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California \ Pajaro Valley Consolidated
Reference Data.
Pajaro Valley Railroad
January 11, 1890
Pajaro Extension Railway
April 28, 1897
Pajaro Valley Consolidated RR
December 8, 1897
Abandon: April 2, 1929

Corporate Ownership.
Spreckels Family 1890 - 1929

Watsonville 0.0
Pajaro 1.0
Moss Landing 9.7
Moro Cojo 14.3
Salinas 23.7
Spreckels 27.3
Mill 27.7
Buena Vista 33.4
Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Pajaro Valley Consolidated.

By John Hall

W hen Claus Spreckels was making his fortune importing Hawaiian sugar and refining it in California he had to pay a significant import tariff on the sugar. As a good Capitalist he was always looking for ways to reduce the cost of his product. He had his eye on domestic sugar beets but they were proving to be difficult to grow and refine economically in the United States. Since 1853 numerous attempts had been tried across the country. On the West Coast E. H. Dyer, beginning in 1868, had made a couple of unsuccessful attempts. Claus Spreckels decided to try his hand and in 1876 invested in an experimental refinery in Soquel, California. This company was to be a major customer of the Santa Cruz Railroad. By 1878 it was clear the beet refinery was not a success and Spreckels sold his interest in the company. In 1879 E. H. Dyer at Alvarado, California tried again and developed a new, and profitable, method for refining sugar beets. He patented the process in 1885.

After the success of E. H. Dyer, Claus Spreckels decided to try again. In 1888, he built the Western Beet Sugar Mill in Watsonville, California. The Watsonville mill was constructed just north of the Santa Cruz branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad. A short spur ran to the sheds where beets were stored until needed at the mill. The SP also had its mainline running through the fertile Pajaro and Salinas Valleys.

In January 1889 Claus Spreckels was disappointed with the number of contracts he had with farmers for growing sugar beets in the coming season. Farmers like to make the most money for their efforts and the prime alluvial soil of the Pajaro and Salinas Valleys is perfect for all kinds of high value crops. Growing sugar beets was new and potentially risky. Claus Spreckels needed to pay a good price to attract beet growers or grow them himself.

Spreckels leased the Moro Cojo Ranch near Castroville where he could plant 1500 acres of sugar beets, as well as raise cattle on the beet pulp left over after refining sugar. The ranch was 14 miles from the Watsonville mill with the Southern Pacific Monterey branch running right through it. The Southern Pacific could be the perfect transportation for sugar beets directly from Moro Cojo to the Watsonville mill. Why then did Spreckels build his own railroad for beet transportation? The Southern Pacific was charging high freight rates that Spreckels did not want to pay.

Claus Spreckels proposed building his own railroad essentially paralleling the SP between Watsonville and Moro Cojo. He may have been trying to bluff the SP into lowering its rates. He incorporated the three foot gauge Pajaro Valley Railroad in January 1890. The SP must not have responded favorably to the threat of competition because construction on the railroad was underway in May. The right of way was across the flat Pajaro and Salinas Valleys so grading was easy. The railroad was completed to Moro Cojo by September in time for the seasons beet crop.

Along the way the railroad passed through Moss Landing where a pier was constructed to move railroad cars out to the ocean going ships of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company and the Spreckels owned Oceanic Steamship Company. Spreckels now had a worldwide transportation system that bypassed the Southern Pacific Railroad. The SP had lost a serious customer.

The successful season of 1890 convinced more farmers to grow sugar beets and by August 1891 the Pajaro Valley Railroad was extended 9 miles to the Monterey-Salinas road where a depot was established one mile south of Salinas. This was the southern end of the PVRR. By this time the SP had reduced its rates fifty percent to attract business to its line.

By 1895 the Watsonville mill was so successful that Spreckels decided to build a new and much larger mill. He purchased acreage south of Salinas and proposed a 3000 ton per day beet sugar mill at what would become Spreckels, California. The success of the Watsonville mill had shown the farmers that raising sugar beets could be a profitable business. The Southern Pacific wanted some of that business. This time, knowing that Claus Spreckels was a formidable opponent, the Southern Pacific decided to cooperate. The SP agreed to build a three mile long spur to the site of the Spreckels mill before construction started on the mill in 1897.

Spreckels, not wanting to lose his investment in the PVRR, decided to build an extension to Spreckels, thereby using the railroad to serve either sugar mill. In April 1897 the Pajaro Extension Railway was incorporated to build from the Salinas PVRR station to Spreckels. It also included a branch north of Salinas to a limestone quarry. Lime is an important part of the refining of sugar beets. The Spreckels mill included a lime kiln for the burning of limestone into lime.

Another product needed for the manufacturing of beet sugar is water, lots of water. The Spreckels sugar mill was located on the bank of the Salinas river. As with many California rivers there was a heavy flow in the winter and spring but only a small flow in the summer and fall. With beet refining occurring in the fall it was necessary to build a reservoir on the south bank of the river with a water tank on the hill above. Water was pumped up into the reservoir when the river was high then into the water tank to create water pressure for the sugar mill. To get the water across the river and to access farmers fields on the south side of the river a bridge was built that carried dual gauge railroad tracks, a wagon road, and the water pipe suspended under the bridge. All of this was completed by October 1898 in time for the opening season of the new sugar mill.

Owning two separate but connecting railroads with two sets of books is not very economical so in December 1897 the Pajaro Valley Railroad and the Pajaro Extension Railway were consolidated into the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad.

A 3000 ton per day sugar beet refinery requires a lot of sugar beets. The PVCRR covered most of the lower Salinas Valley but the upper valley south east of Salinas was only served by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Once again Claus and the SP locked horns. in December 1898 an extension of the PVCRR was surveyed from the south side of the bridge across the Salinas River up the valley 40 miles to King City, all of it SP territory. This time the Southern Pacific may have listened when asked to lower tariffs. Construction of the extension was put off until December 1901 when it was built only five miles to Buena Vista.

In April 1901 the crossing of the PVCRR quarry branch was elevated above the recently opened SP main line to Los Angeles. The additional through traffic on the SP main line necessitated the grade separation of the lines. The last major piece of the PVCRR was the branch to Salinas. In 1905 a branch off the quarry branch paralleled the Southern Pacific northwest to the Salinas SP Station. The new branch provided passenger service between Salinas and Spreckels. Except for a few minor spurs the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was complete.

In 1904 the Watsonville Transportation Company constructed a three foot narrow gauge electric railway between Watsonville and Port Rogers on Monterey Bay. A crossing of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was installed on Third Street. In 1913 the State Railroad Commission gave permission to the PVCRR to lease the WTC line between the PVCRR and Port Rogers. A short curve was constructed connecting the two lines.

With the completion of the Spreckels Mill the Watsonville Mill became a secondary factory. Kept in reserve in case it was needed, it was finally closed by 1908 with the building vacant by 1911. In 1911 the PVCRR turntable was the only engine facility left in Watsonville.

The great earthquake of April 1906 left its mark on the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railway. There was damage to track, buildings, and the pier at Moss Landing. The newspapers reported that the Spreckels mill had been totally destroyed. This turned out to be not to be the case. The five story Spreckels Sugar Mill was constructed with a steel frame and masonry walls. Most of the major damage was confined to the north wall of the mill which lost most of its brick but the steel frame and the refining equipment remained in place. Repair efforts were soon underway.

Claus Spreckels died in December 1908. His family continued to control the sugar empire and the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad. From this time forward the railroad settled down and did its work moving sugar beets, beet pulp, limestone, other freight, and some passengers.

The advent of trucks delivering sugar beets cut severely into the railroad's business. Its last years were unprofitable. In 1929 the PVCRR sought and received permission to abandon the railroad. After 32 years the Southern Pacific had finally won out over the PVCRR. The Southern Pacific purchased the line for scrap in 1930. In 1935 the locomotives were scrapped.

Revised: July 7, 2015
Oil Lamps and Iron Ponies, Shaw, Fisher, Harlan, Bay Books, 1949
American Narrow Gauge Railroads, Hilton, Stanford University Press, 1990
The Sugar Industry in the United States, Wiley, Gov't Printing Office 1885
Various Newspaper articles:
Daily Alta California 1888-1890
Los Angeles Herald 1897-1904
Mariposa Gazette 1909
Pacific Rural Press 1887
Sacramento Daily Union 1887-1897
San Francisco Call 1890-1913
San Francisco Chronicle 1890

Reference Material Available Online:


The Route of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated for Google Earth by John Hall.


Collected Pajaro Valley Consolidated Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.


California \ Pajaro Valley Consolidated
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