How my railroad interests moved from the Pacific Northwest to Southern New South Wales .....with a stop over in Southern California

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Modeling History - Part 3 - The SP of My Childhood

The year is 1965, the location is Fillmore, California...about 45 miles north of Los Angeles on Southern Pacific's Santa Paula Branch.  The train is the San Francisco to LA Coast Mail, detouring due to a derailment on the Main Line.  The boy on the right at the crossing is me, along with my younger brother.    This painting, a composite of several actual events was commissioned from noted U.S. rail artist John Winfield ( ), and pretty well represents my next model railroad attempt.

From 1964 thru graduation from high school in 1975, I grew up in this small, 4500 resident town...a mountain range away in distance, but a world away in culture, from America's 3rd largest city.   The Southern Pacific line came to town in 1886 as their main line between LA and San Francisco.  By 1904 the line was bypassed by a lower grade, more direct route and became a 50 mile parallel branch line for the rest of it's existance.  The route is the upper of the 2 in the map below (Fillmore is pretty much right in the middle of the branch):

Fillmore station sometime near the turn of the century

The eastern 3rd of the line (east of Piru) washed out during floods in the late 1980's and was never rebuilt. The Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) sold most of the line by the early 1990's and what remains is operated by a short line, and used mostly in tourist train, and Movie/TV work.

My modeling premise, was that the cut off had never been built and Fillmore was still on the main line in 1965.  

The job change and move to Fort Worth brought with it the chance to start a new railroad.  We bought 1.5 acres on the edge of the city and had our home designed to our wants by an architect  niece of Emily's.  I ended up with an "L" shaped train room, roughly 20' x 33'.  After a year or so of inactivity, I finally came up with the idea for the railroad and construction began.

What I ended up with was a point to point railroad, varying from 1 to 3 levels circling the room twice.  Los Angeles staging was on the upper level, the railroad traveled through Saugus, Piru, Fillmore, Santa Paula, Montalvo and into the yard at Oxnard, before leaving for the lower level staging which represented Northern California.  The main traffic generated on line was from the citrus industry, with about 9 modeled fruit packing houses.  The yard at Oxnard originated several locals daily to service these locations.  Through freight traffic consisted of several trains each way per day, and there were 2 passenger and a mail train daily, following the actual Southern Pacific operations of 1965.

I used the new RR as my opportunity to switch to DCC, and used several trips to So. Cal to photograph the remaining infrastructure and disappearing fruit packing houses.  Track work was completed around 2005 and one half-assed operating session was run in 2006.

Credit for much of the motivation and help in construction go to all the members of the "Thursday Night Jazz and Pie Club", a group of modelers in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, that would meet every few weeks to work on each others' railroads.  Also credit to Donovan Furin for the beautiful Southern California backdrop (which is currently being reborn  in the Southern hemisphere!)

Unfortunately for the Santa Paula branch, I started receiving forwarded email photos taken in far away New South Wales by soon-to-be friend Charlie Harris that were capturing my interest and the sight of Alcos and bulldog locos still operating in everyday service proved to be too much.  

A vacation trip down under in 2007, and the purchase of some Australian models drove the last nail in the coffin of the Southern Pacific.   The boxes of SP equipment have been slowly disappearing on Ebay, and the proceeds from those sales will be used to buy up necessary equipment for the next phase of my modeling life.....but what will that be?


  1. Lance

    Very nice painting of you, your brother and the SP train.

    Also the backscene is great, but you might just have to get Donovan back to add a bit of olive green to those hills..... ;-)

    Looking forward to the next installment.

    Ray P

  2. Nice backdrops!!! Funny, reading your "forwarded emails" about Aussie RR's is very parallel to how I have come to love the So.Cal. RR's of the mid century - especially those with black widow or tiger striped Alco's and early GP's!!

    I refer to the photos from that trip to So.Cal. and get excited about the prospects of going back there someday!!