Growing up near the tracks: Ed Guthrie recounts childhood at Saugus Train Station

Guthrie siblings top row from left Linda, Nancy, Cheryl. Bottom from left - Marla, Ed and Debbie

Underneath the stairwell in the Saugus Train Station sits a triangle-shaped cubby hole with a broom handle nailed into the wall.

The makeshift corner closet was the handiwork of Ed Guthrie, 64, who used the cranny to hang up his clothes when he was a young boy living in the station during the 1960s and 1970s.

For nearly 16 years, from 1962 to 1978, Ed’s father James “Bob” Guthrie, his wife Arminta and five of their six children lived and worked at the train depot.

The Saugus Train Station first opened to passenger trains and freight trains Sept. 1, 1887.  It continued its service for almost a century until its closure in 1979.

Now, the station sits in Heritage Junction Historical Park as the headquarters for the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.  But before it housed a museum, the station was a bustling center for rail service that the Guthrie family called home.

Life at the station

“I was 10 years old when we moved in,” Ed Guthrie said.  “It was a fun place to grow up in as a young boy… It was me and four sisters that were raised there.”

Guthrie was raised in the valley, attending Saugus Elementary School, Placerita Junior High School and Hart High School.  He remembers when Santa Clarita was a “totally different town” just before it began to grow to the suburban city it is today.

“It was nothing but a farm town and the only industry was Thatcher Glass, which was right behind the station,” he said.

The Guthrie home and train station was located only 20 feet from the rail tracks, which would cause the whole station to shake when a train roared by, Guthrie said.  The lively center and expansive space made it a popular spot for Guthrie’s peers and friends when he was growing up.

“There was a lot going on at that station.  They had express deliveries and there was a lot of train traffic,” Guthrie said.  “Everybody wanted to come and spend the night at Guthrie’s house.”

With a 24-hour business, there was always someone at the station to keep Guthrie and his friends company as they played around the station or finished homework in the depot office.

“I could go in there [the office] and always have someone to chat with,” Guthrie said.  “If I got in trouble or needed a ride or needed to get a hold of somebody, I could always call that office number and there was someone in there.”

He also held his first job at age 12 at the station junction across the railroad tracks.

“I worked at a bakery right across the street from the train station,” Guthrie said.  “When I was 14 I worked at the Saugus Café and worked there all through high school.”

Guthrie often worked the night shift at the café after visitors left the races at the Saugus Speedway.

“They would always call me to work the register at night since I lived right across the tracks I could be over there in five minutes,” he said.

Riding trains

To this day, Guthrie remembers the paths of the trains that moved through Saugus Station and continued throughout the city and on to Los Angeles, Ventura and Val  Verde transporting lumber, chemicals, cattle and people.

“The Saugus Local came in every day and would come in and turn around and go back every day,” he said.

Ed Guthrie
Ed Guthrie

Before the trains transported lumber, Newhall Land used the railroad to haul cattle to the line’s Santa Paula Branch and Guthrie would ride the trains with them, helping the railroad workers start fires in the train’s potbelly stoves to heat the caboose.

“I would ride out there either in the caboose or in the engine,” he said.  “I got to know the conductor better and he knew I was a good kid and was railroad savvy.”

When the right conductor was working, he would ask him to bring friends along for the ride.

“As a kid those days, getting to ride in the caboose of a train was quite a big deal,” Guthrie said.

Using station resources

There was one station resource Guthrie found more valuable than the rest: lumber.

When trains would return to Saugus they would leave stacked four-by-four wood planks on the flatcars.  Guthrie would drag the planks off the cars, pull out the nails and steel banding and put for sale signs on them for fence posts.

“At the time a lot of people had ranches and stuff up here and I was selling those things like hot cakes,” he said.

Guthrie also used lumber from old, dilapidated buildings that once acted as housing for railroad workers in the 40 acres behind the Saugus Train Station.

“What I would do was strip them and me and my buddies would build treehouses out of it,” he said.  “We had an endless supply of lumber with these old buildings.”

Exploring the station

As a child, Guthrie had more freedom than other boys his age.

“My bedroom was downstairs and the rest of the family was upstairs so I pretty much had free range,” he said.

Sometimes, Guthrie would explore the station’s hidden spots, crawling underneath the raised elevation of the station and finding hidden hideouts.

“There was a hideout in the baggage room,” he said.  “There were some boards that had been cut where you could lift and pull the floor out from underneath and someone had hidden a bunch of girl magazines under there.”

Guthrie stumbled across the hideout when he was crawling under the station and found a way to lift the floor board panels.

“I didn’t tell my dad, but I showed the other guys that worked there,” he said.

When passenger service ended in 1971, the baggage room was left as an open space.  Bob Guthrie converted a section of the space into a dirt bike shop for Ed Guthrie to work on his bikes.

“It was a cool setup and nice to have,” Guthrie said.  “It had a cabinet to keep all my lubricants, oils and stuff for my bike… I also had a rack so I could stand up and work on my bike without bending over.”

Closing station

After nearly 100 years, the railroad ended the Saugus Train Station’s operations in 1979.

Guthrie’s father was still working at the station when it closed, but thankfully had kept a house rented in the Santa Clarita Valley for when and if the station closed its doors.

“When they moved him out of the station they moved up there,” Guthrie said.

For the remainder of his career, Bob Guthrie worked at the San Fernando Station, until its closing, and the Van Nuys Station until his retirement.  During his many years in the railroad profession, Bob Guthrie saw the shape and technology of the vocation change.

“When my father went to work for the railroad company he was a telegraph operator,” Ed Guthrie said.  “And he retired sitting behind a computer screen.”

Today, Ed Guthrie lives in Castaic with his family.  He sometimes visits the station to see the plaque dedication to his father and to share stories of living in the station.

“I love telling stories and telling what I did,” Guthrie said.

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