Santa Maria Valley Railway Historical Museum    
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Many thanks to Bruce Morden for this contribution...

Santa Maria Valley Railroad
Shortline on California's Central Coast

After 90 years, the Santa Maria Valley Railroad Company (SMV) is still going strong. It has made it through the great depression, two world wars, the changeover to diesel power and changes in the economy of the valley which it serves. When the
Union Sugar plant was at its height back in the late 60's it was one of the most profitable shortlines in the West. They possibly may have had the first female dispatcher back in the 50's. Since G. Allan Hancock passed away the SMV has been one of the few railroads controlled by women. They never really had passenger service but they carried thousands of airmen to and from the airfield during WWII and Walt Disney helped crew the last run of their steam engine number 21. Just a few tidbits of trivia for a railroad that continues to serve its customers well on a day in and day out basis.

The Santa Maria Valley Railway was incorporated in 1911 as a part of Santa Maria Oilfields of California, Inc., an English syndicate. The purpose was to bring a standard gauge railroad to the Palmer oil fields and the asphalt refinery, some 12 miles southeast of Santa Maria. The Southern Pacific (SP) had come into the rich valley in 1895 but was 9 miles west at Guadalupe. The narrow gauge Pacific Coast Railway had been serving Santa Maria and the oilfields since the early 1880's but there was a need for standard gauge service. Originally the railroad was surveyed to go from Betteravia junction on the SP branch built in 1899 directly to the oil fields, bypassing the growing city of Santa Maria. There were several heated meetings in July of 1911 regarding right of ways and a citizens committee was formed to counter the railroad's intention of bypassing town. They hired their own engineer and quickly had a route through town. There was further discussion with the railroad and eventually the city won out with city businessmen subscribing to a bond issue for the construction. Construction materials arrived August 20 in Santa Barbara aboard the steam schooner "Yellowstone". The 5000 ties were shipped via SP to Betteravia. 72 pound rail was laid and the first train into Santa Maria arrived on October 7, 1911. There was a minor strike soon after and all new crews were hired to complete the line, which was accomplished November 5, 1911.

The new railroad was still promising passenger service in 1913 when it purchased two used locomotives from Tonapah & Tidewater (see roster). By 1915, annual traffic was up to 5700 cars with 2000 of those from the oil field. The oil field business started to taper off and the railroad relied more heavily on the sugar beet traffic. In 1917, the SP purchased $91,000 worth of common stock raising some speculation that the SP would take over the SMV and push a line through to Gaviota making a more direct line to Los Angeles. This never occurred and the SP sold some of its shares four years later.

By 1925, traffic had all but dried up. The railroad was loosing so much money that they were forced into bankruptcy, selling all the assets at a sheriff's auction at the county courthouse in Santa Barbara. The Dominion Oil Company, whose principal, Captain G. Allan Hancock, was interested in developing the Santa Maria Valley into a fresh vegetable-growing region, purchased the railroad for $75,000. The railroad was reorganized as the Santa Maria Valley Railroad Company.

Captain Hancock began to revitalize the railroad. He purchased a new steam locomotive, number 21, the only new steam locomotive the railroad ever purchased. He had a new engine house constructed as well as an office for the railroad. He purchased an ice company and a large ranch east of town that would become Rosemary Farms. Vegetable growing and crop irrigation began to grow. It was fortunate for the railroad as the Union Sugar mill closed in 1927. The petroleum production from the Palmer field had also stopped and the refinery closed. Control of the railroad passed to La Brea Securities in 1927 but Captain Hancock remained president. In 1934 the Union Sugar mill reopened and was now handling sugar beets from the Imperial Valley. By 1936 the road showed a profit of $7,000.

In 1943, a line was laid to the Santa Maria Army Air Base. Thousands of cadets went through training there during WWII and were carried on special trains. Three additional locomotives were added to the roster to handle the traffic (see roster). The railroad worked around the clock as part of the war effort.

After the war, business continued to grow and the railroad purchased its first diesel locomotives. In 1926, there was some thought to go away from steam and a "battle of power" was held between a small Davenport diesel-electric and number 21. Number 21 triumphed and the SMV stuck with steam. With 26,551 cars handled in 1947, there was need for more motive power. This time number 21 lost the contest although there were heard some comments about 21's wheel slipping. The line purchased a series of General Electric 70-ton locomotives and painted them up in a red with yellow stripes. Later they would be repainted to the yellow with green stripes still in use today (see roster).

In 1950, the line from Gates to Rodamite was abandoned. The oil, that had given the railroad its start, was still being produced but was no longer transported by rail In 1960, with railroad cars getting bigger and loads heavier, the SMV began to upgrade their line. They laid in 90-pound rail and reballasted the line from Betteravia to Guadalupe with crushed stone. An additional interchange yard consisting of 3 tracks of 30 cars each was added at Guadalupe in 1966.

On February 24, 1962, a wonderful excursion was conducted from Santa Maria to Guadalupe and return to celebrate the "last run of number 21". Hundreds of railfans and supporters turned out to experience the show of the wonderful 2-8-2 Mikado that had pulled for so long for the SMV. Walt Disney rode in the cab with Captain Hancock and Manny Phillips who had engineered and fired her on her first run 36 years earlier. The No. 21 is now being restored by the Astoria Railroad Preservation Association. They are hoping to test fire the boiler late this year, or perhaps in February of next year on the 40th anniversary of the day #21 was retired. Three other SMV steam engines still exist. Number 205 is privately owned and undergoing restoration for possible use on the Portland & Western Railroad. Number 100 is in Oregon and is also privately owned. Number 1000 is on display at Travel Town in Los Angeles.

Captain Hancock died in 1965, at the age of 90. He had guided the railroad back from the brink of extinction and helped it to become a vibrant part of the valley's economy. His wife, Marian became President and was assisted by Sue Sword as General Manager. Into the 70's the SMV continued to grow with 1974 showing 1,500,000 tons of freight hauled in 21,384 cars. The last locomotive purchased was a used GP9 enabling the SMV to more easily service the sugar mill and its other customers (see roster).

In 1986, Holly Sugar bought the Union Sugar mill. They continued to receive sugar beets by rail and ship out refined sugar. In 1994, a decision to close the mill was made. After 100 years of sugar production, the mill was demolished in 1997. The SMV still serves some vegetable packers, some petroleum companies and has added plastics machinery and building supplies to its customers. The Southern Pacific has been purchased by the Union Pacific which provides interchange service.

Operations are simple since the beet traffic has stopped. There is usually at least one trip a day to Guadalupe to take traffic to, and bring traffic back, from the UP interchange. This is combined with switching along the way. An additional run down the branch is necessary to deliver and retrieve cars for those industries. On a recent railfan trip, cars were staged at the junction with the branch and at Bell Storage, a series of tracks west of Blosser Road and north of Stowell Road. These were picked up on the way to the UP interchange. The SMV does have trackage rights in the Guadalupe yard. Often there can be the Guadalupe Switcher, the SMV local and a through train freight or passenger all at once at Guadalupe. Out on the SMV operations are considerably less hectic.

From a modeling standpoint choosing an era may be the first decision to be made, although the track has not changed much since about 1911 except to get shorter. Steam era models of the locomotives are available with some minor modification. Rolling stock would be short boxcars, iced reefers, tank cars and gondolas for the beet traffic. During WWII the addition of military traffic to the airbase might make for some interesting modeling. With the addition of the GE's in the late 40's, the modeling becomes easier using the Bachman Spectrum model for HO scale. There were ice plants and loading facilities at Santa Maria as well as Guadalupe that were used to ice the perishables. For years the SP ran a train called "the Smokey" which originated in Guadalupe with Santa Maria Produce and picked up additional loads in Goleta, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Oxnard. The sugar mill continues to 1994 and could serve as a large focal point. Current traffic could include some of the frozen food packers like Pictsweet, and Simplot; the produce packers like M.Y. Minami & Sons and the plastic producers like Sonoco and Okonite in the south industrial park near the airport. Motive power for the modern era would also include the GP9 low nose 1805.

With only 11.3 miles of main line, and the 2.7 miles to the industrial area (airbase) the compression factor is reasonably workable in most spaces. With the limited trains there is no need for passing sidings, as the railroad is essentially industries along the main near the shops, on the way to Guadalupe and the branch line to the industrial area of the old airbase. The only yard (at Guadalupe) is small, as is the shop area. What could really make an interesting model is to combine a compact SMV with the UP interchange. This could encompass the small almost rural feel of the SMV and the interchange with the UP at Guadalupe, with its through freights, and Amtrak trains passenger trains.

Important Dates for the Santa Maria Valley Railroad

April 1882        Pacific Coast Railway arrives at Santa Maria (Central City)
September 1897    Union Sugar Company organized
March 1895        Southern Pacific (SP) reaches Guadalupe
1897              Union Sugar mill completed at Betteravia
August 1899       SP completes branch from Guadalupe to Betteravia
April 1909        PCY begins electric passenger service Santa Maria to Guadalupe 
July 1911         Santa Maria Valley Railroad incorporated 
August 1911       Material arrives in Santa Barbara aboard the steam schooner
                  "Yellowstone" transported via SP to Betteravia, construction begins
October 1911      First train to Santa Maria
November 1911     Completion of line to Palmer
1913              Two additional locomotives purchased, original loco scrapped	
1917              SP buys $91,000 worth of common stock
1921              SP sells some of its shares
1925              Railroad goes into receivership,
                  sold at auction for $75,000 to Captain G. Allan Hancock
1928              PCY discontinues passenger service to Guadalupe
1926              Union Sugar Mill closes
1934              Union Sugar Mill reopens
1936              $7,000 profit posted
1941-2            Three additional locomotives acquired,
                  Airbase branch, wartime passenger traffic
1948              First diesel purchased - GE 70 ton #10
1950              Tracks removed from Gates to Roadamite
February 1962     Last run of Number 21
1965              G. Alan Hancock dies, his wife Marian Mullen Hancock becomes
                  president, with Sue Sword, general manager
1986              Holly Sugar purchases Union Sugar, taking over operation at Betteravia
1994              Holly (Union) Sugar mill closes
1997              Union Sugar mill demolished
2000              Sue Sword retires as president of the SMV 52 years with the railroad

Union Pacific Short Line Directory
Santa Maria Valley Railroad Company SMV

The information in this section is from the UP Short Line Directory.

Nature of Firm

The SMV operates for freight service from Santa Maria to a connection with the UP at Guadalupe, 14.8 miles. The railroad has many short branch lines. Rail is 75-90 pound.

Traffic is asphalt, scrap iron, gypsum wallboard, fertilizer, machinery, plastic, lumber and frozen food products -- about 2,000 cars a year.

The railroad was incorporated July 14, 1911 as the Santa Maria Valley Ry and reorganized under the present name in 1926. Passenger service was never provided. The line was abandoned between Gates and Roadamite in 1950.

The company is owned by the G. Allan Hancock Estate and Marian Mullin Hancock Charitable Trust.

Tom Stoery
President and Manager
Phone: 805-922-7941
Fax: 805-922-9554

Dave Jennings
General Manager
(same phone numbers)

625 South McClelland Street
P. O. Box 340
Santa Maria, CA 93456-0340
Phone: 805-922-7941
Fax: 805-928-9615

Revenue Requirements
Junction Settlement Carrier, but negotiated divisions

Interchange Points
Connects through Guadalupe, CA
-- captive railroad with UP

Equipment Summary
3 locomotives
Enginehouse located at Santa Maria, CA

Information Exchange Method
SMV has UP terminal.
Bills of lading entered through UP EDI STAR program.
Either phones or faxes interchange information to UP.

Related Web Sites

See Links, many of which Bruce contributed.

Recommended Reading and Viewing

Best, Gerald M., Ships and Narrow Gauge Rails, 1965

Duke, Donald, "Santa Maria Valley", in Pacific Railway Journal Vol. 1, No. 6

Faraway, Elliot L., "Sugar Beet Special", Railroad Modeler, December 1978, P20-27

Flynn, Patrick D., "Southern Pacific's Coast Route", Model Railroader, September 1994, P 96-103

Gutohrlein, Adolph, "Santa Maria Valley Railroad" Western Railroader, V25, no4 1962

Madson, Hal, Railroads of the Santa Maria Valley, 2001 [Available at the Museum Store.]

Meredith, DeWitt, G. Allan Hancock, 1964

Moran, Miles, "First Class Short Line" in Rail Classics Winter 1980 Special edition, P14-21

Myrick, David F., "Santa Barbara County Railroads" in Noticias:Santa Barbara Historical Society Summer Fall 1987

RRM Staff, "Shortline Engine Facility", Railroad Modeler, September 1975, P 60-65

Russell, Harold, "GE's 70-ton diesel" Model Railroader, October 1969, P38-39

Signor, John R., Southern Pacific's Coast Line, 1994

Westcott, Kenneth and Johnson, Curtiss, Pacific Coast Railway, 1998

Veary, Bruce, "Coast Line After the Daylight", Trains, July 1986, P 26-45

Video Rails, Imperial Valley Sugar Beet Trains, (VIDEO) 1994

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