Almost immediately after the fishing trip described in my previous post, Gayle and I traveled to
Los Gatos, the town where
we both grew up. It was not a surprise
that we found ourselves stuck in bumper to bumper traffic moving through town slower
than I could walk an hour after knee surgery.
Days later, as we left for home, the traffic heading for
Santa Cruz was even worse. Four lanes of cars were literally at a stop
from Stevens Creek Road
in San Jose to Los Gatos,
where Highway 17 funnels cars into two lanes for the slow trek to Santa Cruz.
But it wasn’t that way when I was a kid.
Back then the railroad still came through
Los Gatos and ran to
Santa Cruz. Called the “Suntan Special” by locals, it was
the most popular way to travel to the beach.
Many years prior, the train hauled logs out of the Santa
Cruz Mountains to
lumber mills in Lexington and Alma, just outside of town. Most of the roads through the Santa Cruz hills today were
originally lumber roads. The lumber
industry was very big back then and lumber mills dotted the local mountains.
It’s hard to imagine that today.
The town of
Lexington was once the economic center of the area and is
now under . But the town of Lexington
and Alma weren’t all that was buried as the complexion of Los
Gatos and the Santa Clara Valley began to transition into Silicon
Oil and coal had been discovered in the mountains above
Gatos. This may
surprise you. There was a period of time
when the entire area went nuts with oil fever.
But the oil and coal business didn’t last long and the oil rigs were
buried during construction of the highway to Santa Cruz.
I have friends who have actually seen parts of oil rigs protruding from
the ground in the hills above Los
But the lumber carts couldn’t keep up with the loggers, so the railroad began to take up some of the slack. The train carrying logs made at least two runs a day, eventually stopping at the old wooden depot in
Los Gatos. This original Rail Road Depot was finally
remodeled in 1924. A few of you may have
seen the old depot before it faded into the history books.
Construction of the railroad was a major project and it was built without modern equipment. More than 60 men were killed during its construction. Most were killed by tunnel explosions. There were between 600 and 1000 men working on that railroad. Most were Chinese laborers. I wonder if the progeny of some of those Chinese guys were selling firecrackers to my buddies and me back in the fifties in the
China town section of
Evidently back in the 1800’s
had a problem with boys “jumping the cars,” as they called it then. Adventuresome boys were hopping the train and
riding the cars back and forth to the ocean.
The local officials were evidently incapable of stopping the
practice. The town finally passed an
ordinance in 1895 against these “outlaws,” but that didn’t have an impact on
the energetic boys and the activity continued unabated.
I guess the practice of “jumping the cars” continued into the ‘50s, because I did it myself. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my friends and I had kept a 100 year old tradition alive. We would hop the train when one leg of track still went into
Santa Cruz. We were too young to drive and the allure of
the Boardwalk was too strong to ignore.
What could be more fun than hopping a train for an exciting ride to the
You had to run fast enough to catch up with the train, grab the ladder on a boxcar, swing up, and hang on tight. It was a great ride hanging onto the side, ducking trees and bushes. As the train slowed, we would jump off just outside the
depot so we wouldn’t get caught. I can
relate to those boys in the 1800’s and I don’t blame them for “jumping the
Sadly the old commuter train made its last run to
Gatos in 1959 after 85 years of service. Some of you may still remember the
celebration when the line was closed. It
was covered by the news media, including the San Jose Mercury. Many of the kids who once put pennies on the
railroad tracks were there for that closing ceremony. I know that some of my Los Gatos friends were
A train ride on the old “Suntan Special” through those beautiful mountains would sure beat the parking lot on Highway 17 during a summer weekend today.
* * *
(Most of this article was taken from my book, “The Huckleberry Days of the ‘50s. Growing up in
Copies are available for $10.00 plus $4.00 s/h by request @ email@example.com. It is also available as an eBook on Amazon. Football Coach, Pete Denevi will take you
even further back in the history of Los Gatos in his book, “Pietro,” which I was privileged to
ghost write. It is also available on
Amazon or purchased directly from Pete.
His life story will amaze you.) Los