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All Aboard the Laurel and Glenwood Line

Historian Derek Whaley Celebrates New Book

By Julie Horner

Sidetracked: Laurel and Glenwood, by Derek R. Whaley, PhD is the third in the Santa Cruz Trains series of authoritative books about the history of Santa Cruz area trains, tracks, tunnels, stations and stops. Released in March 2023, the 127-page softbound volume brings the colorful lore of the ridgetop railways of the late-1800s to life. 

Nearly a dozen bridges were built above Burrell and Burns Creeks in the villages of Laurel and Summit atop the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Bean Creek in Glenwood, north of Scotts Valley. Summit Tunnel, Glenwood/Laurel Tunnel, and Mountain Charlie Tunnel were blasted into the landscape. Built by Chinese, Irish, and Cornish immigrants, the Laurel and Glenwood line became part of the South Pacific Coast Railroad linking Bay Area cities to Santa Cruz, transporting vacationers and tradespeople on a meandering mountain route to resort destinations, farms, lumber mills, and the redwoods of the San Lorenzo Valley.

A Felton native and graduate of San Lorenzo Valley High School, Whaley became interested in trains at a young age. “I had a collection of Hot Wheels Railroads sets and also picked up some Lego Trains sets over the years,” he said. Whaley’s best friend’s dad worked as an engineer at Roaring Camp, so the kids frequently rode the steam train up and down Bear Mountain. For a while he lived across from one of the Zayante Creek railroad bridges. His interest in local railroad history began after he attended a talk about the old Santa Cruz Mountains railroad tunnels given by Brian Liddicoat. Whaley holds a Master’s in Early Modern History and a PhD in History. “My professional focus has always been late medieval and early modern European history, but my personal interest shifted to local history around 2013 and has remained as such ever since,” he said. 

Whaley writes mostly about the towns and the people serviced by the railroad. In his books, you will learn the names of the families who pioneered the Santa Cruz Mountains, whether for business or pleasure. Names like Hihn and Haight. And the communities that sprang up around the lumber mills, including the hamlet of Laurel at the Santa Cruz Mountains summit; once “the beating heart of Santa Cruz County’s lumber industry,” Whaley writes, and now a ghost town with negligible remains, “a whisper of a bygone age.” Sidetracked: Laurel and Glenwood contains 100 rare photos from a number of sources including UC Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Public Libraries, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, San Lorenzo Valley Museum, and the personal collections of Ronnie Trubek and the author.

Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Sidetracked: Laurel and Glenwood, by Derek R. Whaley, PhD

“My Santa Cruz Trains books all scratch different itches,” Whaley said. The first and largest book, Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains, explores the railroad infrastructure that once existed between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz and includes the history of the Boulder Creek Branch and several smaller branches that once roared through the San Lorenzo Valley. Santa Cruz Trains: Reflections on the Mountain Route is a short photobook that pairs 32 full-page historical photographs with 32 contemporary quotes about the Santa Cruz Mountains. Books edited by Whaley include the History of Rancho Soquel Augmentation trilogy, written by Ronald G. Powell, which focuses on the railroads from the perspective of the lumber companies. The Reign of the Lumber Barons and The Shadow of Loma Prieta describe the golden age of the lumber industry within the Soquel, Aptos, Valencia, and Corralitos Creek watersheds.

The next book in his Santa Cruz Trains series, Whaley said, will likely focus on the area of Wrights and the Summit Tunnel near the headwaters of Los Gatos Creek. More books in the works include Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Coast; Santa Cruz Trains: Companies & Customers of the Santa Cruz Lines; and The Road to San Francisco.

Derek Whaley’s books are available on and at Bookshop Santa Cruz, San Lorenzo Valley Museum, Summit Store, and Kelly’s Books in Watsonville.

Julie Horner writes about art, music, and culture in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Reach out to Julie at

Photos by Julie Horner

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