Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway
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With a schedule regulated by the tides and the needs of chickens, the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway operated for 81 years as a delightfully quirky egg-hauling enterprise. Modern electric railroad technology paired with ancient low-tech steamboats made possible the overnight shipping of fresh produce to a voracious San Francisco market. The railroad helped Petaluma earn the moniker "the egg basket of the world." Incorporated in 1903, the railroad provided efficient train service to this fertile farm region. The famous botanist Luther Burbank located his experimental farm near Sebastopol and proclaimed it is nature's "chosen spot of all the earth." The railroad survived the devastating 1906 earthquake, opposition from three larger railroads, the Great Depression, and fierce auto-truck competition. The corporation was, mercifully, abandoned in 1984, and most of the rails were removed by 1988. Happily, recent plans call for a tourist trolley to operate over a portion of surviving Petaluma tracks.


As a boy, John Schmale accompanied his father on many train-watching trips around San Francisco. Later John worked for Sierra Railway, authored several train articles, and has collected thousands of railroad images. Kristina Schmale, a banking professional, acquired her passion for railroads while riding famous name-trains as a child.


Title: Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway-Important book for California traction modelers

Publisher: O Scale Trains

Date: 9/18/09

One of the latest additions to Arcadia Publishing's Images of Rail series is John Schmale and Kristina Schmale's Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway.

The Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway is significant book for several reasons. First, it shines a spotlight on a traction line that hasn't been "over-covered." Even if you own lots of traction books, you probably haven't heard much about the Petaluma and Santa Rosa.

Second, the line was one of the most atmospheric and photogenic of the California electric railways. Not only is the line's freight and passenger rolling stock of interest, but the line's structures--both large and small--have a distinctively "California" feel to them.

Finally, there was a maritime component: steamboats met the electric line at a wharf and took passengers and freight to San Francisco.

The Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway documents the above with dozens of sharp photographs showing the variety of the line's equipment as well as the stations and structures that surrounded the line.

Fans of steeple cab freight engines will find much of interest. During both the electric and, later, diesel years, there were numerous steeple cab engines. As usual, the wooden steeple cab units are the most photogenic. But, there's more. The Petaluma and Santa Rosa also hosted a slug unit, motorized flat car 1008B that lasted until 1947.

Any modeler who entered a credible model of a steeple cab engine and its partner slug unit would be an almost guaranteed "best of show" at an upcoming meet. There's a great photo for modeling purposes at the bottom of page 105.

The line's passenger service was headlined by four large and elegant American Car Company "wind splitter" interurban combines which have an impressive presence on the line. Like the steeple cabs and slug unit, these cars would make great models with a distinctive look.

Stations large and small

The pages of the Petaluma and Santa Rosa document a wide variety of stations, ranging from large California downtown Mission Style stations to wayside passenger shelters and modest combination stations.

There are also numerous photographs of action at the Santa Rosa wharf, where the line met the river steamboats to San Francisco.

One of the joys of railroad books is that just when you think the "last book" has been written, a new volume appears documenting a relatively unknown line during its period of construction, prosperity, and later decline. In this case, the line's story is enhanced by photographs showing the urban and rural environment the line traveled through, and the way the environment changed over the years.

The Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway by John Schmale and Kristina Schmale was published by Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 13-978-0-7385-5959-9. $21.95 Its available from online and from local bookstores, as well as from the publisher at