Strathmore to Hollis

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BEFORE: Looking south in Strathmore, at the grade crossing with Avenue 156. Photo by Bill Steck, April 2008.

Sometime in the 90's (I think) the SJVR scrapped off a 10 mile or so chunk of the line south of Richgrove, thus ending it's status as a through line to Famoso, and the UP main. That action pretty much doomed the line south of Exeter, because all potential traffic now had only one way out of the area.

The SJVR recently lifted the rails south of Strathmore CA. North of Strathmore to Exeter is used for car storage. This line once reconnected with the SP (now UP) main at Famoso, north of Bakersfield. This line also once served as a secondary main between Bakersfield and Fresno. In the 60's it was occasionally noted that some pretty decent manifests were run, usually when the main was flooded or under repair.

Bill Steck
Bakersfield, CA
3/10/2012

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In picture 17 you can see that the crossing gates have been tied to the signal masts. The gate motors were hydraulic, (Raco's), and after a long period of disuse, the pressure would bleed off, and the gates drop. Obviously nobody with the SJVR thought the gates would ever be needed to work again.

Bill Steck
Bakersfield, CA
3/10/2012

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Per some reliable historians, this was a secondary main in the '20s through '60s, and thus, received ABS on the southern portion using the then-new US&S "Hall-type" searchlight signals, the first such use on the SP and one that would become iconic from that time on. Originally, the ABS went from the switch at Famoso all the way up to Exeter, but was cut back to around Ducor sometime after 1952, as the line's importance diminished. The rest of it was abandoned just before SP sold off the line to KYLE around '92. KYLE, like most short liners, hate the idea of having to maintain signals of any type, so I'm sure it was a selling point. The scrapping started once Kyle died and his empire was overrun by "Trails America," famous for buying branch lines and scrapping them for a quick buck. "Trails America" has been trying to scrap the whole branch, along with the Sunset RR and other Kern Co. branches, ever since they took over. Who owns "Trails America?" A Wall St. hedge fund. (Think Mitt Romney.)

DeserTBoB
Lancaster, CA
6/14/2012

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Thanks DesertBob for your unbiased comments. Lets not forget that the demise of the whole Porterville/Exeter district came not by the misdeeds of capitalists, but by the progress of mankind. The lines outlived their usefulness, and like the stagecoach and horse freight teams that preceeded them, they passed into history. Let's not blame individuals who worked in an industry that is the basis of capitalism and actually funded the Visalia Electric's and these branches construction in the first place. You might want to blame lenin and stalin for adopting a system that itself prevented the very vibrant progress and efficient growth that was exhibited here.

Rob Pira
Tijeras, NM
6/19/2012

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Actually, greed and short sighted management played an equally important role in the end of this line.

SJVR owners have been determined to cash out on the scrap value of the infrastructure. The freight surcharges were very high; certain to guarantee no businsess, and reinforce their claim for abandoment.

Local counties are now talking with UP, who owns the actual real estate. The counties want to keep rail service to entice light industry, and provide something other than the low paying, seasonal work agriculture for much of the local population.

Of interest is that during interviews with shippers already along the line, many said they could use rail service, but SJVR WOULD NOT EVEN ANSWER THE PHONE!

The county coalition trying to save the line encountered the same silence from the railroad owners. They made an offer that was greater than would be realized by scrapping the line, and it wasn't even responded to.

The railroad was not interested in drumming up any business, or in joining with the area counties in laying the groundwork for decades of business. SJVR owners wanted their money, and wanted it now. Not in a few years.

Bill
Bakersfield, CA
6/23/2012

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Kind of curious that someone was offering more than the line was worth scrapped, but was not even recognized i.e. responded to? Why would a 'greedy' business not respond to that since their greed would preclude anything but making the most money, right? I think there is some missing info here, something not being told.

Perhaps the county's offer was contingent upon something that in reality, wasn't equitable to scrap value.

One thing also to consider, these lines were dumped by SP and SF a long time ago for a reason - they were unprofitable. So they sold them and with shortline workrules, maybe they were profitable 20 years ago. But over the years since, they have lost shippers, taxes have gone sky high, work rules have increased, maintenance costs have gone up, and the profit margin has gone down.

I sincerely doubt that in the current economic climate, the counties in question could afford to run the lines anyway, even if they bought them. Maybe I'm wrong.

I'm sorry to hear them gone because I truly would have liked to see them in all their glory, but their time has come and gone and I don't see how they could pay their own way short of receiving some kind of public subsidies.

I wonder if anyone has pix of an F7 lashup hauling reefers in the 50's or 60's on the line?

Rob Pira
Tijeras, NM
6/28/2012

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My Great Grandpa Barrett Whiteley (1920-pres) lived about a quarter mile from the branch line east of what is now highway 65 just north of the 65 stoplight in Strathmore, Ca. Back in March of 2001 he recorded his childhood memories in a small 32 pg unpublished book called "When Life was Simple" for our family. (1920-1940 is the time period of the book) He talks about "fruit workers" or as we call them now "migrant workers." The Williams who had created a 'camper' on the bed of their truck around 1928. My great grandpa's large family dog would sleep under the camper to be closer to humans and that first night a diesel with electric horns went by and the dog made an "unearthly howls" whenever he heard the electric horns on the diesels. (crude paraphrasing) apparently most of the Visalia area SP branch line was originally electric as an experiment by the SP who was considering converting to electric on their main line (it was obviously a failure since the lines are no longer electric)

Benjamin Roberson
California
8/2/2012

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Mr. Pira, from New Mexico, isn't here for any reason other than to deify his heroes, the Wall St. crowd. He's also not close enough to the economic situation out here to make any qualified judgement call. It's quite simple, if anyone knows market dynamics and "Trail America's" parent...they got caught in a market squeeze in the '90s and needed quick cash. They used their wholly-owned subsidiary scrapper, A&K Materials, to turn a quick buck by selling the steel to China, selling off whatever usable ties they could as landscape material, and then sold what ballast they recovered as ballast through A&K to Herzog. A&K was the Trojan horse that got the hedge fund's "Trails America" into the Kyle organization...through the Tulare Valley RR, which Kyle had erroeonously allowed A&K to be a majority owner of on the old Minkler Southern. Once Willis Kyle kicked the bucket, "Trails America" simply kept pressuring the family until they sold out. The month they completed the sale, scrapping began in earnest, as Bill Steck correctly points out. "Trails America" has been forced to halt scrapping numerous times by the "Surf Board," and UP is in a pickle trying to evict them from the property, as SP's lease agreement provides "Trails America" enough holes with which to hold onto the lease, as long as they make the payments. Interesting, too, is that "Trails America" has illegally subleased parts of the roadbed to various ag industries. UP has filed suit this year to recoup damages, and a favorable judgement in the case may invalidate "Trails America's" lease. Here's another good reason why A&K and "Trails America" want every bit of rail service eradicated in the east valley...one of their parent's biggest holdings is truck builder Paccar. A majority of all truck tractors working in the SJV ag indsutry area are Paccar products. It's GM and the street cars all over again.

DeserTBoB
Lancaster, CA
8/18/2012

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Ben Roberson mentions VE's electrification. SP had a head start in that business. SP company documents show that SP was cashing in on the "interurban craze" of the 1900s, and they had a power producer in the family...Collis' nephew, Henry, head of Pacific Power and Light, who was already at work building both the Borel, Kern River and Big Creek Projects, all formidable and highly advanced hydroelectric projects of those times. The reasoning was that SP could get a foothold in the San Joaquin interurban business and test out the unusual 15 Hz AC traction at the same time, testing the feasibility for eletrification of not only the Fresno line, but also possibly Tehachapi, for SP. The instant reason for Huntington's interest in these projects was to power his burgeoning Pacific Electric, as well as to corner the cheap hydroelectric generation business to Southern California with the shortest transmission lines. However, all these projects used the GE 60 Hz system rather than Westinghouse's 50 Hz, so for low speed traction, they needed rotary convertors that would divide the 60 down by four to a more workable frequency. Thus, instead of the distributed 25 Hz normally seen in the East for industrial work, PP&L could provide VE with 15 Hz GE rotary convertors, which worked splendidly. Once Henry died, the "grand amalgamation" of power companies in Los Angeles County occurred, which created Southern California Edison Co, which still is the power provider for that portion of the San Joaquin, using Big Creek power, to this day. I am an heir of some of the original 1917 "grand amalgamation" preferred stock. Up until the end, SCE feeders fed all PE converter stations under and agreement SCE worked out with PE and SP during the sale of PP&L assets, much to the constant consternation of LA DWP in LA city territory. The big loser in the "grand amalgamation" of 1917? Southern Sierras Power Co., later "Calectric," which finally gave up and was absorbed fully into Edison in 1964.

DeserTBoB
Lancaster, CA
8/18/2012

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Answering Mr. Pira's question about motive power, the "covered wagons" were never to be seen on the Exeter, or any of the other SJV branches. They were the province of S-6 switchers and Baldwin DRS models, the latter because the B-B or A1A-A1A trucks were deemed to be more kindly to the 1902 vintage light rail, which wasn't really true on curves or switches, which the Bald-Ones would eat up voraciously. On the VE, you never saw anything heavier than a 44 tonner or an S6 or, later, an SW8. However, in the '80s, SP yanked the SW8s off the VE and ran GP9s until the end of the show, mainly because SP was getting rid of all switchers older than an SW1500. The 9s seemed to do OK on that 60.5 lb rail, but derailments were the order of the day, and both engines were festooned with frogs. It's doubtful that any heavy road power was used even when this was a "secondary main." I believe I heard that the Exeter was home, as were many SJV branches, of the "valley malleys," the ancient M-6 class Moguls, which were light and fully amortized, thus weren't of much concern to 65 Market. I know for sure that the Moguls were regulars on the Sunset RR and the McKittrick and Buttonwillow branches, as well as many others. Side note: Notice that A&K not only got every bit of rail, but also scrapped out the pole line AND insulators AND cross braces. They were in it for the steel, NOT the intrinsic value of the "railroad appurtenances." I'm sure the Hemmingray 26 insulators are partially responsible for the flood of same on eBay back last year.

DeserTBoB
Lancaster, CA
8/19/2012

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Sorry for the long delay Mr. Pira, but your question from 6/28/2012 deserves an answer/

Simply put: SJVR only owned the physical plant. UP still owned the real estate underneath. Still does actually.

SJVR could scrap off its physical assets at a whim, and the owners make a quick profit.

Actually selling it in place to new OPERATORS, would require the agreement of the people that own the land. After all, the new operators were going to be working on somebody elses (UP's) property.

Every single community along this line wanted it to stay in place. Many shippers did to.

SJVR - a front for RailAmerica - just wanted to line it's pockets.

Bill
Bakersfield, CA
4/8/2013

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anyone ever seen a train here?

cade spencer
tulare,CA, CA
9/28/2016

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anyone ever seen a train here?

cade spencer
tulare,CA, CA
9/28/2016

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