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North to Niles 3/11-12/2021

by Chris Guenzler

The Niles Canyon Railway offered their first trip of the year with a journey behind Robert Dollar 2-6-2T 3. Neither Elizabeth nor I had ever ridden behind it before but we did take photographs of it during a post-Winterail photographers special several years ago. Greg and Marty Smith had never been to Niles Canyon Railway and wanted to do this. Since Elizabeth and I were already members, we suggested to them that they become members. They did so but then decided to drive up themselves and meet us at the hotel at Pleasanton. As Elizabeth had never been to the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad, we decided to visit them on Sunday after our Saturday trip. On Monday, we would meet Greg and Marty again and ride the Calico Railroad.

Our Trip 3/11/2021

We woke up at our apartment in Santa Ana and after having breakfast and checking the Internet, we left at 8:30 AM. We took CA 22 to Interstate 5 to CA 126 to the first stop at Piru.

The Piru Fillmore and Western station which is a replica station building. From here we took CA 126 the rest of the way to Ventura then got on US 101 for our journey to Goleta.

This is the scene as you enter the property.

They have a wig-wag signal and a caboose.

Southern Pacific bay window caboose 4023.

Museum scene.

Southern Pacific Goleta station built in 1901 and home to the South Coast Railroad Museum.

They have a miniature train that we would like to ride when the museum is open again.

Three more views of the Southern Pacific Goleta station.

Museum scene.

Goleta Depot plaque. We then drove north on US 101 to Nipomo and found no depot but when I asked a gentleman, he told me where to go to see a piece of the Pacific Coast Railway narrow gauge track.

Pacific Coast Railway History The Pacific Coast Railway was a 3 foot narrow gauge railway on the Central Coast of California. The original 10-mile link from San Luis Obispo to Avila Beach and Port Harford was later built southward to Santa Maria and Los Olivos, with branches to Sisquoc and Guadalupe. The Santa Maria Valley of the central California coast was isolated by the Santa Lucia Range to the north and the Santa Inez Range to the south. El Camino Real traversed the difficult La Cuesta pass to reach San Francisco via the Salinas Valley or San Marcos pass to reach Los Angeles via Santa Barbara. The 1,800 foot People's Wharf was built at Port Harford in 1869 to transfer freight and passengers from Pacific Coast Steamships Mohongo, Orizaba and Gypsy operating between San Francisco and San Diego. Goodall, Nelson and Perkins steamships Ventura and Constantine began weekly service to Port Harford in 1873; and Ah Louis built a horse-powered, 2 foot 6 inch narrow gauge tramway in 1873 to transport passengers and freight between Port Harford and a wagon road at Avila Beach. In 1876, Pacific Coast Steamship Company replaced the tram with the 3 foot narrow gauge steam-powered San Luis Obispo & Santa Maria Valley Railroad to San Luis Obispo. Operations began with ten boxcars and one coach pulled by a 2-4-2 and a 4-4-0 built by Baldwin Locomotive Works. San Luis Obispo rail yard warehouses became a commercial center for inbound merchandise and outgoing shipments of hay, grain, dairy products, sheep and cattle. The rail line was extended from San Luis Obispo to Arroyo Grande in 1881 and to Santa Maria in 1882. Grant Locomotive Works built another 4-4-0 and two 2-6-0 locomotives to pull a fleet of 120 new flatcars. A new 3,000 foot wharf at Port Harford was 80 feet wide with tracks extending the full length.


Oregon Improvement Company obtained controlling interest in the Pacific Coast Steamship Company in late 1882, reorganized the railroad as the Pacific Coast Railway, and extended the line to Los Alamos. The next project was to replace the heavy grade of the original tramway alignment with a deep rock cut and long fill. The line was then extended to Los Olivos in 1887. A fire in 1892 destroyed the San Luis Obispo car shops, grain warehouse, loaded freight cars, half of the railroad's passenger cars and all the cabooses while heavily damaging the station and freight warehouse. Operations were profitable enough to promptly repair the damage. Passenger traffic though Port Harford declined when Southern Pacific reached San Luis Obispo from San Francisco in 1894. Southern Pacific freight rates were high enough to keep most Santa Maria Valley freight on the steamboats; but the loss of passenger traffic put the Oregon Improvement Company into receivership. The reorganized railroad built a 4 mile branch line in 1899 from Santa Maria to a new Union Sugar Company beet refinery in Betteravia.

Boom years

The increased agricultural business was shortly overshadowed by discovery of oil in the Santa Maria Valley. By 1902 the railroad had converted its engines to burn oil and was strapping tanks from standard gauge cars onto their flatcars at the rate of ten per month. The railway's three 2-6-0 locomotives were inadequate to move all the oil to storage tanks near San Luis Bay. Five new Baldwin 2-8-0s were delivered by 1906 as the freight car fleet expanded to two hundred cars. The Betteravia branch was electrified in 1906 and extended to Guadalupe in 1909. Another electrified branch was built in 1910 to serve an oil refinery near Sisquoc. Three center-cab electric locomotives worked the branches with a center-door interurban car built by Cincinnati Car Company in 1912.


The 4 foot 8 1/2 inch standard gauge Santa Maria Valley Railroad was built parallel to the electrified branch of the narrow gauge. Santa Maria Valley agriculture slowly shifted from sugar beets to produce which could be loaded directly onto Southern Pacific refrigerator cars. The sugar beet factory closed in 1927, and electric operations ended in 1928, although steam locomotives still worked the branches occasionally. Profits peaked in 1921 and declined as automobiles became more common, but the railroad saw a brief increase in business hauling gravel for construction of U.S. Route 101 in 1928 and 1929. The gravel business required purchase of two 2-8-0s from the recently standard-gauged Nevada-California-Oregon Railway to replace Pacific Coast 2-8-0s dismantled for parts to keep the other engines running. Service to Los Olivos was reduced to a twice-weekly mixed train by 1930 and ended in 1933. A used Plymouth Locomotive Works gasoline switcher was purchased in 1936. The line beyond Los Alamos was dismantled in 1936, and the branch lines were dismantled in 1937. In 1938 locomotive number 106 was destroyed in a grade crossing collision with a gasoline truck, and the last three coaches and a baggage car were sold to the White Pass and Yukon Route. A single combine car numbered 106 was the last piece of passenger equipment. The United States Navy bought the boxcars for use at Naval Station Pearl Harbor when operations ended in 1941; and locomotive number 111 went to the Oahu Railway and Land Company. Bell Oil Company briefly used the railway north of Santa Maria until the line was dismantled in 1942. Most of the remaining equipment was cut up for scrap by 1948, but caboose number 2 has been preserved at the California State Railroad Museum. The remaining right-of-way in Santa Maria was taken over by SMV and converted to standard gauge.

The Pacific Coast Railway display.

The Pacific Coast Railway plaque and track.

The concrete crossbuck, unique to this railway.

The historic piece of track and ties.

Elizabeth and the concrete crossbuck. From here, I drove us to Oceano.

Museum scene.

Southern Pacific outside-braced wooden boxcar.

San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railway caboose 3317 which became Santa Maria Valley Railroad 170 in 1926.

Southern Pacific Oceano station built in 1904 which replaced the original 1896 structure which burned in 1903. This combination passenger and freight depot is located 400 yards south of its former location. The building was closed in 1973 and moved to this site in 1978.

The depot sign.

The baggage cart.

Southern Pacific Fairmont motorcar 3131 built in 1950.

The plaque of the Fairmont motorcar. Next I took Elizabeth to one of my mother's and my favorite restaurants, also here in Oceano.

The Rock and Roll Diner in Oceano.

Great Northern ranch car 1153 "Lake Josephine" which became Burlington Northern 1153 then Amtrak 8067 and is now 1302. It was built in 1946.

A Budd-built 1947 lounge car used on Seaboard Air Line's Orange Blossom Special 6605 ex Seaboard Coast Lines 5845 exx Amtrak 3345. We enjoyed our lunch before driving into San Luis Obispo.

San Luis Street Railway horse-drawn car 1 in service from 1887 to 1901.

The Southern Pacific station built in 1889 and is the only remains of the Ramona Hotel. These were found at the Dallidet Adobe. We then drove to the current Amtrak station for some streetside views.

The Southern Pacific station built in 1943 which replaced the original 1885 one. It is used by Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight. We then went next door to the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum.

Pacific Coast Railway boxcar 706 has been cosmetically restored on the exterior and the interior has been converted to storage and restrooms, accessible from the freighthouse interior.

The wig-wag signal.

Union Oil Company push car.

Pacific Coast Railway narrow gauge 1200 series boxcar was built by the American Car and Foundry Company in 1924.

Southern Pacific Railroad Pacific Motor Trucking trailer 3009.

The freighthouse and museum building.

La Cuesta, formerly known as La Condesa, a 1926 Pullman observation open platform car was donated to the museum by member Gordon Crosthwait in June of 2006. Formerly Santa Fe 1512, it was one of five cars built as cafe-observation cars. The car continued in this configuration for its entire service life. La Condesa was purchased around 1966 by Finley Fun Time Tours and sold to Gordon Crosthwait, a school teacher from Los Osos, in 1969. He renamed her La Condesa and for nearly 20 years, she was a private excursion car leased to charter groups. The car was first based in Fresno and then later moved to Fullerton near the Amtrak Station. She slipped into semi-retirement in the early 1990s when Amtrak issued its new private car standards. In June 2006, Mr. Crosthwait donated the car to the Railroad Museum. In February 2007 he passed away, knowing that he had found a loving home for his car. The car was then moved in 2007 to Santa Maria Valley Railroad until the museum could finish its display track as a long term home. In Santa Maria, the car was used by the SMVRR as a business car and museum members worked on rehabilitating the car. In June 2014, the car was moved to the museum's display track in San Luis Obispo, where it now sits adjacent to the Museum platform and is available for viewing.

Southern Pacific bay window caboose 1886 built in June 1972 and was last used on the Lompoc local.

United States Army ML-6 2038. This Plymouth 20 ton switcher was purchased by the Army Corps of Engineers and delivered to the camp in April 1941 to develop and supply Camp Roberts, near San Miguel. Operated by the Quarter Master Corps as Q.M.C. 2038, the locomotive switched railroad cars of munitions and supplies for over 430,000 soldiers who were trained at the camp during World War II. It was the only locomotive ever operated at Camp Roberts in San Luis Obispo County.

The plaque about the locomotive above.

A unique railroad timeline in San Luis Obispo.

We caught the southbound Coast Starlight 11 during its station stop in San Luis Obispo.

Southern Pacific bay window caboose 409.

A semaphore signal. From here I drove Elizabeth over to the museum's storage yard.

Southern Pacific Railroad boxcar 28148.

Southern Pacific wooden caboose 244. Carrying on, we departed San Luis Obispo for our next stop in Templeton.

The Southern Pacific station in Templeton built in 1886. We left here and drove the short distance to Paso Robles.

The Southern Pacific Paso Robles station rebuilt after the 1996 fire.

The Southern Pacific Paso Robles freight house. We left Paso Robles and drove north on US 101 to King City through some heavy rain showers.

Southern Pacific caboose 4658 in San Lorenzo Regional Park.

Southern Pacific station in King City, built in 1886, also in San Lorenzo Regional Park.

Park scene.

They also have a wig-wag signal here. We then drove north the rest of the way to the Quality Inn in Gilroy. I watched most of the third period of the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres before walking across the street to dinner at the Black Bear Diner. Afterwards, we returned to the room and I re-named the pictures before writing the story. After this we called it a night.

3/12/2021 We woke up and got dressed before we walked underneath the freeway to Denny's where I had French Toast, sausage and bacon. I did the driving today while Elizabeth navigated. We checked out and gassed up the car. Our first stop this morning was Hollister so we made our way there.

The plaque on the station wall.

The Southern Pacific Hollister station built in 1892. This is the only railroad structure in San Benito County. I drove Elizabeth through the Pajaro Gap so she could see how the railroad she had ridden on on the Coast Starlight negotiated the San Andreas Fault. From here we went to Watsonville to our next stop.

The Southern Pacific Watsonville station built in 1895. As we were leaving, I spotted something and we pulled off the road.

St. Paul and Pacific GP15 1500, originally Frisco 118. Construction was started on the Santa Cruz Railroad in 1873 and completed in 1876 as a narrow gauge line. The Santa Cruz was acquired by the Southern Pacific in 1881 and shortly after was converted to standard gauge. Southern Pacific ultimately acquired other lines into Santa Cruz but before the Southern Pacific was merged into the Union Pacific in 1996, only the 32 miles between Watsonville Junction, Santa Cruz and Davenport remained. The line was eventually purchased by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission. In 2012 Iowa Pacific was selected to operate the line and service commenced in November 2012. 2018 saw Progressive Rail take over operations as the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. We next drove to Capitola.

The Southern Pacific Capitola station built in 1906 and converted to the Inn at Depot Hill, a bed and breakfast, which looked very inviting. Our next stop was in Santa Cruz where I would show Elizabeth the surviving wig-wags in that city.

The wig-wag at Chestnut and Walnut Streets.

A block south at Chestnut and Lincoln was this wig-wag signal. As we drove north, I showed Elizabeth the rest of the branch that I had taken a motorcar down on a North American Rail Car Owners Association trip. We continued up the coast and I had to pull off to take a picture.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse with an interesting rock in front of it south of Half Moon Bay. We drove into the park and parked.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse built in 1871 to guide ships on the Pacific coast of California. It is the tallest lighthouse (tied with Point Arena Light) on the West Coast of the United States. It is still an active Coast Guard aid to navigation. Pigeon Point Light Station is located on the State Route 1, 5 miles south of Pescadero, between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. The 115 foot white masonry tower resembles the typical New England structure.

That rock from the lighthouse view.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Elizabeth and the Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Two more views.

History board on the property.

The view north from the lighthouse. There is a hotel here that we want to stay at in the future. We drove the rest of the way to Half Moon Bay.

Ocean Shore Railroad History

The Ocean Shore Railroad was a railroad built between San Francisco and Tunitas Glen, and Swanton and Santa Cruz that operated along the Pacific coastline from 1905 until 1921. The route was originally conceived to be a continuous line between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, but the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, financial difficulties, and the advent of the automobile caused the line to never reach its goals, and remain with a Northern and Southern division. Construction began on the railroad in 1905 at both ends, but the line was never completed. The April 18, 1906 earthquake caused major damage and delayed completion of the railroad. A major tunnel was built at Devil's Slide; another tunnel was built near Davenport. There were numerous bridges and trestles along the route. The tracks from San Francisco were completed as far south as Tunitas Creek, south of Half Moon Bay. The tracks north from Santa Cruz were completed as far north as Swanton, north of Davenport. Trackage within the city of San Francisco was electrified, while the rest of the line was operated with steam locomotives and later with self-propelled railcars. Despite significant passenger patronage, especially on weekends, the railroad never recovered from losses in the 1906 earthquake and failed to attract enough freight traffic to cover increasing deficits. A never-built branch would have split from the mainline and run along what is now 19th Avenue, Eucalyptus Drive, 47th Avenue, Rivera Street and 48th Avenue to Golden Gate Park. Completion of the Pedro Mountain Road in 1913 provided additional competition to the railroad, particularly since many farmers began using trucks to transport their produce to San Francisco, instead of paying expensive freight charges. Mainline service was abandoned in 1920. The line north from Santa Cruz was leased to the San Vicente Lumber Company, which continued to use the tracks until 1920. Electrified trackage within the city of San Francisco, which served major industries, was operated for many years, in part by the San Francisco Muni. A segment of the railroad in the southeast section of San Francisco was also operated by the Western Pacific Railroad. This section was in use until the mid-1980s and was the last part of the Ocean Shore in operation. Following abandonment, the railroad company fought for decades over ownership of their right-of-way, large portions of which they had purchased wholesale rather than as easements. The company reincorporated as the Ocean Shore Railroad Company, Inc. on November 16, 1934 and continues to exist as this legal entity to manage the sales and leasing of various properties the company still owns in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties.

The Ocean Shore Arleta station, now a residence.

The Ocean Shore Kelly station built 1908.

The sign for the Kelly station.

Southern Pacific C-40-3 caboose built in 1942, now Dad's Luncheonette, formerly Daddy O's To Go.

The Ocean Shores El Granada station.

The Ocean Shores Pedro Valley station.

A boxcar that has been turned into a restaurant on the way to Colma.

Semaphore signal at Colma.

The Southern Pacific Colma station built in 1863.

The train board.

The historic plaque on the Colma station.

The Colma freight house.

Museum scene. From here we drove north through San Francisco to the Golden Gate Bridge, on which Elizabeth would be making her first crossing.

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

The view looking back to San Francisco. We made our way to Mill Valley.

The Mill Valley Northwestern Pacific station built in 1929.

The plaque and the unique Northwestern Pacific emblem. From here we went to Tiburon.

The Tiburon Northwestern Pacific station built in 1886, now the Railroad and Ferry Museum.

Landmarks Railroad Ferry Depot and Museum sign.

History of the station.

Northwestern Pacific Railroad dedication plaque.

More views of the Tiburon station.

Historic wheels on display.

View of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. From here we drove to San Rafael and had Subway for lunch. We drove CA 37 and hit the worst traffic jam of my life. This lasted for over an hour as we sat and moved only a few feet at a time. I was glad to be going 30 miles an hour, then 40, then 50 and finally 55 once we cleared the mess. There was no accident; it was a traffic light and two lanes merging into one. After that traffic dilemma, we made our way to Benecia to our next station of the trip on a new plan.

The Southern Pacific Benicia station which used to be in Banta and was built in 1888. Our last stop of the day was Danville.

Southern Pacific caboose 1342.

The Southern Pacific Danville station built in 1891 and home to the San Ramon Valley Museum. We took surface streets the rest of the way to the Best Western Plus in Pleasanton and checked in. After I put the pictures in the computer, we had dinner at the Black Bear Diner with Greg and Marty Smith, drove up from Orange this morning. After I told Greg about what we had seen the past two days, he wanted to see the pictures and I showed them to both of them. After I named the pictures and took a shower, I wrote the story and then we called it a night.