In the early hours of July 17, 1993, Southern Pacific’s last sugar beet train from the Imperial Valley pulled into the station at Guadalupe, California. The nearby sugar mill would soon be shut down after nearly 100 years of operation and SP’s sugar beet trains, with their familiar wooden gondolas, would no longer make the run from the southeast corner of the state to the central coast. Video Rails was on hand to record this historic moment, for they were capturing the entire sugar beet operation prior to the end of an era.
Our journey begins in the lush farmlands of the Imperial Valley, 420 rail miles away from the Holly Sugar Mill at Betteravia. There you’ll watch as sugar beets are harvested, transported to receiving stations, and then loaded into the wooden gondolas, with their friction bearing axles, that made SP’s unit beet trains so unique. The loaded trains of up to 100 steel and wooden cars hauling 10,000 tons of sugar beets depart El Centro, heading toward Taylor Junction in L.A. and along the Coast Line to their destination in the Santa Maria Valley. Helper units are often added for the push over Beaumont Hill, as you’ll see on several of the trains.
At Taylor Junction, we’re invited into the cab of SD40 7349 on the point of a 3-unit lashup that includes two SD45s. The cab ride to Guadalupe features tunnels, cuts, and blue Pacific Ocean views as well as meets and passes with intermodal hotshots and Amtrak trains. At the interchange yard in Guadalupe, the Santa Maria Valley Railroad’s new GP-9 arrives to transfer the gondolas to the Holly Sugar Mill. Then we’re treated to a complete tour of the refining process, from unloading to washing, pulping, purifying, drying, and bagging the granulated sugar. Though the mill has since been partially demolished and SP’s sugar beet trains are a thing of the past, you can still enjoy one of the most interesting railroading stories ever shown, now on DVD from Pentrex.