The Railroads of Santa Cruz County: From Blog to Book

The Wagon Top Boiler at Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton, California. Photo © Nate G.
The Wagon Top Boiler at Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton, California. Photo © Nate G.

A rusty old boiler sits across from the photo studio at Roaring Camp Railroads. It has been there for as long as I can remember. It is my earliest memory of a train thing. I’m sure I experienced the thrill of a train engine in short order, but that boiler always caught my imagination. Somehow, just knowing that a rusty piece of scrap metal like that once served such an important role in an engine’s operation thrilled me. I would continue visiting it on my frequent pilgrimages to Roaring Camp throughout my childhood and teen years. It didn’t help that my best friend’s dad was the chief steam engineer at Roaring Camp. The two of us could hop on a train whenever we wanted, rail hobos in the age of automobiles. We loved the railroad. Yet, we never truly knew what the railroad had done for us.

Southern Pacific 1922 Coast Division Map – Santa Cruz and Vicinity. Image courtesy of Derek Whaley.
Southern Pacific 1922 Coast Division Map – Santa Cruz and Vicinity. Image courtesy of Derek Whaley.

After an eight-year odyssey away from Santa Cruz, I returned in the summer of 2010 to continue a stint at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I had a master’s degree in history from Swansea University but still no direction, no goals, no long-term plan. Then, after watching a presentation about the Southern Pacific Railroad route, my imagination was kindled. I learned there were four dark, dank, tunnels still standing as ancient monoliths in the hills, tunnels that once had bridged the gap between Felton and Los Gatos. I grabbed a few of my friends and we began exploring each and every tunnel. The discoveries were exciting for my friends, but they rocked my world.

It took awhile before I had built up the background knowledge and nerve to begin a blog. My first article was a minor flag-stop at Kenville, near the Eccles Tunnel. The blog picked up steam fast, with articles appearing increasingly on a once-weekly schedule. The most important thing I did was revise. Regularly. When new information was found, either via contributors, research, or sheer luck, it was essential that the appropriate article be updated to reflect the new information.

Southern Pacific 1922 Coast Division Map – Santa Cruz and Vicinity. Image courtesy of Derek Whaley.
Southern Pacific 1922 Coast Division Map – Santa Cruz and Vicinity. Image courtesy of Derek Whaley.

It was late in 2012 that the idea for a book became ingrained in my thought process. The original goals—writing a series of books of increasing complexity—have all gone away, lost to a sea of optimism. Today, only the last of the planned books is anticipated: Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The ultimate goal of this book is to emphasize how central the development of the railroad in Santa Cruz was to the people that experienced it every day. Information regarding the trestles, tunnels, and even wharves will be used to show what this infrastructure did for the people and the county of Santa Cruz.

There are always difficulties in doing research—funding, access, permissions, lack-of-information, difficult people—but this journey has truly become a project of the heart. Santa Cruz has always been my home, and it is only in the past two years that I have realized how central the railroad was to the creation of Santa Cruz. It is an important step in the transformation of a rural Spanish settlement into the county we see today. Much of its development, fame, and legacy would not have happened without the railroad. It is my task to ensure this generation and future ones do not forget that fact.

You can check out all of my blog posts at http://www.santacruztrains.com/

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4 Comments

  1. Country Mouse

    I’ve been reading quite a bit about railroads in the book Chinese Gold by Sandy Lydon. I was most amused to read that the Cornish miners hired to build one end of a tunnel (a tragic explosion meant that Chinese would not work there for fear of the dead/ghosts) challenged, then failed to match the progress of, the Chinese at the other end. I’m sure those Cornish felt their noses put out of joint there, and the Chinese felt some pride. I look forward to your book!

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