By Michael Sadovnick/photos as noted
Let’s say you are a big Hollywood producer and your script requires a scene taking place on a vintage train of the early 20th century somewhere in the Midwest. Logistics of set construction, acquiring the correct rolling stock, and filming on an active railroad pose many challenges. When considering the options available for acquiring an authentic railroad setting, however, production companies often have to look no further than the small city of Fillmore, Calif., located approximately 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles, nestled among the citrus groves of the Santa Paula Valley in neighboring Ventura County. The small city of 14,000 is the home base to Fillmore & Western Railway (FWRY) operating on a former Southern Pacific branch line between the city of Santa Paula to the west and Piru to the east. Downtown Fillmore is the heart of the operation, with a small storage yard, maintenance area, turntable, historic depot, and associated support structures.
Fillmore & Western traces its roots back to 1967 when it went by the name of Short Line Enterprises. Back then, the company was focused on buying and trading mostly early 20th century vintage rolling stock acquired from various sources, including major production companies such as MGM, Paramount, and 20th Century Fox. Short Line Enterprises soon became one of the premier companies in providing trains for the motion picture industry.
After sitting idle for years, FWRY’s rare ex-Southern Pacific RS32 4009 was restored and repainted in SP colors. On April 29, 2012, it led a “Thomas the Tank Engine” train from Fillmore to Piru. Charles Freericks photo
In 1976, SLE moved its collection and movie productions to Sierra Railroad in Jamestown. During this time, SLE was also managing and consulting on restoration projects for the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento and the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City.
In 1985, the Short Line Enterprises collection was moved to the Newhall Movie Ranch located within the city of Newhall, approximately 30 miles to the east of Fillmore; this continues to be a popular filming location due to being within the working radius of Los Angeles production crews. Operations remained at that location until 1990; by that time, more than 70 productions had been filmed at the property. The company was forced to find a new home after its lease was canceled and the property redeveloped in 1990.
After a search of various locales, the decision was made to settle on a new location in the city of Fillmore, centered in the pastoral Santa Paula Valley along the then-idle SP Santa Paula Branch currently owned by the county of Ventura. The line proved ideal with its picturesque scenery, and the surrounding towns can stand in for a number of settings. As a result of the expansive right-of-way available, in 1991 plans were drafted to add regular excursion service under the Fillmore & Western Railway name with Short Line Enterprises remaining to handle the film portion of the business…