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A ticket to togetherness, part II

Posted: August 14, 2008 7:09 p.m.
Updated: October 16, 2008 5:01 a.m.
 
Dale Bolms, our dining car steward for the day, introduced us to Rosalba Alba, our onboard service manager/waitress. Alba said she has been with the F&W for five years and works in the office during the week. She was a helpful delight, carefully watching over our every need - and the playful banter between Bolms and Alba enlivened the day and made everyone feel like family.

Marta Rantarea served as cook and said she has been working weekends for the railroad for about a year.

Though she didn't have a lot of time to stop and talk, she noted that working for the F&W was "fun." Her delicious offerings went a long way toward making things fun for us as well.

Charlie Hawk was our engineer, and before the train trip began he had some time to chat. He said he had been hired by the F&W as a conductor after three years performing those duties with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. In May 2005 he got his engineer's license and now takes turns with three other engineers. When he's not in the cab, he works as a conductor.

Hawk explained that the train adjusts its speed to the distance that will be traveled for any particular trip and the planned duration of the trip. And though the train was capable of 80 miles per hour with the 1965-era engine, it was only allowed to go 15 miles per hour tops on these tracks. "Everything here is basically historical," he said, including the tracks, engine and rail cars."

The cars for our trip included a shaded flat car, where guests could sit in the open air, a 1920s Pullman car, and the dining car. A gift shop car brought up the rear when heading west, but was not open on this day.

Mike Martin was our conductor of the day. His full-time job is as air traffic manager at Oxnard Airport, and he said working on the train "is basically therapy for me." He said he started out as a docent for the local railroad historical society in 1995 and "hired out with the railroad in 1998."

Martin got his interest in trains from his father, whom he described as a "foamer" - meaning he would foam at the mouth when he saw a train. He felt that working with the F&W was "a chance to participate in history."

Santa Paula swap

The ride to Santa Paula began at noon, with the train horn blaring our departure - as it would sound at every crossing. The one-hour trip passed quickly as peaceful visions of agriculture moved by the windows and visions of times past were related by Bolms. The delicious lunch and the gentle rocking of the train would have certainly induced sleep on a longer trip.

Arriving in Santa Paula about 1 p.m., everyone had an hour and a half to explore the restored 1880s train depot and surroundings, and visit the highlights of the town. During this time Martin and Hawk uncoupled the engine, moved it down a side rail, and coupled it back to the opposite (east) end of the train for the trip back to Fillmore.

Just across from the depot are the statues of the two motorcycle officers who warned folk and saved many lives during the St. Francis Dam disaster back in 1928. Our young girls enjoyed posing for photos on the laps of the drivers, but they enjoyed the huge marble ball-fountain nearby even more.

This gigantic marble ball, which must weigh two tons, free-floats on water bubbling out around its base. The children could make it spin in any direction they wanted. This feat of art and engineering was fascinating to the children and adults.

With so much time spent getting soaked at the fountain, there wasn't enough time left to do justice to the other highlights of Santa Paula, which included the Oil Museum, a number of murals and the Glen Tavern Inn, which is reported to be haunted. In no time the "all aboard" was sounded and the trip back east to Fillmore began.

Done and done

Though our girls had sampled ice cream from a street vendor in Santa Paula, they weren't averse to partaking of strawberry shortcake when they returned to the train. Later, roaming from car to car, they missed many other nuggets of history and wisdom from Bolms. (Did you know smudge pots in California have catalytic converters, or that you can't trim orange trees?)

In no time, we were back in Fillmore, saying good-bye to our newfound friends and considering coming back on one of the event trains. Five minutes after we began our drive home, both girls were hard-asleep, a sure sign of a fun day.

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