Bakersfield & Ventura Locomotive Number 1, a Pitttsburg 2-6-0, shown here lettered for the successor Ventura County Railway. Photo by H.M. Kelso; date unknown.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

San Joaquin Southwestern – A John Armstrong Track Plan

The great model railroad track plan designer, John Armstrong, designed a layout to fit a concept similar to the Bakersfield & Ventura. It appears in a collection called 20 Custom Designed Track Plans. These were all plans that Armstrong developed for specific clients – so perhaps this one actually got built. I would guess that the client was at least somewhat familiar with the B&V and perhaps some other railroad activity in Ventura County.

The San Joaquin & Southwestern is described as a join venture between the Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific (as the Sunset Railway between Bakersfield and Taft was in real life). According to Armstrong’s article, the Santa Fe routed passenger traffic to the Central Valley and Northern California over the SV&S rather than the longer way around through Cajon Pass.

The map below shows the approximate route of the SJ&S in green.

Some interesting points:

1) The main north-south route along Matilija Creek through Wheeler Springs follows the route of State Highway 33. SP reportedly considered building a line on this same route the same time that the promoters of the B&V were trying to raise funds. My guess is that the SP was never very serious about building this line, but was trying to discourage investment in a potential rival.

2) The branch through Ojai to Santa Paula (where it would connect with the SP) also has a basis in history. According to an article by David Myrick in the Ventura County Historical Society Quarterly, the Santa Fe did survey work in the 1880s for a line from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara that would have run through Santa Paula, north then west to Ojai (along the approximate route of today’s Highway 150), then west through Casitas Pass to Santa Barbara. The approximate route is marked on the map in red.

3) The Bakersfield & Ventura did buy or at least option rights of way from the Oxnard area, through the Conejo Valley to Los Angeles, roughly along today’s 101 Freeway.

4) Maguire says B&V officials reportedly met with May Rindge, who owned a private railroad line, the Hueneme, Malibu and Port Los Angeles, on her Rancho Malibu. Rindge built the railroad specifically to block the SP, which was seeking to use the right of eminent domain to seize a right of way across her property, which would allow it to build a line from Oxnard to Santa Monica. Under the law at the time, SP couldn’t use eminent domain to force through a line where a railroad already existed. It’s not clear why, or event if, the B&V thought Rindge would be more accommodating to them, but at any rate, nothing ever came of this proposal. But what Armstrong calls the Port Dume branch follows the very conjectural connection of the B&V with the HM&PLA.

The Armstrong book is apparently out of print, but may be available as used from Amazon or other online vendors.


Armstrong, John. 20 Custom Designed Track Plans. Waukesha, WI: Kalmbach Publishing Co., 1994.

Maguire, Joseph F. “The Ventura County Railway,” Ventura County Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 3, May 1961.

Myrick, David. "Ventura County Railroads: A Centennial History, Part 2." Ventura County Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 2 & 3, Winter-Spring 1988

Monday, April 12, 2010

B&V Motive Power

The Bakersfield & Ventura had but a handful of rolling stock during its short life.

According to Joseph Maguire, “for the big opening” on July 4, 1905, and for a time thereafter, B&V leased two locomotives from the Southern Pacific. He adds that these were “Atlantic-type locomotives of the 1300 series.” This seems doubtful, for a few reasons. First, the Atlantic (4-4-2) was classically a high-wheeled, high-speed, mainline passenger engine that would be poorly suited to construction work, or even hauling passengers on an urban run of only a few miles. Second, while I’m not an expert on SP motive power, as far as I can determine, the SP got its first Atlantics in 1902, and it seems to me they would have been too busy hauling premiere trains to be leased out to an obscure short line. Finally, none of the SP’s Atlantics were numbered in the 1300 series.

I could be wrong. Maybe the B&V leased the big, fancy road engines for the grand opening to show off how prosperous it was, and then took a while to return them. But the discrepancy with road numbers troubles me. I wonder if, in fact, they were smaller, older engines, and Maguire just got the type wrong. SP did have some 4-4-0 Eight Wheelers (also called "Americans") numbered in the 1300s, and at least a few were still around by 1905. Did Maguire misread the wheel arrangement and supply the type name Atlantic?

By August 1905, the B&V had the first motive power of its very own, a little four-wheel, gas-powered speeder from Sheffield Motor Company, numbered 001. It could reportedly carry up to six passengers. It was joined in 1908 by a more-proper passenger conveyance, an open-side, trolley-style gas-powered unit, also from Sheffield, number 002, which is shown below.

The first and only steam locomotive to carry the Bakersfield and Ventura name arrived in March 1906. Number 1 was a 2-6-0 or Mogul wheel arrangement, and was built by Pittsburg Locomotive Works. It's pictured at the top of my blog. To give credit, I scanned this photo from Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg's Mixed Train Daily. The photo is credited to H.L. Kelso. Beebe's caption reads: "The Ventura County Railway, running five miles between Oxnard and Port Hueneme, California, and possessing but three locomotives, including the beautiful Mogul that is its One-Spot, contrived to gross a million and a quarter dollars during the war year of 1944." (No one ever accused Beebe of writing a simple sentence.) This seems to imply that the locomotive remained in service through the war. I haven't yet found anything about its final disposition. The Orange Empire Railroad Museum says on its Web site that all VCRy steam locomotives except No. 2 (see below) were scrapped in the 1950's; presumably, that included No. 1.

That’s the extent of the Bakersfield & Ventura motive power roster. It is interesting to note that while the B&V was promoted, right up to the end, as an electric railway, no overhead wire was ever strung, and the few pieces of motive power the road used or owned were steam or gasoline-powered.

After American Sugar Beet bought the assets and reorganized the B&V as the Ventura County Railway in 1911, the new owners added a Hall-Scott Motor Car, number 003, to haul passengers between Oxnard and Hueneme. While the Hall-Scott car was impressive, there wasn’t much passenger traffic, and 003 was sometimes kept busy switching cars at the sugar beet mill and the SP interchange. The Hall-Scott car shown here is actually No. 22 of the Nevada Northern, but VCRy 003 would have been very similar.

One other noteworthy VCRy locomotive is steam engine Number 2. VCRy bought the 1922 Baldwin 2-6-2 second hand from the Cascade Timber Company in Washington State, to help handle heavy freight traffic to the Navy base at Port Hueneme during World War II. The engine was rebuilt after the war and continued to see occasional service as late as the early 1960’s. In 1973 it was donated to the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, California, where it has been beautifully maintained and continues to haul excursion trains to this day.

Some oddities: Photos in the Oxard Public Library collection show a rail bus that is identified as operating on the VCRy in the 1920s. They also have photos of various locomotives switching the sugar beet mill; some of these photos are identified (by the library) as being of the VCRy. There is a 4-4-0, a 4-8-0, and a small saddletank switcher, probably an 0-4-0. Road names are not visible in any of these photos, so I can't say for sure if they are VCRy engines or even if they are operating on VCRy track.

In later years, VCRy operated a Whitcomb diesel and a couple of GE 70-tonners.

Aside from that, the B&V doesn't seem to have owned much in the way of rolling stock. An inventory from the time of the lawsuit between the railroad and Eban Smith's heirs in 1906 lists Locomotive No. 1, gas car 001, and 65 beet cars. An inventory in 1908, when the road was reorganized, lists 40 gondolas, which are probably the beet cars.

The Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association has two former VCRy wood flat cars at their museum in Campo, California on the old San Diego & Arizona Eastern line. The PSRMA beileves these originally had wooden sides, which were removed in later years, and they are somewhat speculatively listed as having been built in 1910. If correct, they could be former beet gondolas. That would make them the last surviving B&V rolling stock. You can see a photo and PSRMA's description here.


Beebe, Lucius and Charles Clegg, Mixed Training Daily. Berkeley: Howell-North, 1961.

Maguire, Joseph F. “The Ventura County Railway,” Ventura County Historical Society Quarterly, 6:3, May 1961.

Orange Empire Railroad Museum. “Ventura County Railway No. 2.” Web.

Oxnard Public Library. Local History Resources, Digital Heritage Room.

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association. "Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association #1316 & #1330."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Monorail to the Sespe?

An odd footnote to the Bakersfield & Ventura story:

In 1927 one P.S. Coombs, a self-styled developer of uncertain credentials, appeared in the small Southern California farming community of Fillmore with a plan.

Claiming to be backed by financial interests in Chicago, Coombs announced the construction of a resort at Sespe Hot Springs (pronounced SESS-pea), located in the rugged mountains 10 miles north of Fillmore. The springs are said to be the warmest in California, and were long reputed to have curative properties, but reaching them was problematic, requiring a long, round-about trip over bad roads, through Ojai and into the back country.

Coombs would solve the access problem by building a monorail -- yes, this was in 1927 – he even had drawings of the thing. Coombs’ monorail would wind its way along Sespe Creek, through Devil’s Gate, a narrow, rocky gorge just north of town, and on to the resort. Maybe, it was hinted, even farther – perhaps all the way to Bakersfield on the other side of the mountains.

Old timers who knew the mountains may have had some doubts about building anything through Devil’s Gate, but there were plenty of gullible citizens to buy stock in the enterprise. A billboard was erected, a groundbreaking ceremony held, and stock sold. Then, predictably, Coombs disappeared, taking the investors’ money with him.


Jarrett, Edith Moore. Old-Timer's Tales of Fillmore. Ventura, Calif.: Ventura County Historical Society, 1983.

Bakersfield & Ventura Railway: A Brief History

Fillmore, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, may seem an unlikely hotbed of transportation activity, but that had never stopped the schemers. The town was a stop on the original Southern Pacific mainline from L.A. to San Francisco, but was bypassed when SP opened its Chatsworth tunnel in 1903, completing a new and shorter route. The line through Fillmore remained in service as a secondary line for many years, but it must have stung the locals to know they were, so to speak, out of the mainstream.

The idea of a short line through the mountains surfaced even before the Chatsworth line opened. The Bakersfield & Ventura was chartered, survey work done, and some track eventually laid down near the coast, but the company ran out of funds and the Sespe Creek line was eventually forgotten.

According to an article by Joseph Maguire in the Ventura County Historical Society Quarterly, John W. Burson and H.M. Russell were granted a charter by the county of Ventura in January 1902 to build a railroad from the “Brownstone Spur” east of Fillmore, north along Sespe Ave (now Grand Ave.) to Devil’s Gate, then continuing north via Sespe Hot Springs, Mutah and Lockwood Valleys and the Cuyama Valley. The railroad was supposed to be electric, which was said to be more suitable for the steep grades and sharp curves required to cross the mountains of northern Ventura County.

Approximate route of the B&V through northern Ventura County

Within a few months, the B&V acquired franchises that had been issued a few years earlier to the Santa Clara Valley Electric Railway, granting the SCVER the right to build an electric railway on county roads and private rights of way from the outskirts of Ventura, to Santa Paula and beyond, with branches to Hueneme and Saticoy. At least in theory, that gave the B&V access to a connection with the new Southern Pacific mainline (rather than just to what was soon to become the Santa Paula/Fillmore branch); better still, it could build to the small but promising harbor at Hueneme.

By mid-1902, Gervase Purcell, formerly of Great Northern and Japanese National Railways, was hired as chief engineer. Purcell surveyed the route and was quoted in the newspapers as saying that the maximum grade of the line would not exceed 3 percent.

Eben Smith became president in 1903. Smith had solid credentials as a railroad man: He had built the Florence & Cripple Creek in Colorado. Under Smith, construction finally began, though not on the challenging route through Devil's gate. construction was easier and there was more potential for quick revenue. After some delays in obtaining rail and other materials, the first tracks were spiked down in Oxnard.

A 1991 Los Angeles Times article on the Ventura County Railway said: “The first [B&V] rail line, paralleling the American Sugar Beet Co.'s drainage ditch from Oxnard to the ocean, was completed at 8:30 a.m. on July 4, 1905. The last spike was driven just in time for the train to take city residents on an inaugural Independence Day run to a feast at barbecue pits dug on the beach.”

The B&V's first motive power was a couple of lcomotives leased from the SP. In 1905, the line purchased a gasoline-powered speeder from the Sheffield Motor Car Company, numbered 001. Later came a gas-powered, trolley-style passenger car, also from Sheffield, numbered 002.

Under Smith the B&V obtained additional rights of way south via “Trifuno” (the Thousand Oaks area?) and Calabasas Pass to the San Fernando Valley, and north through the San Joaquin Valley to Santa Clara Valley and as far as Santa Cruz.

Reports in L.A. papers at about the same time said that the Huntington interests (the Pacific Electric Railway) were planning to build an electric railroad through Ventura to Santa Barbara, with “a branch to Bakersfield.” There was speculation that the B&V interests were talking to Huntington; Joseph Maguire, in his article in the Ventura County Historial Society Quarterly, finds evidence that Smith was a trusted friend of Henry Huntington.

Just to further stif the pot, the Southern Pacific announced in early 1904 that it would extend its Nordoff (Ojai) branch “over the Matilija to Bakersfield.” This would presumably follow approximately the route of the modern Highway 33. If so, it would be a challenging route for a railroad, even steeper and more curvy than the B&V’s Sespe route. This may have been no more than a red herring to discourage potential investors in what could become a rival line.

Just when things were going well (but still with no track built anywhere near Fillmore, much less north into the Sespe country) Eben Smith died suddenly. Smith's heirs quickly sued the railroad for money he had been owed, forcing the line into foreclosure. The Smith estate ended up buying the railroad for $175,000.

Maguire speculates that the Smith estate was acting on behalf of Huntington, who may have been worried that rival railroad companies might buy the B&V to obtain a gateway into Los Angeles.

Construction continued on lines in Oxnard and Hueneme, where sugar beets provided steady traffic, and the American Sugar Beet Company was the railroad's leading.

There was a final, brief flurry of talk about extending the line in 1911, but shortly after that all assets were transferred to Ventura County Railway, a subsidiary of American Sugar Beet Co.

The Times article says:

In 1911, the cash-pinched railway became the property of the Oxnard brothers, Robert and Henry, who had no interest in out-of-town rights of way or becoming railroad barons. They used their acquisition to fuel the growth of their American Sugar Beet Co., building a network of rail spurs from their sugar-processing plant to the Oxnard Plain's most productive beet fields. When the automobile became popular, passenger service fell off and was finally stopped on New Year's Eve, 1926. The railway continued as an indentured servant to the beet trade until the founding of the Hueneme port in 1939. It was World War II that saw it flourish into one of the most profitable small railroads in the nation. After the U.S. Navy commandeered the port, an estimated 150 carloads of construction supplies, weaponry, soldiers and sailors were hauled each day over its tracks for four years.

The Ventura County Railway continues to operate today, primarily shuttling civilian cargo traffic between the Port of Hueneme and the Union Pacific (former SP) interchange in Oxnard.

B&V engine #1, 2-6-0 built by Pittsburgh Locomotive Works in 1906, is pictured in Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg’s Mixed Train Daily. The photo is reproduced at the top of this blog. By then No. 1 was serving the B&V's successor line, the Ventura County Railway.

The photo is attributed to H.M. Kelso but no date is given. The engine is shown pulling a Harriman-style passenger car, which suggests that the photo may have been taken before passenger service ended it 1926.


Beebe, Lucius and C. M. Clegg, Jr. Mixed Train Daily. Berkeley, California: Howell-North, 1961

Maguire, Joseph F. “Ventura County Railway.” Ventura County Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 6. No. 3, May 1961

Pummer, Christopher. “Nearing 90 and Still Working: Ventura County Railway, `Integrally Linked' to Oxnard's History, Is Remnant of Grandiose Plan.” Los Angeles Times, Ventura County Edition, Los Angeles, Calif.: Nov 10, 1991., pg. 1

Monday, June 1, 2009

I just received a copy of A View From the Ridge Route, Volume IV by Bonnie Ketterl Kane, from the Ridge Route Historical Society. It covers mining in the Fraser Mountain, San Emigdio and Lockwood areas. I'll summarize the information when I have had a chance to read it, but the short of it is that there was quite a bit of mining activity in the high country along the Ventura County/Kern County border, close to the projected route of the B&V. This could provide the basis for some nice industrial activities on my projected B&V model railroad.

There is also a short but intriguing quote from an article in Bakerfield newspaper in 1902: "The residents of this section are most interested in the construction of a railroad from this valley to the coast..." A reference to the original plans for the B&V, or just wishful thinking?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Welcome to the Bakersfield & Ventura Railroad Blog

Welcome. I am a long-time model railroader, and over the years have modeled a variety of prototypes, but in the last few years I've become interested in the Bakersfield & Ventura, which (had it met its promoter's ambitious plans) would have connected Ventura County, California, where I live, with the inland railroad center of Bakersfield.

In reality, the B&V never got very far -- just a few miles of street and industrial track in Oxnard and Port Hueneme. It lives on today, a hundred years later, as the Ventura County Railroad, a little switching line that connects the port with the Union Pacific (ex-Southern Pacific) mainline.

But I'd like to build a layout representing the B&V as it might have been. As I research available information on the line and its setting, I will share what I learn here, and if others who are interested in this ghost railroad happen on this blog, I hope you'll pass along anything that you know.

I plan to post maps and photos of the route as time permits, and pictures of my modeling efforts as they progess.

First, some background on me and my model railroad experience:

My first serious layout as a teenager was called the Palo Verde & Pacific. It had a vague “somewhere in southern California” theme. The PV&P was entirely steam powered. Mainstay of the roster was a Mantua Mikado built from a kit, with a Mantua 0-6-0 for switching duties; I later added a Roundhouse Atlantic and a Prairie.

During college and for several years afterward I drifted away from trains. That changed when I saw a neighbor throwing out a simple train layout that his sons had outgrown – a piece of plywood with an oval of sectional track. I salvaged that, and one thing led to another; eventually I built a 4x8 layout in the garage, this one a Southern Pacific branchline, no specific location. At this point I finally bought my first diesel, an Athearn Baldwin switcher.

When we bought our house a few years later I built a new iteration of the PV&P in a part of our garage. This was about the time that Atlas revolutionized HO motive power with their first generation of smooth-running diesels. Two of their RSC-4’s and an Alco switcher were the main motive power on PV&P2, later joined by a pair of Stewart F7’s. Like the first PV&P, the track plan was point-to-loop, and I also built part of a narrow gauge branch that never went anywhere. This track plan proved unsatisfactory – the main yard in particular was too small and poorly designed. I tried a series of bandaid solutions but eventually scrapped the layout and started over from the ground up.

I was getting better at layout design by this time, and PV&P3 started out well. At the same time I was building it, I was learning more about the history of Ventura County, where we now lived, and learned a little about the Bakersfield & Ventura, an abortive railroad project that would have connected Ventura on the California coast to Bakersfield inland – a concept close to what I had vaguely in mind for the Palo Verde & Pacific. About that time I also happened to pick up a Santa Fe GP-something, and sort of fell in love with it. When I was growing up our town was served by a Santa Fe branch and Santa Fe geeps were the locomotives I saw most often, so somehow those blue and yellow road switchers just looked right.

So PV&P3 became the Bakersfield & Ventura, early 1960’s, shortly after it was absorbed by the Santa Fe.

The PV&P Alcos were retired in favor of a series of Santa Fe early GP units; first a kitbashed Tyco shell on an Athearn mechanism, then the much better Proto 2000 GP 7’s and 9’s.

This layout got far enough along to be fairly well operable. I never built the second, larger yard, but loops on each end kept trains running. I adopted DCC, which made operation far more pleasurable.

However, the more I researched the real B&V, the more I realized that the layout really didn’t fit the concept very well. I drove most of the projected route of the railroad, hiked parts of it, took and studied photos, and most importantly, plotted the route on topographical maps. The locations I had modeled on PV&P3/B&V1 – Ojai, Matilija Creek, and Rose Valley – weren’t even on the “real” B&V, which ran about 10 miles to the east of where I originally envisioned it. The “real” route was in fact much more interesting, running through an area that has supported mining, logging, and agriculture from the late 19th century up to the present day.

I probably would have reworked the layout to roughly fit this concept, but other pressures forced me to scrap most of the layout about two years ago. The bright side that this gives me the opportunity to redesign a layout that fits what is now a very specific concept – freelanced, but grounded very firmly in real-world geography and history.

Ideally, the new B&V will represent the portion of the line from Fillmore (with a continuous-running lap for the SP connection) to San Guilliermo Summit. If I had the space, I’d put a large interchange yard at Fillmore and a loop and staging tracks at San Guilliermo. Biggest stop along the way would be Lockwood, where the B&V connects to a branchline to the mines at Stauffer and San Emigdio. I would also like to model the resort at Sespe Hot Springs, a lumber mill at Mutah and the little mining town of Lexington, with the Harris Mill nearby and maybe a tramway up Long Dave Canyon to Harris Mine.

I love the fact that all these names are real places I have been to and seen for myself, even if most of them are deserted today.

More likely, I won’t have room for all this. My scaled down version would cut the actual model back to just Lexington and Lockwood, with loops at each end representing the rest of the line, and at least a token San Emigdio branch.My interest in the early history of the area, together with the availability of good running, reasonably priced steam locomotives from Bachmann and others, has also led me to rethink the era; the next B&V will probably be set somewhere between 1910 and 1925, with steam power and smaller cars.