SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY RAILROAD AT MILEPOST 3
BY DON BOWEN
January 1, 1995 marked the 3rd
anniversary of the start up of the San Joaquin Valley Railroad Company
(SJVR); 3 years of change for the SJVR. At this point a few words of
explanation will help the reader understand what is meant when one says
"San Joaquin Valley Railroad." The SJVR operates on 3 separate legal
entities: The San Joaquin Valley Railroad, The Tulare Valley Railroad, and
the Port Railroad.
The SJVR is a one of the shortlines owned
and/or operated by Kyle Railways Inc. of Phillipsburg, Kansas. The name
Kyle Railways is derived from Willis Kyle who began to build his shortline
and regional empire in 1956 when he purchased the Yreka Western. Kyle
assembled an impressive collection of shortlines (Arizona Eastern, Lahaina,
Kaanapali, and Pacific, California Western, Idaho Western and others) and
1 regional (Kyle Railroad) until his death in Fresno, California in late
In January 1992 the SJVR purchased and/or
began operations on the following Southern Pacific Branches: the Exeter
Branch from Fresno to Famoso, the Visalia Branch from Goshen Jct. to
Exeter, the Coalinga Branch from Goshen Jct. to Turk (8 miles west of
Huron), the Stratford Branch from Rossi to Stratford, and 1 mile of the
defunct Visalia Electric to a point east of the VE/ATSF 90 degree
crossing. The SJVR bought the rail, ties, and ballast: SP retained
ownership of the land. SJVR immediately embargoed the Stratford branch
and used it only to remove cars spotted by the S.P. prior to the
takeover. The Coalinga Branch has been cut back to Huron due to a
recurring bridge washout between Huron and Turk. The SJVR rostered 7
locomotives in 1992: 101, 103, 104, 1751, 1754, 1755, and 2038. More on
SJVR motive power later.
The former V.E. (Visalia Electric) shop/enginehouse
and S.P./V.E. office building were purchased by Kyle for the SJVR
headquarters. The office building was completely renovated before the
Jan. 1, 1992 start-up and has been more than doubled in size by the
construction of an addition in 1994. The shop/enginehouse has had
numerous improvements made on it to allow the railroad to inspect, service
and repair it's fleet of locomotives.
The Tulare Valley Railroad is jointly
owned by Kyle Railways Inc. and A. and K. Railroad Materials of Salt Lake
City, Utah. A. and K. is the major investor and Kyle is the minor
investor; the reason for this has become clear as events have transpired
in the last 2 years. The TVRR took over Santa Fe's Visalia Sub. between
Calwa and Corcoran, the Porterville Sub. between Cutler and Ducor and
between Oil Junction and Jastro on December 22, 1992. TVRR purchased the
rail, ties, ballast and the land in, contrast to the SJVR which did not
purchase the land. The joint owned (SP/ATSF) branches: the Arvin Branch,
the Oil City Branch, Santa Fe's Fresno interurban and S.P.'s Clovis and
Jovista Branches were also taken over by the SJVR on the same date. 3
more locomotives were added to work the additional jobs; 1825, 2035, and
The SJVR has never used the Visalia Sub.
(built 1897) between Tulare and Corcoran and S.P. removed the 90 degree
crossing on its Fresno-Bakersfield mainline in Tulare in February 1993.
A. and K. completed the removal of the rail and ties of this portion of
the Visalia Sub. in December 1994. The Visalia Sub. between Cutler and
Visalia was not used by the SJVR and the rail and ties were removed from
Cutler to the S.P. connection at Early California Foods in south Visalia
during the fall of 1994. The SJVR had reconstructed the Early California
Foods SP/ATSF connecting track prior to the 12-22-92 takeover and
delivered loads to a shipper in Visalia north of the junction (railroad
west) several times during early 1993. The last SJVR train used this
segment of track in May 1993.
The SJVR used the Visalia Sub. between
the Early California Foods connection and Tulare until early 1994 when the
SJVR built a vehicle unloading facility in Exeter. There is a truck body
manufacturer in Tulare that receives many Ford chassis each year and these
are now transloaded to auto carrier trucks from bilevel railcars in Exeter
and delivered to Tulare. Another shipper is a large agricultural chemical
distributor at Loma. In late 1993 TVRR placed a $500. per car surcharge
on all loads delivered to or picked up from all customers on the Visalia
and Porterville Subs except those in Exeter, Lindsay and Ducor. After
much discussion, the railroad decided that the business of the Ag.
Chemical distributor at Loma would be worth keeping and the TVRR deleted
the surcharge and will retain this approximately 4 mile segment of track.
The remaining 5 plus miles to Tulare will be abandoned.
On April 9, 1993 the SJVR celebrated a
major improvement when it opened a connecting track in Exeter between it's
former S.P. Yard and the TVRR's former Santa Fe Yard. It is not
surprising that the conclusion of a railroad project would be celebrated
in Exeter. Southern Pacific Railroad built the Exeter Branch between
Fresno and Famoso in 1988, and in 1889 S.P.'s development agency, the
Pacific Improvement Company, bought land and laid out the city. Exeter,
England was the hometown of Dwight W. Parkhurt, the Pacific Improvement
Company developer, thus the name given to the town laid at this location.
Between 1905 and 1917 Southern Pacific
covertly financed the construction of the Visalia Electric Railroad from a
connection with it's tracks in Exeter toward the east and northeast of the
city to serve the large fruit packinghouses near the Sierra Nevada
foothills. The last (before the SJVR) railroad to arrive in Exeter was
the Santa Fe Railway which built the Porterville Subdivision under the
name Minkler Southern Railway in 1913. Southern Pacific arrived first and
the town was built around it, the V.E is essentially perpendicular to the
S.P. and is connected to it with a "WYE". Santa Fe's north-south aligned
track was laid east of Exeter and crossed the east-west V.E. at a 90
degree crossing about .9 mile east of the S.P. yard.
There has never been a connection between
the SP/VE and the Santa Fe in Exeter until the present trackwork was
done. A connection in Porterville, 18 miles distant, has been removed for
years. The only way the SJVR could get from the S.P. Yard to the A.T.S.F.
yard in Exeter was to go railroad west to Lac Jac or railroad east to
Ducor where the tracks join and return to the other yard. Thus a move of
less than 1 mile would require more than 60 miles of rail travel.
Exeter Memorial Hospital owned the land
needed for the connection and granted an easement to the railroad; if the
railroad leaves, the hospital will get the land back. The limited amount
of space available made it necessary to make a rather sharp (22 degree)
curve to connect the V.E. and A.T.S.F. tracks. A turnout was placed in
the Santa Fe branch and the 110 lb. welded V.E. rail was cut west of the
90 degree crossing. The rail and ties were moved into the excavated,
partially ballasted new alignment and additional ties and rail were added
to complete the 800 ft. connection. The 90 degree crossing has been
removed and the area adjacent to the connection has been landscaped. SJVR
GP 28 1825 (IC 9430) was the first locomotive to traverse the curve when
it was transferred from the ATSF side to the SP side for use in the 10:00
A.M. ribbon cutting and official opening at the V.E. end of the curve.
The SJVR became more or less a passenger
railroad in May 1993 when Kyle Railways business car, Kyle 13, the Santa
Rosa carried a group of Kyle Family members and friends from Fresno to
Exeter. The car was being transferred from storage on a spur on the
former S.P. Clovis Branch to a fenced enclosure in the SJVR's Exeter
Yard. The Santa Rosa 500 was built in 1917 by Pullman for the El Paso and
Southwestern Company. The El Paso & Southwestern System was the result of
the merger of several predecessor railroads in Arizona and New Mexico.
Southern Pacific took over the EP & SW System in 1924 and acquired the
Santa Rosa with the transaction. In 1937 the Santa Rosa 128 was
air-conditioned and updated. Willis Kyle's Yreka Western bought the car
on March 18, 1968 and it was renumbered 68.
The car has been used 10-15 times since
it was transferred to Exeter. Basically 2 groups have rented the car;
railfans and/or rail history buffs, and non-railfans who want to celebrate
a special occasion such as a birthday. All the groups, except 2, have
taken a round trip on the former S.P. to Lac Jac for a 6 to 8 hour
excursion with photo runbys. One railfan group's round trip was extended
past Lac Jac to Lone Star on the former Santa Fe Visalia Sub.
Another noticeable exception was on May
14, 1994 when a candidate for Sheriff of Tulare County rented the Santa
Rosa for a "Whistle Stop" campaign special. This historic train began at
Ducor and went railroad west to Dinuba on the former S.P. Exeter Branch
with stops at Ducor, Terra Bella, Porterville, Strathmore, Lindsay and
Dinuba. It then retraced its route to Exeter for a stop, afterwards it
proceeded on S.P.'s former Visalia Branch to Farmersville and Visalia for
rallies. The train then returned to the SP/ATSF connecting track and
traversed it to the former Santa Fe Visalia Sub. and traveled this line to
Tulare where the tour was completed. It has been many years since a
passenger train of any description has been on much of this trackage.
The Port Railroad took over the 33 mile
former Southern Pacific Buttonwillow Branch from Kern Junction to
Buttonwillow and 47.6 miles of S.P.'s former Westside Branch from Fresno
to Oxalis. Additionally S.P.'s former 24.6 Riverdale Branch from Ingle
on the Westside Branch to Burble was included in the transaction. This
is a long term lease and not a purchase by Kyle Railways. What is the
significance of the name Port Railroad? Kyle owned the name Port
Railroad which it used for its railroad in San Francisco. When this
railroad ceased operations, Kyle had an extra name which it decided would
be used for its latest California acquisition. 3 more locomotives, 2037,
2041, and 2042, were obtained for the increased workload.
The SJVR has 13 jobs at the present
time; unless noted they are 5 days a week, M - F. 3 jobs originate in
Exeter. At 06:30 the Exeter local comes on duty and can go anywhere from
Ducor to Loma or from Terra Bella to Orange Cove depending on the work
that needs to be done. The Goshen Job is on duty at 07:00 and does the
switching and needed work between Exeter and Goshen Junction and transfers
loads and empties between the 2 terminals. 18:00 is when the "hauler"
begins its work, the hauler transfers loads and empties to Fresno serving
the shippers between Exeter and Fresno returning with cars from the Santa
Fe Calwa Yard. A Hanford Job is on duty at 08:00 and works west to Lemore
or Huron and returns working east to Goshen to interchange cars with the
S.P.. The Hanford locomotive is kept in a fenced enclosure at Hanford when
not on duty.
Fresno has 3 jobs at the present time: a
06:30 job that works the Westside and Riverdale Subdivisions. Both subs
are not worked past Ingle each day; but are worked on an "as needed"
basis. A 07:00 job works east to Sanger and returns to the Fresno Yard.
The Clovis Sub. Job begins at 20:00 and works the former Santa Fe Fresno
Interurban Branch and S.P.'s Clovis Branch as far as Clovis; the balance
of the branch has been removed. The SJVR's Fresno motive is stored at
the S.P. Fresno Yard.
6 jobs originate from the Santa Fe Yard
at Bakersfield. The Santa Fe yard switcher goes on duty at 04:00 Tuesday
through Saturday, in addition to switching the SJVR cars at the ATSF yard
it also serves San Joaquin Petroleum, and Coast Petroleum on the Landco
Sub. At 05:00 the job that works the Buttonwillow Sub. begins duty. The
Oil Junction/Oil City job begins at 06:00 with 3 crewman. This job also
works the former S.P. Exeter Branch as far as Jovista 2 days a week. At
15:00 hours on Sunday through Thursday the "hauler" starts to work
transferring cars between the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Yards. In
addition to its transfer work the hauler also serves some of the shippers
near Bakersfield on the Buttonwillow Sub. The Bakersfield Relief Job
works Thursday through Monday spelling crews from the other jobs.
All trains, except the Oil City Job, work
with 2 crewmen: an engineer and a conductor. A union election was held in
the spring of 1994 and the operating personnel voted 11 to 10 to go union,
the clerks and machinists voted to stay non-union. The entire issue of
the union has caused a tension that did not exist before.
Santa Fe and Southern Pacific bill the
shippers for the total tariff and then pay the SJVR etc. a pre-negotiated
fee for its work. The SJVR hauls grain, truck chassis, flour, cheese,
paper, chemicals, petroleum products, scrap metal, Brandy, oranges, sugar
beets, sand, coke, and other freight that total approximately 2500 loads
per month. While the number 2500 seems impressive; it is somewhat
deceptive due to the fact that it requires 13 jobs to do the work because
most of the loads are delivered in small numbers rather than by unit
trains. Harris Ranch at Huron is an exception, it receives 75 car unit
grain trains several times a month. Another disappointment is the small
amount of perishable traffic generated from the fruit belt on the eastside
of the San Joaquin Valley. Most is shipped by truck, and when the
railroad has a shipper that wants to ship by rail, refrigerator cars are
in short supply. Almost all eastside perishable business goes in cars
from Santa Fe, S.P. refers are a rare thing in Exeter. Cheese from
Leprino Foods in Lemore is shipped via S.P. refers and U.P. cars were used
for potatoes from the Arvin Branch.
What of the future? There are rumors of
talks with S.P. regarding the SJVR doing the Fresno Yard switching and the
Tulare Turn. The possible use of trailers and containers for the
perishable freight is being considered. The expense of a
trailer/container loader at Exeter is a major obstacle. It is just a
matter of time until the former Santa Fe Visalia Sub. between Loma and
Tulare is abandoned and removed. The Visalia Sub. between Calwa and
Cutler and the Porterville Sub. between Cutler and Exeter will eventually
be abandoned and removed. South of Lindsay there are 2 options. The
former Santa Fe Porterville Sub. could be removed between Lindsay and
Ultra and the shipper at Ultra would be reached via Ducor. Or both lines
could go; the Santa Fe between Lindsay and Ducor and the S.P. between
Lindsay band Richgrove. Only time and carloadings will tell the fate of
these segments of railroad.