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THE 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 1991.

 

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 2043.

 

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.