Los Gatos Museum Association
Riding the Picnic Trains
Marlene Wiley

Riding the Picnic Trains is an exhibit of railroad history at Forbes Mill Museum sponsored by The Los Gatos Museum Association. The exhibit runs through September 2 and is open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. There is no admission charge. For more information, call 408-395-7375.

Much of the exhibit is composed of photos and artifacts on loan from Los Gatos Historian William A. Wulf. Bill is a special friend to the Mountain History Study Group. The exhibit features over 100 photographs, including depots on the South Pacific Coast (SPC) railroad line. Among the artifacts that Bill has collected is an SPC headlight known as a Dinkey. Other train lights, brass fixtures and a ticket box are also on exhibit. Leon Milburn, a resident of Gist Road, also loaned some photos.

The exhibit is divided into categories—picnicking, conducting, route and stations, profit in freight, laying track and promoting the West by rail. Some of the depots in the exhibit are Lexington, Alma, Wrights, Laurel, Glenwood, Big Trees and Ben Lomond. Perhaps the least known depot was at Eva, a mountain resort located between Aldercroft and Call of the Wild. The Eva Vista Hotel was a resort only one and a half hours by train from San Francisco created by damming Los Gatos Creek to form a small lake.

Bill Wulf has been collecting historical information and artifacts as long as he can remember, over fifty years. He moved from San Jose where he was born to Los Gatos in 1948. He has read the Santa Cruz Sentinel from 1856, the San Jose paper from 1851 and the Los Gatos newspaper from 1881. He is a charter member of the railroad preservation society that was formed in 1952.

Bill Wulf has an encyclopedic mind jammed full of historical facts and stories. During the exhibit opening he shared some of the railroad nuggets he has acquired. The Summit tunnel, the longest on the rail line, took three years to build. One of the difficulties of building the tunnel was dealing with the natural gas deposits. After one explosion, a doctor was located in San Jose and was at the Wrights depot within fifteen minutes of being called. The Chinese laborers refused to be treated by a white doctor. They insisted on being sent to San Francisco where a paste of opium was used to cover their burns. Unfortunately, they died.

The most profitable commodity the railroad carried was redwood lumber. One of the lumber barons, Frederick A. Hihn, had a railroad spur line built to transport redwood to the town of Laurel for shipment to market. The SPC was the most profitable narrow gauge in California. 

The SPC also carried passengers. One time, 6000 children came by train to enjoy a picnic at Alma. Between 1935 and 1936, new track was laid between San Jose and Santa Cruz even though only one or two freight cars and one passenger car were operating daily. The SPC had a contract to collect and deliver mail. The last SPC train went through the mountains on its way to Santa Cruz on February 22, 1940. 

For more information on the South Pacific Coast Railroad, check the Los Gatos Public Library and the Santa Cruz City County Library System for these books:
Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Pruett Publishing Company, Boulder, Colorado, 1980.
MacGregor, Bruce A. South Pacific Coast. Howell-North Books, Berkeley, California, 1968.
- - -. Narrow Gauge Portrait: South Pacific Coast. Glenwood Publishers, Felton, California, 1975.
MacGregor, Bruce A. and Richard Truesdale. A Centennial, South Pacific Coast. Pruett Publishing Company, Boulder, Colorado, 1982.

A new railroad book by Bruce MacGregor is scheduled for release in August 2002. We will publish release information next year. The Los Gatos Museum Association has invited Bruce MacGregor to come to Los Gatos when his book is released.



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