Wasco, CA (WAC)
More than half of all roses grown in the United States are raised in the Wasco area; the city celebrates the crop with an annual Festival of Roses during which it crowns a Rose Queen.
700 G Street
Wasco, CA 93280
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 41,424
- Facility Ownership: City of Wasco
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Wasco
- Platform Ownership: City of Wasco
- Track Ownership: BNSF Railway
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
The Wasco station is an open-air shelter structure that sports a broad, hipped, seamed-metal roof supported by posts that rise out of concrete benches. From the street, the passenger pavilion is approached through a shady archway that forms the central axis of a small Spanish Revival style building. One side of the structure houses the Chamber of Commerce and the other has room for the local “dial-a-ride” transportation service that operates within the city limits. As part of the Mobility First initiative of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Wasco stop received a new wheelchair lift, enclosure and pad in 2011.
Wasco is located toward the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley and north of the Tehachapi Mountains that separate the valley from the Mohave Desert to the southeast and the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area to the south. Spanish explorers such as Father Francisco Garces traveled through the region in the late 18th century and encountered tribes of the Yokut American Indians.
The San Joaquin Valley was not extensively settled by European-Americans until the 1820s. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, much of the land in southern California was broken up into large estates that were often doled out to friends of those in power. Although isolated from populated coastal areas due to the mountain ranges, the San Joaquin Valley was used for grazing. The Gold Rush of 1849 attracted adventurers from the rest of the United States and the world to California. Many dreams of riches came to naught but some of the settlers remained in the west and started to build lives. Subsequently, many of the Yokut were driven off their land and onto designated reservations.
Substantial population growth in the valley did not occur until the arrival of the Southern Pacific (SP) and Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroads (ATSF) in the late 19th century. By the early 1870s, the SP—and the Central Pacific Railroad, which it effectively controlled—were working on a line that would run down the San Joaquin Valley to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles. Those cities were California’s two most important ports and political and economic centers for the northern and southern regions of the state, respectively. For two decades, the SP held a monopoly on rapid transportation within the region, bringing complaints from farmers who had to pay what they considered to be high freight rates.
The ATSF had entered southern California in the 1880s and presented itself as the SP’s main rival. In the 1890s, the new San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railroad (SF&SJV) proposed an alternate route through the valley; by purchasing the SF&SJV in 1899 and securing trackage rights over the SP’s Tehachapi line, the ATSF gained a route between Los Angeles and the San Francisco bay area.
As the SF&SJV route neared completion, a small depot was built in the Wasco area; sources disagree on whether it was erected in 1897 or 1899, but since the rail line was not completed to Bakersfield until 1898, the latter date seems more plausible. The two-story structure cost $4,500 and followed the SF&SJV’s standard No. 2 design. This model included an outdoor waiting room and a trackside bay window to give the station master an unobstructed view down the tracks so that he could monitor rail traffic.
A decade later, the depot’s freight room was extended, and the station served as a shipping point for potatoes and oil. At mid-century, the structure was remodeled; the outdoor waiting room was enclosed and the second floor was reorganized as sleeping quarters for trainmen on layover between assignments. Although Amtrak began using the depot as a flag stop in 1975, the ATSF closed the building in 1978 and it was demolished at the end of the following year. Interestingly, salvage from the demolition was used in the restoration of the nearby Shafter depot which is now open to the public as a museum.
The settlement that sprung up around the station was named Dewey, and later Deweyville, in honor of Admiral George Dewey who forced the surrender of the Spanish fleet at the battle of Manila during the Spanish-American War. The depot became the hub of a small commercial center that included a grocery store, blacksmith shop, and saloons. In 1899, the village was recognized by the federal government when it received its own post office. Registering the name “Dewey,” it was discovered that there was another California town by that name and thus “Wasco” was chosen as a replacement. The origin of the name is not fully known, but anecdotes suggest that the term was suggested by a local resident who had grown up in Oregon among the Wasco American Indians.
Development remained sparse throughout the first decade until the local Kern County Board of Trade decided to encourage immigration to the region. Board members corresponded with the California Home Extension Association, a Los Angeles based land agency. Acquiring three square miles of land, the company established the Fourth Home Extension Colony at Wasco and began to advertise village and farm lots to interested immigrants from across the country.
At the time, southern California retained a mystique as the “American Riviera” and was often favorably compared to Mediterranean climates such as Italy or Spain. State boosters also encouraged stories and histories that highlighted the area’s perceived ties to old European ways represented by the Franciscan monasteries built in the late 18th century. Images of bountiful fields and sun-dappled landscapes enticed many to head west to claim their piece of the American Dream.
Most of the Wasco Colony lots were sold in the winter of 1907, and by summer more than 200 families had moved on site, only to discover that water rights were not included in the cost of their parcels. The drilling of wells was an immediate concern and some discouraged families gave up and left. After a decade of struggle, those who built water infrastructure such as wells and irrigation ditches were able to make the fields bloom with crops such as long white potatoes, barley, wheat, flax, and cotton.
Young Wasco also benefitted from the discovery of oil to the west in the Lost Hills; before a settlement could be constructed at the fields, Wasco was the primary supply point for the oil workers. In the southern part of the valley, natural oil and tar deposits had seeped to the surface for centuries; the gooey liquid was used by the Yokut to waterproof baskets which were traded with other American Indian groups. The development of the automobile industry at the end of the nineteenth century created a sustained demand for petroleum products and in 1899 the first well was sunk north of Bakersfield at Oildale.
Similar to many early oil discoveries, the Lost Hills Oil Field was accidentally found in 1910 by two men drilling for water. The news of their luck quickly spread and Standard Oil of California moved into the market. Within a year, 2000 laborers had flocked to the field, which was estimated to hold 3.8 million barrels of crude oil. Over the next decade, derricks rose upon the landscape as additional pools were tapped, and the SP built a branch line to carry the oil to San Francisco. The rapid development of the oil industry demanded workers, and many early residents migrated from oil-producing regions in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.
In 1917, four million barrels of crude oil were pumped to the surface. Within a decade, Kern County was producing about one-eighth of the world’s petroleum, or roughly 50 million barrels. The initial burst of activity near Wasco was followed by decades of decreasing gains until the beginning of the twenty-first century and the introduction of new methods and technologies. Today, the Lost Hills Oil Field is once again one of the fastest growing in the state and holds promising reserves of natural gas.
Throughout the 20th century, Wasco remained an agricultural community with ties to the petroleum and natural gas industries of Kern County. An aerial view of the town shows it surrounded by a grid of rich green and brown fields. Rather than cotton or potatoes, many of these fields are today planted with roses of every imaginable variety in colors ranging from yellow and white to pink and deep red. Amazingly, more than half of all roses grown in the United States—amounting to 50 million plants—are raised in the Wasco area.
Late summer’s most popular event is the Festival of Roses held on the weekend after Labor Day. The kickoff of the celebration is the crowning of the Rose Queen/Miss Wasco, a young woman who presides over the weekend’s activities. A parade features school bands and floats decorated with locally grown roses, while a community breakfast, tours of the rose fields, and other events round out the weekend. Each year, a featured rose is chosen, and avid rose lovers and gardeners look forward to the opportunity to experience a day among the hundreds of acres of silken petals and the aromatic perfumes that settle over the bushes.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station. The San Joaquin service is primarily financed through funds made available by the State of California, Department of Transportation, and is managed by the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority.
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Dedicated Parking
- Long Term Parking Spaces
- Quik Trak Kiosk
- Short Term Parking Spaces
- Wheelchair Lift