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Locomotive Ride Is a Throwback to Rural Times : Rail firm is hooking up steam engine No. 51 to its string of 11 vintage rail cars for a series of trips over the July 4 weekend.

June 24, 1993|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you saw the movie "Cat Ballou," you saw old No. 51. The 1906 steam locomotive also had a part in the movie "Chaplin" and in the remake of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men."

Now you can see it up close. Short Line Enterprises, which provides trains for the entertainment industry, is hooking up the steam engine to its string of 11 vintage rail cars for a series of rides over the July 4 weekend.

Passengers can board the train at Central Park in Fillmore for a trip through the orange groves to Rancho Sespe, part way to Santa Paula. The train stops there, and with the help of a diesel engine at the other end, it chugs back to Fillmore. The 10-mile trek takes about one hour.

This is a much shorter and more affordable run than the Orange Blossom Special excursion the little rail company offered in the spring. It's more family oriented, and it's a rare chance to see a steam engine in operation.

Short Line has four runs scheduled July 3 and five on July 4--complete with entertainment. The fare is $12.50 for adults, $7.50 for children 4 to 17 years, and free for children 3 and under.

The orange groves aren't as fragrant as they were a few weeks ago, but the trip is still a pleasant throwback to more rural times. As the train lumbers along at about 10 m.p.h., people along the track wave and take pictures, and motorists stop and gawk.

After all, a steam locomotive is about as common as a pocket watch. Old No. 51 was built for the Great Western Railway and used for the humble task of hauling sugar beets in Colorado.

When you board the train, don't expect a simple sit-in-your-seat train ride. Passengers are free to explore the vintage cars during the trip. Some cars date back to the early 1900s, like the 1910 baggage car. One is from the 1920s and has walls and ceilings with ornate hand-painted designs. There are lounge cars, dining cars, and sleepers, some restored better than others.

If you want to stay put and enjoy the ride, you can stretch out in a sleeping compartment--complete with pillows--and take in the scenery through a big window.

(A word of caution here. Most of the cars are not air-conditioned, but most have windows that open for a breeze during the ride.)

It's more fun to roam the old cars while en route. Somewhere on the train you'll run into "The Mellow Fellows," a local barbershop quartet hired for harmonizing on July 3. On July 4, Jim Cook, an English teacher at Fillmore High School, will sing a mixture of railroad and country songs.

Also on board will be Tom Gildersleeve, a railroad historian who will be signing a book he published about the old narrow gauge railroads in Colorado.

Jeanette Clark (wife of Short Line co-owner Jim Clark) will be signing her cookbook, "Main Line Recipes," an assortment of creations mingled with railroad lingo and info bits. ("Crummy Cookies" are so named because "crummy" is a slang term for caboose.)

As for food, a snack bar is open during the ride. And a gift counter sells railroad knickknacks, like wooden whistles that sound like a train whistle.

Expect a lot of company on the train, much of it children. Short Line packed in a full load of 350 passengers for its Orange Blossom trip. And it expects a crowd this time.

"Ventura canceled its fireworks display and some towns are cutting back on their fireworks this year--that could be a draw," said Dave Wilkinson, president of the Santa Clara River Valley Railroad Historical Society. (Also, Fillmore is the only spot in the county where you can legally buy fireworks.)

Wilkinson's newly formed group is sponsoring the train excursions, along with Short Line Enterprises. Proceeds from the trips will benefit the group whose aim is to promote railroad preservation, acquire train memorabilia and someday open a museum.

Short Line, owned by Clark and Stan Garner, really isn't in the business of offering train rides. Based in Fillmore two years, the company provides its trains for movies, television and commercials. The inside walls of the rail cars are dotted with old photos of Hollywood stars, like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, and even Ronald Reagan.

* FYI

WHAT: Rides aboard Short Line Enterprises' vintage train pulled by a steam locomotive.

WHEN: July 3 (departures: 10:30 a.m., 12:10, 1:40, and 3:10 p.m.); and July 4, (departures: 9:40 and 11:10 a.m., 12:40, 2:10, and 3:40 p.m.)

WHERE: Central Park, off Central Avenue in Fillmore.

HOW: For ticket information, call Short Line Enterprises, 524-0330, or Fillmore Chamber of Commerce, 524-0351.

COST: $12.50 adults; $7.50, children 4 to 17; and free for children 3 and younger.

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