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California \ Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad
Reference Data.
Reference Data.
November 1874

Corporate Ownership.
Narrow Gauge:
Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad 1874-1887
Leased to South Pacific Coast 1879-1887
Southern Pacific 1887-1906
Dual Gauge:
Southern Pacific 1906-1907
Standard Gauge:
Southern Pacific 1907-1981
Roaring Camp Railroads, Inc. 1981-

Santa Cruz - 0 mi
Mission Hill Tunnel (S. End) - 0.9
Powder Works - 2.8
Big Trees - 6.1
Felton - 7.8 mi

Rail Weight. 22.6 lbs/yd 1874-1877
35 lbs/yd 1877-1880

Average Train Speed. Freight: 10 mph
Passenger: 10 mph

Max. Grade.

Min. Radius.
146 feet

Equipment Roster.
June 30, 1877
Locomotive "Santa Cruz"
Locomotive "Felton"
1- 1st class passenger coach
1 - 2nd class coach
6 - Box cars
34 - Flats
2 - Hand cars
2 - Push cars
4 - Track laying cars

Last Updated: May 21, 2015

Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad.

By John Hall.

T he story of the Santa Cruz and Felton Railroad starts in 1868 with the formation of the San Lorenzo Railroad Company. It was to be a 18 mile long horse railroad up the San Lorenzo River from Santa Cruz to Kings Ranch to move lumber to Santa Cruz. Kings Ranch was located north of Boulder Creek near the intersection of today's Highway 9 and Kings Creek road in Santa Cruz County. Surveying and other work began in May 1868. Almost immediately Isaac Cowell sued for an injunction to stop construction. He was not awarded the injunction but the case continued in the courts for six years. Meanwhile construction and grading of the railroad continued. Then in 1870 with the grading completed construction ceases probably due to lack of funding and the ongoing lawsuit.

The exact extent of the grading is not clear however one newspaper report said it was completed to Felton. There is also an intriguing drawing in the Bancroft Library titled On the Grade Near Felton. The drawing is of the area in the vicinity of the Concrete Arch on today's Santa Cruz, Big Trees, and Pacific Railroad. The library has tentatively dated the drawing 1880 but it may date prior to 1875 when track was laid on the grade by the SC&F.

In 1870 the San Lorenzo Valley Railroad is incorporated to construct a railroad between Santa Cruz and Boulder Creek.. Directors included George Treat and Frederick Hihn. Both later major stock holders in the Santa Cruz Railroad. In 1871 this company resurveys the old San Lorenzo Railroad grade and determines that a tunnel through the hogback north of the Powder Works would cut a mile off the route. Once again the company goes dormant possibly due to the ongoing lawsuit between the San Lorenzo Railroad and Isaac Cowell.

In 1873 a new project is proposed to construct a flume to transport lumber down the San Lorenzo river 23 miles to Santa Cruz. Then in February 1874 the railroad lawsuit is resolved in the California Supreme Court. The San Lorenzo Railroad lost and had to pay damages to the property owners. In late 1874,with the lawsuit out of the way, a new group of ninety-nine investors came together to form the San Lorenzo Flume and Transportation Company and the Santa Cruz and Felton Railroad Company. Originally two separate companies with the same board of directors and overlapping goals between Santa Cruz and Felton, the Flume company later became a subsidiary of the Railroad. None of the San Lorenzo Valley Railroad officers were part of the new venture. Hihn and Treat were busy focusing on the construction of the Santa Cruz Railroad.

In January 1875 a large force of workmen began to rework the old San Lorenzo Railroad grade and dig a tunnel through the hogback as proposed by the San Lorenzo Valley Railroad. Along the way a novel method to remove redwood stumps was developed. Previously stumps had been dug out by hand. A redwood stump 15 feet in diameter above ground had a huge amount of dirt to dig out. A particularly large stump was just across the river from the Big Trees Grove. The contractor decided to try a new method. His crew dug a vertical shaft by the side of the stump, then ran a horizontal tunnel to the center of the stump where kegs of powder were placed around the tap root. The hole was filled in and fuse lit. The stump reportedly shot three hundred feet in the air and came down clear of the railroad right of way at half the cost to dig out the stump.

The winter rains were delaying the supply of lumber for the railroad but by April things began to move again. The Pacific Bridge Company contracted to build the railroad wharf at Santa Cruz. Flume construction began from the northern end near King's Ranch and expanded towards Felton. The initial rolling stock was scheduled to be delivered in May. By July 1875 the construction crews consisted mostly of track layers and carpenters, with another crew tunneling the hogback. By September the tunnel was complete and the flume had reached Felton. All was ready to open the railroad some seven years after the San Lorenzo Railroad had begun construction.

On October 7, 1875 the Santa Cruz and Felton Railroad Officers and invited guests took a trial trip from the beach at Santa Cruz up the river to Felton. Toasts were given and the construction celebrated before returning to Santa Cruz. On October 13, 1875 the railroad officially opened in grand style with a crowd upwards of 1500 people in attendance.

Operation of the SC&F was rather simple. The main purpose was to bring timber down the mountain from the terminus of the lumber flume in Felton. The flume was supplied with cut lumber and cordwood from various mills along its route. Empty flats went up the hill and loaded ones came down. Shipments of lime from the kilns near Felton supplemented the lumber .

The Santa Cruz mountains had always been known for heavy winter rains. The first winter of operation was no exception. Mountains cleared of timber, with a railroad right-of-way graded through them were easy targets for the rains. Two months after opening the railroad was forced to suspend operations as the first of what was to be many major washouts occurred along the line. Maintenance costs used up the profits at a rapid rate.

The original route through downtown Santa Cruz was along River Street and Pacific Avenue to the wharf built by the Pacific Bridge Company. The city franchise required the use of horse power along Pacific Avenue. After a few months the railroad decided to tunnel under Mission Hill and relocate the track to Chestnut Street paralleling the Santa Cruz Railroad. The tunnel opened in October 1876.

The Santa Cruz Railroad was under construction at the same time as the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad. However the Santa Cruz & Felton constructed the first tracks in the city proper. By the time that the Mission Hill tunnel had been completed the Santa Cruz Railroad had entered the City via Chestnut Street crossing the Santa Cruz & Felton just north of the railroad wharf. When the Santa Cruz & Felton laid its tracks down Chestnut Street it was necessary to cross the Santa Cruz Railroad to get to the SC&F yard and wharf. The result was two railroad crossings 1,600 feet apart.

The downtown spur tracks served such industry as the Grover Planning Mill and the Centennial Flour Mill. Lime from the Felton area was stored in the railroad freight depot. Both lumber and lime were subsequently transported by ship.

In 1877 the railroad acquired a new customer. The California Powder Works had been moving its product from the works in the San Lorenzo river canyon to the company wharf by wagon. A slow and expensive method of transportation. With the coming of the Santa Cruz & Felton it was decided to construct a horse drawn railroad from the Powder Works up a steep grade with switchbacks to connect with the SC&F railroad. In addition a S-shaped wharf was built connecting the railroad wharf with the Powder Works wharf. Powder could now be brought down the hill via the SC&F directly to the Powder Works wharf.

Once again the winter weather would damage the railroad. On January 19, 1878 a fierce winter storm blew in. Large waves pounded the new connecting wharf knocking out piles and washing them against the Powder Work wharf causing additional damage. The loose piles then washed against the Liebrandt's bath house where they were removed just before they could damage the structure. In addition, the storm washed out the Santa Cruz Railroad track from the SC&F wharf to the baths. Significant repairs further drained both railroads' coffers.

In November 1878 Charles Gorrill, President of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad talked to Alfred Davis, President of the South Pacific Coast Railroad about the possibility of merging the two lines. By July 1879 Davis had acquired a controlling interest in the SC&F and leased it to the South Pacific Coast Railroad. The Santa Cruz and Felton Railroad continued to retain its corporate identity until March 1887 when it was merged with the other SPC subsidiaries to form the South Pacific Coast Railway.

In July 1887, Southern Pacific interests acquired the SPCRWY stock and leased the SPC to the Southern Pacific. The SP continued to operate the previous SC&F railroad converting it to standard gauge by 1909. Today most of what was the SC&F railroad is operated by the Santa Cruz, Big Trees and Pacific Railroad, owned by Roaring Camp Railroads, Inc.

Revised: May 21, 2015.
Various articles from the following newspapers:
    Daily Alta California, 1868-1887
    Sacramento Daily Record-Union 1867-1887
    Pacific Rural Press 1875-1878
    California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences, 1876
    Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, 1875
Railroad Gazetteer, No. 12 Vol. XVI, August 1879
1876 Biennial Report of the Board of Railroad Commissioners.
MacGregor, Bruce. "The Birth of California Narrow Gauge", Stanford University Press, 2003.
McCaleb, Charles S. "Surf, Sand, and Streetcars: A Mobile History of Santa Cruz, California", Santa Cruz Historical Society, 1995.
Robinson, Lisa. "The San Lorenzo Valley Flume", 2011.

Reference Material Available Online:


Collected Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.


The Route of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad for Google Earth by John Hall.

California \ Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad
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