Friday, March 3, 2017

Quarterly Bulletin – Vol. 2: No. 2 (Apr-Jun 2017)

Santa Cruz Trains Quarterly Bulletin
Vol. 2: No. 2 – April-June 2017

Feature Article:
Repairing tracks in Santa Cruz: The thankless duty of all railroad companies
By Derek Whaley



A recent series of winter storms have swept through Santa Cruz County, destabilizing mountainsides, destroying roads, and damaging portions of railroad track. But winter storms are hardly a new phenomenon. Railroad companies realize quickly that maintaining tracks in Santa Cruz is an expensive task. Photo by Ben Rylander.
From Chittenden in the south to Swanton in the north, the railroad trackage in Santa Cruz County has taken a beating of late.

The Swanton Pacific Railroad had to cancel its annual Al Smith Day in April due to track damage, reporting that "volunteers have already begun planning necessary repairs to the railroad." The right-of-way was already damaged from a New Years' Day washout, but this was made worse by heavy rains in January and February. The road to Swanton is also damaged and unstable, causing further headaches.

On the other side of the county, agricultural run-off has caused the tracks at Gallighan Slough to be completely undercut (see photo, pg 1). Howard Cohen writes that "this is a direct result of illegal dumping of storm water from the adjacent berry field onto the rail corridor."

Slides, sinks, and washouts have also impacted trackage along the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway line. It may take months before all of these routes are running at peak efficiency again, and many repairs will have to wait until the rainy season ends in April.

Although these are just some issues in a laundry list of problems caused by winter storms that saw Santa Cruz County virtually surrounded by closed roads for brief periods of time, they are also not the first time that the county has suffered infrastructure damage due to overly harsh winters. Indeed, the railroad route that once passed through the Santa Cruz Mountains to Los Gatos met its ultimate fate when such a winter storm severely damaged large stretches of the right-of-way in February 1940 in areas that received especially severe poundings in the recent atmospheric rivers. It is doubtful that the existing former right-of-way, today largely a Santa Cruz City water district fire road, remains in the same condition as it did before January. But this is just the way of life in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

When the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad opened in 1875, winter storms tossed much of the track work into the San Lorenzo River near modern-day Inspiration Point and the Garden of Eden. Slides such as this recurred along the same stretch of track almost annually, while larger storms had a habit of destroying the tracks outright. When the South Pacific Coast Railroad took control of the right-of-way in 1879, it built a tunnel beneath Inspiration Point to help avoid an especially persistent slide zone, but slides continued to fall on the tracks at the southern tunnel portal forcing the railroad to repeatedly extend the tunnel entrance further and further to the south.

Beside this site was a place known as Coon Gulch, but in reality it was simply a slide zone that could not sustain a railroad track on solid ground. A cheaply-built wooden bridge spanned it originally, but was replaced with a wooden truss bridge when storms washed out the first structure. This, in turn, was replaced with the elegant concrete arch half-bridge that still sits there today. Now when slides occur, they simply pile up on the tracks and crews push them over into the gorge—the trackage remains more or less intact.

The Santa Cruz Railroad suffered its own problems with winter storms. At the mouth of the San Lorenzo River, a long trestle and truss bridge was built in 1876 to complete the line between Santa Cruz and Watsonville. But in January 1881, a winter storm washed this entire bridge out to sea. This was one of the many reasons the railroad went bankrupt later that year and was sold at auction rate to the Southern Pacific Railroad. A new truss bridge was built in November 1883 to replace it.

An especially rainy winter in 1893, meanwhile, washed out the entire northern entrance portal of the Summit Tunnel between Laurel and Wrights. Crews were on the scene almost immediately to repair and upgrade the portal, installing a custom-designed oval concrete entrance portal that could withstand earth movements and an adjacent spillway to reroute water around the tunnel mouth. When the 1906 earthquake struck, the tunnel broke in half but the northern portal masonry survived unscathed.



Washout from storm damage near Olympia Station on the Southern Pacific route over the Santa Cruz Mountains, February 29, 1940. Bruce MacGregor Collection.
More generally, the routes through the Santa Cruz Mountains, to Watsonville, to Boulder Creek, to Loma Prieta in the modern-day Forest of Nisene Marks, and to Davenport all suffered their share of washouts, slides, and sinks between 1880 and 1940. Meanwhile, runoff from nearby agricultural fields and migratory dunes regularly cover the tracks in north and south county even today. But it is the job of the railroad to accept these expenses and repair the damage on an annual basis.

Until the closure of the Mountain Route in 1940, the Southern Pacific Railroad spent millions of dollars between 1906 and 1939 repairing annual storm damage to its mountain tracks. Bridges were built and reinforced with concrete foundations, tunnel portals were repaired and strengthened, culverts were installed at all major streams and creeks to avoid undercutting the track, and unsteady stretches of right-of-way were braced with redwood beams.

The history of local railroading is one of expensive and frequent repair work. Roaring Camp knew this when they purchased the Southern Pacific trackage between Santa Cruz and Olympia in 1982—it was sold because it was too expensive to repair after the winter storms of that year. Likewise, Iowa Pacific and Swanton Pacific understand that railroading in Santa Cruz County is expensive, but worth the cost. Santa Cruz has a long railroading tradition and no winter storm can put an end to it.


Special Report:
A childhood at the Santa Cruz yard
By Tom Clark

Derailed Southern Pacific freight train near Manresa State Beach,
April 1978. Photo by Tom Clark.
I became a model railroader at an early age, but it was during summer vacation of 1976 that I ramped things up and started to play with real trains. At that time I was 11 years old and, one day while hanging around the Santa Cruz railroad yard, I lucked out and met an engineer, James Hutton. After talking trains with him as we ate lunch, he invited me to sit in the cab of the GP-9 locomotive. This became a daily routine and resulted in my also meeting the brakeman, Bob Dickie, and the conductor, Bob Rice. Dickie was a very charismatic fellow with a corny sense of humor and Rice was a kind grandfather type of figure. The three of them let myself and two of my friends spend a lot of time in the caboose. It was their way of rewarding us for all of the work we saved them, by hooking up all of the rail-car air lines and running over and setting the far away track switches as they stood there and drank their coffee and directed us.

Every morning, I listened for the train horn as it passed 7th Avenue. That gave me enough time to run up the two flights of stairs to my parents’ third story attic where I could watch the first locomotive appear onto the trestle at the Boardwalk.

First, I counted the number of engines, then I made guesses as to how many cars the engine quantity might indicate. Many times there were 60 to 80 cars, first the Pacific Fruit Express reefers and Hydra Cushion box cars, then a random assortment of Staley tank cars and empty lumber flat cars. The last two-thirds of the train was always hopper cars loaded with coal and empty, covered hoppers for picking up cement from the Davenport cement plant. Before the caboose emerged from the hillside and onto the trestle, I was usually down the stairs and out the door, jumping onto my bicycle to race down to the yard and meet Jim and the rest of the crew. 

Two years later, in April of 1978, word got out that a train derailed at Manresa State Beach on its way to Watsonville Junction. That was a bit outside of my cycling distance, so I pestered my mom to take me until she gave in. Actually, she was curious and glad to do so.

I watched and took pictures with my Kodak “Instamatic” for a couple of hours on that cold, foggy morning. The crew laid new track sections onto the road bed, then placed wheel trucks onto the tracks, measured the distance between them, and then placed the cars back onto the trucks. A pair of heavy cranes, one at each end, raised and lowered the cars back onto their trucks with cable slings.

Boxcar being loaded by crane back onto its trucks near Manresa State

Beach, April 1978. Photo by Tom Clark.

That was when I learned that the only thing holding the cars onto the trucks was their own weight. A pin on each truck inserted into a hole on the underside of each end of the car, plus gravity. Restoration of the railroad line was a relatively short process and, if my memory serves me right, the Santa Cruz Branch was up and running just a couple of days later.A year after the retirement of engineer Jim Hutton, I moved with my family to Garmisch-Partenkir- chen in the Bavarian Alps. This put an end to my adventures on the Santa Cruz line, since when I got back, I discovered new circles of friends and new activities.

All these years later, I keep thinking about one thing: Jim Hutton was 65 when he retired in 1977; that means he was born around 1912. After thinking about this, I realized how much steam-era railroading he must have experienced. Those GP-9 Diesel locomotives, as old as they looked to me, were just new-fangled things to him, that came along in the later years of his career. Oh the questions I wish I had known to ask....

Railroading News:
Railroad Museum moves to North Bay
After over a year of indecision by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Committee (RTC), the Golden Gate Railroad Museum management finally found a new home on the Northwestern Pacific Railway trackage at Schellville as of January 6, 2017. Plans are in place to store the rolling stock at the local freight yard until a more permanent facility is built.

The museum has yet to comment on plans for the future beyond the building of their storage facilities, but they have hinted at a permanent museum nearby and the possibility of excursions both locally along the NWP line and further afield. Currently, the museum's rolling stock remains at the Niles Canyon freight yard awaiting available storage space and negotiations with the Union Pacific Railroad for a relocation. Further information on the museum's relocation project is not known at this time.
Polar Express woes
On December 2, concerns were raised about the wobbly nature of the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway's seasonal Polar Express train as it travelled between Capitola and New Brighton State Beach. A Trail Now video went viral accompanied by complaints from some early passengers, prompting the excursions to be canceled for ten days.

Iowa Pacific Holdings, parent company of the local railroading franchise, issued a statement on December 3, stating that the ten-day delay was not, in fact, due to track problems but rather because the company had failed to file notice with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that the track was in a sufficient condition to qualify for excepted track status. The filing period for such a filing is ten days.

Although they were under no obligation to do so, Iowa Pacific conducted numerous repairs along the right-of-way to decrease the wobbling during the ten days in which they awaited approval from the FRA. Also, to make up for a week of lost sales and canceled tickets, the railroad added three more days of excursions prior to Christmas.

Approval was given on December 9 for the Polar Express to resume normal operations the following evening. No track defect violations were found by the FRA, while service across the line was improved during the waiting period.
Chinese tourists ride train, skip city
For the past few months, tour buses full of up to 300 Chinese tourists have quietly been visiting Roaring Camp Railroads almost daily in the twilight hours before the park officially opens.

As part of a whirlwind three-day tour between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a group called Sea Tours departs from Monterey early each morning and arrives at Roaring Camp. Usually, they take a quick 40-minute train ride to Rincon aboard the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific line before being whisked away northward. The groups give the City of Santa Cruz a complete skip.

The recent winter storms have shortened these excursion rides but not ended them. Since January, the special early morning excursions have taken the tourist groups either past Mount Hermon to the north or south into San Lorenzo Gorge to Inspiration Point. The highlights of the trip are the redwood forests and the river or Bean Creek, depending on the journey.
Capitol Corridor to pass through Pajaro
Following a tax boost from the recent November election, plans to extend Caltrain's Capitol Corridor south to Salinas are now in the works. Contracts are already being signed for demolition crews who will remove existing portions of track to facilitate the upgrade of the entire line between Gilroy and Salinas.

Although this project will not immediately benefit Santa Cruz County, plans are in place to upgrade the stations at Watsonville Junction and Castroville for future use as passenger hubs for people commuting along restored Santa Cruz and Monterey branch lines. The Santa Cruz Branch line, owned by the county and operated by Iowa Pacific Holdings, has been involved in a long-term feasibility study to assess, among other things, the merits of restoring passenger service to the county. Monterey County, meanwhile, has a larger challenge ahead due to the repurposing of their trackage as a rail trail and heavier local resistance.

Web Register:
Facebook Chatter (/groups/sctrains)
ContinuousThanks to photographer Howard Cohen for keeping everybody abreast of the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railways operations this past winter. Other frequent photographic contributors include Gary McCourt, Dom Blevins, Bill Dawkins, Brian Bergtold, and Janie Soito. Dec. 12 – William Turner shared a humorous video of a Canadian train plowing through snow-covered tracks. Dec. 20 – Dale Phelps shared an hour-long documentary produced by Bruce MacGregor on the railroad car manufacturing business of Thomas and Martin Carter in the 1870s. The full documentary can be found here. Dec. 23 – Dana Bagshaw informed visitors that the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History at the McPherson Center has a toy railroad display running for the holiday season. Howard Cohen also noted an increase in boys crossing the Soquel Creek bridge over Capitola Village, warning the public that this is both illegal and highly dangerous. Dec. 26 – Soito shared a video recorded by a drone of the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific's seasonal Holiday Lights Train as it drove down Beach Street toward the wye. The video can be viewed here. Trevor Park of Treefrogflag Productions also shared his half-hour documentary about the return of passenger service to Santa Cruz County, which is available here. Jan. 2 – Ian Applegate shared a special New Years’ Eve video of the Holiday Lights Train, available here. Jan. 8 – Derek Whaley shared his interview with John Abatecola at TSG Multimedia, available here. Cohen also shared photographs of tank cars that are currently being stored on the Santa Cruz Branch Line, prompting a discussion between members on the merits of hiding Union Pacific rolling stock on unused local track. Jan. 11 – A mysterious train whistle heard across Santa Cruz prompted a long, somewhat conspiracy-laden conversation over train whistles on cars and Trail Now! advocates attempting to sabotage local railroading. Jan. 12 – Dawkins shared video footage of the century-old causeway at Wrights still being used to divert water in the recent winter storms. The video is available here. Jan. 30 – Dawkins shared a photograph of a South Pacific Coast Railroad pile-driver, prompting a discussion on the construction of the railroad over the mountains. Feb. 7 – Whaley shared an LA Times article about the end of government-sponsored rail projects in California. Dwight Ennis, in response, gave an excerpt from a San José Mercury News article explaining precisely why rail projects are not profitable or feasible currently. Whaley also advocated for the creation of a digital railroad journey using Unity, which prompted Dawkins to provide the following link to a digital recreation of the route between Felton and Boulder Creek. Feb. 12 – Dawkins recommended setting up temporary passenger service between Santa Cruz and Pajaro due to the closure of numerous roads throughout the county. Feb. 13 – James Galleguillos recommended the Railroad Park Resort in Dunsmuir to people wanting to spend the night in an old converted railroad car. Feb. 16 – James Davey shared a video of a Union Pacific train passing in front of the Boardwalk in 2004. Feb. 17 – Dawkins shared a photograph of a collision in Santa Clara in 1903 between Southern Pacific and South Pacific Coast trains. Feb. 23 – Tom Clark shared photographs of a derailment near Manresa State Beach in 1978 (see article above).


Recent SantaCruzTrains.com articles:
DEC. 16 – Sea Pride Packing Corporation
DEC. 23 – Carmel Canning Company
DEC. 30 – Monterey Fish Products
JAN. 6 – Roller Coasters at the SC Beach Boardwalk
JAN. 13 – Custom House Packing Corporation
JAN. 27 – Castroville Freight Yard
FEB. 3 – McGowans Nos. 1 and 2
FEB. 10 – Petersen
FEB. 17 – Pajaro
FEB. 24 – Trafton

Monthly Timetable:
MARCH 
Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad
Train Rides
Mar. 1-14: Weekends 11:00am-3:00pm
Mar. 15-31: Weekends 10:30am-4:30pm

Wednesdays 10:30am-3:00pm
Roundtrip from the Billy Jones Depot kiosk

Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad Museum
Open House
Mar. 3: 5:00–8:00pm
Mar. 4-5: 10:00am–4:00pm

Regional Transportation Commission (RTC)
RTC Meeting
Mar. 2: 9:00am @ County Board of Supervisors Chambers

Transportation Policy Workshop
Mar. 16: 9:00am @ TBA

Roaring Camp Railroads
Train Rides
Mar. 1-31: Daily @ 12:30pm [Steam only on weekends]
Roundtrip from Roaring Camp Station

Rain Forest Weekends
Mar. 1-26: Every weekend

Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway
Beach Train
Mar. 30-31: Daily
Departs from Roaring Camp Station & Boardwalk

Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway
Not operating

Swanton Pacific Railroad
Work Day
Mar. 11-12
Come volunteer and ride the trains!

APRIL
Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad
Train Rides
Weekends 10:30am-4:30pm

Wednesdays 10:30am-3:00pm
Roundtrip from the Billy Jones Depot kiosk

Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad Museum
Open House
Apr. 7: 5:00–8:00pm
Apr. 8-9: 10:00am–4:00pm

Regional Transportation Commission (RTC)
RTC Meeting
Apr. 6: 9:00am @ TBA

Transportation Policy Workshop
Apr. 20: 9:00am @ TBA

Roaring Camp Railroads
Train Rides
Apr. 1-30: Weekdays @ 11:00am

Weekends @ 11:00am, 12:30pm
Roundtrip from Roaring Camp Station

Model Railroad Exhibit
Apr. 8-9 @ at the General Store exhibition space

Eggstraordinary Easter Egg Hunt
Apr. 15-16
Train rides with an Easter egg hunt on Bear Mountain

Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway
Beach Train
Apr. 1-30: Daily
Departs from Roaring Camp Station & Boardwalk

Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway
Not operating

Swanton Pacific Railroad
Work Day
Apr. 8-9, 22
Come volunteer and ride the trains!

MAY
Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad
Train Rides
Weekends 10:30am-4:30pm

Wednesdays 10:30am-3:00pm
Roundtrip from the Billy Jones Depot kiosk

Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad Museum
Open House
May 5: 5:00–8:00pm
May 6-7: 10:00am–4:00pm

Regional Transportation Commission (RTC)
RTC Meeting
May 4: 9:00am @ TBA

Transportation Policy Workshop
May 18: 9:00am @ TBA

Roaring Camp Railroads
Train Rides
May 1-26, 30-31: Weekdays @ 11:00am

Weekends @ 11:00am, 12:30pm, 2:00
May 27-29: 11:00am, 12:30pm, 2:00, 3:30
Roundtrip from Roaring Camp Station

Annual Civil War Battles & Encampment
May 27-29: Activities across Roaring Camp

Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway
Beach Train
May 1-31: Daily
Departs from Roaring Camp Station & Boardwalk

Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway
Not operating

Swanton Pacific Railroad
Work Day
May 13-14, 27-28
Come volunteer and ride the trains!

Imprint: Derek R. Whaley, editor. For submissions, email author@santacruztrains.com.
© 2016-2017 Derek R. Whaley. All rights reserved.

2 comments:

  1. Don't have the time to read in details but what year and what time of the year did the 300 Chinese zoomed through?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Purchased your book. Excellent research that builds on MacGregor. Fills in some gaps and fixes some errors. Speaking of errors, I have M.C. Hyland as summit foreman, not H.C. as you published on pg. 148. I have seen M.C. elsewhere on your website, so maybe just a typo. I've been to all the tunnels over the years, including a walk inside the south portal of Summit Tunnel after a 45 minute walk up Burns Creek. Checked out the Mt. Charlie tunnel south portal before it had the cave-in. Wrights needs a plaque/tribute to those who died. Maybe that can happen if MROSD buys the land from San Jose Water.

    ReplyDelete