Sunday, 23 October 2011

Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad

Illustration from Street Railway Journal showing a map of the P&SR route.

Some Prototype Background

The Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railway began life in 1903, as a small electric interurban line connecting its namesake towns via Sebastopol, in Sonoma County California. The P&SR was approximately 31 miles long and it served the farms and local industries, of what was at the time, a rural area.

The P&SR had an interesting corporate history, being renamed the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad in 1918, because it was unable to honour its financial commitments. After a prolonged period of ICC investigations instituted by the Western Pacific, and control over the P&SR was gained by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in 1932. The new management promptly abandoned passenger service and concentrated on the electric powered freight. After World War 2 the overhead plant was considered so worn out that it needed replacement and the P&SR was dieselized in 1947. This was done using a pair of GE 44 tonners. Service declined during the late fifties and the remnants of the P&SR were finally abandoned in 1984.

The three main towns that the P&SR served were Petaluma, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa. Petaluma was the home of the system and it has some very modelgenic wharfside trackage, a steamboat connection and some major industries. Sebastopol was in the middle and this was where the mainline and branchline split. The former going North to Forestville, while the latter went East to Santa Rosa.

Connecting Railroads

Prior to the consolidation of the steam railroads the P&SR planned to play off its competitors, one against the other. However, due to the "Great Earthquake" of 1906 and the subsequent amalgamation of these steam powered competitors this didn't work out. For approximately the first 25 years there were only two connecting and competing steam railroads, which were:

Northwestern Pacific

Formed 1907 by SP & ATSF, it became a wholly owned SP subsidiary from 1929. Went through Santa Rosa via Petaluma from the South and Fulton from the North. A branchline also went to Sebastopol, which means that the NWP had three interchanges with the P&SR.

Southern Pacific

Ran into Santa Rosa from Sonoma on the "Valley of the Moon" branch from 1888 to 1934. After the SP depot was burnt down the interchange to the NWP was moved to Schellville. While the P&SR tracks crossed in Santa Rosa there was no direct interchange between the two lines.

After the depot burnt down and the SP abandoned the line, traders could used the NWP or P&SR to ship there merchandise. By this time though both were owned by the SP, so it was a bit of a "Hobson's" choice really.


The P&SR had several nicknames, ranging from the "juice line", "juicer" to the "poor & stingy". This should give you some idea of the change of attitude towards the company and the level of investment in the railroad's infrastructure. I became interested in this quirky little line through family connections to the area. Remember though, traction is juicy! Finally, there was incident that made P&SR and Santa Rosa famous, the "Battle of Sebastopol Avenue" in 1904. 


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