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Weekender

Steaming down the tracks into the world of yesteryear

November 20, 1987|SIOK-HIAN TAY

Strangers passing through the quiet Lomita neighborhood might think they have slipped through a time warp when they hear the forlorn wail of a train whistle and a drawn-out "Aaaall aboooard!"

A full-size Southern Pacific steam locomotive stands beside a quaint green-and-yellow depot with a sign that tells travelers they've arrived at "Lomita--elevation 120."

Actually, they've arrived at the Lomita Railroad Museum.

The Victorian structure is a replica of an actual working train depot, the Boston and Maine Railroad's Greenwood Station in Wakefield, Mass. Constructed in 1966, the building was given to the city by railroad enthusiast Irene Lewis in honor of her late husband, Martin S. Lewis.

In the early 1940s the Lewises founded Little Engines of Lomita, which makes miniature steam engines for hobbyists and others.

The city-owned and operated museum has a cozy hardwood interior that invites visitors into the era of steam. Walls are covered with lithographs of trains and colorful posters advertising excursions. Every inch of display space is crammed with railroad memorabilia.

An ornate brass chandelier from a passenger coach, lavish silver and china tableware from dining cars, and adventure booklets once hawked by "news butchers" suggest what train travel was like before the days of Amtrak.

There are also less glamorous remnants, such as long-spouted oil cans and a century-old leather fire bucket.

Lanterns in many colors and shapes reveal an entire communications system for conductors and engineers.

A series of Chesapeake and Ohio Railway posters feature the line's mascot cat Chessie saluting servicemen in World War II. Along with soldiers' wives, this feline is waiting for her other half, Peake, to return from the fray.

Next to the re-created ticket office, which includes a working telegraph key and sounding box, a train schedule has been chalked on a blackboard. Nearby, a Union Pacific waiting room bench features iron armrests dividing the seats so hobos can't sleep on them.

Favorites for children are the pair of Little Engines, miniature steam locomotives whose wheels turn at the drop of a dime. Another favorite is the full-size, bright yellow caboose outside, complete with conductor's desk and potbellied stove. Children can also climb into the cab of the Southern Pacific locomotive, a 1902 model that was rescued from a scrap heap on Terminal Island.

In front of the imposing black engine stands a handcar built in 1881. Known as a velocipede, it was driven by track inspectors using a wooden handle and foot pedals.

On the third Sunday of every month, museum visitors can peek from the cab of the locomotive into Irene Lewis' backyard next door. There, they'll see miniature steam engines chugging along at up to 10 m.p.h., ridden by members of the Southern California Steamers, a private club that runs trains for fun on an 800-foot-long track.

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