Trust the city of Santa Clarita to take a simple train station dedication ceremony and add a horse named Bullet and a bureaucrat who pretends to stick up the conductor. All to the strains of Duke Ellington.
"Yes, we're nuts," said Councilwoman Jan Heidt, as the make-believe robbery unfolded during the grand opening of the city's first commuter rail station Saturday.
The stunt--one of many quirky events sponsored by the city over the years--was intended to recall the area's Western heritage as well as send a message that crime will not be tolerated aboard the Metrolink commuter train, once service begins Monday between Santa Clarita and downtown Los Angeles.
It was loosely based on the last train robbery in the state, which took place in Santa Clarita on Nov. 10, 1929.
In the modern version, Assistant City Manager Ken Pulskamp galloped up on Bullet to the blue and white, double-decker train, while an audience of more than 400 people gaped and a 35-piece band played songs like "Take the A Train."
"Cactus Ken," as the announcer called Pulskamp, then stole the strongbox from the conductor, only to be immediately apprehended by a posse composed of actual Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies clad in Western garb. The department will patrol the commuter line under a contract with the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.
"You cannot break the law in the Santa Clarita Valley, ladies and gentleman," the announcer sonorously concluded as Pulskamp was led away to be "hanged."
In contrast to the nostalgic stunt, the $5.2-million train station itself is strikingly modern. Nestled between two oak-studded slopes off Soledad Canyon Road, it is actually a platform with two canopies, where commuters can take refuge from inclement weather or strong sunshine. Each canopy is composed of rust-colored pillars and reinforced concrete supports topped by sheets of copper and metal framing shaped like a sharply pitched roof.
Although a clock tower and steps leading to the platform are still under construction, the city managed to complete most of the rail station project in about two months after the council approved the site. Trains from Santa Clarita will stop in Burbank and Glendale before arriving at Union Station, but not in Sylmar as originally planned because construction of a station there has been delayed for several months due to a dispute over purchasing the necessary land.
"We got it open in time, so we deserve to have fun," Pulskamp said. No stranger to unconventional roles, Pulskamp acted as the wise-cracking host of a luncheon the city held two years ago to ask hairdressers what was on residents' minds. Among Santa Clarita's other untraditional actions are painting its buses candy-apple red and magenta, and hosting an elaborate Halloween costume contest for municipal employees.
The city's dedication ceremony drew hundreds of local rail enthusiasts, as well as a passel of politicians, including county Supervisor Mike Antonovich and the entire City Council.
Many of those attending the ceremony said they plan to take advantage of the free rides offered by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority during the first week of service. Three trains with a total capacity of about 3,600 passengers will leave Santa Clarita each weekday morning and return in the late afternoon.
"I'll be riding it all week," said Lloyd Salkeld, a retired electrician and train buff who said he only votes for politicians who support rail, regardless of their other positions.