Fate of the Vintage Mullen’s Dining Cars – Buellton, California

Those of you who’ve traveled Highway 101 along the northern Santa Barbara coast perhaps may recognize these photographs of two vintage streetcars, formerly attached to the old abandoned Mullen’s Dining Car Cafe in Buellton, California. For many years this historic roadside dining car complex (the cars were attached to the original cafe/diner) sat for sale while being slated for demolition. The new property owners tried everything to sell these vintage dining cars, but to no avail. All seemed lost. But first, a bit of history.

Abandoned Mullen's Dining Car #1 in Morro Bay, CA, Parking Lot

Rest Stop

Originally opened as Mullen’s Dining Car Cafe in 1946, this novelty restaurant operated during the heyday of American roadside services. The owner, Ed Mullen, had been a veteran steward on real rail dining cars and had managed to transport extra Los Angeles Railway Standard cars from the L.A. Electric Railway Co. to the rural Central California coastal town of Buellton, still famous for Andersen’s Pea Soup restaurant. The rail cars, which were built in 1911, were operated by the Los Angeles Electric Railway Company until 1944. Located strategically on busy Highway 101, Mullen’s Cafe drew many patrons that were traveling the coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The owner later added gas service pumps to draw in more visitors.

Abandoned Mullen's Dining Car #2 in Morro Bay, CA, Parking Lot

Closed for Lunch

These twin railway streetcars once lined the sides of this abandoned roadside diner. However, in 1955, the California State Highways Department realigned and expanded Highway 101 to serve the increasing traffic. The cafe, which stood on the original highway, became severely impacted when 101 was moved. Since 1958 the site remained abandoned and dilapidated, bearing battle scars of time, after being in business for only 12 years. For decades this classic cafe sat decaying as the forces of nature took over, still a site of interest for lovers of vintage streetcars and retro American diners.

Front View of Abandoned Mullen's Dining Car #2 in Morro Bay, CA, Parking Lot

Lady in Waiting

In 2012, a retired contractor from Cayucos, California, Tom Pierze, purchased the dining cars and had them transported up the coast to Morro Bay at great cost. For a time they sat in silence, awaiting restoration in a weed-covered, abandoned parking lot next to a gas station. Word had it that the new owner wrangled with the city of Morro Bay to obtain the necessary permits to restore them to their former all-American glory and open a new diner. Unfortunately, permit and financial issues resulted in these vintage beauties being removed from their resting place at the intersection of Highways 1 and 41 in Morro Bay. I am still attempting to investigate their ultimate fate (see update below).

The three photographs above are HDR (high dynamic range ) images comprised of bracketed RAW shots processed in Photomatix Pro, Lightroom, Photoshop, and with onOne Software’s Perfect Photo Suite. They were taken with a Nikon D800 at the intersection of Highways 41 and 1 in Morro Bay while the dining cars awaited a new life. Due to the fact that the interiors of the dining cars had already been significantly gutted – containing mostly construction materials – I did not take any interior shots. In addition, the cars were tightly locked and secured.

September 2013 Update – Mystery Location Revealed: A huge thanks to Joe Myers, who informed me that these classic dining cars have been bought by and moved to the Bitter Creek Western Railroad near Arroyo Grande, California. Joe was kind enough to leave a couple comments on this post, and provided this vital information. Click here to read the story of how the cars came to rest at the Bitter Creek Western Railroad.

Historic Photo of Mullen's Original Dining Car Cafe, Buellton, California

Mullen’s Original Dining Car Cafe

For more historic details, please visit the following websites: 

No desire? Streetcars move to Morro Bay

Still No Service at this Diner published by The Santa Ynez Valley Journal 

Curt Cragg’s The History Highway, Dining Cars Cafe piece on the Old Gas Station Collectibles Forum

Mullen’s Dining Cars – Undiscovered Buellton by Zippy the Pinhead Locations on Waymarking 

Old Abandoned Dining Cars Cafe on Tricia’s Things

Ruins of the Arizona Verde Valley

As a photographer who has lived in California since the late 1970s, I greatly appreciate and enjoy all the Golden State has to offer in regards to the wealth of diverse photographic opportunities, from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Redwood Forests, to the deserts and rugged Pacific Coast. That said, one of my favorite states to visit and photograph is the spectacular Grand Canyon State of Arizona, which is ripe with photographic pickings. Perhaps it is because I feel deeply connected to Native American art and culture and love to visit the ancient ruins, or that I love to shoot old ghost mining towns, which are plentiful in Arizona. Whatever the reason, there is simply something very alluring about this great state, from the redrock country surrounding Sedona, to the high country of the Mogollon Rim and the great deserts beyond.

In recent years I took an extended trip to the Prescott region in north central Arizona and ended up with hundreds of Camera Raw files to process, as is typical in such scenic areas. Although I have post-processed many images in the past from this wonderful trip, I have only recently gotten around to working on many others. Interesting how we photographers cherry pick what we feel are the best images to work up initially, then, after going back and reviewing our catalogs much later, find more treasure troves.

View of Storm Over Verde Valley From Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

Approaching Storm – Tuzigoot National Monument

Many people are familiar with ancient Native American ruins such as Mesa Verde in Colorado; Chaco Canyon in New Mexico; and Canyon de Chelly in northeast Arizona. However, few are aware of three wonderful ancient sites near the towns of Jerome, Clarkdale, Sedona, and Camp Verde: Tuzigoot National Monument, Montezuma Castle National Monument, and Montezuma Well. This post will focus on images I shot during a thunderstorm from atop Tuzigoot National Monument, just east of the charming small town of Clarkdale, Arizona. The Tuzigoot ruins sit proudly on a hilltop overlooking the spectacular Verde Valley not far from the historic ghost mining town of Jerome. As with all urbex photography (images of abandoned structures), provocative questions arise such as: Who were these people? Why and how did they live here? Why did they leave? Where did they go?

Storm Over Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

We Lived Here

Tuzigoot is an ancient pueblo (village) comprised of 42 acres built by the Sinagua, a Native American people who flourished in the area for centuries, long before Columbus claimed to have discovered the New World. According to information from the National Park Service, Tuzigoot is an Apache word meaning ‘crooked water.’ The ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument were named by an Apache member of the excavation crew, referring to nearby Pecks Lake, a cutoff meander of the Verde River. The pueblo, first built around A.D. 1000, consisted of 110 rooms housing around 250 people and included second and third story structures. It sits on the summit of a ridge comprised of limestone and sandstone with sweeping views of the Verde River and Verde Valley. You can see all the way to the town of Jerome and its old quarry from atop the ridge.

The ruins at Tuzigoot incorporate very few doors. Instead, they use trapdoor type openings in the roofs and ladders to enter each room. The Sinagua were agriculturalists with trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles, who traded for shells from the coast and macaws from the south. For unknown reasons, these people left the area around A.D. 1400. Scientific data, however, indicates that rainfall was marginal during those times. In addition, soil nutrients may have been depleted after many years of planting crops.

Storm Over Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

The Remains of the Day

The monument is located on land once owned by United Verde/Phelps Dodge Mining. The corporation sold the site to Yavapai County for $1 so that the excavation could be completed under the auspices of federal relief projects. The County in turn transferred the land to the Federal Government. Tuzigoot was excavated and stabilized from 1933 to 1935 by archeologists Louis Caywood and Edward Spicer of the University of Arizona, with funding from the federal Civil Works Administration and Works Project Administration. In 1935–1936, with additional federal funding, the ruins were prepared for public display and a Pueblo Revival-style museum and visitor center was constructed. This museum is filled with many wonders and definitely worth taking time to visit. Afterward, be sure to visit the Verde Canyon Railroad in nearby Clarkdale and have a bite to eat at one of the Mexican restaurants.

Storm Over Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

Cloud Dance Over Tuzigoot Ruins

Franklin D. Roosevelt designated Tuzigoot Ruins as a U.S. National Monument on July 25, 1939. The Tuzigoot National Monument Archeological District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. The ruins are surrounded by the tailings pond of the former United Verde copper mine at Jerome. The tailings have recently been stabilized and revegetated. If you are traveling in the vicinity of Sedona or Jerome, I highly recommend adding Tuzigoot National Monument to your list of places to visit. As mentioned above, when I arrived at Tuzigoot there was a huge storm rolling in. For a time I had to take cover inside one of the pueblo rooms to wait out the merciless rainfall, something that would have been most welcome back in the days of the Sinagua people.

Storm Over Verde Valley, Arizona

Desert Crossroads in Storm

I got completely soaked, but thankfully had protection for my camera, lenses and tripod. After the rain stopped, I climbed to the highest possible vantage point, where I was treated with spectacular views of the grand Verde Valley. The cloud formations that afternoon were unlike any I have ever seen. And the light beams were piercing the dark, roiling clouds in the distance. The experience was nothing short of mystical. As I process more images, I will add them to this post. Hope you enjoy the photographs. All are HDR bracketed images. In another post, I will cover my visit to Montezuma Castle National Monument, so check back for more coverage of Native American ruins.


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