Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Campbell is Just a Tank Town Now"

When I started designing the Vasona Branch layout, I didn't realize that my preferred era - early 1930's - was also the time that The Peninsular Railway had interurban (long-distance electric trolley service) running from San Jose to Los Gatos by way of Campbell.

The Peninsular Railway covered the west end of the Santa Clara Valley, going from Mayfield (Palo Alto) through Los Altos to Cupertino, Cupertino to San Jose along Stevens Creek Road, Cupertino to Los Gatos along Highway 9, and Los Gatos via Willow Glen and Campbell. Although the line was abandoned by the late 1930's, rails were still visible in the middle of Meridian Ave. in San Jose well into the 1960's. For some photos of the Peninsular Railway, check out the Saratoga Historical Foundation's capsule history of the Peninsular Railway in Saratoga, or History Los Gatos's collection of photos.

Within Campbell, the Peninsular line came down Bascom, turned at what's now the Pruneyard, and went down Campbell Ave. to Railway Ave., turning south just before downtown. There's one photo of the Peninsular making the turn at Railway Ave. in Campbell: The Orchard City. A 1930's era photo postcard of the Campbell Depot (available from the Pomona Library and U.C.'s California Digital Library shows the trolley power line and rails passage in front of the depot.

But as cars became popular, ridership dwindled. The streetcars ran at a loss until the Great Depression forced some hard choices. The March 8, 1932 Campbell Press leads with the headline "Street Car Service to Campbell to be Discontinued Soon", remarking that the California Railroad Commission was allowing the Peninsular to abandon the San Jose-Campbell-Los Gatos line.

The CRC's decision reasons for allowing the closure: the need to expand the State Highway (Bascom Ave.), risks of having the train line next to the roadway, and the company's loss ($1,000 a month loss on cost to operate of $3,000 a month) all encouraged the choice. The CRC also noted that several chick hatcheries and egg suppliers in the Campbell area declared they needed the interurban to run their businesses, but the CRC thought the Campbell post office would be convenient enough. The Interurban had been willing to stop and pick up freight anywhere along the line, but that wasn't enough of a reason to keep it running.

By April 1, it was over. "LAST ELECTRIC CAR SERVED CAMPBELL THURSDAY NIGHT: The last car over the Peninsular railway between San Jose and Campbell ran Thursday evening, and new buses between the two towns started Friday Morning, April 1. Peerless Stages started running buses on the same route, if not at the same frequency.

But Campbell folks didn't like *that* sort of progress. The Chamber of Commerce went on the record against the buses in August, but Peerless wasn't willing to increase service. J. B. Held, the company manager, got quoted in September wit the colorful language "We can't play Santa Claus forever… we can't run buses at hours and places when there's no traffic to warrant it." Even the bus was losing $600 a month right after taking over the service, and conflicts with Greyhound's charter for routes through Los Gatos kept Peerless from adjusting the route so it would be more profitable.

And folks moved on to cars. The car problem was so obviously bad that the January, 19, 1933 issue of the Campbell Press highlighted that a stop sign had just been placed on Campbell Ave. on Winchester Road. One wonders how they dealt with the traffic jams that must have caused.

From a model railroad point of view, I'm planning to put in the tracks and wires for the trolley in front of my Campbell depot model. Although the area around the depot had a bit of work last year when I cleared space for the Sunsweet plant and added the team track, I've been delaying detailing the scene till after the Sunsweet plant and Hyde Cannery work is done.

As long as I'm modeling before April 1, 1933, I can even put the interurban car on the tracks. The Western Railroader's special issue on the Peninsular Railway notes that the 70 series cars were used on the line up until the twenties, then moved over to the San Jose Railroad local trolleys. The CTRC's San Jose Trolley #124 resembles the 70 series well, and can be seen in San Jose's Kelley Park. The 50 series cars were often used on this run in the late 1920's and early 1930's, so putting one in front of the depot would be a nice touch. At least one car - car 52 - survived and is now at the Western Railway Museum near Rio Vista.

Of course, any interurban details I add to Campbell also need to appear in Los Gatos, for the Peninsular survived there even longer. If I model downtown Los Gatos, then I'll also need to include the Peninsular Railway tracks crossing the SP at Main Street.

The disappearance of the Peninsular Railway wasn't the last of the affronts to Campbell. By March 8, 1935, the SP was also threatening to pull back on passenger service through Campbell and cancel the two San Francisco - Santa Cruz trains that went through Campbell. The paper lists that the trains would be cancelled by March 15, but the April 7, 1935 timetable still shows the trains as passing through Campbell and ready to make a flag stop if anyone wanted. The trains were still on the schedule in 1940, so either SP didn't cancel the trains, or did bring back service. Throughout, Campbell constantly worried whether the absence of rail service would force the decline of their fair city.

[Picture postcard of the Peninsular Railway on a trestle near Saratoga is from Hooked on Los Gatos / Los Gatos Public Library.]

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