Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Campbell Depot News from the Campbell Interurban Press

The Campbell station on my layout wasn't the first Campbell train station; that honor goes to the early South Pacific Coast station built around
1886. The South Pacific Coast - the narrow gauge line from Oakland to Santa Cruz that broke the SP's monopoly on freight in the Valley - was building a new branch line down to the mercury mines at New Almaden, and the station appeared the same time, perhaps as a handy place for a train order operator, though there must be a good reason why the station was at Campbell rather than down by where the branch peeled off around modern-day Camden Ave. [Oops, just checked the SP valuation map for Campbell, and it shows that the New Almaden branch peeled off at the far end of the Campbell siding. Timetables also show that Campbell was a train order station in the 1930's, so my guess is that the Campbell station got its location because (1) it was close enough to where the New Almaden right-of-way started that it could serve as a train order and register station for the branch, and the existence of the Campbell family ranch and upcoming subdivision made it a fine spot for the station itself.]

The tiny depot that the narrow gauge built shows up in at least one photo, but it must have been replaced within a few years by the larger stick-style depot that my model represents.

I learned a bit more about the depot last week. I hadn't yet explored the Campbell library, and found they had copies of the Campbell Interurban Press newspaper on microfilm. After the fun of searching old newspapers and back issues of Western Canner and Packer on Google News and Google Books, stepping through the rolls of microfilms had a much more twentieth-century vibe. Two hours took me through the entire 1928 to 1932 roll. In the Tuesday, July 23, 1929 issue, I found some history about the Campbell Depot and its long-time agent, Charles Berry:

Charles Berry, 43 Years as S.P. Agent, to Retire Aug. 1

Charles Berry, one of Campbell's pioneers and first and only agent for the Southern Pacific company at this point, will retire Aug. 1 after a most faithful and conscientious performance of duty for the past 45 years.

Charley came to Campbell in April, 1886 as the young S.P. agent when but 21 years of age and sold tickets from the small "6x18" depot when the Almaden line was being laid. That building is still doing duty at Castro.

In December, 1890, he was married to Miss Gertrude A. Bell of Portsmouth, N. H., who has many times been his only assistant at the station. He purchased the first lot sold in the Campbell subdivision, that being the site of the present Kimmel house on South Central. At this time most of the valley was hay and grain fields with but little fruit. F.M. Righter shipped the first fruit from this station, some ten boxes of apricots.

As a bit of comparison, the first month's business was $5.10 for tickets sold as against an annual monthly shipment of 25,000,000 tons of gravel and fruit today.
Mr. Berry was elected to the school board at the time for and against the creation of a high school district and he, winning out, sided in the beginning of our high school. He served on the board for 13 years. He has always been a worker for…

An article the next year (August 19,1930) showed that the Campbell Chamber of Commerce found the depot I model not modern enough for Their Fair City, and managed to corner the division superintendent and lobby for a modern station:

Campbell Will Not Get a New Depot, Report

The Campbell Chamber of Commerce, in their efforts to secure a new depot for Campbell, met last week with E. R. Anthony, division superintendent of the Southern Pacific, who came to Campbell Friday evening.

Mr. Anthony was not at all in favor of spending any money for railroad improvements in Campbell, stating that the patronage of the railroad did not warrant the expenditure. He remarked on the competition of the bus and truck-freight lines.

Chamber of Commerce committeemen felt that Improved facilities would serve to increase railroad business here, but Mr. Anthony told them, bluntly, that there would have to be some guarantee of that before the company could see its way clear to spend the money necessary to make the required improvements free.

The railroad- or industry- related articles in the newspaper were few and far between, but the coverage of the local social scene and the Sea Scouts was pretty impressive. Fast-forwarding through four years of small-town newspapers is worth doing occasionally, but definitely choose a day when you can handle the tedium. Luckily, the Campbell Interurban Press was only weekly, and stepped down from eight to four pages as soon as the depression hit Campbell.

A final story from the Interurban Press highlights just what we can - and can't - trust about Sanborn maps. The Campbell map from 1930 shows that the area between the depot and Campbell Ave. was described as "Park", which immediately made me think of the tended gardens that the SP had around other depots in California. Unfortunately, it wasn't so; in March, 1930, the Interurban Press railed against the SP Park, that unkept piece of land that had become the dumping ground for old machinery and dead cars. So be careful with Sanborn maps; not only can they be occasionally inaccurate on track diagrams, but they can make a neighborhood seem much more pleasant than it was in real life!

Watch this space for more news from Campbell; I've got other tidbits worth sharing.

[Photo shamelessly stolen from www.campbellmuseums.org.]

[2/14/2014: corrected location of original station. I'd mistyped "Campbell"; the Campbell Interurban Press actually reported the tiny original station was at "Castro".]


  1. Hello Robert,

    I am doing a project with the Campbell Museum, we are trying to compare old photos to the same locations today. One of the photos we were interested in was this photo of the Campbell station but for this project I need to know the exact location of the station. Do you happen to know where exactly it was located? Maybe there is a map that shows it?
    The end result would be two photos combined with a transition from old photo to new. Any information will be most appreciated!
    Thank you!

    1. Hi, Andrey,

      The station was along Railroad Ave., halfway between Susweet and the Hyde Cannery, which would be immediately south of where Orchard City Parkway currently crosses the railroad tracks. The red wooden building currently along the tracks isn't related to the station; it's too far south. It does match the dining hall for the Hyde cannery in one of the 1921 Hyde photos.
      Sources for the exact location:
      * Southern Pacific station plan / valuation map for Campbell. (Original at California State Railroad Museum library, available through some libraries including San Jose Public Library)
      * Campbell Sanborn map (1928), available from University Microfilms.
      * 1948 aerial photo from historicaerials.net.
      Contact me directly at rwbowdidge@gmail.com if you want to arrange a time to look at copies of the maps. I'd also be glad to talk about other photos of the railroad through Campbell.