------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------SP Index-------------SP in the Santa Clara Valley
...Of course in a country with such an enormous railway mileage as ours there will always be accidents, but it would seem that railway managers might improve on the conditions that now prevail. A total of nearly 3000 collisions and derailments within three months is a little too high an accident list even for a people who are so reckless in their desire for speed. Editorial: "RAILROAD ACCIDENTS", The Call, San Francisco, 8/8/1903, pg. 6

  • Endnotes, including images, are available here for the Wreck and Jinxed Engineers stories. Endnotes for other sections are available on request.
  • SP/SPC officially referred to the standard gauge line as the Almaden Branch and the narrow gauge one as the New Almaden Branch, but in practice the two terms were interchangeable.

The above was created for the The Call (San Francisco, October 27, 1902, page 1) by C.A. Cahill, who was well-known in Bay Area commercial art circles at the time. He began his career on the staff of the Overland Monthly, and progressed to the San Francisco Chronicle, The Call, New York World, then back to The Call before drawing this sketch. He was a prolific magazine artist, as well, often seen in the pages of Sunset and Cosmopolitan.

The Pfeiffer / Melanson Connection

The three photos below that inspired the research and writing of this piece recently came from Mary (Melanson) Ross, through the courtesy of Julie (Pfeiffer) Perrucci. Julie was born into the huge extended Pfeiffer clan that, at the time of the photos, farmed on the east side of the Almaden Valley and more notably, operated the former Goodrich and Stanford sandstone quarries at Greystone Station. The former provided stone for a great number of public and private Bay Area buildings; the latter material for the construction and later enlargement of Stanford University's original Quad. In the 1880's, family patriarch Jacob's daughter Matilda married Philip Melonson (Melanson), one of Jacob's employees at the quarries, and the two families have remained close ever since.

These photos have been in Melanson family hands since the time of the wreck, possibly because family members were on board. Leo Pfeiffer, grandson of Jacob, once related to this writer that he and his siblings rode the train between Almaden Crossing (where the tracks crossed Almaden Road / now Expressway) and San Jose on schooldays. While Leo was still too young in 1902 to attend school, there is a good chance that a couple of his older siblings were amongst the five reported passengers on the train. It is even more likely that at least one Melansons was on board - Philip and Matilda's daughter Stella, the teenage gal standing in the foreground of the first photo. Stella's brother Amy is the subject of another Wx4 piece. Many thanks to Julie Perrucci and Mary Ross for the three photos below!

Newspaper accounts vary about how many cars were on the Almaden Mixed that day, but accounts agree on what is evident above. The first car was the flatcar that telescoped under the locomotive tender and the second car was a coach, which has been identified by historian Kyle Wyatt as constructed by .

The photo was recorded after the lightly-damaged standard gauge engine pulled away from the wreck and the spilled grapes had been "rescued" by onlookers. The three-rail standard / narrow gauge track is clearly visible, as are a Southern Pacific standard gauge boxcar (far right) and a South Pacific Coast narrow gauge boxcar on the Moulton spur. The steep embankment and the lack of structures behind the boxcars indicates that the collision took place near the end of the spur, where Los Gatos Creek flowed near the tracks.

Newspaper accounts were varied and conflicted about the car consist of the train, but the photo clearly shows a flat car under the tender, followed by two passenger cars and a box car. Another locomotive barely appears through the distant gloom, maybe the engine of the passenger train from Santa Cruz, whose patrons and mail were walked around the wreck scene to another train. Its distance from the boxcar suggests that several flatcars may have trailed at the end of the Mixed. Railroad historian Kyle Wyatt identified the first coach as constructed by Harlan & Hollingsworth, and additionally noted that that three examples of such cars still survive today. The second passenger car may have been a combination baggage car and coach, which raises the possibility that it was the car that later served as the "depot" at LeFranc.

To enable the flat car to be dragged back from underneath the tender, a luckless worker (below) was forced to stand in a rather precarious position to prop-up the tender with some old ties. Such risks were taken for granted in those days, and kept the Southern Pacific Hospital in San Francisco well-supplied with patients. One wonders in which cleanup operation the two guys on the ground were employed, the trains or the grapes?

The final image (second below) was recorded after the flatcar had been removed. The predicament of Maxwell and Walker is clearly illustrated. Extracting the unconscious men could not have been easy. Note the coal scattered upon the roof. At the time, Southern Pacific and subsidiaries were just beginning to convert its locomotives from coal to oil.

This image was the key to all that you see here, as this writer remembered it appearing in one of Bruce A. MacGregor's preeminent series of books on the SPC (this one in co-authorship with Richard Truesdale), A Centennial South Pacific Coast, page 148 gave an approximate date and location (plus another photo not seen here), all that was needed to take it from there.

(San Jose) Evening News, April 7, 1902, pg. 1

Earlier in 1902, Bob Maxwell had a close call; must have thought that he was leading a charmed life.

San Francisco Chronicle, July 16, 1903, page 7

Bob Maxwell's stepfather, Willis Duncan was blown out of the cab when his locomotive's boiler let go less than a year after his stepson met his end (see Jinxed Engineers, above right).

San Jose Mercury, April 13, 1907, pg. 1

As noted in the text, accidents continued to plague SPC right up to the end of narrow gauge train service. On April 12, 1907, a few months before the last narrow gauge train ran (excluding the three rail Felton branch, and the horse-drawn Centerville branch, which continued-on until replaced in 1909), another head-on occurred at the curve that ran across San Carlos St., south of the narrow gauge depot (see clipping, below). The engineers of a narrow gauge freight headed for Wright's in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and a standard gauge switch engine hauling several carloads of bricks from the brickyard at Dougherty, near Moulton, came into sight of each other too late to stop by reversing their engines, for neither movement had its train air brakes hooked-up. Narrow gauge engine #9 came out the worse for the wear (left side, photo below), but nevertheless remained on the roster well after the slim gauge trains stopped running. On New Year's Day, 1908 it became the last narrow-gauge engine to be stricken from the SPC roster.

Human fallibility has always been the bane of railroading, fundamentally because the industry has a track record of employing operating practices that are long on their demands for perfection in execution and short in their allowances for error.

The perfect example of this was the most prevalent method of dispatching trains until the 1980's - timetables and train orders. A simple description of this Byzantine system is that trains and engine crews used timetables in conjunction with written instructions addressed specifically to them - train orders - to figure out how to get over the railroad without colliding with other trains. The beauty of the system, and the reason that it prevailed for so long, was that it was cheap, not that it was foolproof.

It's fundamental flaw was that it was complicated. It took a typical employee several years to get a basic understanding of the ins and outs of train orders, and how they jived with timetables and the lengthy rule books that laid out the basic framework of the system. Inexperience and misinterpretation were deadly components, and some railroaders spent their entire careers as firemen or brakemen simply because they never understood train orders well enough to pass conductor or engineer promotion exams.

A case in point is what would have been termed a "minor" accident in its day, for it resulted in but a single fatality at a time when thousands of people died in railroad mishaps every year, sometimes several dozen at once. On October 27, 1902, two trains collided head-on in the fog between Campbell and San Jose, California, killing the engineer on one of them. The engineer on the other train admitted that he was at fault - He had "misread" his train orders.

There used to be a short, unremarkable branch line of the narrow gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad that ran from near the tiny burg of Campbell, southwest of San Jose, California to the vicinity of the extensive quicksilver mines at New Almaden. In the long run, the branch did not pan out as much of a traffic source, and after a time its trickle of freight and passengers were combined into what was known as a "mixed" train. One 'up' train ran to San Jose in the morning, then returned in the afternoon.

By 1902, the quicksilver mines that accounted for most of the branch revenue were in decline, and the Almaden Mixed likely ran most days with only an engine and coach. (Six years later, business was so dismal that the trains began running only once a week.) On October 27, things were a little different, as the morning train was larger than normal: two coaches spliced between at least two freight cars (see photo at below left). The flat car tucked between between the lead coach and the locomotive tender carried a load of grapes (presumably packed in stacked wooden lug boxes), likely picked-up from the vineyard spur at LeFranc and destined for the cannery near the SPC "Narrow Gauge Depot", where today's Diridon Caltrain depot stands today. Also out of the ordinary were the patches of tule fog scattered about the valley floor. Usually, such weather was confined to winter.

The train continued in good order through the branch junction and onto the main line just south of Campbell at a spot called Loveladys. Since the mid-90's, the main line between Los Gatos and San Jose had been laid with three rails to accommodate both the diminutive South Pacific Coast narrow gauge trains and the ever-more-massive standard or "broad" gauge Southern Pacific (SPC's owner) trains that would totally replace the former ones in five years hence. It nevertheless remained a straightforward railroad to operate because most of the trains that ran on its tracks were regular trains which operated on schedules listed in the timetable, and the overall traffic was moderate, at most. Additional trains, known as "extras", simply stayed out of the way of the regular trains, unless otherwise instructed by their train orders.

A mile past Campbell, about where the tracks crossed Hamilton Avenue, the Almaden Mixed running at fifteen m.p.h. entered a particularly thick bank of fog that limited visibility to fifty feet. A few feet beyond the Hamilton crossing was a "whistle post" marking the spot where the engineer should have begun blowing for Infirmary Road (now Bascom Avenue) the next crossing a quarter-mile away. Whether Almaden Mixed Engineer Bob Maxwell immediately complied with this requirement, or dallied a bit in deference to his slow speed, is as unclear as the fog that surrounded him. Regardless, it was only when SP Engineer FM Armstrong heard Maxwell's whistle that he became aware of the Almaden train's presence ahead in the gloom. Armstrong's more-massive standard gauge engine was not only headed towards the mixed train, it was already past Infirmary Road! Armstrong immediately placed his engine in reverse, but Maxwell and his fireman were unwary of the situation until an instant before the two locomotives collided in a thunderous clap that was heard two miles away.

Robert J. Maxwell seems to have been not particularly fortunate in life (see: Jinxed Engineers, below), and his ill-luck held on this day. Despite a likely closing speed of less than twenty m.p.h., the two engines met with such force that the train's coach push the flatcar forward, telescoping it underneath the tender, causing the latter to come to rest at an approximate thirty degree angle. Maxwell and fireman Herman Walker were pinned unconscious in the cab, sprayed by steam escaping from broken fittings.

Back in the train, the crew and the five passengers were shaken but unhurt. The train crew climbed through a cab window and extricated their engineer and fireman, who were subsequently treated at the scene by a Campbell doctor. Both men were severely scalded. Maxwell's face was lacerated by glass and he may have inhaled live steam. Walker suffered a broken jaw. They were soon transported to the SP hospital in San Francisco where Maxwell soon died.

Fireman Walker was reported as having "bright" prospects for recovery, but his tale abruptly ends there. A "minor" collision involving a single fatality was not newsworthy enough to command much detailed follow-up.

The crew of the SP engine, which included a fireman named Smith, fared better. Neither suffered any injuries. Their "light" (i.e., pulling no cars) engine was running backward, causing the locomotive's tender to absorb most of the impact with only a few dents. The engine itself , 4-6-0 #2056, was undamaged. SPC narrow gauge 4-4-0 type engine #2 - the tiniest locomotive on the railroad's roster and half the size of the SP engine - was a near-total loss and was retired the next month. Its boiler, however, was found to be serviceable enough to assume a second career providing steam for an Oakland dock hoisting engine.

No line-side signals were in place to protect trains from smashing into each other on the route. All that remained to keep trains out of each other's way was the crews' proper application of the aforementioned Byzantine system of timetable/train order operation. The thing was, on the day of the crash, the situation was not all that complicated. Armstrong only had to run his engine a few miles down the line to the south end of Campbell after waiting for the Almaden Mixed to arrive in San Jose, which he did not do. Why not?

Immediately after the wreck, Armstong admitted that he was at fault, claiming that he had "misread" his train orders. This did not ring true. In that case, he and the Almaden Mixed crew would have received orders requiring the Almaden train to hold back for Armstrong's engine, orders that clearly were not given. During the subsequent coroner's inquest and SP company investigation, Armstrong made a more understandable, if still somewhat inconceivable, admission. He had transposed AM and PM while checking his timetable for conflicting trains. He probably possessed a train order stating something akin to regular trains due San Jose on October 27 before [his approximate departure time] have arrived and left, but this statement was effectively useless to somebody who had misread the timetable.

So, Armstrong had made a simple human mistake of profound proportions. Perhaps there were mitigating factors that accounted for Armstrong's error, perhaps not, but in the long view of the mishap, this is almost beside the point. The entire system under which the trains operated could be taken down by Armstrong's elementary human and the failure of his fireman to catch it. It is clear that neither man had much experience on that particular piece of track, for otherwise they would have expected the Almaden train's presence as a matter of course, despite fatigue, distractions or bloody hangovers.

Apparently Armstrong was never prosecuted in court, and the record of SP's findings is absent. Perhaps Superintendent Montgomery, the officer who conducted the company investigation, found the matter too cut-and-dried to pursue inquiry into contributing factors, including the question of whether Maxwell was running his train at a judicious speed and was making sufficient whistle warning noise in light of the foggy conditions. Undoubtedly, Armstrong would have been dismissed, though his fireman may have escaped with a lesser punishment.

What we shall never know is if the superintendent's report pointed out the absence of lineside signals that otherwise would have alerted the two trains' engineers of each other's presence. Though hardly fool-proof, signals were a tremendous advance in safety beyond the sole protection of train orders.

By way of postscript, the wreck of the Almaden Mixed continued to be regularly duplicated in the future, sometimes with worse results. (The incomplete tally of major near-by Southern Pacific accidents in the period surrounding 1902 is shown elsewhere.) The collision was by no means the last one that the narrow gauge would experience. In 1907, as the last of the narrow gauge tracks were being converted to standard gauge, two other collisions took place within a month of each other. The first occurred on April 12, within three miles of the Moulton incident, near the San Jose Narrow Gauge Depot, when broad and narrow gauge trains met on a blind curve at San Carlos Street (see inset at left, below)). Exactly two months later, narrow and broad gauge trains came together on the SPC segment still isolated by the '06 Quake tunnel collapses. Only four days after SP broad gauge trains began running to Boulder Creek, SP and SPC work trains collided head-on near Big Trees Station with the same results as the Mouton accident - veteran narrow gauge engineer Dad Forrester was pinned in his cab and killed.

A few years after the Moulton crash, Southern Pacific installed the block signals that might have prevented the tragedy. A primary motivation for most signal installations was the increase in traffic capacity that they afforded, but E.H. Harriman, who had recently purchased control of the SP/SPC from the widow of Collis P. Huntington, was outspoken amongst his contemporaries in his advocacy of increased safety. Given Harriman's concerns about SP's dismal safety record, one can assess that part of management's due consideration towards signal installation was based upon the line's accident history. In such case, Bob Maxwell's death was not totally in vain.

(San Jose) Evening News, March 25, 1886, page 3

Engineer Bob Maxwell's first strike under the "rule of threes".

An Abysmal Record

One half-hour after the Moulton incident, a towerman at Santa Clara gave another SPC locomotive - perhaps one called to help clean up the wreck - a proceed signal into a derail (derailing device), which blocked the junction of the two lines for two hours. Earlier in the year, Engineer Maxwell had derailed in the same spot due to excessive speed. In the evening of the day that Maxwell was buried, SP and SPC performed another head-on, this time in the narrow gauge yards near the San Jose narrow gauge depot. SPC's regular Boulder Creek-to-San-Jose / Almaden night freight engine, appropriately #13, was badly wrecked, on account the standard gauge SP #2845 weighed-in at two-and-one-half times heavier.

A cursory investigation of available San Francisco and San Jose newspapers for 1901 - 1903 reveals the following incomplete list of SP and SPC collisions in Central California. Note that this does not cover derailments and other types of accidents involving trains and people.

  • 6/18/1901 Hostler of standard SP gauge branch Almaden Branch locomotive #1412 crashed head-on into Del Monte Express near Guadalupe River
  • 11/30/1901 Alameda local and Santa Cruz passenger trains collided head-on at Webster Street, Alameda
  • 12/19/1901 Passenger trains 9 &10 collided head-on at Uplands, near San Ardo, killing four.
  • 12/24/1901 Uplands crash almost repeated, but engineer-in-wrong backed-up train in time
  • 1/20/1902 Rear end collision of freight trains at Port Costa, due to malfunctioning new block signals, or confusion over following them
  • 2/25/1902 Standard gauge freight train and light engine collided head-on between College Park and roundhouse
  • 10/27/1902 Head-on collision between narrow gauge Almaden Mixed and light standard gauge engine at Moulton; Almaden engineer dies
  • 12/20/1902 Stockton Flyer and Owl collided head-on at Byron, killing 28! Owl crew blamed by coroner.
  • 12/23/1902 Head on collision in Oakland between freight train and Sacramento local passenger train
  • 6/7/1903 Narrow gauge gravel train from Lovelady's collided head-on with switch engine north of the Alameda street crossing, San Jose
  • 7/8/1903 Passenger trains 23 & 24 collide head-on at Aromas
  • 7/22/1903 Two collisions within 1/2 mile of each other! SP gravel train struck SP light engine (presumably from train #32) at the bottom end of San Jose's College Park Yard; 1'50' later, another SP gravel train collided with a SPC freight at Polhemus (Taylor) St. near the top end
  • 10/3/1903 SPC switch engine severely injures Miss Weber, who was occupying the standing SPC loco that the switcher struck at San Jose's narrow gauge depot/yard
  • 12/11/1903 Engines of Alameda Local passenger (with #1220, a Central Pacific loco that dated to before the Golden Spike) and freight train sideswiped each other at Myrtle St., Alameda

S. A. Moulton

It seems that, today, almost nobody in Campbell has ever heard of Stillman Augustus Moulton. It may have been the ill-timing of his existence that has caused historians to overlook him, but whatever the case, he was highly regarded in his time as a man of integrity, charitable compassion and high accomplishments. "Dad" or "Sam" to his family and friends - or alternately "S. A." to his business associates - was quite the opposite of his pretentious-sounding name. His was one of those Horatio Alger success stories that so appeals to American egalitarian sensibilities. His process of self-transformation from a farm boy into a respected community leader and businessman was characterized by deep religious convictions and strength of character, supplanted by an affable and generous nature that carried him through bumps in life that would have crushed other men. Likewise, a lifetime of personal growth led him from racial prejudice to charitable acceptance of all people.

Moulton was born into a Somerset County, Maine farming family on April 18, 1835, named after his father and one of six brothers and three sisters. Nothing is known about his childhood, but his older brother Levi's youth is vaguely documented, and it appears that they led a typical backwoods farm life, educated by their parents and themselves. Levi headed to California at the tail-end of the Gold Rush, but Stillman remained on the farm until 1856, when a wave of idealism carried him off to Bloody Kansas on a mission to help insure that Kansas would enter the union as a free state. For all intents and purposes, the Civil War started there and in Western Missouri with a series of guerilla skirmishes, which occasionally escalated into full-fledged pitched battles, between pro-slavery Bushwhackers and "Free-Stater" Jayhawkers. John Brown got his violent start in Western Kansas and the conflict was characterized by depredations on both sides. Stillman served as a guard and a patroller for one of the ad-hoc anti-slavery bands, but stayed at this for only six months, probably because the violence went against his nature. He went to Chicago in January, 1857, and in the spring landed in Delta County, on Michigan Upper Peninsula, where he became a lumberman.

In 1861, he headed to Colusa, where Levi had settled and was in the process of acquiring thousands of acres of swamp, which he tried with moderate success to reclaim for farm land. Restlessness overcame Stillman the next year, so he headed off to the timber tracts of Humboldt Bay, only to find the situation there not to his liking, either. Finally, in the spring of 1863 he found a more agreeable home in the vicinity of Carson City, Nevada. There he again took up lumbering and milling timber under contract, and soon expanded into the cattle business both in Nevada and New Mexico. In the process he entered politics and spent two terms in the Nevada State Assembly, a remarkable record for a man barely breaking thirty years old who had started essentially with nothing.

During the late 1860's, Stillman began wintering in San Jose, and was recorded as planting a Eucalyptus tree there in 1870.

Why so much about so little?

After Julie Perrucci's pictures surfaced, I contemplated writing a small, concise piece about the circumstances of the wreck . It obviously did not work out that way, yes?. My exercise in local railroad history soon evolved into what I call proximal history - history that has close personal meaning to its creator. Early on, I began to see the injustice of historical omission done to S.A. Moulton - who lived a block away and 35 years removed from my boyhood home (and a couple of whose children probably attended Palo Alto High School with my aunts and uncles) - and happily uncovered enough about him to give him his due. And after all investigation was done, I faced none of the traditional restrictions of print media, only the infinite awaiting palate of 1's and 0's on the Internet. Why should I not take things to their minute, logical conclusions?

Mouton Spur

Moulton Spur, otherwise known as Moultons in the Nineteenth Century manner, sat exactly one mile northeast of Campbell, (in early days, a.k.a. Campbells Station, or Campells), where the South Pacific Coast Railway main line formed a triangle with today's Hamilton and Bascomb Avenues near the latters' intersection. At the Turn of the Century, Bascomb Avenue was known as Infirmary Road north of Hamilton Avenue, named for the Santa Clara County Infirmary (later: County Hospital) that it passed. Below Hamilton, it was known as Johnson Avenue after an early farmer, and terminated near the former channel of Los Gatos Creek now known as Dry Creek Road. S.A. Moulton's home and orchard were located on Johnson (see maps, below).

During a great storm in December 1866, Los Gatos Creek breached its banks, leaving the Dry Creek Road segment high and dry. The new course began in the vicinity of today's Camden Avenue, followed an irrigation ditch past downtown Campbell and future Moultons, and rejoined the old channel near Meridian Road (Avenue). A couple of years after the flood, a fellow named Fred Dreischmeyer began mining clay for bricks at Moultons. In 1884, he formed a partnership with groceryman and sometimes San Jose City Councilman Dennis Corkery and local lumber magnate William P. Dougherty - the San Jose Brick Company. At Dougherty's instigation, they incorporated their concern in 1887.

No evidence has come to light that Moulton Spur originally served the Dreischmeyer interests. As it was, the railroad's presence likely forced San Jose Brick to move its operations, as its clay deposits were poorly situated between the nearby 1878-built SPC main line and the outside bank of a sharp bend in Los Gatos Creek. As a consequence, digging during each year's dry season encouraged the creek to progressively carve deeper and wider towards the SPC tracks in the winter, with each new freshet washing gravel and uprooted vegetation into the pits in the process. Basically, the company had fouled its own nest, and necessity forced it to move-on in about 1892, when it was reported that the San Jose Foundry was engaged in manufacturing machinery destined for the new operation.

Interestingly, Dreischmeyer and Corkery were forced out of the company by Dougherty interests soon after the lumberman died in 1894. Dougherty, who had controlled the corporation, had been a bit of an accounting sharpie, managing to assign about $150,000 of his Santa Clara Mill and Lumber Company debt to the books of San Jose Brick under the noses of his associates. The matter blew-up in public after the Dougherty interests attempted to levy an assessment on the shareholders to pay off the debt. Dreischmeyer and Corkery sued for relief, and while so-doing alleged that Dougherty had engaged in a scheme that enable several politicians, including a gubernatorial candidate at the state Democratic convention, to skim money off of a state contract that San Jose Brick had been awarded. Sadly for historians, the case seems to have been settled quietly out of court.

By 1875 he was involved as a director in San Jose's North Side Horse Railroad Company along with local luminaries Judge Davis Devine, who instigated the original (failed) push to construct a San Jose - San Francisco railroad in 1851, and lumbermen William P. Dougherty and William S. McMurtry. McMurtry had earlier served as state senator, and Dougherty would soon be dubbed the "Lumber King of Santa Clara Valley", and two decades henceforth would become a Moulton neighbor, of sorts, along the tracks of the South Pacific Coast Railroad. Stillman was among kindred spirits.

A couple of years prior to embarking on the horse railroad venture, Stillman seems to have married a young woman, as evidenced by the birth of a son, Edward "Eddy" Stillman, born on January 19, 1874. Her identity is unknown, and she must have passed away during child birth, or shortly thereafter. He married again on October 18, 1876 to Lydia F. Dudley. From then on, the Moulton family remained in Santa Clara County. Initially they lived in San Jose, where Stillman pursued his old line of work as a lumber dealer and later, a broker. Stillman and Lydia's first child, Mary came along the next year, followed by Dudley (1878), Josephine (1880), Lina (1881), and Stillman Moses (1883). Dudly became a nationally-known horticulturalist; Eddy a well-respected member of the fruit packing industry; Josephine a school principal in Long Beach; Mary a local school teacher; while Lina stayed at home with her parents. The record is nearly blank in regard to Lydia, who circulated within church and temperance groups. Stillman Moses is a question mark. He did not survive his parents, but when he passed away is unknown.

The year Lina was born, 1881, Stillman began planting 500 apricot trees in early winter on a fifteen acre parcel of former wheat land that he had acquired on Johnson (today: Bascom) Avenue, near the intersection of Campbell Avenue , the road that led to Campbells Station. As the name implies, Campbells (possessive words sans apostrophes were the norm then) was a railroad stop, and the "station" was not much larger than a broom closet, as was the town. Even though namesake Benjamin Campbell had settled there three decades prior, the locale was still only farms and a few orchards. When Stillman finished planting, he proceeded to build a house for his family, which was completed in early November, 1882. Within two or three years he began drying fruit, understanding that it would sell for twice the price of fresh, as well as better withstand storage and shipment. As his business began to flourish, he found the need to develop new technology to help his business along, which led to four 1885 U.S. Patents, for a fruit drying tray, a road leveler and two different types of cultivators. His need for a dependable source of packing boxes led him to join others to found the Eureka Box Company, but the corporation only lasted about a month before it collapsed amid the bickering of its shareholders. In 1887, his own 500, still-juvenile apricot trees produced fifty tons of fruit, but he was purchasing much larger amounts from neighbors. Fruit drying trays, such as he had invented, took up lots of space - acres of space - and his Johnson Avenue property needed augmenting to allow for continued growth of his operation. He purchased 12 more acres next to the South Pacific Coast Railway tracks on Infirmary Road, the extension of Johnson Avenue on the other side of Hamilton Avenue. There in 1888 he laid out drying yards and constructed a packing plant, which were served by the spur that would only acquire the official timetable name of Moultons Spur after he had exited the fruit business.

S.A. Moulton established his fruit drying and packing operation on twelve acres adjacent to his namesake spur in 1888. Curiously, though everyone seems to have used Moulton's name to describe it from the get-go, the spur did not begin showing in railroad timetables as Moulton until about 1907, about the same time that Dougherty had its official name changed to Foyle. It was shown as a flag stop for several trains in the timetable, but certainly conductors must have accommodated unceremonious stops before that.

By 1890, Moulton's was reportedly the largest private dried fruit concern in the valley, but his products suffered the disadvantage of being located on a narrow gauge railroad that only ran from Alameda to Santa Cruz. Products destined for elsewhere had to be drayed into downtown San Jose for placement on standard gauge cars, an expensive proposition. This was a problem-in-common with other West Valley concerns, so during the process of forming a fruit dryers association that year, Moulton instigated the forming of a committee to approach SPC / SP about laying a third rail to handle standard gauge cars. The group successfully planted the seed, since five years later SPC undertook the improvement, the first effort towards broad gauging the entire railroad.

Moulton's tenure at the location continued throughout the 1890's, with 1897 being a particularly good season. He claimed that he could have used 100 more men that year. In 1898, he began to see a reversal of his fortunes, beginning with a judge pointedly telling him to get out of town for awhile after Moulton threatened a neighbor with a gun. It is unclear if his dryer operated that summer, or in the summer of 1899. In 1900, things worsened, however, after he found out that the partner that he had taken-on in 1897, fruit-buyer E.B. Howard, was a crook. Moulton was forced to sell his packing plant and drying yard to pay off his debts.

During the 1901 fruit season, the Mirando Wine Company winery occupied the majority of the site, with the rest used as a packing house for the "Romer drier" [sic]. In the following off-season, the buildings sat largely unused, but were nonetheless occupied as winter quarters by tramps. Moulton once drew the wrath of his neighbors for posting a help-wanted sign on the front of his dryer proclaiming "Tramps are welcome here", so it was an ironic twist that they were suspected of causing a fire that broke out shortly after midnight on April 20. After two hours the main buildings were gone, but neighbors managed to save outbuildings and a large pile of fruit trays.

Some sort of activity apprently resumed that summer, for a standard gauge SP boxcar was spotted on the spur at the time of the wreck. Perhaps it was after the fire that Henry Booksin, Jr., son of the locally well-known Willow Glen orchardist, purchased the site and established his San Thomas Drying Company there. By 1904, the Campbell Visitor reported that the company was doing "a large drying and packing business". It appears that Booksin Junior quickly fell prey to the whims of weather, markets, or perhaps even slicker fruit buyers like E.B. Howard, for San Thomas vanished by 1910.

The record of what was done by whom with the buildings during the next decade is largely blank. The only thing to turn up thus far is a 1919 ad (see image, below) that indicates the place was being used as a commercial outlet by agricultural chemicals supplier O.A. Harlan & Co. By the following spring, Harlan had retrenched to its main location off the SP main line at Fourth and Margaret Streets in San Jose. There the record ends.

In dead center of the 1889 map below (click for larger version) is the location of S.A. Moulton's spur property / wreck site, across the tracks from the San Jose Brick Company's clay diggings, as well as his home / apricot orchard to the south of Hamilton Avenue on San Jose & Los Gatos Road (a.k.a Johnson Avenue) - Parcel #2 of 15.01 acres below S. Newhall's 40 acres. Today's McBain Avenue runs through the west-east length of the Moulton parcel, while Ridgeley Drive, this writer's boyhood home, runs parrallel through Parcel #1 on the north side of Molton's property. The two parcels became housing tracts after World War II (the last Moulton holdings were sold-off in 1951, the year before Campbell incorporated), and, the Newhall property north of parcel #1 has been a strip mall since the late 1950's. Dougherty spur (later, Foyle), and San Jose Brick Company (after it moved from Moulton), were along the SPC to the northeast of Moulton, on the inside of the triangle formed by the tracks and the north / west sides of the 97 acre Blackford property. (see also Branch Lines to Almaden map further below). Map courtesy of Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. An earlier map dating to ca 1882-87 shows Moulton's home acreage and the wreck site prior to his ownership. See Hamilton/Cambrian map in the Braninard Agricultural Atlas at the San Jose Public Library online website.

The last known record of activity at Moulton Spur: San Jose Mercury-News, December 21, 1919. By the following spring, Harlan had retrenched to its main San Jose location.

Moulton, as it appeared in 1907

Moulton's seven patents, four from 1885 and three from 1903-04

By 1890, Moulton was producing more dried fruit than any other single operator in the Valley. He was so proud of the success of his S.A. Moulton Fruit Drying Works that he instructed his chief accountant, M. G Bailey, to feed the season's outcome to the press. Between July 15 and September 29, the Works had processed 925 tons of French prunes and 186 combined tons of apricots and peaches. The fruit was hauled in by 1450 teams of horse-drawn wagons, which somebody figured would stretch eight and one-quarter miles if stretched end-to-end. And yet, this was a poor year, when Santa Clara Valley fruit crops ranged from one-half to three-quarters of normal.

That summer Moulton employed 100 employees, all white, and utilized women and children "whenever possible". In California "white" was code word for "non-Chinese". Chinese immigrants had become white California's great bugaboo when economic stagnation settled-in following the boom years of early statehood. With down times came a scarcity of unskilled jobs, which placed Chinese laborers in direct competition with working class whites. Beyond that, whites regarded Chinese as "a race so different from our own" (as U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Harlan put it) that suffered from a host of moral and theological ills. Like most white Californians, Moulton had favored freedom for black slaves in the South, but found no moral conflict between this and participating in the harsh treatment of the people who had been imported to help build California. In the convoluted racist logic of the times, he believed that he was doing a good deed in protecting the more economically insecure of his Campbell neighbors. It also was good public relations.

His "protective" sentiments towards whites may have figured into his politics as well, for in 1894 Moulton mounted an unsuccessful campaign as the local People's Party (a.k.a. Populists) candidate for the state senate. Populists drew most of their support from the working class and labor unions, both of which in California were viscously anti-Chinese. Just a few years earlier Moulton had been described as a "conservative Republican", which begs the question, What precipitated such a radical charge to the political left? Conservative Republicans were no friends of the Chinese, either, although their dislike generally was less visceral.

Possibly Moulton, as a practical man, turned leftward partly out of business concerns. Like most California agriculturalists, Moulton felt that he was a victim of the Southern Pacific Railroad's. SP's arbitrary freight rate policies were rightfully regarded by most people back then as favoring large shippers and long hauls at the expense of everyone else, particularly agriculturalists. Moulton had a nice spur, but SP may have charged him an arm-and-a-leg to ship out of it. That he still had no access to a standard gauge railroad also must have galled him, because SP had not yet laid a third broad gauge rail down the tracks to Campbells.

This remained Moulton's one shot at elective office of a lifelong active interest in politics, but his contributions to Campbell's community were ongoing. Amongst other endeavors, he help start the local Fruit Dryers Association (1890); became the major holder in the San Jose Dried Fruit Company (1891); donated land to, and helped found the Campbell Congregational Church (1891); helped found the Campbell Water Company (1892), Santa Clara County Water Company (1898), local Sanitary District (1895) and Bank of Campbells (founded in 1896, not 1895 as the Bank now maintains); and feeling Campbell's need for a hostelry for out-of-towners, constructed its first boarding house (1891). He once proclaimed that, "We don't do things by halves in Campbells…" and he lived by that motto.

Though he was an accomplished man, Mouton's populist leanings rubbed his neighbors (and perhaps his wife) the wrong way and ultimately led to his temporary economic downfall. Throughout the mid-1890's his fruit orchards and drying business thrived. He also dealt in real estate, picking-up and sub-dividing prime land in central Campbell and a second home in downtown Palo Alto, as well as extending his agricultural holdings to Gilroy, perhaps on the advice of his brother Gilman, who owned a ranch near the railroad siding at Perry, just north of Morgan Hill. The year 1897 was so good that he commented to the press that he needed "100 more men" to work in his drying yards and orchards. In 1898 season, the labor deficit again became acute, and this is when his populism came back to bite him. He posted a help-wanted sign on the railroad that read "tramps welcome here", and his neighbors were fit to be tied! Tramps, more politely known as hobos, were thick along the tracks in those days, victims of hard times just as they would be again during the Great Depression. Some worked; some begged; some stole, but no matter what, nobody wanted tramps skulking around their neighborhoods, excepting Moulton, it seems. He needed workers. As one wag newspaperman put it, "This is an interpretation of the Golden Rule which apparently strikes the average Santa Clara resident as being entirely too realistic."
He did not help his case with one particular neighbor, H.P. Hall, who owned land adjoining Moulton's drying yard. Fruit drying generates considerable quantities of refuse, and business being good, Moulton needed every square inch that he could find for laying out drying trays. Moulton solved the refuse problem by dumping it on Hall's lot, according the latter. Whether there was an initial confrontation over this is unclear, but somehow Moulton got the idea that Hall was slandering him, and one day finally could take it no more. Upon encountering Hall in front of San Jose's Lamolle House on the corner of Market and Santa Clara Streets (which many years later became a notorious house of ill-repute), Stillman pulled out a revolver and threatened to kill his detractor. No shots were fired, but Moulton was arrested.

Los Angeles Herald, August 2, 1898
Moulton did not appear in employee timetables until about 1907.
He was released on $5,000 bail, but a movement soon arose to have him committed to a mental institution, countered by a claim of Moulton and others that he was of sound mind. Curiously, while Stillman hired lawyers to keep him out of jail and/or asylum, it was Lydia who signed the committal papers! Perhaps she believed that this was preferable to seeing her husband go to the klink, but her actions must have been hurtful to his pride. A sanity hearing ensued, well-stocked with Stillman's lawyers. After the doctors found him fit, the presiding judge dismissed the charges on the stipulation that Stillman take an extended trip out of town. He did better than that by moving his family (including Lydia) to their second home in Palo Alto, which he had purchased while eldest son Dudley was attending Stanford. This worked out well, as some of his other children were already attending Stanford by then.

Ill luck continued to plague Moulton, nonetheless. His brother Gilman died the next year at age 62, and things worsened from there. Back in 1897, Moulton had entered into a complex partnership between his fruit company and a business owned by fruit buyer E.B. Howard, who somehow hoodwinked Moulton into thinking that neither would be liable for the debts incurred by the the other. He then proceeded to take-out loans using the Moulton company's assets as collateral. By 1900, the scheme fell apart when Howard could no longer service the debt. In three years Howard had incurred $401,000 in liabilities and his company now had no assets. When Mouton learned of his partner's shenanigans, he believed that he was protected. When the contrary truth that he was liable came out, it was a tremendous blow. The courts eventually reduced the outstanding amount of Moulton's debt, but it was still onerous. Purportedly, he vowed to pay off what he owed, even though both he and Howard had declared bankruptcies. Whatever the actual case, he sold-off his Moulton spur operations and land to satisfy his creditors.

If he was down in spirits over his string of ill-fortune, it did not last for long. Friend and editor of the Campbell Weekly Vistor Elgin C. Hurlbert later editorially remarked about how Moulton had, "kept sweet, not letting reverses get the best of his generous nature and pleasant disposition..." Though financially embarrassed, Moulton was not broke by any means. He largely was able to keep his Johnson Avenue ranch and home - Dudley occasionally traveled down there from San Francisco to maintain things - and his other real estate holdings, including the ever-more valuable Moulton Tract on North Central Avenue in the heart of downtown Campbell. Stillwell remained active, though now more from a posture of retirement, since he was 65 years old. While the Howard affair was unfolding he served on a coroners jury, and in 1902 he continued his interest in politics, this time in the Democratic Party as a delegate to their state convention. In mid-1903, he moved his family back to Johnson Avenue. He traveled in Mexico in early 1904, then that summer accompanied his daughters Josephine and Mary to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. He continued his periodic service as a Santa Clara County grand juror, as he had done since at least 1885. For income, he sold livestock at Johnson Avenue, collected rents and occasionally parted with some of his real estate.

He returned to his old love of inventing things. In 1903-04 he patented three devices, one a "Chest protector" of questionable utility, but the other two - oral inserts to prevent snoring - are cited in similar patent applications to this day. He spent a considerable amount of time up in Colusa, where his brother Levi had become the major land baron after Stillman's departure in1861. Levi was ready to sell-out; perhaps in ill-health. During the month before his Mexico trip, Stillman brokered the sale of Levi's 18,000 acres and five-story mansion, earning himself a hefty commission on a reported one-third-of-a-million-dollar sale price. This ended his concerns over cash flow. Two years later, both Levi and their sister Esther, who apparently lived with Levi and his family, passed away.

If Moulton slowed down in his later years, there was no indication of it. While he was lumbering in Humboldt County as a young man, he joined the Freemasons, and later became a founding member and chaplain of San Jose's Charity lodge, and likewise a founder of the Mason's local Scottish Rite group, where he the Almoner, the dispenser of charity. He later noted in a letter to the San Jose Mercury that when he was installed in the latter, he received instructions to "… give aid and relief to suffering humanity regardless of creed or color…", a concept that he thoroughly embraced, and by all reports practiced, in his last two decades of life.

His politics evolved again at the very last, as before prompted by his sympathy for the needy. Herbert Hoover ran for President in 1920, in good part under the banner of his humanitarian accomplishments as director of Federal food relief agencies for war-torn areas in World War I. Moulton, who had forsaken conservative Republicans first for the Populists, then for Democrats, again found himself supporting a Republican. His enthusiasm for Hoover's good works was so great that he was elected president of the Campbell Hoover Club.

After returning home on the night of his election his election, the bouts of angina that he had been suffering from for the prior two weeks grew worse - so much so that the lodge began sending members over to sit with him at night. The angony of the episodes pushed him to the brink of insanity, but when he came out of them, he was as jolly and convivial as ever. During one respite, he was even able to write a letter supporting Hoover to the editor of the San Jose Mercury News. His son Eddie began coming over to the house during the daytime, and during the good moments. He and his sisters Mary and Lina, who both lived with their parents, enthusiastically discussed his dad's upcoming birthday with him. It appears that Lydia remained outside of the conversations, raising further questions about her post - "committal" relationship with her husband.

After four or five nights of pain and sleeplessness, Stillman was exhausted, but nevertheless came out of a particularly bad attack in good spirits about four one morning. He excused himself from the lodge friend who had been looking after him, and headed up to his bedroom. There, Dad Moulton picked up an ancient sawed-off shotgun, placed the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. He had several times told unbelieving friends and family that he would rather end his life than suffer endless pain, and, and, like always, he was a man of his word. His daughter Mary, who had long managed his affairs after quitting teaching at an early age due to ill health, took his death particularly hard, and passed away two weeks later.

At about the moment that Stillman Augustus Moulton took his life on April 14, his letter to the Mercury supporting Herbert Hoover hit the newsstands. In part, he wrote:

All church people that pray for suffering humanity, all lodges that direct their members by the aid of the Bible, all foreign-born citizens whose friends over the seas have received aid and cheer from American charity which was distributed by this soul-visioned man Hoover, who is one of God's engineers that knows knows how to handle and direct big things and who works without salary - none doubting his sincerity - among all of these is there one with heart so small or conscious so dimmed by a cross-eyed vision that he will not vote for Hoover?

Though in politics he was thoroughly left-wing, Moulton supported a political conservative because he believed that humanitarianism trumped all else, a conviction that he lived during the last years of his life. A Chinese proverb states, There are two good men; one of them is dead, the other unborn. Like all men, Moulton was imperfect, but at least he was headed in the right direction as his life went on. That is about the best that any of us can do.


These pages out of an 1898 SP employee timetable, show the southern portion of the South Pacific Coast narrow gauge main line (by this time three rail from San Jose to Los Gatos) along with its New Almaden and Boulder Creek branches - click for larger version (Scan courtesy of Jeff Asay)

Map of the SP and SPC New Almaden Branches in 1889: The SPC line ran from Lovelady's, a junction in southern Campbell, along today's Camden Avenue (which was constructed after the line was abandoned) to Kooser Road and thence to a junction with the SP near the two railroad's Almaden depots. The easterly line began at SP's main line at Hillsdale (since 1914 called Lick) and wound through fields and along the Santa Teresa Hills to Almaden. At some unknown time - perhaps during the 1893 depression - the SPC's New Almaden facilities were abandoned in favor of the SP's. The SPC line was standard-gauged in October, 1907. The central part of the combined branches between LeFranc (near today's Blossom Hill Road) on the western line, to Almaden and Alamitos (south of Blossom Hill Road near Lake Almaden) on the eastern segment was abandoned in 1934, the Camden portion in 1937, and the balance between Alamitos and Lick in 1982. County light rail now occupies much of the latter portion. Map courtesy of Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Moulton Spur and neighboring Dougherty / Foyle Spur are long gone in 2015, but the former South Pacific Coast Main Line, now known as Union Pacific's Vasona Branch still hosts a local freight train that serves the vast Lehigh (ex-Kaiser) Permanente Quarry in the hills above Stevens Creek Reservoir. A light rail line now parallels the track and runs atop the spur track alignment at Moulton. Moulton's drying yard is now a mobile home park accessed by a road running through the old packing plant adjoining the spur. The former San Jose Brick Company diggings below the spur are still clearly visible from the Los Gatos Creek hiking trail. Save the pit occupied by "The Bowl", the Del Mar High School football stadium, since 1959, the entirety of Dougherty is now occupied by housing.

After the wreck, the Almaden Mixed ran daily for as long as the branch was narrow gauge, finally being consigned to weekly status in April, 1908, sixth months into the branch's standard gauge era. A few years before the first segment of the branch was abandoned in 1934, scheduled service was replaced by as-needed switch engine service.

When SP ripped-up Moulton Spur is anyone's guess, but likely not long after Moulton's death. The San Jose Brick Company continued in operation until 1968, however. A more-detailed history of it can be found at the California Bricks website.

Moulton, 1939

This aerial image from U.C. Santa Cruz Digital Collections shows Moulton in the last year before the SPC/SP San Jose-to Santa-Cruz main line washed out for good between Los Gatos and Olympia near Felton. Neither Moulton nor Foyle had been a passenger train stop since sometime prior to 1927.

The fruit trees seen here growing at Moulton look to be reasonably mature, an indication that they were planted in the 1920's. There is a suggestion of a spur dead-ending at a barn or fruit shed located southwest of the Mouton dryer site, which might occasionally have been used to store equipment used in maintaining the Los Gatos Creek embankment, but this is pure speculation.

At lower right, on the northeast corner of Hamilton Avenue and Infirmary Road, is the house of Campbell canner John Colpitts Ainsley, built in 1925. In 1990, it was moved to Grant Street in downtown Campbell, where it took on a new function as the Campbell Historical Museum. Note the curved "pavement" on the southeast corner. This is actually the Peninsular electric interurban tracks abandoned seven years before. The tracks remained imbedded in the pavement of Hamilton and Meridian Avenues from here to the latter's intersection with Minnesota Avenue until the streetts were widened to four lanes in the late 1950's. This writer missed experiencing the 5.8 magnitude 1955 San Jose earthquake because the family's '48 Pontiac was busy bouncing along the ruts caused by the old tracks. The Johnson Avenue Peninsular stop was located on the north side of Hamilton Avenue, just east of the curve.

The large farmhouse on the other side of Infirmary Road north of the Ainsley House belonged to the Keesling family, whose patriarch settled in the Campbell area shortly after S.A. Moulton. The house survived until the property was sold for commercial development circa 1980.

Moulton & Dougherty Spurs, 1996 Video

In 1996, when Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority was considering extending its light rail system along the Vasona Branch, Germany's Siemens-Duewag demonstrated its Regio Sprinter, a diesel-powered railcar alternative to electrification, on the Vasona Branch from Campbell to the San Jose Caltrain station (ex-SPC "Narrow Gauge Depot". During the run, a front-facing camera in the engineer's cab recorded the right-of-way, a video now on YouTube. At 9' 30', the movement enters the Moulton Spur Site, and at 13' 30" a chain link fence surrounding the Del Mar "Bowl", Dougherty's first clay pit, becomes visible, followed by the housing that occupies the old brick plant site and operation's second pit. The viewer will note a jog in the tracks at the beginning of Moulton, a re-alignment of uncertain date (possibly as late as the aftermath of the winter storms of 1955-56) caused by Los Gatos Creek's continual undermining of the bluff, a legacy of San Jose Brick Company's 19th Century operations. The Regio Sprinter failed to sell in America, and barely sold in Europe. It also undertook a demonstration run on Caltrain, where this writer toured it with some amusement over its inadequacy for its proposed use .

Moulton, 2015

At right is how the area looked on Google Maps in March, 2015. Back about 1960, or so, a new drive-in - featuring intercom ordering from both parking stalls and indoor booths - was erected where Hooters stands today. It was a novelty that my family patronized only once, finding the hamburgers to be more expensive than the pricey 29 cent burgers at nearby Rileys, on the southwest corner of Hamilton and Bascom, this at a time when McDonalds burgers went for 12 cents. In the Fifties, Rileys was not a pleasant place during the winter weather, when the southwest wind of an approaching storm would waft-in from the Campbell Municipal dump, situated next to the creek a few hundred feet away. Fung Lum, a Chinese resteraunt with a very expensive menu, was erected on fill directly atop the dump in the late 60's. It is gone too.

Recalling the Tramps Are Welcome Here sign on Moulton's packing house that got him in dutch with his neighbors, it was a bit uncanny that, when I appeared at Moulton Spur in March 2015 to take the photos at below right, the police were busily engaged in evicting people from an encampment under the Bascom Avenue Los Gatos Creek bridge that would have been called a hobo jungle in the old days.

The closest photo looks directly down the VTA light rail alignment, with the Union Pacific's ex-SP/SPC Vasona Branch on the left. The Moulton Spur switch would have been in the vicinity of the nearest trolley pole, and the spur itself would have hugged the branch a little more closely than VTA. In the distance, note the trolley headed up the steep incline leading to its crossing of Hamilton Avenue, and also the water tower that squarely marks downtown Campbell, one mile away. The tower went up in 1928, owned by the Campbell Water Company founded in 1892 by Benjamin Campbell, Stillman Moses and other local luminaries.

To the left of the Vasona line is a chain link fence atop a retaining wall erected to shore-up the bank so that the railroad right-of-way could be straightened, making it wide enough to accomodate VTA.

The retaining wall is seen at far right in a photo looking west from Bascomb on the far side of creek. The bucolic feel to the place is a late phenomenon of the current drouth. Normally the brush and saplings would have been washed away in infancy each year by winter freshets.

As of 2015, the Lehigh Permanente quarry and cement plant above Cupertino is scheduled to operate for another two decades, or so, facilitated by a settlement early in the year with the Environmental Protection Agency and others over long-ongoing pollution issues
. Lehigh is the last of dozens of freight customers on the branch, thus its eventual closure will bring an end to the passage of freight cars that began a decade before Stillman Augustus Moulton set up shop at his spur.


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