Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Old Calaveras Road — one and done

January 13, 2021

Beautifully restored adobe house on Piedmont Road. Worth a visit.

Today’s ride to Calaveras Reservoir brought back memories and a discovery of something old turned into something new (restored), to be cherished for years to come.

I’m talking about the Milpitas Adobe House, built in 1835, tucked away in a cul-de-sac near Piedmont Road and Calaveras Road.

I started riding the Mt. Hamilton loop to Livermore in 1980, leaving from Milpitas. Jobst Brandt, our tour guide, knew all the places of interest, so he never failed to lead us past the old, dilapidated adobe on an equally old Piedmont Road.

Sadly, Old Piedmont Road didn’t make it, but the adobe did, thanks to efforts by concerned citizens and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority.

Old Piedmont Road fell victim to modernization and winter rains from 1982-83. I have no written record, so I’m relying on memory. A large slide forced the road to close, so we started using the new Piedmont Road. Sections of the old, abandoned road are still visible south of the adobe, and other sections still in use farther on.

Riders enjoy car-free riding on Calaveras Road.

I believe the old road took up some of the new Piedmont before it started uphill on the east slope. Jobst liked avoiding cars, so we took the old road until its demise.

But I digress. I wanted to check out Old Calaveras Road. In all my years or riding, I have never been on it.

For good reason, as I learned today. Old Calaveras Road starts at Evans Road and immediately I knew that this would be my last time. There is a section of 20-23 percent. It doesn’t go for long, but the climbing higher up isn’t easy either.

The good news is that there isn’t any traffic, as there is on Calaveras Road on a weekday morning. Plenty of it, moving fast.

Calaveras Reservoir finished. It welcomes Smith Creek and Isabel Creek runoff.

The payoff is a view of Spring Valley Golf Course and short descent. Nice if you like golf.

Traffic dissipated after turning left on Calaveras Road at Felter Road, and I could enjoy the views on a day drenched in sunshine.

I checked out the Calaveras Reservoir retrofit, finished after God only knows how many years and constant road closures.

Imagine what it must have looked like when this valley was farmland and a small community. Not a bad place to settle down.

I recalled all those rides around Mt. Hamilton and the final grind from Sunol to the Calaveras Road summit. In the early days we had some spirited chases. In the later years, not so much. Today it’s an achievement just to go on a ride.

Alpine Road has a hidden bridge

January 9, 2021

Bridge over Corte Madera Creek on dirt Alpine Road, looking south.

Back in the winter of 1982-1983, Corte Madera Creek flooded from heavy rains. That was the start of ongoing problems at Alpine Road’s concrete bridge spanning the creek.

The bridge is about 100 yards beyond the green gate, where east slope Alpine Road pavement ends.

As an aside, a half mile of road leading to the green gate wasn’t paved until October 1987.

I don’t have any photos of the bridge before 1986, so there may have been a suitable crossing. I would have taken a photo, if there were a problem. I suspect that the bridge was already obscured by debris.

Between 1986 and late December 1989, when the road was graded for the last time by San Mateo County, we walked down to the creek and crossed on rickety wooden slats put there by a concerned citizen.

Olaf Brandt and Jobst Brandt clamber over a makeshift bridge on Alpine Road in 1986.

There were other landslides we had to traverse during the late 1980s, some which Jobst Brandt and friends worked on to make rideable.

After the grading, we were shocked to find out that there had been a substantial concrete bridge in place. We had no idea based on the lay of the terrain.

It’s still there today, obscured by brush and trees.

Alpine Road at Corte Madera Creek bridge, January 7, 1990. Jeff Vance, Brian Cox, Jobst Brandt shown.

Searsville had a dirt bicycle track

December 26, 2020

Nick Van Male with Peter Rich on the Searsville Track, 1956.

Research by John Woodfill regarding bikes owned by Jobst Brandt led to another interesting find. Around 1956 there was a quarter-mile bike track at Searsville Reservoir. It was dirt and banked.

Searsville Reservoir, located just off Sand Hill Road and Portola Road junction, is today an ecological football. Tear down the dam (silted in) or leave it be?

Jobst was among a cadre of Peninsula cyclists, loosely called Pedali Alpini, who purchased Cinelli road and track bikes from Cupertino Bike Shop. Owner Spence Wolf was one of the exclusive dealers for Cinelli, considered the premiere racing bike in the 1950s.

There’s a photo showing Nick Van Male and Peter Rich on the track, published by The Almanac.

The track was removed in 1957.

Unless you are a local, you may not know that Searsville Reservoir was a popular recreation area. Picnics and the like.

All that changed in 1975 when the land was turned into the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. The Almanac has all the details.

The track and another “secret” board track in San Francisco (allegedly) is mentioned in writings by Erich von Neff, a former longshoreman from San Francisco. Published in Half Moon Bay Memories.

I’m not sure why President Obama is shown on the page, but Jacob Bronstein is with him. He “recorded” his books.

Calaveras Road had a railroad — kind of

December 14, 2020

Calaveras Road looking east from Milpitas near Piedmont Road.

Anyone who rides a bike on Calaveras Road knows how hard it is in the first mile leaving Milpitas.

That steep slope didn’t stop engineers from moving a steam shovel to help build Calaveras Reservoir.

In 1916, for those of you too young to remember, a huge steam shovel was transported up the hill to the dam site.

They laid track, using two steam engines to haul it up the steep grade, which is 15 percent or more in places.

The track was ripped up and repositioned all the way to the dam site.

I didn’t believe it possible, but the San Jose Mercury News ran a photo. See below.

Calaveras Road with a “rail line” in 1916.

John Forester and Kittie Knox fought for cyclists to have a place on the road

November 24, 2020

Kittie Knox, shown here in 1895, battled racist elements of the League of American Wheelmen.

It is only now that I learn of the passing of John Forester in April, an influential cyclist in the 1970-80s for his insistence that cyclists adhere to the same rules of the road as cars.

I met Forester when he lived in Palo Alto in the 1980s. I bought his nylon bike bag that mounted behind the saddle, using it on my trips through the Alps.

I knew Forester’s reputation and background when I met him, so I was not taken aback by his quirky personality and abrasive manner.

His strident views about cycling were both his strength and his downfall. He couldn’t compromise and in politics that’s a recipe for disaster.

Forester wrote and advocated the principles of Effective Cycling. I bought his self-published book mainly to show my support for cyclists’ rights to the road.

I agree with pretty much everything he advocated, but where we part ways is when it comes to bicycle facilities.

Forester disparaged bike lanes, bike paths, and other amenities for the bike.

Over the years I’ve gradually shifted my thinking from battling cars on equal footing to supporting a bike network separate from cars.

The deal is, we need both.

Bike advocate Ellen Fletcher, who served on the Palo Alto City Council when Forester was living in Palo Alto, didn’t always see eye to eye with the outspoken bike advocate. She was a politician who understood the importance of compromise.

Their political rivalry came to a head at an organization called the League of American Wheelmen. I won’t go into the details here because I was not privy to the situation. However, there is an outstanding article written by Joe Biel that delves into their differences that came to the forefront within this organization.

All of this is irrelevant today. The American Wheelmen was a seriously influential group in the 1880s, but not much more than a mouthpiece for disenfranchised cyclists in the 1980s.

The dark history of the League of American Wheelmen and its racist past is exposed by Biel in his story about a young black woman from Boston who could ride circles around most men — Kittie Knox.

Biel’s story is an eye-opener and one that everyone should read to understand that racial prejudice runs deep in this country.

Thanks to the Internet, I can share some excellent writing about cycling matters from the past. Still relevant today:

How Kittie Knox changed bicycling forever by Joe Biel

Bicycling magazine interview with John Forester by Peter Flax

Mt. Hamilton ride for Garden City Wheelmen — July 1888

November 19, 2020

Cyclists were rapidly moving to the safety bike in 1888.

From The San Jose Mercury News, July 18, 1888

Last Sunday the Garden City Wheelmen had a run to Mt. Hamilton and return.

“The following members took part in the run: A. C. McK, David Render, Yousta Hensill, Joseph Desimone [Desimone family owned a bike shop in San Jose], Alex. Gamosett, and D. L. Thornton.

Notwithstanding the excessive heat the long grade was climbed with comparative ease. Arriving at Smiths Creek in due time, the wheelmen repaired to the hotel where a substantial repast was awaiting them, to which each did exact justice. [A telephone was installed at Smith Creek hotel as early as 1884]

The ensuing seven miles proved a hard climb, but the Observatory was soon reached. Professor Keeler took the party in charge, and showed them through the observatory and described the various instruments in a manner not only courteous but entertaining.

The return trip in the afternoon was decidedly exciting, and compensated for the labor in the fore part of the day. The long miles were quickly covered at a rate of speed of ten to twenty miles per hour.

San Jose was reached at 7 o’clock, and all expressed themselves well pleased with one of the longest runs of the season. The Garden City Wheelmen have purchased an elegant gold medal to be competed for in a series of road races, the first race to occur in the near future.”

Vintage Rover safety bike reconditioned in all its glory.

Mt. Hamilton Ride description from April 1888

November 17, 2020

A map of a ride from Alameda to Mt. Hamilton by Joseph Bliss.

I stumbled across a detailed description of a ride by Joseph J. Bliss of Alameda that took him to the Mt. Hamilton summit on Sunday, April 21, 1888.

It’s in the January 1889 issue of The Wheelmen’s Gazette. My link takes you directly to the article. I think it’s being displayed by the Internet Archive, which may be different from the original location of the Smithsonian.

The tragedy is that I can’t find the second installment, which must have been in a later issue. Sigh.

I’ll summarize his trip, which is well worth reading in detail.

Bliss emigrated from Britain in 1865, from what I’ve gathered. He had three children. Based on his story, he was a clerk of some kind. His ride didn’t start until Saturday evening because back in those days the only rest day was Sunday. That’s true for some parts of the world even today.

He rode alone. I can well imagine he would have a hard time finding a companion for such a difficult ride. His bike was a 51-inch New Mail ordinary. Safety bikes were just becoming popular, most of them manufactured in England.

He stopped for dinner in Centerville, today’s Fremont. He continued on in darkness to downtown San Jose where he got a hotel room.

Next morning he left as early as possible, trying to finish the ride on Sunday so he could be back to work on Monday morning. He stopped at a restaurant and stage stop, today’s Grandview Restaurant, about five miles into the climb.

From his description, the road was in good shape, but despite that he had to walk, ride, walk, ride. No surprise on an ordinary. It’s not the gear that was the problem, but being high on the wheel made control a challenge.

He dismounted to let a stagecoach pass. The road was even narrower than it is today.

Based on his conversation with a boy he met on the road, cyclists rode up Mt. Hamilton regularly.

Previously, I wrote about Al Bouton’s ride in January 1888, the earliest documented ride I can find. I suspect that there were riders before Bouton, after reading this account.

If anyone knows where I can find the second part of Bliss’ story, let me know!

Here’s a Jobst Ride from 1898

November 10, 2020

Taking the plunge. Ride down Windy Hill, Sept. 13, 1987, after exploring Doherty Ridge. There’s water gushing from the pipe.

Jobst Brandt led the way over rugged logging roads and trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains from the early 1950s-2010, but he was not the first.

Back in the 1890s with the advent of pneumatic tires and “safety” frames, riders sought out new roads and trails like never before.

Here’s one account from The Palo Alto Times in 1898. [Palo Alto newspapers are viewable online at the Palo Alto library.] An analysis of the ride follows:

Route for an Outing Trip

“The following route is a pleasant ride for experienced bicyclists.

It is very difficult for wheels in some places but there is not more than three miles of walking necessary. The total distance is about 25 miles.

Start out early in the morning, before it grows too warm, on the road past the stock farm to Portola and go to the foot of the “new road.”

Here you climb the “goat trail.” This trail is in reality a woodcutters road and is in many places suitable for bicycle riding.

Near the summit is a spring. This is the only water to be had until you reach a farm house.

On arriving at the summit you have a choice of three roads. One to the right goes to the regular stage road to La Honda.

Start of logging road, Old La Honda and Skyline.

On reaching the junction of these two roads you can return on the regular road, or else go through Mr. Hallidies’ ranch by a steep private road.

If you turn to the left you will have a fairly level road along the crest of the mountains.

On one side is the Santa Clara valley with its green orchards, glittering bay, and bare hills.

On the other side is the ocean and ranges of mountains covered with redwoods. This road passes a farm house and just beyond that it forks.

Take the left road which will pass through a hayfield. In case the hay is not cut turn to the right and follow the fence around to the other side.

About two miles beyond this place is another farm house and here you also reach the Page mill road. Turn to the left and you can return by the new road or by the Page mill road.

The latter seems to be longer but as it is all downhill and takes you to Mayfield it is shorter than the former.

The third road which a person can take from the summit of the goat trail is open only to pedestrians. It is an old haying road and soon ends.

But by continuing to go along the ridge, a person will come to the La Honda road about half a mile from the Weeks Brothers saw mill.

This trail is very much shorter than the road and is far better than walking through deep dust.”


USGS map of the 1890s showing new and old road titles.Link to online maps.

I’m not sure exactly where the ride starts, but it’s somewhere near downtown or from Stanford University. The stock farm mentioned was part of Stanford just north of Lake Lagunita near the intersection of Junipero Serra and Alpine Road.

The “new road” must be Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District’s (MROSD) Spring Ridge Trail on Windy Hill. [Brian Cox made that observation. As he points out, today’s Old La Honda Road was the main road to La Honda then. The current Hwy 84 route came later. And there’s the spring, shown in the photo.]

As the story mentions, there’s three miles of walking. They certainly walked up Spring Ridge Trail in many places.

The summit is Skyline Boulevard. Back then it must have been a ranch road and still private in sections. That didn’t stop cyclists in those days.

Going right leads to today’s Old La Honda Road. It must have been darn dusty in the summer.

I believe the road through Hallidie’s ranch refers to the old road that starts from Old La Honda and Skyline. It’s still visible and parallels Old La Honda to the southeast. I rode down it a couple of times back in the 1980s. That was Hallidie’s property and where he built his aerial tramway in 1894.

This ride continues left on Skyline past Windy Hill where there must have been hayfields and a homestead.

Riders continued on Skyline to Page Mill Road where they could turn down Alpine Road or continue on Page Mill to Mayfield, today’s California Avenue. Page Mill Road didn’t have such a large switchback to Skyline back then.

The third road mentioned from the goat trail was a stub road that didn’t go anywhere except to a ranch house. It mentions the Weeks Brothers mill, which was about a mile up Hwy 84 from La Honda. There may have been a road that could be ridden from the mill for some distance. Many trails lead off of Langley Hill.

What a great adventure ride. Jobst would have approved.

Downtown San Jose bicycle race banner

November 7, 2020

Bike race sign in downtown San Jose, probably 1889. I’m not sure about the track location since it was a cement track.

Bike racing boomed in the late 1880s. Check out this sign from the Garden City Cyclers.

In the heart of downtown San Jose people go about their business on a fine day in September, probably 1889. There was a Native Sons’ event and race on the ninth.

The race may have been at the Agricultural Park, which was at today’s Race Street. Bike races took place there, but it was dirt. Maybe concrete was put down later.

That strange tower soared 200 feet high and brought light to the city at night. It looks bizarre, and it was.

Original photo at the San Jose Library. John C. Gordon photo collection, although he didn’t take the photo.

San Jose to Yosemite in 1890 – by bike!

November 7, 2020

Buffalo soldiers touring in 1896.

“John Clayton and Fred Black returned last evening from a bicycle trip to Yosemite Valley. They had a very delightful time.

They made the run on bicycles into the valley by way of Stockton, 250 miles, in four and one-half days.

They spent six days in the valley, taking in all the points of interest.

On their homeward trip they came by way of Merced.”

San Jose Herald, July 2, 1890