnels to protect us against Japanese saboteurs, or Red Lectroids of Planet 10; we don’t know how bad the storm was. We don't know if the people of Santa Cruz fought the decision, and how bad the damage was. Luckily, here in the 21st century, we can rely on materials beyond what’s in the books in the hobby shop or sources at our local library. The University of California, Riverside’s California Digital Newspaper Collection now has copies of the Santa Cruz Sentinel from the 1940’s, so with a little bit of searching, we can easily learn more about what was really happened.

Although MacGregor’s “South Pacific Coast” quotes March 4 as the day of the last train, it looks like the storm - and the last train - was actually February 27, 1940. And this wasn’t a small storm, from descriptions the next day.

From the February 28, 1940 Santa Cruz Sentinel:

“One of the greatest river floods in the history of Santa Cruz - and undoubtedly the most destructive - smashed its way through the San Lorenzo Valley yesterday, bearing logs, branches, dead animals, furniture, and debris from ruined summer homes and bridges. With county damage conservatively estimated at $500,000, there were at least 100 Santa Cruzans rendered temporarily homeless by the swirling yellow flood.
“Fed by a cloudburst which brought 11.57 inches of ran to Ben Lomond in 24 hours, the muddy river first jumped its banks here at 2 a.m. and reached its peak about 6 o’clock last night…. An all-time record for high water was believed set with a 25 foot rise at Paradise Park.
“The thundering flood swept out 100-foot River Glen Bridge at Boulder Creek, then hurtled downstream, taking out the Zayante, Cooper, and Ocean street bridges on its path to the sea. Simultaneously slides tore out telephone connections with Boulder Creek and choked the San Lorenzo drive. Severely hit were Paradise Park [the Masonic summer cabin neighborhood on the site of the former California Powder Works], a number of resorts and auto courts on the outskirts of the city, outer River Street and the entire Ocean-Barson street where some two score families were forced to flee.

Old-timers were divided as to whether or not the flood was the greatest in history. Former Mayor Fred Swanton said it outclassed the big waters of 1898 and 1907, but redoubtable Ernest Otto swore he had seen bigger floods - the time, for instance, when driftwood was carried to the very doors of Hackley Hall. He did not deny, however, that this was the most destructive because of greater business and residential development.

For most of the day Santa Cruz was virtually isolated. All Peerless stages were forced to cancel their runs over the Los Gatos highway, and the Southern Pacific routed trains by way of Watsonville Junction. The Watsonville roads by way of Chittenden and Hecker passes were closed, as was the Ocean Shore route. For a time the only road out of the city was by way of Hunter’s hill and Salinas.”

That 11 inches of rainfall in Ben Lomond is a heck of a lot of rain; it's only been equalled forty years later on January 4, 1982. If you’re a Bay Area kid of a certain age, you probably remember the winter of 1981-1982. The San Lorenzo flooded. Brookdale Lodge’s dining room, with the creek running through it, went on a rampage in 1982, replaying the flood in 1940 that “smashed gaping holes in the rear and front of the dining room by mid-day (S.C. Sentinel, 28 Feb 1940). Ten people died near Ben Lomond when a huge section of hillside broke loose and tore through a cluster of houses in the redwoods. The same storm blocked blocked highway 101 and the Waldo Grade in Marin County for days, and flooded San Anselmo. I remember teachers living in Marin couldn’t make it to my high school for days. The 1982 storm was big enough that the USGS even wrote a report about it.

So yeah, the horrible storm of 1982 gives us an idea how extreme 1940 would have been. Thank goodness neither year coincided with the great Santa Cruz vampire infestation of 1986, though at least there would have been plenty of material for stakes on the beach.

Santa Cruz wasn’t the only place suffering from that storm. The February 28, 1940 issue of the Santa Cruz Sentinel also highlighted similar problems around California. The governor declared flood emergencies in the Sacramento Valley. The Napa river flooded town. “300 persons in a federal migrant camp [in Winters] were marooned after two feet of water swept through their temporary shelters.”

The news wasn’t any better the next day. The February 29, 1940 Santa Cruz Sentinel showed photos of the damage: logs and deadwood on all the beaches and riverside, ropes and pulleys carrying groceries across the river between Lompico and Zayante. The Old San Jose road was blocked. William Turver’s 1500 hens broke loose after their chicken house was destroyed by flood waters, “found roosting on the roofs of sheds and houses yesterday.” Boulder Creek’s water supply was lost when the pipe to the main supply tank broke. 35 homes at Paradise Park summer cabins were damaged by floodwaters, with another 10 destroyed outright. A covered bridge at Paradise Park survived, but a mattress in a nearby tree hinted at the heights of the flood waters.

There were also stories from abroad. Pescadero flooded. Marysville flooded. Shops on Hearst Ave. on Berkeley’s north side had a foot of mud dumped on their floors.

A. L. Andrews, the Santa Cruz general traffic agent for the SP, announced it would be a week before traffic could be resumed over the mountains, with significant slides at Rincon Hill (on the Santa Cruz side) and several larger slides on the Los Gatos side. Meanwhile, Southern Pacific had other worries: Gerber and Tehama flooded, and rail traffic between California and Oregon had been halted by slides and washouts.

Friday, March 1 leads off with “Santa Cruz Not Alone in Watery Disaster”, with pictures of flooding at Marysville. The Los Gatos road was “open but muddy”, with “delays at the bottleneck near Los Gatos were from 10 minutes to half an hour.” The railroad was still a week from opening.

The Railroad Isn’t Coming Back

There’s nothing else about the railroad until March 7. Below a headline about the Queen Elizabeth steamship outrunning U-boats, we find:

“S.P. Surveys Mountain Line
Deny Closing of Historic Run; May Rebuild Stretch
San Francisco, March 6 (AP) - The Southern Pacific headquarters here said today railroad engineers were surveying the Los Gatos-Santa Cruz line to determine whether to make temporary repairs - as has been done previously in slide and washout areas in that sector - or to rebuild the stretch in a manner to forestall future tie-ups.
Train service between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz was disrupted in last week’s storm. The San Jose - Los Gatos line is open, and buses now carry passengers from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz. Buses also operate the S.P.’s Watsonville Junction to Santa Cruz.
The rail line office here said there was no indication that the Los Gatos-Santa Cruz strip would be abandoned. They said the engineers’ report probably wold be completed next week.
TWO LOSE JOBS HERE
Previous to the San Francisco notification above, reports were current in Santa Cruz that the mountain line might be discontinued indefinitely owing to the lack of year-around business and cost of repairs between Olympia and Los Gatos. [The precision of those endpoints makes me suspect the rumors were awfully correct.]
An informed source said it would cost between $50,000 and $75,000 to repair trouble caused by the recent storm. Near Glenwood a large section of earth sank from beneath the tracks.
Meantime, the two maintenance men at the local S. P. yard were notified that their jobs here had ended. They are Charles F. Berlin of 531 Mission street, employed here for some 13 years, and Malcolm Henderson of 75 1/2 Washington. Berlin is day engine watchman, and Henderson has had the night shift.
It was also reported that the engine pits, used for maintenance, have been filled in.
The mountain line has been closed for eight days and Greyhound buses are leaving at 7:05 am and 6:10 pm to connect with the regular train at Los Gatos. Buses take passengers from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz, arriving at 11:25 am and 6:50 pm.
The maintenance crew left the city yesterday after repairing the mountain road as far as Olympia where some 250 cars of sand for “traction” use are taken out monthly. Freight is not affected by the temporary shutoff of the mountain service, since most of this goes by way of Watsonville Junction.
Historic Old Line
The historic mountain route opened as a narrow gauge railways in the late seventies and was then known as the Dumbarton road. It was then routed to San Jose, and at Santa Clara it went up the west side of the bay by way of Alviso, Newark, Alvarado, and Agnew, across on a drawbridge to Alameda, where passengers transferred to ferry for San Francisco.
Later when the Southern Pacific took it over and widened it to broad gauge, it went up the east side of the bay and through the Mission district. In those days there were three trains daily and special additions on week-ends. They generally carried from three to eight coaches in contrast to the slight traffic of recent years. They stopped regularly at stations at Felton, Glenwood, Laurel, Wrights, Alma, and Los Gatos, Eblis, Rincon, Big Trees, Mount Hermon, Olympia, and Zayante. Most of these stations have long since vanished, although the train would stop when and if passengers requested.

Meanwhile, the San Lorenzo Valley Chamber of Commerce, rightfully worried that the S.P. had decided to drown the line, set up its own committee to talk with the S.P.

Everyone held their breath while waiting for the SP to make its decision. The March 19 paper quoted shippers complaining about rates: shipments from Seattle cost 30 cents per 100 lbs to San Jose, but cost 37 cents to Santa Cruz (with no details on exactly what was being shipped.) The local businessmen argued for a better rate.

The true “beginning of the end” occurredd on March 26: “S. P. May Abandon Historic Rail Line”:

S. P. May Abandon Historic Rail Line
Younger Heatedly Hits Long Neglect
Officials Reverse Recent Story; Now Say Storm Damage, Loss Each Year Is Mounting
Santa Cruz was stunned yesterday by announcement that Southern Pacific has placed before the Interstate Commerce Commission a request to eliminate passenger train service between this city and Los Gatos.
That this city was unprepared for the announcement may be attrabuted [sic] to the fact that the Southern Pacific officials, interviewed 10 days ago in San Francisco by an Associated Press correspondent for the Sentinel said abandonment of train service between Santa Cruz and Los Gatos was not being considered.
F. C. Lathrop, general passenger agent, and J. J. Jordan, superintendent of the coast division, flanked by other officials, hurried down from San Francisco to explain in the wake of an early morning release from the company’s publicity department.
On short notice the chamber of commerce called a special luncheon meeting of directors at the St. George hotel, where the railroad representatives fenced with the opposition of Donald Younger and Adriel Fried.
Would Save $50,000
Lathrop told the luncheon gathering of 40 that abandonment of the 15 mile branch line from Los Gatos to Olympia would save the company $50,000 a year in out-of-pocket losses, that bus service will be improved in substitution for loss of trains, that freight service will be continued between Olympia and Santa Cruz, and that the Suntan and tourist specials will be routed into Santa Cruz via Watsonville.
Mayor C. D. Hinkle said he preferred to hear a thorough analysis of Southern Pacific’s problems “before offering any criticism.”
Mrs. Rose Rostron, supervisor of Branciforte district, expressed the opinion that Santa Cruz would be stepping backwards by loss of the service, suggesting that most travelers preferred the train to busses.
Donald Younger spurred debate with the charge that the Southern Pacific has reduced its service gradually through the years with a view towards eventual abandonment. “You have done everything to discourage passenger traffic over the mountains from Los Gatos,” he said. “The line into Santa Cruz has been badly mismanaged. While we have tried to provide you with more freight in exchange for promised improvement in passenger service, you have not given us your share of co-operation. You are giving us your figures and this is a stacked meeting. The chamber of commerce should appoint a committee to make a thorough investigation prior to the hearing before the railroad commission. It is the history of the Southern Pacific that you have made progress only when forced to.
Might Save State Money
He charged the Southern Pacific had not been fair in withholding announcement of their intentions at a time when the state was spending a huge sum to erect a viaduct above the company’s tracks between the Oaks sanitarium and Los Gatos. If it had been know that the line was to be abandoned, he claimed, the highway department could have saved the expense of the span.”
“I think you have been a little severe in your charges,” answered Lathrop. “As far as the figures are concerned, you can get all the information you want from the railroad commission. We are seeking to adjust our operations and our service to changed transportation conditions and changed habits and demands of the public. In certain new phases of transportation we are making some notable progress in providing service that the public generally welcomes and by its patronage will make profitable to the railroad. We have been earning only 18 cents per train mile on passenger trains in and out of Santa Cruz as compared with a cost of $1.50 per train mile. On average no more than six persons have been riding each train on the Santa Cruz line. It would cost us about $50,000 to put the line into shape following damage by recent storms. Phases of railroad service that have long been unprofitable are a drag on the efforts of the railroad to provide fast enough modern freight and passenger service generally over the system.”
He promised that the “improved bus service” to connect with Los Gatos, in substitution for the train, would save 30 minutes time between this city and San Francisco.
Stodgy and Stuffy
Adriel Fried criticized the company’s “stodgy” trains and “stuffy station” at Watsonville Junction where Santa Cruz passengers connect with southbound trains, and insisted that the company is being badly managed. He demanded figures on freight out of Santa Cruz. C. M. Briggs, assistant general freight agent, said he was not prepared to give those figures, but would have them available at the railroad commission hearing.
“It is regrettable to come to a meeting of this kind and be insulted,” said J. J. Jordan, the rail company’s superintendent. “You will get all the information you want before the railroad commission.”

“You say we haven’t been progressive. Don’t you realize that the automobile has taken away 68% of the railroad’s business! We are trying our best to meet this transition.”
Earl Harris maintained that the company had not lived up to its word, made two years ago, to spend money on improving the line over the mountain and bring additional Eastern tourist specials into Santa Cruz.
Jordan replied that the company did spend $50,000 to improve the line.
Hits Tourist Business
James P. Leonard expressed fear that a bus connection with Santa Cruz would decrease passenger traffic to the Big Trees. “The minute a passenger agent mentions a tail-end connection by bus, you will find a strong sales resistance on the part of a prospective visitor,” Leonard said.
Lathrop said the railroad company had borrowed $22,000,000 from the RFC, and that government would insist upon a profit on all branches. He expressed belied that Santa Cruz would not be affected “one iota” by the abandonment, “inasmuch as this community does not even use the line.”
Drum Baikie was chairman of the lunch meeting.
Decision as to the chamber of commerce’s attitude will be reached at a director’s meeting next Monday.
Other Southern Pacific officials attending the luncheon were E. C. Pearce, assistant superintendent; Roy Ioas, supervisor train service; G. I. Goldsmith, assistant mail and express traffic manager; Stanley Moore, special representative passenger department; E. A. Teubner, division freight and passenger agent.
Operating Costs High
Both operating costs and maintenance costs of the line south of Los Gatos have been extremely heavy since it was acquired by the company in 1887 and changed from narrow to broad gauge in 1907, Southern Pacific officials stated. Operation is expensive due to the excessive curvature of the winding route through the mountains and grades which range from 2.5 to 2.9 per cent, making it necessary to use helper engines on trains carrying more than five cars northbound and seven cars southbound.
Maintenance of the line is relatively even more costly due particularly to recurring annual storm and flood damage. Company officials stated there is an annual expense of $48,000 per year for maintenance and storm damage repair to two and one-half miles of tunnels, to other track structures, to track, and to sub-grade in the area marked for abandonment.
The section of track which it is proposed to abandon does not include a nine-mile section from Santa Cruz to Olympia. This nine-mile section will be maintained to provide freight service from the Olympia sand pits.

The Abandonment Hearing

The first hearing on abandonment took place in Santa Cruz City Hall on Friday, April 26. The SP now claimed it would take precisely $46,220 to fix the line. The editorial on Sunday, April 28, 1940 quoted how it went:

Those who attended the railroad commission hearing Friday on Southern Pacific’s petition to temporarily discontinue passenger service on the Los Gatos-Santa Cruz line may be surprised to learn that Judge Harry Bias, who represented this community, had only two days in which to prepare his case.
He was not contacted in the manner until Wednesday afternoon, and in the brief period between that time and opening of the hearing Friday morning at 10 he studied railroad company exhibits and hurriedly assembled such information as was available through services of the chamber of commerce.
What is more, his services were gratis.
Ordinarily, in a hearing of this type the applicant, with its army of auditors, “experts”, and imposing array of cold figures, holds an advantage over the opposition of lay critics.
Judge Bias, especially effective in cross-examination, disclosed not of the handicaps which are usually imposed by hurried mobilization of opposition. He turned in one of the neatest jobs we have witnessed in many years.
Item by item, he went to the core of the subject in cross-examination of Southern Pacific representatives.
He established these major points:
Southern Pacific had planned abandonment of service for some years and seized the storm condition last February as an opportune time to take action.
Revenue from freight and special trains had not been computed by the company in arriving at the reported loss on the line of $28,578 for 1939.
Nothing of substantial nature has been done in the past 25 years to improve facilities on the regularly scheduled passenger trains operating between San Francisco and Santa Cruz.
The company has not kept pace of competition.
Facilities on the train coaches are below normal in comparison with modern transportation equipment.
In concluding his remarks Judge Bias expressed the opinion that “if the railroad company had deliberately planned to discontinue its train service on this line it could not have done a better job of discouraging public patronage."
A few of our citizens have been lulled into an attitude of non-resistance by Southern Pacific’s reported losses on this line. What we in Santa Cruz should consider of prime importance are the tremendous losses to this community as the result of what conspicuously appear to be mismanagement of an important travel artery entering this town.
We feel that the Southern Pacific has not fulfilled the obligations of its franchise. Santa Cruz, in our opinion, has suffered huge losses due to adverse operation of passenger trains entering this community. This is the finest recreation area within short distance of the San Francisco bay area of 1,000,000 population. The trip over the mountains from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz has scenic value worthy of extensive exploration by a railroad company.
Holding a monopoly these many years, Southern Pacific has not felt the pressure of rail competition on this line. It has provided comparative discomforts with little regard for a public attitude. Instead of improving its roadbeds and equipment to meet the competition of highways and buses, Southern Pacific has blamed the public solely for its loss of business. One can motor to San Francisco in a comfortable automobile on a comfortable highway in one-half the time required by the antiquated train. Many people, we believe, would prefer to leave their automobiles hat home and travel by train if Southern Pacific had shown the same enterprise on the Santa Cruz line that it had demonstrated elsewhere in attempting to meet competition.
Women in long bloomer bathing suits, bewhiskered men on “gay-ninety” bikes, and horse and buggy delegations, would not look out of place in creating the arrival of one of the regularly scheduled trains at the local SP depot.
Let us view the losses from a different perspective. This public utility, by its monopolistic operations, has denied Santa Cruz the kind of transportation facilities which are considered average in other parts of the United States. We have lost the benefits that might have come through alert, progressive management of a rail line.
“Comfort” is something we read about in the Southern Pacific ads; also we are urged “Next Time Try the Train”.
By schedule and type of equipment, SP has caused its Santa Cruz trains to try the public’s patience.

The Friendly Southern Pacific attempts damage control.

The Santa Cruz abandonment wasn’t following the path of the Boulder Creek, or Almaden, or Le Franc; the town was pissed off, and wasn’t about to roll over. The SP decided to highlight all the nice things they could do for the town. June 22, 1940, the SP argued its case. As before, they didn’t talk about closing the line, but just “closing passenger service” and replacing it with a bus. How you got to Los Gatos didn’t matter; they’d make sure the bus was attractive. The SP also attempted to assuage all the concerns. They’d continue to promote the Suntan Specials, and continue to keep the fares the same. They’d put up posters extolling Santa Cruz in stations, and highlight the destination in timetables and tourist brochures. They’d show movies of Big Trees, and make sure Santa Cruz had a central role at the SP exhibit at the 1939 World Fare in San Francisco. To comfort James Leonard, they’d continue to take tourist trains up to Big Trees. They’d lower the tariff for lumber, and wouldn’t raise rates for other commodities, and wouldn’t passenger fares. (Don’t hold your breath folks; the fares will go up in two years, regardlesss of the agreements.

You won't have a railroad, but at least you'll be in the movies!

Meanwhile, the old route rotted in the forest. There were reports of signals getting stolen later that summer. On October 31, the ICC decided: the line was to be abandoned.

Tearing Up the Line

We’ve all seen pictures of the abandonment: trains going through the canyons removing rails, bridges, and anything else salvageable. The rumors about the tunnel were less mercenary. One said the tunnels were blown up by the army to avoid saboteurs hiding in them. Another claimed the SP didn’t want the tunnels around as a nuisance. In reality, the tunnels were collapsed for the lumber. From the April 19, 1942 Santa Cruz Sentinel, courtesy of a reference in Derek Whaley’s “Santa Cruz Trains” book:


Glenwood and Wrights Tunnels Gone
The first two tunnels by which our erstwhile Los Gatos Railroad line bored through the hills are gone. Timbers which bolstered the mile-and-a-quarter Wrights tunnel have been taken out, the tunnel is caved in, its ends are closed. Another week will see the end of the mile-and-an-eighth Glenwood tunnel.
H. A. Christie, professional railroad wrecker and gambler on earth formations, bought from the Southern Pacific the right to salvage what timbers he could.
He has been trucking them down the old right-of-way to end -of-line near Felton and shipping them out.
Rock was well broken by earthquake of 1906
So dangerous is the work of yanking the ten-by-fourteen inch timbers out (by use of a team) and the resultant fall of rock that Mr. Christie’s premium on insurance against accident or death to his employees equals 34 percent of his payroll.
When the fall of rock buries unsalvaged timbers he leaves them and resumes work farther along. While working in the Wrights tunnel part of his equipment was buried - and abandoned.
The wrenching given the sand rock by the earthquake of 1906 (after which the tunnels were enlarged for the broad guage [sic] line) turned the sand rock nearly to sand.
COUNTY WANTS TIMBERS AT SCHWANN’S LAGOON BRIDGE
Because of the peril of the work the Southern Pacific sells the salvaging privileges and buys back what timbers it wants. Mr. Christie is under contract to sell back to the railroad 800,000 board feet of what he reclaims.
The timbers taken from the Wrights tunnel amounted to a little more than half a million board feet. Should there be an excess over the railroad’s requirements the county is a bidder for timbers for the proposed new Schwan’s Lagoon bridge in Twin Lakes. Timbers at the salvage price will save about a thousand dollars.

As those timbers got pulled out, the chances of the line ever opening again died completely - the Los Gatos - Santa Cruz line was no more. The storm was the last straw, but the abandonment probably would have happened any day. The salvaging and destruction of the line didn’t have saboteurs or crazy army demolition folks but a dedicated salvager with a brave team of mules. The storm also had effects beyond the route, shutting down Santa Cruz as a place for engine service. A year later, the Sentinel remarked on the boiler house being taken down to send its materials to Sacramento, and the inspection pits at the roundhouse were getting filled in. Santa Cruz would never be a big railroad town again.


Key details to remember for the model?
  • The Olympia sand pits were shipping 250 carloads of sand a month, with the SP one of the customers.
  • Passenger trains from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz required a helper for more than 5 cars... just like my model!
  • Santa Cruz was originating trains up to 1940, and had the roundhouse and personnel up until then.
  • If the model trains ever don't run, just say "oh, the line's open" and point at a passing bus.

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