Southern Pacific Water Tower: Coyote

There are two Southern Pacific water towers remaining in the Bay Area, one in San Jose (near the passenger station) and one further south on the Coast Line in Coyote.

I headed to Santa Clara County, the county of my birth, to the Valley of Heart’s Delight (Silicon Valley). The small, blip of a town that is Coyote is south of San Jose and just north of Morgan Hill.

Coyote is on the Coast Line, a 470 mile route that connected San Francisco and Los Angeles. SP’s famous passenger service, the Coast Daylight, blew through Coyote. A resident of Coyote wishing to catch the Daylight to Los Angeles had to either head to San Jose or Salinas. Coyote has a passenger station that was in service until December 10, 1958. The building still exists but is now abandoned and boarded up. At one time it was a private residence.

The abandoned Southern Pacific water tower and the double tracks of the Coast Line on the left. To the left of the tracks is the Metcalf Energy Center.

Before heading down to Coyote I stopped off at the town where I grew up: Sunnyvale. As I exited off Highway 280 and headed north on Sunnyvale Saratoga Road, I reflected, as I always do when I’m in Sunnyvale, on how much it has changed from the 20 odd years I spent here.

Along the road, there were things that where very much the same, such as the Longhorn Restaurant on the right (I don’t think I every ate here), and to the left is Fremont High School. The 1925 main building looks very much the same but according to a family friend, who is an assistant principal at Fremont, a lot of renovations are happening on campus.

The reason I turned off the highway was to see another water tower in the South Bay. This tower was not built by Southern Pacific, although it sits just north of the Coast Line. Before Silicon Valley, this area was known as the Valley of the Heart’s Delight and the valley was covered in apricot and cherry orchards.

According to the Sunnyvale orchardist, Charlie Olson, there used too be “eight to nine million” fruit trees in Sunnyvale. Now there are eight to nine hundred.

To process all the fruit, canneries where built along the railroad line. My father, after coming home from work, would put me one the back of his bike and he would ride on the same route he had just come from. He spent his working career at Westinghouse which was also right next to railroad.

During the harvest season, a favorite destination was a pedestrian bridge over the railroad. From this vantage point we could watch commuter trains come and go and also we could look down into the yard of one of the canneries. Here forklifts moved at a frenetic pace and I can still recall the persistent din of the processing plant as workers canned ripe fruit to be shipped, by rail, to the nation. At this time, in the mid to late 1970s, Sunnyvale very much had one foot in the agricultural word.

This cannery was the former Schuckls Cannery which was later bought by California Canners and Growers in 1963. It was in operation until the cannery was demolished in 1984. The year 1984 was a auspicious year in the valley, it was in this year that Apple introduced the Macintosh computer.

This was about to change as the valley and it’s orchards were slowly replaced by Silicon Valley. It is interesting that one of the valley’s sons recognized the beauty of this area but was also one of the catalysts for it’s demise. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, said, “Silicon Valley for the most part at that time was still orchards-apricot orchards and prune orchards-and it was really paradise.”

Can we say that Sunnyvale is now a paradise? Well I guess it depends on how you define “paradise’.

As I crossed over the railroad tracks as South Matilda Ave. become North Matilda, the water tower came into view.

The Libby Water Tower is all that remains of the largest cannery in Sunnyvale. Libby, McNeill and Libby opened it cannery in 1907 and by 1922, it was the largest cannery in the world.

The current water tower was built in 1965 and is shaped like a can of Libby’s Fruit Cocktail. This is all that remains of one of the biggest canneries in the valley. It is now surrounded by a business park with buildings occupied by Walmart and Raytheon.

Looking up at this water tower I can recall the sounds of the cannery working at full capacity, to can the bounty of the Valley of Heart’s Delight.

The Libby Water Tower in Sunnyvale. It has been repainted as a can of Libby’s “Fancy Fruit for Salads”.

The Valley Part 1

Silicon Valley is probably a good, in many ways. The Valley of Heart’s Delight was a glory. We should have found ways of keeping the one from destroying the other. We did not. . .

-Wallace Stegner, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist

 The children’s book of poetry, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein was a popular birthday gift at many birthday parties when I was a child growing up in the 1970s. But in the Santa Clara Valley where the sidewalk literally ended, the apricot and cherry orchards began.

Sunnyvale in the 70s was in a state of transition. It was the struggle between the Valley of Heart’s Delight and Silicon Valley. When I was a kid, it seemed that the Valley of Heart’s Delight had the upper hand, but the lone apricot tree in our back yard, told that the ascendancy of Silicon Valley was clearly underway. The apricot orchard had made way to the track homes that housed the families that fueled the early industries of Silicon Valley, and this lone tree, which my brother and I posed in for family Christmas cards, was the last reminder. My family, on Cormorant Court, was one of those early Silicon Valley families.

After work, during the final warm days of summer and fall, my father would put me on the back of his bicycle and we would retrace his route to work along Fair Oaks Ave. We ascended the pedestrian walkway over the Southern Pacific train tracks. Here we would look down into the Schuckl Cannery on the side of the tracks. To this day I can recall the din of the conveyor belts, the frenetic energy of the forklifts bringing in the valley’s harvest, and the smell of the burning train brakes as a commuter train eased into Sunnyvale Station down below.


Blenheim Apricots at the Sunnyvale Heritage Orchard. This preserved orchard is on ten acres and contains about 800 trees. At it’s height Sunnyvale’s orchards included eight to nine million trees.

Then there was the oft-told story of the day my dad drove to work along Fair Oaks Ave  and he saw a cherry orchard  being uprooted, with fruit still on the trees. “What a waste” was the phrase that usually concluded the story. Those orchards are now rows and rows of condos with names like Cherry Orchard and Orchard Gardens Apartments.

Gone are the millions of apricot and cherry trees, the canneries, and the migrant workers that picked fruit each summer and fall. What is left are like islands of preserved orchards in Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, and Los Altos, a mere shadow of the agricultural area that once attracted motorists each spring to view the millions of blossoming trees.


In 2001 the Sunnyvale Orchard Heritage Park Interpretive Exhibit was opened. It was built along side the Heritage Orchard with interpretive signs that told of the rise and fall of the Valley of Heart’s Delight. My father’s name is immortalized on one of the signs in the Hertitage Park. He helped to create the park so future generations would remember the valley’s past. 

On a recent returned to Sunnyvale on a May morning, that was already starting to feel like summer, I sketched a few apricot trees at the Orchard Heritage Park. On my way I drove down De Anza Boulevard, past the ghosts of my childhood, past unrecognizable buildings and storefronts, past the Apple Campus. So much was physically gone. An orchard, a favorite restaurant, a father. What does it mean when your past no longer physically exists?

Over the next few blogs I will explore the changing face of The Valley.