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Cushenbury Caravan 5/4/1985

by Chris Guenzler

In the mail came a flyer advertising a Pacific Railroad Society Trip to Cushenbury on the Santa Fe Lucerne Valley District. My parents wanted to go to this unusual location and my friend Bruce Fenton wanted to go so we had a foursome. About three days before we the trip I became sick as a dog and even went to the doctor who put me on pills and liquid medication. There was not going to be anything stopping me from going on this trip so on Saturday morning May 4th, 1985 I put myself into the best condition I could and the four of us drove up to Fullerton to board the Sunset Limited equipment to be used for today's trip.

The history of the Lucerne Valley District goes back only to 1956 when a 29.5 mile branch was built eastward from Hesperia to Cushenbury on the north slopes of the San Bernardino Mountains where Permanente Cement Company built a plant. Near Spur 5, the Pfizer Company built a limestone plant to supply Kaiser Steel in Fontana until it shut down in the late 1980's. Freight service was one train five days a week. The first excursion was PRS 111 on May 19, 1957 in conjunction with the lines opening. This we followed by trip 144 on November 11, 1962 and Excursion 170 on June 12, 1966 with the fourth trip ever being today's Excursion 373.

The train arrived on time into Fullerton and we all boarded the ex Santa Fe Hi-level coach number 3 for our trip today. The nice thing about these cars are their dutch doors. We settled into our seats for the ride out the Third District of the Santa Fe to Barstow. This is a rare route to ride a passenger train over since Amtrak started with only the westbound Southwest Chief running this route on New Year's Day or a rerouted Desert Wind like I rode back in August of 1980 or the odd excursion trains over the years. We went east clearing the junction of the Fourth District down to San Diego and headed out through Fullerton before ducking under the 57 Freeway to Placentia out to Atwood along all the locations I had photographed freight trains over the years. At Atwood the Olive District joined our line and shortly we came to the end of the double track. We entered Santa Ana Canyon as soon as we had crossed Imperial Highway. We passed the first of the track homes to be built out here before we passed the Orange Groves and Esperanza Siding. The canyon was still rural Orange County at this point before the building boom here would take place in the next few years. We rounded the horseshoe curve with the dry Santa Ana River below. We passed above the groves with a few located on the slopes above the tracks. We closed in on the canyon walls which we ran below out to along Green River Golf Course where we passed through a cut out onto the high bridge over the Santa Ana River with the mobile home park built below in the river's floodplain. We ran under the 91 Freeway to Prado Dam siding with the view of Prado Dam with 200 Years of Freedom painted on the face. The dam built in 1941 was to solve the flooding problems down steam in Orange County where the Santa Ana River used to flood and change it's course.

We plunged under the 91 Freeway again taking us to Corona and by the old depot still standing. Under the 91 once more crossing Temescal Wash, we made our way by Porphyry and ran along the Arlington Irrigation Canal out between the hills to La Sierra. We continued east through Arlington and Casa Blanca before we made the big "S" curve between the hills and by the cemetery into Riverside stopping the Santa Fe Station for photos.

Next we traveled to Riverside Jct where the Union Pacific joined our route. We went under the 60 Freeway and by the park where the Riverside Live Steamers meet. We curved to the north at Highgrove where the San Jacinto District joined our route. We crossed over the 215E freeway before dropping down the hill to cross the Santa Ana River again on a much lower bridge. We went through Colton crossing the Southern Pacific at the former location of Colton Tower removed a few years ago. Under the Interstate 10 bridge and by the former Union Pacific's Colton Depot. We crossed Lytle Creek just short of Santa Fe's "B" Yard which we ran through then under Rialto Avenue and curved into San Bernardino's "A" Yard. We went under the Mount Vernon Viaduct with the Santa Fe's shop buildings to the north and their beautiful station to the south we before we curved to the north along the freeway to start the assault on the grades of Cajon Pass.

We climbed out of San Bernardino and headed northwest along Cajon Blvd through Ono and Verdemont with the SP's Palmdale Cutoff closing in on us. We had the pacers chasing us along side who then waited at where we crossed over Cajon Blvd. A good crowd was in Devore to greet us as we pulled by crossing Cajon Creek Wash and went under Interstate 15. We ran parallel to the SP line climbing the pass as the walls of the canyon narrowed the further northwest we went. We passed through Kennbrook before making the wide turn into Blu Cut and our crossing the San Andres Fault. We cut through the rocks before crossing Swartout Canyon Road before making the turn at the rocks where I sat when I was a Boy Scout to watch trains at the old Cajon Campground. We made our way to Cajon where we were routed around Sullivan's Curve with all of the train's passengers thankful we were. Photographers were set up everywhere on the pass but really were focused here.

Minutes later we crossed Highway 138 at grade before crossing Cajon Creek and running below the Mormon Rocks. We curved to the east at the Davis Ranch then continued our climb under Interstate 15 over the old Highway 66 bridge, passed the Alray siding and into the Lower Tunnel. We popped into daylight briefly before we entered the Upper Tunnel before running east along the slope. The down {south} track was closing in on us as we made the turn to the south where we rejoined the other mainline before making the sweeping turn to the east through the deep cut to Summit. As we arrived here a UP freight was starting down the down track so I knew we would cross over at Lugo to be on the right track at Hesperia. We made a rather large "S" curve to reach the Summit Valley where the train chasers were waiting for us. We crossed over at Lugo to the south track went by the Hesperia Airport before we arrived at Hesperia ducking under Main Street before stopping at the switch that led onto the Lucerne Valley District.

The switch was thrown and the train slowly moved onto new trackage for me. We pulled forward far enough to clear the mainline before the switch was returned to it's previous position. With the crew now back on the train we departed Hesperia on the Cushenbury Branch with a top speed of 35 mph. We crossed the Mojave River on a low deck bridge before turning to the north for a short distance, passed Spur 1 before turning east once more. My favorite type of desert plant, the Joshua Trees are in great abundance along the line. Further out we passed Spur 2. After some straight running the tracks make a small "S" curve to Bass Siding. This line had slight twists and turns to it as we crossed over Arrastre Canyon, Lovelace Canyon and Grapevine Canyon washes. Lucerne Dry Lake stood out in the valley below. As we climbed the view of the Lucerne Valley really improved. We crossed Sliver Creek, Dry Canyon Wash, Crystal Creek and Furnace Canyon Washes all came prior to Spur 5. To the south we had the San Bernardino Mountains and to the north across the Lucerne valley we had the Granite and Ord Mountains. We stayed on the hillside as we crossed Arctic Canyon Wash and Marble Canyon before arriving at Cushenbury with the cement plant standing guard. They ran the power around the train before they let us off for a short look around with pictures of our train being on everyone's mind.

Once back on board the train returned the way we came. We did a photo runby at the Mojave River Bridge, returned over Cajon Pass down the 3.3 % grade and at San Bernardino went the short way bypassing "B" yard returning to Fullerton right on schedule ending a most interesting trip. A special thanks to the Pacific Railroad Society for another great and interesting trip.