Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living

The Washington Pathway
by Barry Brown

Photograph of the
The "Big Team" of Horses Pulling Boxcars at the CPW
Photograph from the William Wulf Collection

This photo, taken sometime after 1903, shows the "Big Team" of the California Powder Works. Thomas H. Rountree, first man on the left, was the lead teamster in charge of these horses; the man behind him was the labor foreman L. J. Morgan; and from left to right, the horses were Mag, Daisy, Jack, Dick, and Dan.

Thomas Rountree lived with his family in the Powder Mill Village. His son, Edward T. Rountree remembered:

The big team usually consisted of five horses hitched in tandem for the purpose of moving narrow gauge railroad cars to various parts of the plant. The horses were driven without reins, and controlled by vocal commands. For example, when approaching a switch, if the car was to go on the track to the right the command "Gee" was given. Likewise, the command "Haw" was shouted for a turn to the left. During the eleven years that my father drove the team he had the same lead horse, a gray mare named Mag. I do not believe that old Mag ever missed a command. The leader was the only horse who had to recognize the commands.

A harp switch, used to re-direct railroad cars, can be seen at the lower left of the picture next to a track siding. There were several of these switch-sidings throughout the Powder Works since smaller teams and cars also used the rails. Through a series of electromechanical signals set on poles, oncoming traffic knew whether to switch onto a siding or proceed. This photograph shows the "Big Team" and two narrow-gauge boxcars emerging from what is now known as the Washington Pathway near the present Park Office. The team was moving explosives from the "Upper Flat" (Paradise Park's sections 1,2 & 4) down to the "Lower Flat" (Paradise Park's Section 6).

In 1914, Edward Rountree, last employee at the Santa Cruz Powder Works, wrote:

When the plant finally closed down, the horses and stable equipment were sold at auction. Mag was bought by Fred Walti, a well known Santa Cruz citizen. During the first night in a strange stable, the old mare dropped dead.

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View similarly tagged articles:

dynamite, powder works, San Lorenzo River


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