On Sunday, June 3, architectural historian Jean-Guy Dubé will visit Rancho Camulos in Piru to discuss a lesser-known aspect of the historic site and museum: its significance in the expansion of the Southern Pacific Railway.
The railway began laying tracks in 1887 through Piru across land owned by the Del Valle family. The company constructed several structures to accommodate crews working the line, some of which are still standing, while others you may have to look more closely to find.
Dubé’s book, Railroad Depots: A Southern Pacific Collection, features his blueprint drawings of California depots and other structures. In 2017, Dubé won the Leicester B. Holland Prize, an award for the best single-sheet drawing of a historic building site or structure from the National Park Service, for his drawing of the stable at Santa Paula’s Wallace Libbey Hardison House.
VCReporter: When did the railway first make its way through Piru?
Jean-Guy Dubé: In 1886, the Southern Pacific was building its line and they wanted to build a coastal route from L.A. to San Francisco, so they chose the Santa Clara River valley. Their goal was to build all the way to Ventura and connect to the rail lines near San Francisco. Construction started in 1887, and as they progressed down the valley they started establishing depots. What’s interesting is that when the railroad came through they typically bought up the right of way, but when they came to the Camulos Ranch, the Del Valle family didn’t want to sell so they actually leased their land, an unusual instance. Every 10 miles they established these little section houses to maintain the railroad, and a small crew of men were responsible for repairing the track and serving the railway right of way. They built the section house in 1887 and established a little freight platform to serve the ranch. At that time, they were raising grapes and selling wine. Around 1896 or so, they added on a little freight shed.
A few years before that, Hellen Hunt Jackson was preparing her book Ramona and she made the ranch the fictional setting for the home. When the railroad finally came through, people started using the railroad to visit, so people were stopping at the Camulos freight shed to tromp around the grounds of the adobe and property, so it kind of became an impromptu passenger train.
The little building survived up until the 1940s, having been abandoned in the 1930s or so. The Del Valle family disassembled it and turned the lumber into a garage.
What got you into trains and their infrastructure?
I’ve been researching depots ever since I was a kid back in 1983. I grew up in a railroad town in Indio, California, where we had a magnificent two-story train station. I fell in love with the history and architecture of the buildings and it sparked my career interest in architecture. When I started drawing these blueprints in 1994, I would look for photos, maps or existing blue prints, but usually they don’t exist anymore, so a lot of time I’m re-creating these buildings based on my knowledge of existing depots and structures and construction techniques. I’m also lucky that around Santa Paula and Fillmore there were existing railroad depots that I could study and measure.
Back in 2008, I went out to the ranch. I was in the process of determining what might have happened to the freight shed, and as I was looking around I noticed that this garage had yellow paint on it, which was the color the railroad used, and that the lumber was very old and recycled. I could see tall-tale signs that it was the plank-and-wall members of the old freight shed, so I made the determination that the building had been recycled by the family, and I shared that information with the museum.
What can one expect at your lecture?
I’ll be taking people back over 100 years, looking at the history of the railroad as it came from Saugus to the coast, from 1887 until 1904. It’s about raising awareness for these train stations, if they still exist, and also giving people an appreciation of history and for historic preservation.
Dubé will speak on Sunday, June 3, beginning at 3 p.m. at Rancho Camulos Museum, 5164 E. Telegraph Road in Piru. For more information, visit www.ranchocamulos.org. To read more about the Holland Prize, visit www.nps.gov/hdp/competitions/holland_winners.htm.