Announcement: Ocean Shore Book Reprinted
Barbara Vanderwerf's book 'Granada A Synonym for Paradise The Ocean Shore Railroad Years'is back in print.
A Brief History of the Ocean Shore Railroad
One of the wonderful aspects of the turn-of-the-century era was the multitude of grandious schemes for the development of California. In the early 1900's, the country had rebounded from the depression of the 1890's, so a renewed sense of optimism was the mood of the day. It was in this frame of mind that prominent San Francisco businessmen schemed to create a coast railroad from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. It was initially called the Ocean Shore Electric Railway.
Initial work began in 1905, with the surveying of the route along the coast. Extensive cuts and fills would be used to make the route mostly level, in spite of the rough terrain. Plans were made for a double track electric mainline, and the railroad would break with the standards of the day and run on 1500 Volts A.C., instead of the usual 600 to 1200 Volts D.C. Travel time to Santa Cruz would be cut in half, from 5 hours (via the South Pacific Coast R.R.) to 2-1/2 hours.
The future looked bright in early 1906. The Ocean Shore was backed by many well-to-do business men (including J.A. Folger of Folger's Coffee fame), and the Southern Pacific was busy elsewhere, so competition from the giant would be minimal. Two contractors were hired to contruct the railroad. C.E. Loss and Company would build the northern end from San Francisco down to Scott Creek, and Shattuck and Desmond had the contract to build the southern end from Scott Creek to Santa Cruz. The grand opening of the double-tracked, electrified Ocean Shore was to be announced on February 1, 1907.
As luck would have it, fate intervened in the form of the Great San Francisco Earthquake of April 18, 1906. Ocean Shore's Reaches the Beaches motto could now be taken literally as more than 4000 feet of right-of-way slipped into the ocean near Pacifica, along with most of the construction equipment of the northern end. The Devil's slide area also plunged into the ocean. The southern end was spared much of the destruction, but more significant than any physical loss were the nearly complete financial losses of most of the backers of the railroad.
From this point on, the Ocean Shore was on a shoe-string budget. Repairs were costly and and took much time. By September 1907, the railroad was in serious economic trouble, and it was not able to raise more money by selling bonds. This was partially due to the regional financial after-effects of the earthquake. To make matters worse, a financial panic gripped the whole nation at the end of 1907, reducing whatever eastern capital that may have been available. The Ocean Shore broke this cycle by holding bond rallies in San Francisco and Santa Cruz in early 1908, and it raised enough money to keep going.
Construction continued and by the end of 1908, the railroad was running revenue passenger and freight trains on both ends of the line. Notable freight revenues on the northern division came from diverse sources. Farmers along the coast shipped artichokes, grain hay, horse beans, potatoes, dried peas, and canned cabbage. Along the coast route were also a furniture factory, a brick works, a barrel and box company, a seaweed processing plant for potash, a soda bottler, a popcorn ball maker, and the High Gravity Oil Company. Yes, oil was pumped from the ground in the Half Moon Bay area, and thousands of barrels were shipped out by the Ocean Shore Railroad.
Even bigger sources of revenue appeared on the southern division. The San Vicente Lumber Company was incorporated May 18th, 1908, to harvest all of the timber (representing 615,000,000 board feet) from Swanton up to the top of Ben Lomond Mountain. This would be one of the largest lumber operations in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and it eventually built a fairly significant logging railroad of its own. Just a few miles south in Davenport, the Santa Cruz and Portland Cement Company built a large cement factory, which to this day is a significant source of cement for the Bay Area.
All of this activity on the south end attracted the attention Southern Pacific, which having finished the Lucin Cutoff on the Great Salt Lake, now had the money to build a spur from Santa Cruz to Davenport. While the Ocean Shore had the main shipping contract with San Vicente Lumber, the Southern Pacific became the main shipper for the cement plant. The Ocean Shore had also failed to gain access to the heart of Santa Cruz, because the SP blocked passage over its property. Lumber mill and cement workers found it more convenient to ride the SP, so the Ocean Shore effectively lost all southern end passenger revenue.
In spite of the Ocean Shore owner's grand schemes to build the northern end coast area into a great playground for the people of San Francisco - a Coney Island of the West, nothing became of these plans. The people of San Francisco preferred to build their vacation homes in the sunnier climes of San Mateo and the East Bay. After years of promoting Granada (just north of Half Moon Bay), most lots reverted to farm land. This and the fact that the SP was now able to reach Santa Cruz in 2-1/2 hours via the inland route, meant there was no hope of completing the Ocean Shore.
The railroad fell into receivership in 1910, but was promptly reorganized by new "idealists" who thought they could make a go of it. They named the new company the Ocean Shore Railroad, and they actually turned a profit in 1912. But from then on it was downhill again, and the railroad was finally abandoned in 1920. This was not to be the end of the company however. The Ocean Shore lasted into the 1970's, primarily to litigate and secure financial benefit from land holdings. Curiously, the railroad company lasted longer without tracks than it did with.
Text by Thomas Beutel
Ocean Shore Railroad Related Links
Board of Supervisor's 1906 resolution to dump earthquake debris in Precita Valley swamp Coastside Cultural Resources of San Mateo County Coastal Zone Greg Gladman's People and History of Moss Beach, California About the Goose and Turrets Bed and Breakfast. See also Goose and Turrets on 1st Traveler's Choice Gum Tree Lane Books Half Moon Bay Review's Pacifica: Past and Present June Langhoff's Ocean Shore Railroad: Reaches the Beaches (in Pacifica, California) June Morrall's A look back at the coast's vibrant past Ocean Shore Railroad Map A Brief History of San Francisco, California Selected articles on the building of the coast highway over Ocean Shore right-of-way Steam Locomotive Roster VanderWerf? Books Annotated Bibliography and References
For further study of the Ocean Shore Railroad, we recommend these sources:
Brandt, Rudolph. "Ocean Shore: Reaches the Beaches" in The Western Railroader, vol. 15, no. 7, pp. 2-17. Huntington Beach: The Pacific Coast Chapter, Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, 1965. ISSN: 0149-4996. A good overview of the railroad.
Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. pp.168-200. Boulder, Colorado: Pruett Publishing Company, 1980. ISBN 0-87108-553-4 (alternate, search) This book covers mainly the southern end of the Ocean Shore Railroad, along with other mainline and logging railroads of the Santa Cruz area.
VanderWerf?, Barbara. Granada, A Synonym for Paradise: The Ocean Shore Years. El Granada, California: Gum Tree Lane Books, 1992. ISBN 0-9632922-0-X (alternate, search). The development of both El Granada, California and the Ocean Shore Railroad were closely linked. The railroad needed people buying land in El Granada to generate traffic, and the town needed the railroad as a link to the outside world. The book explores this connection extensively.
Wagner, Jack R. The Last Whistle [Ocean Shore Railroad]. Berkeley, California: Howell-North Books, 1974. ISBN 0-8310-7107-9 (alternate, search). This is the definitive history of the railroad. Includes many pictures and a table of locomotive statistics, builders numbers, and car types.
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