As much as I care about modeling prototype scenes accurately, I also realize I'm using the historical research just to help me figure out what to build as part of a hobby and relaxation. The model isn't meant to be a perfect representation of history; sometimes, I'll build stuff because it's fun (ex: the Goleta gas station sitting on Meridian Road) or because a particular model might not be perfectly accurate, but it still gives the sense of the Santa Clara Valley I'm trying to share.
Back in 2009, I talked about my notebook of location sketches that I used to remember photos of particular locations. I was using my map of Wrights at the time to redo the scenery around there; my big question was how the road went between the Wrights depot and the (still-existing) road bridge. I'd guessed at the time that the road dipped under the railroad bridge. I wasn't sure if it was perfect, but (1) it was plausible, (2) I wanted to improve the scene, and (3) I wasn't going to get better information any time soon. I rebuilt the scene anyway, and it's a nice scene.
I did another day trip up to Sacramento last week. It's a bit of a long slog, but I enjoy getting the chance to search through old archives, look at original documents, and get a better understanding for how things had been. It can be boring work, but the occasional revelations and surprises make for a satisfying day.
I had a bunch of other goals for that visit, but found some time to look for materials on some of the stations along the Los Gatos brach. One of the stops was at the California State Archives. Most of their archives can be dry - corporate records, transcripts from California Railroad Commission cases, etc. They've also got microfilms of some railroads drawings from the early 20th century, probably collected as part of some state law at the time. I poked around in several of the maps along the Vasona branch - Foyle (location of the brickworks on Fruitvale Ave.), Vasona, and Wrights. One of the finds was particularly cool - the April, 1911 map of Wrights in their collection shows "Depot Road" passing under the bridge, in pretty much the same way I guessed. Woohoo!
This was just one of many discoveries that day. The California State Railroad Museum had a handful of other docs to highlight the details - the 1914 equivalent of a PowerPoint presentation talking about a rebuild of the bridge crossing Los Gatos Creek (with shape of piers and cost) also showed where the bridge crossed the road. (Congrats to the Southern Pacific; their intern from 1916 did a great job on the brochure!) A 1938-era map showed the road passing under the bridge, even as every other building in the vicinity had been removed. A 1938 map showed the Wright station removed.
It's great knowing that I got that detail right. Some might ask "why did you build it if you weren't certain about the arrangement?" To be honest, my guess about its location wasn't too far off the mark. Although I could have held off on modeling Wright until I got that detail right, I'm really glad I didn't wait six years but instead built something that was mostly correct. It's more fun to have an operating layout with fun scenery than to have something that's 100% accurate.
The maps also showed a bunch of interesting details that are worth adding. Several maps showed a freight house on the "Sunset Park" spur just before the tunnel; the 1910-era maps also showed packing houses that (sadly) aren't visible in later years. All the maps show wooden "bulkheads" along the creek keeping the hillsides from eroding into the creek.
The last map also highlights some cute little details that never made it into photos. About a hundred yards down the track, the map shows a "shed made of bridge stringers", and an old narrow gauge car body on blocks next to the tracks, joined to a small frame building. (An annotation mentions the buildings were sold to "W. E. Hughes".) Those buildings would be neat details to add to the layout. The photos of the Wrights bridge also points out my trestle-style bridge isn't quite correct; to be accurate, I really need a 50' steel girder bridge "from Santa Clara River (Montalvo bridge)", along with some large concrete piers to hold it up, and some timber trestle on either end.
And on top of all that, the maps highlight little bits of history that aren't relevant for modeling, but do highlight the place I'm modeling, and life in the Santa Cruz Mountains at the beginning of the last century. The 1911 map shows that one of the packing houses was used as "Dance Hall and Packing House", highlighting how buildings shared multiple purposes in rural towns.
The 1911 map also contains an unnatural fascination in running water for the town:
Note: All properties shown excepting that marked Nick Bowden are owned by Matty. Cottages 1, 2, 3, 4 & 11 are occupied only in summer. Each has 1 3/4" faucet. Cottages 6, 7, 8, & 9 are occupied only in summer. They get water from the one faucet shown. The saloon, hotel, & livery stables are rented and run by B. Borrella. The saloon has 5 3/4" faucet shown & 1 toilet. The hotel 7 3/4" faucets & 1 toilet, the livery stable 2 3/4" faucets and 1 1 1/2" faucet. The blacksmith shop has 1 3/4" faucet. Cottages 5 & 10 are occupied permanently, each has 1 3/4" faucet. The grocery store is rented & run by Chas Squires, & has "1-1" & 1- 3/4" faucet. The chinese store has 1 3/4" faucet. The dance hall has 1 3/4" faucet. The Earl Fruit Co. packing house has 1 3/4" faucet. Nick Bowden's place has 1-3/4" faucet.
That accounting of faucets might say something about whether water would be available for other development; one of the later maps at CSRM showed that the railroad water tank was filled from small dams along some of the ravines north of town, which couldn't have supplied much water, and must have been dry during summer. If I had a thirsty locomotive in the middle of summer, I'd be unwilling to trust there was any water in that tank.
None of that matters for building the model (except for the notes about both Earl Fruit and the freight house existing), but it does hint at Wrights being a quiet rural village that would have been near-empty during the winter.
Excerpts from 1911 Wrights Station map from the California State Archives - ask for the "Aperture" cards, and check the card catalog in the research room to see what's available. The excerpts from the Southern Pacific "S.P.C. Bridge Renewal" brochure from the California State Railroad Museum's archive. They've got a similar brochure for the next bridge downhill towards Los Gatos that I haven't seen. Great thanks to the research staff at both libraries for their help!