The San Fernando Valley Branch in 1973 was an interesting operation with a lot of traffic. There was a wide variety of shippers and a good deal of team track traffic. B. Smith, the author of the below profile he wrote in 1973, talked to owners/managers of each business/industry located along the tracks as well as the Southern Pacific Railroad’s area manager who allowed him access to the railroad’s records. Here is some of what he learned. It gives us all a glimpse into 1970s to probably the late 1980s-early 1990s operations when single car traffic was still common and embraced by larger railroads. The diversity of the team traffic business really caught my eye. (The verb tense is present since this is what B. Smith documented in 1973.)
Orowheat Bakery, receives wheat from Montana and flour and rye from Seattle and Oakland by rail. Cereal and ground flour are shipped from this bakery to San Francisco and Portland by rail. The railroad was considered very essential to the continuing operation of the bakery. SP records show an average of 12 cars per month in bound, 9 cars per month out bound from the bakery for the months of January through October, 1973. The numbers were pretty consistent from month to month. Inbound ranged from 9 to 15, out bound from 8 to 13. Unfortunately, this bakery was on the far side of the valley from where I lived so I didn’t ever see rail activity there.
Another rail user along the branch was Adolph’s Ltd., its warehouse was built 18 years ago at this location because of the availability of rail transport. The finished product (meat tenderizer) is shipped by rail to 17 distributors located across the US. Some incoming raw materials, mainly salt, are received at this warehouse by rail. In bound rail shipments, according to SP records, varied from 1 car to 8 cars per month, Jan thru Oct, 1973, with an average of 3 cars per month. Out bound shipments averaged 10 cars per month, varied from 7 to 13.
Goldkey Furniture Warehouse, building and spur track built in 1972! Location determined by availability of rail transport. Furniture is made in the Eastern US, mainly Virginia. This company receives shipments by rail because its other stores have always received rail shipments and a boxcar load of furniture can be divided between two stores. Truck transportation is increasing as trucks are faster, 2 to 3 trips for the time it takes for one rail trip, and a truck can hold as much furniture as a boxcar ( I think I remember 40 ft box cars here). Truck arrivals can be scheduled while rail arrivals cannot so fewer employees are needed in the warehouse when arrivals are scheduled and the work is spread out. There is much less damage with truck shipments. Goldkey was experiencing a lot of damage in rail shipments, the manager I talked with showed me photographs of damaged furniture in box cars and was very negative to rail shipments, even though the damage was due to inadequate packing protection and the shipping company would pay for the damaged freight, it created a lot of paperwork for this individual. Goldkey averaged 17 rail cars per month, ranging from a high of 42 in January, 1973 (probably when the warehouse was just completed) to a low of 7 cars the next month.
There were other businesses getting furniture by rail along the branch, mostly at team tracks, although Butler Brothers Department Store leased a warehouse with rail spur that only served their Van Nuys store. The comment I received from them was appliances are shipped in equal sized boxes and arrive in good condition, furniture in unequal size boxes is harder to pack securely and often arrives damaged. SP records indicate Butler Bros received only one rail shipment in July for the months of Jan thru Oct 1973. A furniture warehouse in Reseda that had frequently received rail shipments burned down in 1972 and was replaced with a car wash.
In 1973, lumber yards were 56%, team tracks 14%, Orowheat Bakery 10%, Goldkey Furniture 8%, Adolphs Ltd 6%, non-wood building materials 3%, all others 3% of the rail business along the branch.
SP records show the following companies using team tracks from January thru October, 1973:
North Hollywood Team Track average 6 cars per month (3 to 15 per month)
Sta-Soil Corp. – wood fiber
Valley Moulding Co.
Valley Sales (lumber)
Village Cycle (motorcycle parts)
Van Nuys Team average 10 cars per month (7 to 15 per month)
Dallas Cereamics (tile)
Davis Co. (veneer)
Marquardt Corp (ram jet manufacturer)
US Postal Service (magazines, catalogs)
Spintex Corp (carpeting) this company leased the Van Nuys freight station to use as a warehouse
Solar Alloys Inc. (steel)
Encino Team Track averaged 3 cars per month (0 to 11 per month)
American Jet (salvage wreaked aircraft brought in by rail)
Christmas Trees (every December the team track area was leased out as a Christmas tree lot and 4 to 6 carloads of trees were brought in)
Tarzana Team Track averaged 2 cars per month (0 to 5 per month)
Cedar Shingle and Shake Co. (wood shingles)
Tarzana Mower and Engine Parts
Union Door and Hardware (doors)
Canoga Park Team Track averaged 7 cars per month (3 to 10 per month)
California Maple Shops (furniture)
Canoga Cycle Center
Nature Gro (mulch)
Tarzana, Reseda, Encino, Canoga Park, Van Nuys, North Hollywood were all individual little towns that over the years had grown and merged together in the SanFernando Valley to the point one was not sure where one town ended and the next began unless there was a sign like,” Now Entering Tarzana” (site of a former ranch owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan storybooks). All these towns are now incorporated into the city of Los Angeles.
Comments from some of the other businesses along the line. Mostly lumber/building supply companies.
North Hollywood Glass and Mirror Co. moved to the present location 35 years ago so a spur track could be extended into the warehouse to facilitate unloading. Relies more on trucks now but still needs the railroad, especially for shipments from the eastern US. Shipments of jumbo plate glass require rail because it is too big for trucks, but demand for jumbo plate glass has been declining. Receives an average of 5 cars per month
Blanchard Lumber Co. says the railroad is essential even though truck transport is increasing. Established at the present site in 1911, at one time employed more than 100 employees and had elaborate milling facilities and numerous spur tracks, all gone now. 4 cars per month.
Hendricks Building Supply Co. uses the former Pacific Electric station (trolley line) as it office and warehouse. 2 cars per month.
Pameco-Air-Refrigeration incoming shipments from the eastern US come by rail. One advantage of rail shipments is rail cars do not need to be unloaded immediately as do trucks. 1 car per month.
Lumber City – Lumber from Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Canada arrives by rail, lumber from northern California arrives by truck. Truck shipments arrive in better condition. Number of rail shipments steady, truck shipments increasing. 5 cars per month.
Modern Materials Inc. (building materials) only 3 or 4 rail cars per year of wood products, rail shipments take too long.
McKay Lumber Co. would only say railroad is VERY essential to their business. 2 cars per month.
Cal Wal Gypsum Supply has switched from rail to truck as they now own their own trucks.
Aetna Lumber Co. rail is essential for shipments from out of state. 14 cars per month.
Glesby Building Materials – rail is essential and use of rail increasing. 2 cars per month.
American Forest Products – rail essential and increasing. Don’t have to unload a rail car immediately, but trucks must be immediately unloaded. 25 cars per month.
Terry Building Center – rail very essential for shipments from out of state. Freight cars do not have to be unloaded immediately and can be spotted anytime while someone must be present when a truck arrives. 12 cars per month.
Edwards Building Supply has switched to trucks but may return to rail with current gas crisis.
Hull Bros. Lumber Co. could not rely entirely on trucks even though rail shipments have not increased and truck shipments have. 1 or 2 cars per month.
Canoga Builders Supplies located here because of railroad service but trucking has replaced most shipments and the company now owns their own trucks. 2 cars per month.
Canoga Park Redwood – truck shipments increasing while rail is not. 1 car per month.
Sunset Lumber Co. – Rail shipments essential. 1 car per month.
Georgia Pacific Corp. – Rails shipments so essential that a second spur track was built last year to help handle increasing rail shipments. 50 cars per month.
Final comments, former business operations served by rail.
The Van Nuys area had four fuel dealers served by rail in the past. There was also a feed warehouse, now torn down. Canoga Feed was no longer in business, and George Milling Co. had recently gone out of business, although I had seen a grain car spotted in their spur track in May, 1972. The San Fernando Valley was becoming totally urbanized. No longer were there small farms and orchards nor the keeping of chickens, goats, horses, or cows. Older tracks of small single family homes were being replaced by apartment complexes, thus the need for a lot of lumber and building supplies.
Reading about the bakery has inspired me to explore bakeries in the next post. I observed the Rainbow Bakery in Roswell, NM from 1991-1994. It was a reliable customer for the ATSF. I’ll document a bit more on that and share scenes from a bakery on B. Smith’s LCN RR layout.