History of the PSRMA

A Chronological History of the
Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association, Incorporated

a non-profit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public-benefit California Corporation, founded 1961

(Prepared by R. E. Pennick, 2014)

1900 – 1940 The railroad enthusiast “movement” in America slowly developed into a national and international hobby pastime, including both modeling and real railroads. Over time, those hobbyists that cataloged, photographed, rode, analyzed and wrote about railroads in all of their various forms and iterations were affectionately dubbed “railroad fanatics”, or “railfans” for short.
1941 – 1945 The “Great Depression” of 1929-1933 and national security concerns and severe rationing of gasoline, automobiles, tires and other staples of life during World War II slowed the growth of the “fan” movement.
1946 – 1949 Once the War was over, civilian pursuits blossomed again. The national security concerns were lifted, allowing railfans to again photograph trains and visit railroad yards, shops and terminals.
1949 Two San Diego railfans – educator Frederic “Eric” Sanders and professional musician Douglas I. Duncan – met for the first time by accident while photographing the final operations of the San Diego Electric Railway streetcar system before abandonment. The two men discussed the need for a preservation organization in San Diego and agreed to hold an informal meeting of like-minded fans at Eric’s home in La Mesa to continue the discussion. The outgrowth of this first meeting was the formation of the Railway Historical Society of San Diego (RHS of SD).
1955 The fledgeling group was successful in obtaining a retired steam locomotive and wooden business car from the Southern Pacific Railroad for display somewhere in San Diego. The locomotive was one of the last remaining steam locomotives owned by the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway. The former business car had been the private car of John D. Spreckels, builder of SD & AE’s predecessor: San Diego & Arizona Railway, between San Diego & El Centro during 1907 – 1919. With the consent of the 22nd District Agricultural Association – operators of the county fair at the Del Mar racetrack – the two historic artifacts were displayed in front of the Bing Crosby exhibit hall and opened to the public during the annual fair.
1959 RHS of SD formed a committee to explore the feasibility of establishing an operating railway museum in the county, where historic trains would actually be able to operate as part of a broad, multi-faceted interpretive program for the general public.
1960 An independent effort, led by a mix of RHS of SD members and others, began a more aggressive parallel effort to explore and establish an operating museum.
1961 The independent group formally established the San Diego County Railroad Museum and immediately began the process of incorporation with the Secretary of State.
1963 At the suggestion of Douglas Duncan, the name was changed to Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association (PSRMA, inspired by the local “Pacific Southwest Airlines”, now US Airways).
1964 PSRMA was incorporated as a non-profit California educational corporation, becoming Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association, Inc. A well-known local railfan and scion of a long-time San Diego banking family – Thomas W. Sefton – joined the effort and offered his San Diego Trust & Savings Bank board room for the group’s monthly board meetings. Efforts began in earnest to obtain donations of locomotives, railcars and other historic exhibits, as well as real estate to develop as a public railway museum. Heading up this effort was an aggressive, no-nonsense local railfan named Terrence E. “Terry” Durkin, the son of a prominent local real estate developer.
1965 Museum’s first rolling stock acquisition: former Santa Maria Valley Railroad (Central California) 12-passenger gasoline railbus No. 9.
1966 Museum’s first locomotive – retired 1923 Mojave Northern Railroad (Southwestern Portland Cement Co.) saddle-tank 6-wheeled steam locomotive No. 3 – arrived from Victorville, Calif. at its “temporary” home, the California Southern Railroad Museum on the grounds of the Orange Empire Trolley Museum in Perris, Calif., until a site could be found for it in San Diego. A second steam locomotive – 1923 6-wheeled coal-burner No. 10 – arrived from a Sheridan, Pa. blast furnace works and was fired up for the first time by PSRMA volunteers at the Perris site, the very first operation of PSRMA locomotive.
1967 The museum’s third locomotive – ex-Feather River Railroad (Georgia-Pacific) geared “Shay” logging locomotive No. 3 – was also destined for temporary storage at Perris. The 1923 artifact, however, was deemed too large for the temporary track used to reach the site and it was rerouted to San Diego. An emergency arrangement was made with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (Santa Fe) officials in San Diego for temporary storage on an unused 100-foot long spur track at the foot of 22nd Street. On Thanksgiving weekend, the old engine was steamed up and operated back & forth over the 4-day weekend – the VERY FIRST operation of a museum-owned locomotive in San Diego.
1969 Museum’s first freight car – former 1941 outside-braced Akron, Canton & Youngstown Railroad wood boxcar No. 3024 – was delivered to the museum’s storage spur at the foot of Crosby St. and immediately put to use as a rolling storage facility for the museum.
1970 With the consent of the Base Commander, the museum moved its small collection of rolling stock to the mile of private track on Naval Air Station-Miramar. Over time, additional rolling artifacts are added, and a periodic schedule of train operations begun for the benefit of base personnel.
1976 – 1978 Celebration of San Diego’s 200th birthday. Museum receives permission to display its former Coos Bay Timber Co. steam locomotive No. 11 and former Pullman car Robert Peary on an unused Santa Fe spur track near the Navy Pier as a public exhibit for the duration of the celebration. Thousands of visitors toured the staffed exhibit during the 2-year celebration.
1978 Remains of the former San Diego & Southeastern Railway wooden La Mesa, Calif. railway station was moved from Lakeside back to La Mesa. With the cooperation of the City and citizens of La Mesa, restoration began to return the 1894 relic to its 1915 appearance as a public museum.
1979 The Navy gave notice that the NAS-Miramar spur track was scheduled for removal, and the museum would have to vacate the property as soon as possible. A full-scale search for a new home was launched. An unused 5-acre parcel of County land, with an old World War II gymnasium, was discovered in the unincorporated village of Campo, adjacent to the freight-only SD & AE Railway mainline between San Diego & El Centro and 50 miles east of downtown San Diego on State Route 94. The Southern Pacific Transportation Co. sold its SD & AE Ry. subsidiary to the Metropolitan Transit Development Board – brainchild of Calif. State Senator and PSRMA Life Member James R. Mills – for the nucleus of a proposed light-rail transit system in San Diego (now Metropolitan Transit System).
1980 Museum completed the purchase of the Campo property from the County and immediately added 3+ acres of adjacent private property, for a total of 8 acres adjacent to the railroad. Work began immediately to convert the site – about 1/3 mile east of the 1917 Campo railway depot – to a functioning railway museum. Museum signed up its 1,000th member. Volunteers successfully salvaged tons of priceless original operating records, photographs, maps and other archival material on early San Diego railroads (the “Dumpster Collection”) from the former SD & AE Yard Office, just before the old building was demolished to make space for construction of the new James R. Mills office building.
1981 All museum rolling stock was moved from NAS-Miramar to a temporary storage spur track along MTDB’s Orange Line trolley route in La Mesa, south of Lemon Ave. SMV railbus No. 9 was trucked to the new Campo site, the first rolling stock on the property.
1982 Museum sponsored the first passenger train over the El Cajon Branch of the SD & AE Ry. since 1932, in cooperation with freight train operator, Kyle Railways. Locomotive engineer was a museum member and one of the last engineers on the original SD & AE Ry.
1982-1985 Great strides were made in the development of the Campo museum site. An agreement was signed with SD & AE owner MTDB to allow the museum to operate vintage passenger trains for the public on the 14 miles of SD & AE Ry. track between the International Border at Division and Milepost 74, eight miles east of Campo.
1983 The remaining museum rolling stock in San Diego arrived at Campo on its own wheels in “Great Freight I”, over 66 miles of the SD & AE Ry. and the Tijuana & Tecate Ry. The restored La Mesa depot was opened to the public. Ex-U.S. Army 45-ton diesel-electric locomotive, which powered this effort, was the first museum rolling stock to enter upon the museum’s Campo site on its own wheels and under its own power.
1985 Former Coos Bay Timber Co. steam locomotive No. 11 was steamed up and operated on a short section of track constructed along the SD & AE Ry. track at the Campo site, pulling an ex-Amtrak heavyweight passenger car. This was the first operation of a steam locomotive at the Campo site. Museum purchased six Pullman-built 85-passenger former Delaware, Lackawana & Western Railroad electric commuter coaches from a New Jersey scrapper.Museum acquired former Southern Pacific “Ten-Wheeler” steam locomotive No. 2353 and a 1914 SP chair car from the 45th District Agricultural Association, operators of the Imperial County Fairgrounds at Imperial, Calif., where the artifacts had been on display since 1957.
1986 Regular weekend museum passenger service began between Campo and Miller Creek Calif., about 7½ miles east. The SP steam locomotive 2353 and other exhibits were moved from Imperial Valley by truck to Campo.
1987 Museum’s first passenger trains from Campo to Tecate, Mexico, using professional freight-train crews. PSRMA became the first and only non-profit operating railway museum to operate its trains across an international boundary in the U.S. A second “Great Freight” was assembled in San Diego and moved additional museum rolling stock to Campo.
1991 PSRMA hired its first paid Executive Director, Ms. Kay Carter and leased office space in the Santa Fe Railway’s historic San Diego station downtown. Museum embarks on a 4-year effort to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the completion of the San Diego & Arizona Railway on November 15, 1919. Centerpiece of the event would be the restoration of SP steam locomotive No. 2353, which once ran on the SD & A Ry., to full operation.
1994 Despite an aggressive restoration schedule, steam locomotive 2353 was not ready to run in time for the SD & A Ry. celebration, so the event went on without it.
1996 Locomotive 2353 restoration was finally completed, at a cost of more than $200K, and was placed in occasional service on the SD & AE track.
1998 Construction finally completed on new $100,000 steel display building at Campo, with funding from the California legislature. PSRMA obtained permission to use its own trained volunteers to operate its frequent excursion trains between Campo and Tecate, Mexico.
2000 Steam locomotive 2353 was removed from service for boiler repairs after filming for a segment of the action film “Pearl Harbor”.
2003 Steam locomotive 2353 retired to static display in the museum’s Display Building.
2004 Devastating wildland fire burned Tunnel 4 and the deck of the Lower Campo Creek bridge at the International Border. Tecate excursions were temporarily suspended.
2005 Train service to Miller Creek was suspended indefinitely due to unsafe track and other factors. Service restored to Tecate, Mexico and longer special trains ran once a year to Garcia, Mex., near Tijuana.
2009 Railroad tunnel 3, between Campo & Tecate in Mexico, burned and collapsed, again suspending the Tecate special trains. Committee formed to plan the 50th birthday of PSRMA in 2011.
2011 Museum celebrated its 50th anniversary all year with special events and other acknowledgments.