End of the Line: Davenport

In these times of social isolation, I headed north out of Santa Cruz on Highway One. My destination was the small town of Davenport.

A branch line runs from the coast mainline at Watsonville Junction to Santa Cruz, north along the coast to the Davenport Cement Plant. The plant was built in 1907 by the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company. This cement plant became one of the largest producers of cement. At the height of it’s production, during World War II, the plant shipped out 700,000 barrel of cement a year. Cement from this plant helped rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire and also supplied cement for such major construction projects as Pearl Harbor and the Panama Canal.

The cement plant was later acquired in 2005 by Mexico’s CEMEX. The plant was closed for good, in 2010 and now the rails stand rusted, overgrown and the end of the line disappears into vegetation.

The Davenport railroad to nowhere sums up the plight of America’s railroads. At it’s height, in 1916, the United States Railroad network consisted of 254,000 miles of track, the largest rail network in the world. From 1916 to the present day, 160,000 miles of track have been closed down and abandoned. The current rail network stands at about 94,000 miles of trackage.

Railroad companies saw passenger service as a losing hand, as trains were competing with the automobile and the increasing use of passenger air travel. The railroads were in dire straights in the 1960’s and passenger service was saved by the creation of AMTRAK in 1971 (the year of my birth). This service is a government subsidized and controlled service which now serves an average of 30 million passengers annually.

Railroads companies still exist to this day but they earn their profits from freight and not passenger service. They keep America moving and most Americans are unaware both of their legacy in creating the United States and there present impact in moving goods around the county. As Christian Wolmar notes in his excellent book, The Great Railroad Revolution, “America needs to relearn the joys of railroads that have served them so well in the past and, indeed, continue to do so today, albeit invisibly.”

The American railroad stands at a crossroads as the plight of high speed rail in California seems like a far off dream.


The Oldest Station on the Line

On Saturday Morning I took the earliest southbound train from Hillsdale Station. My destination was the oldest passenger station on the line, and it is was in the county of my own birth: Santa Clara County. This is Santa Clara Station.

This station was built by the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad in 1863. It is the oldest station on the Caltrain line and the oldest passenger depot west of the Rocky Mountains. The station was moved from it’s original location on the opposite side of the tracks, to the west side, where the University of Santa Clara is located. In 1877, the passenger depot was joined to the freight house.

The station is at an important junction to points north. The trains to left (Coast Division) head north to San Francisco and the tracks that head to the right (Western Division) takes train to points north: Dunsmuir, Portland and Seattle. So the junction sees a lot of rail traffic.

By the 1980s, the depot had fallen into disrepair but in 1985 the South Bay Historical Railroad Society was founded with the mission of restoring the depot to it’s former condition. The restoration was completed on 1990.

The passenger depot in January of 2020, looks in great shape compared to other historic depots I have sketched on the line. This is due to the hard work of the volunteer labor of the South Bay Historical Railroad Society.

The depot was a very busy place on a Saturday morning and many children and their families were gathered and waiting for the museum to open at 10:00. The museum houses railroad memorabilia and a large model railroad layout which is the big draw for children. Both child and adult children!

One of the few places you can still see Southern Pacific in action, although in HO scale, is at the South Bay Historical Railroad Society. I had a model railroad when I was a kid. My HO gauge railway ran in an oval with a small town in the center. I had a Santa Fe “Super Chief” locomotive but my favorite was a Daylight GS-4 number 4449. The full scale locomotive pulled its passenger consist past Santa Clara Station but did not stop. Passengers wishing to board the Daylight had to go to San Jose.

This an original bench in the passenger waiting room of Santa Clara Station.

This control tower was built in 1926 and was in continuous use until July 17, 1993. The tower was built at the junction of Southern Pacific’s Coast and Western Divisions.

A MP36PH-3C diesel locomotive Number 928 took me to my final destination on this sketching journey, the end of the Caltrain line at San Jose Diridon Station.


Palo Alto Station

The first stop of the streamlined Daylight out of San Francisco was Palo Alto, the town on the doorstep of the Stanford University campus.

There were two stations on this site before the current station was built in 1940-41 ( The cornerstone was laid on October 22, 1940). This Station was designed in the Streamline Moderne style to reflect the streamlined train sets of the Daylight that stopped to pick up passengers on their way to the southlands. The luscious curve of the station’s roofline is echoed in the sloped skirting of the GS-2 steam engine that pulled it’s twelve-car consist to Los Angles.

I really love this station and enjoyed sketching it’s streamlined profile. Looking up at this station, hemmed in by dark-grey skies, transported me back the 1940s. I felt like I was a two-bit character in a Film Noir, say Double Indemnity (1944), for instance.

The Coastal Route and Palo Alto are briefly featured in this seminal Film Noir, considered by many to be the best Film Noir ever made. The plot involves the murder of a husband by his wife and her lover. The husband, “a Stanford man”, is heading to Palo Alto from Glendale on a Southern Pacific passenger train for a class reunion. Mr. Dietrichson never made it to Palo Alto Station or his reunion. Any more information about the plot would surely be a spoiler. 

I took the number 424 Caltrain from Millbrae at 10:04 AM and I got into Palo Alto at 10:46. I had already scoped the station on a previous visit and I knew that I really wanted to sketch the curvaceous roofline and the round window from the street side entrance of the station.

What I was trying to do with the curvaceous roof was not to sketch the station in it’s entirety but focus in on it’s most emblematic elements. This was a refreshing approach because I chose where I wanted to frame my drawing and I left a lot of other details out of frame.

After I had finished the sketch and painted it, I went around to the front of the station, on the northbound platform and did a quick sketch of the profile of Palo Alto station. This is the view you see from the train.

One of the treats of Palo Alto Station is to be found on the inside of the building. This is the 1941 mural painted by San Francisco artist John MacQuarrie.

The mural was complete for the March 8, 1941 dedication ceremony of the new Palo Alto passenger station where the mural was unveiled.

The mural stretches above the wall where the ticket counter is. It depicts the past and future of transportation. A stream of men on horses, Indians with travois, wagons, stage coach, and men and women walking on foot, head to the right with the quad of Stanford University in the background. In the lower left corner the profile of Leland Stanford looks on towards the future of transportation (circa 1940). The future seems to come out from behind the trees as a Daylight GS-3 locomotive proclaims it’s entrance into the mural. This certainly a synthesis between a beautiful and functional form of transportation and a building that does the same.

Here is my quick sketch of Caltrain’s most “modern” historic station. I left details out, like the door into the station. I was really trying to get the shapes of the building.