As we drove down Hwy 1 from our home in Capitola, Al mentioned he hadn’t been to Watsonville in 20 years.As we entered Watsonville on the far westside it’s all new with shopping centers, malls and typical suburban housing tracks. Al was unusually silent, but when we hit Main Street he started remembering the Church, the old Fox Theater, and the hotel where he occasionally stayed. Al told us that back in the 50's there were hardly any Mexicans in town, mainly Filipinos. He said the Riverside Men’s Club was all Filipino.What Mexicans there were, were Caballeros (cowboys) usually dressed in Stetson hats, and new cowboy boots. These Caballeros usually stayed 6 months on a work program and then went home. One thing that we should mention, if you want to know anything about trains, Al is the guy to talk with!When we got to the old depot we got out and walked along the tracks. Al talked about how the tracks were made and the way the switches were programed. He looked around and almost all of the buildings around the depot were new.
It was now past lunch time and we were hungry. I wanted to find a place where Al and Jack and Neal had eaten, but alas, all closed now. I must say, if you want excellent Mexican food, Watsonville is the place.After lunch we went to the old Southern Pacific train station on the eastside of town. The original station is still there. The original sign from the 1920's can still be seen (barely). The station is now all electronic. Al showed us where the roundhouse used to be and the little shack that held shovels and other equipment, which is still standing, as is a lone tree, which Al said was there in the 1950's. Next, we headed over to the "Kent Street Shacks". These were small little houses where the train personnel lived. Many are still there. Some renovated into single wide mobile homes. The small store where Neal, Jack, Al and the other men would go after work and play Pinocle is still there, now a Mexican Market. Al said they sold candy, soda and cigs, but no alcohol. There was a pool table in the back. Sometimes after work they would go to a movie or swim at the Y. The conductors shared rooms with beds 10 to a room for .50 to .75 cents per night. There was a toilet and shower and they became known as the "Pajaro Dorms’. When Al got in from a trip, he would look on the "blackboard" where the men signed in, see where Neal was sleeping, in the dorms or in the shacks and head over to that room. Al said there was a wide plank that covered a deep ditch that you had to walk on to get from the station yard to the road. One time a fellow fell off the plank and died.As we headed out of town we crossed over the Main Street Bridge that separates Pajaro from Watsonville.
Al remembered that under that very bridge is where Jack would go after work and bring stew to the hobos. Jack would spend the night with them and enjoy listening to their stories. Al recounted the time he got a letter from Jack telling him "I think I got over my fear of the wheels". Al said Jack was afraid to jump off the train because he felt he would get caught up in them. But Al said you had to learn how to get off the train in the right way, so your momentum would naturally make your body fall away from the wheels. To this day, Jami says whenever she hears a train’s whistle, she can’t help but think about her father.......
Thanks, Al, for a wonderful day and sharing your stories with us.