2015 Swanton Pacific Railroad Tour

April 19, 2015

Swanton Pacific Ranch is a 3,200-acre (13 km2) ranch in Santa Cruz County, California, outside the town of Davenport just off of Highway 1. The ranch is owned and operated by California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) for educational and research in sustainable agriculture . The ranch encompasses rangeland, livestock and forestry operations for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and comprises a significant part of the community of Swanton.

In 1978 Albert B. Smith, president of Orchard Supply Hardware, acquired Swanton Pacific Ranch. Al was a railroad enthusiast and began collecting the steam locomotives and equipment from the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exhibition Overfair Railway. With the help of many volunteers, he built the Swanton Pacific Railroad on his ranch. Al earned degrees in Crop Science and Agriculture Education from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Following a long teaching career at Campbell High School, he succeeded his father as President of Orchard Supply Hardware. In 1993, he donated the ranch to Cal Poly saying:

“Swanton is an uncrowded, beautiful place. My goal in putting this acreage together is to preserve it as such and to share it now and in the future with people who will appreciate it and profit from the experience.” - Albert B. Smith

The Swanton Pacific Railroad Society operates the historic one-third scale, 19-inch gauge, railroad at Swanton Pacific Ranch, which is located 15 miles north of Santa Cruz. The mile-long railroad lies along the Ocean Shore Railway right-of-way that was to run from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. The scenic trip, through a valley in the coastal mountains, crosses Scott Creek on the Ed Carnegie Bridge, passes a Christmas tree farm, and ends at a wye where passengers can observe railroad operations that turn the locomotive.

Each spring the Swanton Pacific Railroad Society hosts Al Smith Day, and honors the founder with a catered barbeque, unlimited train rides, live music, and historic displays. Club member John Bettencourt was invited to attend, and was good enough to arrange for fellow members of the San Francisco Model A Club to join him at this event.

We met Sunday morning April 19 at 8 am at the small parking area adjacent to Crystal Springs Reservoir for a running board breakfast. From there John led us west on Highway 92 to Half Moon Bay, and then south on Highway 1 to Swanton. We stopped briefly when we turned off highway 1 to purchase fresh strawberries, and then followed John several miles to Swanton Ranch. There we parked, were given our name tags, and walked on to the ranch grounds, passing a round house, turntable, car barn, machine shop, workshop, and displays of railroad equipment.

The site itself consists of a great meadow, rail station, a large area of picnic tables, and a stage from which live music was performed.

We all spread out – some viewed equipment, some immediately rode the train, and others scoped out a great spot in the picnic area for our group. Over the next several hours we did it all, rode the railroad, were served barbequed hors d’oeuvres, enjoyed a great barbeque lunch, and basked in the wonderful spring sunshine.

As could be predicted, a great time was had by all.

Photos by Scott Williams