Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Purisima Creek Road cuts through a heavily logged canyon

August 23, 2016

Purisima Creek Road just below the Grabtown Gulch Trail junction.

Purisima Creek Road just below the Grabtown Gulch Trail junction.


If you were to go back in time to, let’s say 1880, and visit Purisima Canyon, you wouldn’t recognize it. The loggers clear-cut the canyon starting in the 1850s and ending in the 1920s.

There was ongoing logging here into the 1960s, but it was more like tree thinning.

On Monday morning as I rode down the “trail” from Skyline Boulevard, which I’ve been doing since 1980, I was struck by how much more brush and undergrowth I saw compared to the old days. It used to be pristine, redwoods and little undergrowth. I suppose the difference in plant life is mostly from the lack of logging, but it may also be climate change at work.

Water source for the Alvin Hatch Mill. I took a beautiful photo of Jobst Brandt drinking from the creek here in 1981.

Water source for the Alvin Hatch Mill. I took a beautiful photo of Jobst Brandt drinking from the creek here in 1981.

Most of the redwood was turned into shingles back then, mainly because it was hard to remove trees from the steep canyon over the hill to the port of Redwood City. There weren’t any harbors nearby on the Pacific Coast.

The first mill was water-powered, where Harkins Fire Road joins Purisima Creek Road at the canyon entrance. Later sawmills relied on steam engines, or steam donkeys.

Borden & Hatch Mill  in the 1880s, near where I took the first photo, top of page (From Sawmills in the Redwoods).

Borden & Hatch Mill in the 1880s, near where I took the first photo, top of page (From Sawmills in the Redwoods).


Going downhill, the first location where two sawmills existed is located where Purisima Creek runs under the road through a large steel culvert. That’s where the road levels out somewhat and there’s a sharp right turn. Right here is where a cable way was installed to haul logs uphill to Swett Road. Purdy Pharis, Shingle King, sunk a lot of money into the project, but it never was successful. He died about the time the operation was underway in 1884.

Farther down, at the Grabtown Gulch trail intersection, were two more logging camps, Charles Borden Mill and Hartley Shingle Mill, both operating around 1900-02.

Finally another half mile or so below this site was the Borden & Hatch Mill, which ran from 1871-1900.

While most of the wood went to making shingles, some was used to build a flume for Spring Valley Water Company in 1871. The nine-mile long flume, located in what is now the San Francisco Watershed (Frenchman Creek and stone dam) lasted 20 years before being abandoned.

This was the first time I rode in the Santa Cruz Mountains on a Monday. There’s no traffic to speak of on Kings Mountain Road (2 going up, 5 going down) and the same goes for Tunitas Creek Road. However, Santa Clara Valley traffic during rush hour is no picnic. I’ve learned how to get around it mostly car-free though.

Airport frontage road closed for Super Bowl

February 2, 2016

Airport frontage road is closed until Feb. 10.

Airport frontage road is closed until Feb. 10. (Google Maps)


Holy roadblock Batman! Ewert Road is closed starting Wednesday, Feb. 3, through the 10th, no doubt for the Super Bowl. In case you had never heard of that road, it’s what we all know as the frontage road around Mineta San Jose International Airport.

I noticed the sign on my Monday ride, after I checked out the Super Bowl 50 venue via San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail. Needless to say, I was being watched the entire time as two helicopters chopped the air overhead.

Don’t even think about going near the stadium the rest of this week. Only way to get a bike through is if you’re an undercover FBI agent. All routes are blocked. I used Lafayette to reach Alviso.

I remember riding through Palo Alto during Super Bowl XIX back in 1985. It was a nice day, high of 59. The game didn’t start until late in the day, so I had no issues with traffic to speak of. How times have changed.

Arastradero Road: Then and Now

September 3, 2015

Arastradero Road in 1930, inset, and today.

Arastradero Road in 1930, inset, and today.


Rooting around in the Palo Alto Historical Association online archive, I found this image taken by Kenneth Merckx (Eddy’s distant cousin) in 1930.

Here’s the same location, exactly, today using Google Maps.

It’s a lot more civilized these days.

Once Upon a Ride: Crested Butte 1985

June 13, 2015

Only known photo of my Ritchey mountain bike in 1985.

Only known photo of my Ritchey mountain bike in 1985.


When the mountain bike craze took root, Crested Butte, Colorado, became a focal point. It wasn’t long before riders from all over the country gathered in September for a bike-fest.

The big ride called for a day-trip over Pearl Pass to Aspen on a gnarly road. It was more than I could handle, but many do it annually.

I ventured out there in spanking-new Amtrak cars in September 1985 and had a great time with photographer David Epperson (Mountain Bike Hall of Fame) and friends of triathlete Sally Edwards.

It was a chance to ride my new Ritchey mountain bike, one of the most advanced at the time. While I enjoyed the experience, it didn’t take me long to realize mountain biking wasn’t my strong suit and I sold the bike shortly thereafter.

While the event has been moved to June, the Rockies in September can’t be beat for scenic beauty with the turning aspen.

David Epperson, an outstanding action photographer, rides in Crested Butte, 1985.

David Epperson, an outstanding action photographer, rides in Crested Butte, 1985.

People need the “Freedom to Roam”

April 4, 2015

Gate 12 at China Grade in 2015. We get the message.

Gate 12 at China Grade in 2015. We get the message.


Gate 12 circa 1983. Out having fun. How times have changed. (Jobst Brandt photo)

Gate 12 circa 1983. Out having fun. How times have changed. (Jobst Brandt photo)

In my travels around the world, I’ve noticed that nowhere else is the concept of “private property” so zealously defended by landowners than the US of A.

I attribute some of that, especially in the Western U.S., to the persistent Old West mentality where a man defends his homestead from real threats with his trusty gun.

Times have changed and I wish our laws would change to keep up with the times.

In Europe the “Freedom to Roam” operates in many jurisdictions when it comes to allowing people to use others’ lands. As long as you’re just passing through, say on foot or on bike, not hunting, fishing or in any way defacing the land, public access is granted.

Civilized Europe has been around for millennia, which I believe is the reason for this enlightened approach. Likewise, some areas in Asia follow the same “Freedom to Roam” principle. For example, on Malaysia’s millions of acres of rubber tree farms, mountain bikes are allowed in many sections.

In the Western U.S., native Americans did nothing but roam, but this way of life came to a screeching halt with the arrival of settlers from back East and the introduction of barbed wire in the 1870s.

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Freedom to Roam principle could be applied in many locations, especially private logging roads. I’ve ridden these private roads, and others, for decades and never had any issues. It’s a different story today. Back in the early 1980s we didn’t have many mountain bikes, so seeing a bike was an oddity.

Lumber companies will claim liability issues, but the “Freedom to Roam” takes that into account. The land user accepts liability, not the landowner.

Public parks and agencies need to be more proactive about gaining easements on these roads, which often border their parks.

I’m not optimistic such an enlightened approach will happen in my lifetime, but it will happen, eventually.

Silicon Valley and traffic-light heaven

December 25, 2014

Casa Grande in New Almaden, built 1854 . The red brick was painted white at least 10 years ago. Home of the Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum.

Casa Grande in New Almaden, built 1854 . The red brick was painted white at least 10 years ago. Home of the Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum.


Recently on one of my regular rides on a certain road in the heart of Silicon Valley I discovered the longest stretch without a stop light.

Qualifier – it has to be a public road used by cars. Any road north of Blossom Hill Road in San Jose and south of Palo Alto.

Do you know where it is? Distance? Send me your guess.

Answer: Central Expressway between Mary Avenue and Bowers Avenue – 3.8 miles. There are only three stoplights (counting Owens Corning) continuing on to De La Cruz Blvd., 5.8 miles.

When the river runs dry

November 9, 2014

An old bridge reveals itself at the bottom of the empty Chesbro Reservoir near Morgan Hill.

An old bridge reveals itself at the bottom of the empty Chesbro Reservoir near Morgan Hill.


In case you hadn’t noticed, the drought continues. I checked out Chesbro Reservoir, which is at 1 percent, on Oak Glen Avenue.

Uvas Reservoir is at 3 percent, Guadalupe 4 percent.

Chesbro is so low that a bridge over the old road is clearly visible. Why are all these old roads at the bottom of reservoirs?

Horse and wagon needed easy access to water, so they followed the creeks. It wasn’t until the advent of more reliable car radiators in the 1930s that easy access to water wasn’t a big deal.

In the 1950s when the local reservoirs were built, the were roads moved to higher ground.

Asphalt Bungle – the road to Bear Gulch is paved with bad intentions

September 21, 2014

I wrote about the road many years ago. Here's a little history.

I wrote about the road many years ago. Here’s a little history.

Some wonderful scenic country roads course through the Santa Cruz Mountains and Bear Gulch is one such road, about a mile south of Kings Mountain Road at Hwy 84.

It bridges Skyline and 84, looking a lot like Old La Honda Road, but a bit steeper and straighter.

Surrounded by redwoods and a canopy of madrone and tan oak, it passes by the California Water Service watershed to the north and Wunderlich County Park to the south. As with many roads in the area, it was built for logging redwoods in the mid-1800s, before being purchased by San Mateo County in 1899.

As local cyclists know all too well, it’s closed to the public. Electronic gates block both ends to keep out all but occupants of about 25 residences near the road, tucked between watershed and parkland.

Here’s the rub
The county spent $350,000 in public monies to help pave the road. In fact, ever since 1964, San Mateo County has done more than its share to help landowners build their dream homes on Bear Gulch Road. Residents got together to form an assessment district back in 1964 and over the years the county approved it and finally paved the road in November 1979 at a cost of $1.2 million, with residents chipping in about two-thirds of the cost.

But like several roads up and down the Peninsula, it is partially owned by the county — and remains exclusively private.

Before the road was closed, the county seemed eager to keep the area open to the public and provide a road for residents as well. It hired a Redwood City engineering firm to design a road 22 feet wide, broad enough for two fire trucks to safely pass one another.

The public didn’t go for it. Who needed a road as wide as Highway 84? And besides, it was too costly.

Residents continued to pursue the idea until 1974, when Martin Wunderlich made a generous offer to sell Wunderlich Ranch (now Wunderlich Park) bordering Bear Gulch Road at an extremely low price. If taxpayers didn’t want a huge road before, now, with this classy land addition, they would never approve.

Bill Royer, chairman of the county board of supervisors at the time, and himself a former real estate developer, helped find a solution.

The county said that the area was a headache, that it was impassable during winter rains and sometimes closed in the summer from fire danger. Residents complained about people shooting guns and raising a ruckus.

Bear Gulch Road property owners met with county supervisors and public works director Sid Cantwell in 1976. County officials decided to abandon the road, then pave it at its current width of 12 to 16 feet, installing gates to keep the public out.

Not only would the landowners have their paved road, it would be private. In return, the county got a bargain on a paved fire road and access to Wunderlich Park for park vehicles in exchange for turning it over to private use.

A month after the road was paved, county supervisors held a public hearing to see if anybody objected to abandoning the road. Since the road width was not up to county standards [are they ever?], the county supervisors declared it as unsafe for public use; the vote for abandonment was unanimous.

Today the road is one of the best-maintained roads in the county, partly because it has so little traffic. Its surface is as smooth as the day it was paved [it was smooth back in 1989].

Even though it is the same width as nearby county roads, it has been declared unsafe, not just for cars but for bicycles, horses and pedestrians. This was stated in the road abandonment document, dated Nov. 14, 1978, said. However, a provision was made for allowing a recreation path next to the road, not that we’ll ever see that happen. Thanks to Steve Lubin for providing the document.

Mt. Hamilton summit around 1970

August 1, 2014
Mt. Hamilton summit around 1970. From left: John Hiatt, Anwyl McDonald, Dave Lucas, George Varian, Jobst Brandt with his orange Cinelli.

Mt. Hamilton summit around 1970. From left: John Hiatt, Anwyl McDonald, Dave Lucas, George Varian, Jobst Brandt with his orange Cinelli.

San Jose History Park Looks Back at Bikes

July 27, 2014

Schwinn bikes on parade at Kelley Park.

Schwinn bikes on parade at Kelley Park.

On Sunday, San Jose’s Kelley Park saw a bike gathering of epic proportions as two bike events meshed into one: Shiny Side Up Bicycle Day and the exhibit “Bikes: Passion, Innovation & Politics Since 1880” opened inside the Pacific Hotel’s Arbuckle Gallery.

I’ll get to the history part in a second, but first a little about Shiny Side Up. Like car collecting, bike collecting is a niche activity.

If you’re into the old Schwinn balloon tire bikes and “chopper” bikes, southsydecycles is the place for you.

Schwinn made millions of single-speed town bikes, and it looked like every one that’s left was on display in the park. My parents couldn’t afford a name-brand like Schwinn so we kids got the J.C. Higgins Flightliner, circa 1960, sold by Montgomery Ward.

Now let’s take a look inside the Arbuckle Gallery and see what’s in store for cycling history aficionados.

Local history
There’s a lot of history packed into a small area, starting with the earliest bike on display, a velocipede (a name coined by the French) built in the mid-1800s. These bikes with steel rims were aptly nicknamed boneshakers.

Beautiful photo on display in Arbuckle  Gallery.

Beautiful photo on display in Arbuckle Gallery.


In my mind, bicycle design took a step backwards with the big-wheel penny farthing in later years, mainly because they were so difficult to ride, mount and dismount.

The first safety bikes that looked and worked like today’s bikes are also on display, including one of my favorites — the bike without a chain. Instead of a chain, it has rear-stay direct-drive geared shaft. (Check out the wood rims.) There’s a modern version of this bike. I don’t imagine it sells all that well, but if you really don’t like chains, it’s a decent option.

No more chain. Drive- shaft technology.

No more chain. Drive- shaft technology.


There’s a display case devoted to Clyde Arbuckle, who by all accounts was a walking encyclopedia of San Jose history in later life (1903-1998). He was, in fact, the city historian. But more importantly, he was a cyclist and winning bike racer in his youth. Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet him, or his son Jim, who died while cycling, age 72.

There’s also tribute paid to Spence Wolf (Cupertino Bicycles), Ellen Fletcher (Palo Alto City Council), and John Forester (bicycle transportation engineer). I did a two-hour video interview with Ellen about her life a few years ago that I hope to post.

You’ll see some interesting bikes from the past, including a classic Cinelli track bike in pristine condition, and of course some mountain bikes, which were popularized by cyclists in Marin County and, to some extent, by South Bay riders.

Belissimo!

Belissimo!


Familiar faces
The real reward for showing up on opening weekend was encountering cycling acquaintances who have seen their passion evolve over the past four or five decades.

I talked with Chris Dresden about his recovery from a heart operation, and Ken Kratz, retired Santa Clara traffic engineer who helped design the San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail. Our paths had crossed years ago at work and while I was on the Santa Clara bike committee.

Trophy case for San Jose clubs going way back.

Trophy case for San Jose clubs going way back.


Finally, one of the co-curators of the bike display, Terry Shaw, walked around chatting with attendees. The retired owner of Shaw’s Lightweight Cycles in San Jose (1976) and Santa Clara (1984) had a heart transplant in 2011, as reported in the San Jose Mercury News, and says he is back riding and feeling great. He sure looks it!

Among pro bike shops, I could depend on Terry to have those rare parts that riders need for older bikes. But unlike some, Terry also catered to the regular bike crowd. One time he sold me a set of nice alloy rims for a beater 3-speed. He was the only shop owner that had alloy as opposed to the standard steel rim. Now there’s someone who appreciates all bikes.

Terry Shaw put his considerable knowledge of cycling history to good use.

Terry Shaw put his considerable knowledge of cycling history to good use.


Terry said that this display is just the beginning. He hopes that it can find a permanent home and continue to grow. That’s a worthy goal, considering the rich history of cycling in the Bay Area. Many of the bicycle inventions and trends of the 1970s-2000s have been here. The riding isn’t half-bad either.