Byron Hot Springs, a once elegant and prestigious resort and spa in rural eastern Contra Costa County, a few miles up the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks from Tracy on the Byron Highway to Brentwood and Martinez, now lies in ruins, hidden from view of the thousands of commuters and other travelers that pass it every day of the week.
In earlier times, the hot springs were utilized by the local native population for bathing and for the water’s perceived medicinal qualities. Upon the arrival of European settlers in the area, most notably the infamous John Marsh, the natives were driven away or forced into servitude.
The springs were developed into a tourist resort used by the well-to-do from far and wide; it is known that baseball great Joe DiMaggio vacationed regularly at the hotel during the off-season, and numerous stars from vaudeville and the early days of Hollywood movies – including, according to legend, Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Mae West, and Clark Gable – also sought respite at the resort.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article is slightly off-topic. There is little, if anything, about trains in this article.
While driving around Tracy, in these days of sprawling supermarkets – Safeway, Raleys, Save-Mart among them – you may not notice the numerous corner markets that dot our town.
Most of these corner markets, several of which aren’t actually on a corner, per se, date back several decades, to a time before the large supermarkets offered one-stop convenience for everything your family needs.
For nearly five decades, the Southern Pacific Railroad utilized two massive roundhouses at its railyard near downtown Tracy. The roundhouses were constructed to service and repair steam locomotives at Tracy, which was a major waypoint on the SP during the first half of the Twentieth Century.
A view of the SP’s Tracy turntable, looking between the old roundhouses, circa early 1950s.
In the mid-1950s, the Southern Pacific began the complete phase-out of steam locomotives, replacing their entire fleet with more reliable diesel-electric locomotives, which required substantially less maintenance.
It’s perhaps the most visible landmark across the flatlands of western San Joaquin County – a cluster of tall, white silos bearing the Holly Sugar brand – which can be seen from miles away, towering above the landscape north of Tracy.
The Holly Sugar refinery in Tracy’s rural outskirts went online in 1917 as the Pacific Sugar Corporation. The plant originally received beets by way of trucks, and later via barges that utilized a man-made waterway known as “Sugar Cut” that diverts from Tom Paine Slough and Old River, north of Tracy.
The village of Bethany could, once upon a time, be found along the Southern Pacific Railroad’s Martinez-to-Tracy extension, just a few miles outside the latter city’s limits.
These days, few signs remain of Bethany: an old farm road that ends near the tracks is perhaps the most significant remnant. (A reservoir in the nearby Livermore Hills is named for the town, but is several miles distant.)
The Central Pacific Railroad built a depot at Bethany around 1878 along the extension, which was constructed as the San Pablo & Tulare Railroad; in the early Twentieth Century, this section of tracks appeared on USGS maps – including the one below from 1914 – as the Southern Pacific’s “San Francisco and New Orleans Line.”
Today, it is known to railheads as the “Mococo Line.” It was the construction of this extension that led directly to the birth of Tracy at the end of the 1870s.
The backside of this picture postcard has “Monday, Oct 25, 1948” penciled in script, so we’re guessing that this view of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s yard is from the mid to late 1940s.
The caption under the photo on the postcard reads “Southern Pacific Railway Yards and Shops, Tracy, California.”
If you’re looking at this photograph today, imagine yourself on the roof of the Tracy Transit Center, facing toward the new-fangled overpass that recently opened, taking 11th Street over the Union Pacific tracks.
Here’s a tinted picture postcard of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s “Employee Club,” located for many years along an extension of C Street in the downtown Tracy railyard.
The sign above the Club’s front door…
The clubhouse served as a rest stop for SP train crews between trips — a place to grab forty winks, a bite to eat, or shoot some pool (or some bull) before hitting the high iron again.
The club lacked air conditioning in the early portion of the 20th Century, so a screened-in “porch” upstairs allowed off-duty workers to sleep beneath the stars and escape the oppressive heat of summertime evenings in the San Joaquin Valley.
Back in May 1961, the Southern Pacific Railroad began moving the first of hundreds of railcars to the “other side” of the Eleventh Street overpass in Tracy, marking the shut-down of operations in the city’s downtown area — ending nearly a hundred years in the sprawling facility that included a passenger depot, two roundhouses, numerous water tanks and freight docks in the “Bowtie.”
The June-July 1961 edition of the railroad’s employee magazine, The SP Bulletin, featured a two-page article on the move, including photographs of the new yard being filled on Day One (May 16, 1961) and Tracy yardmaster Elroy Pope controlling operations from his perch in the new tower overlooking the rails, which covered (then and now) the territory from the Eleventh Street overpass all the way to Banta Road.
Tracy has three roads named Schulte Road. You know — if you come into town off 580 at Patterson Pass Road, then drive past the big Costco and Safeway warehouses, you are on Schulte Road, which dead-ends at Lammers Road.
But if you turn right onto Lammers, just before the train tracks you can make a left turn onto … Schulte Road.
If you drive to the end of that version of Schulte Road, which bottoms out at Corral Hollow Road, you can hook a quick, awkward and sometimes dangerous U-turn around the tracks, then drive a couple of blocks to the next signal light which is, of course … Schulte Road. Why wouldn’t it be?
If you live in Tracy or its outskirts, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the names of the several villages that rest at the city’s edges. You know, places like Tesla, Carbona, Banta, Lyoth, Kerlinger, Ludwig, and Rhodes.
Wait. You’re not familiar with all those names? Well, sure, Banta is fairly well known — there’s still something there — but what about Carbona?
You may actually drive past the “Carbona Curve” on occasion and not know that it’s there. In fact, if you ride an ACE train through Tracy to or from points east (such as Stockton or Manteca), then you’ve rolled through Carbona.