The Buena Vista Branch

The Buena Vista Branch

As I understand it, the PVCRR’s relationship with the south bank of the Salinas River owes its existence to the Spreckels Sugar Refinery’s need for water during the refining process. The Salinas River, located to the south of the refinery, is dry during the majority of the year. During the winter months, however, it flows fairly deep. On occasion, it flows too deep and floods the area. Most notably for our story during the winter of 1914.

Flooding of the Salinas River, 1911. Courtesy CA Views Archives, Mr. Pat Hathaway Archives

The sugar factory required a lot of water, and needed a way to store it during the dry months. To solve this problem, a reservoir was dug in the hills above the Salinas River. A water pump, placed in the center of the river, was used to pump water into the reservoir. A water tank was installed at the reservoir to provide head pressure for the water pipes that lead from the reservoir to the factory. These pipes were strung underneath a six-span truss bridge crossing the river. The bridge was built so that it curved slightly westward.

The bridge provided farmers with a way to bring their wagon loads of sugar beets to the factory. It also included both standard and narrow gauge rails. The company’s narrow gauge engines pulled the standard gauge steam donkey, which was used to lift the water pump out of the water during inclement weather. The standard gauge track stopped in the center of the bridge, while the narrow gauge rails continued across the river, and approximately 100 yds to the west along the river bank. It is my understanding that this may have been used as a freight loading stop for farmers along the south bank of the river.

The line as it appeared between 1898 and 1905

In 1905, after a few years of negotiations with local farmers, the PVCRR officially created the Buena Vista Branch, which began at a switch just beyond the river crossing. The branch was initially 3 miles long, and provided a much more efficient way for farmers to get their produce to the factory. Before too long, the branch line reached its final length of 6 miles. In order for trains to reach the sugar beet fields, they crossed the river, proceeded westward, then reversed direction, heading to the east through the newly installed switch.

In 1905 the Buena Vista Branch became official. It begins at the switch shown above

In 1914, a flood washed out the southern half of the bridge. However inconvenient this event may have been, this did allow the company to adjust the route of the new bridge, which could now head east. This revamping created a slight ‘S’ shape to the bridge.

Post flood of 1914, the western leg has been abandoned at this point

Upon completion of the new bridge, the original western leg of the line was abandoned. The Buena Vista Branch saw sporadic service for the next 10 or so years, servicing a handful of beet farms, and one or two quarries, which were initially a source of ballast for the track, later they provided stone used to build levees to protect the factory from flood waters.

Gravel Pit No. 2. Photo Courtesy Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge, Amstar Spreckels Collection

Today the line has all but disappeared. One or two bridge abutments remain, and there's still a small reservoir and water tank on the hills (I'm not sure if these are connected to the original ones or not). The land surrounding the former right-of-way is a mix of housing developments and farm land. This brief overview comes largely from information gathered in Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge.


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