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Fillmore Revival Is Gathering Steam as Train Gets Chugging : History: Hoping to attract business and tourists, officials bring railroad back to town. Excursions begin today.


A century ago, Fillmore grew up around the railroad. Trains would steam into town from all over the state, bringing business and helping to create a community.


Today, years after trains stopped running, residents are trying to use the train depot and the region's rich railroad history to revive the town's economy and attract tourists.

Beginning today, people will be able to take a trip back in time by hopping onto a train pulled by a 1906 steam locomotive and riding along tracks laid in the 1800s.

The four one-hour rides today will originate at Fillmore's Central Park where passengers will board a 71-ton train and ride amid orange groves in the heart of the Santa Clara Valley.

The train excursion, planned for one weekend a month, is one of several projects being implemented by Fillmore to turn the tiny, agricultural community into a tourist attraction.

"Fillmore is one of few cities around that has maintained its downtown the way it was built in the 1800s," said Linda Brewster, Fillmore's mayor. "We have become a historical type of community, so we need to take advantage of that."

Since 1990, city officials have been working with private business and nonprofit organizations to refurbish the city's downtown and improve the local economy.

Fillmore, which was severely damaged during the Northridge earthquake, has one of the lowest per capita incomes, as well as one of the lowest sales tax revenues in Ventura County, City Manager Roy Payne said.

The project began in 1991 when the city obtained a grant and paid $1.7 million to Southern Pacific Transportation Co. for a train station in a 13-acre parcel downtown.

In addition, the city loaned $50,000 to Short Line Enterprises Inc. to help run the train excursions.

Over the past two years, Short Line Enterprises has operated a limited number of public trips featuring its full-sized, old-fashioned trains, which have been used in motion pictures and television shows.


Besides buying the train station, Fillmore joined Santa Paula, Ventura and the county's Transportation Department to purchase the right of way to a 32-mile stretch of railroad from Southern Pacific.

Within the next three months, the group is expected to sign a final agreement that would give it control of the railroad that runs from Piru to Ventura.

Once the purchase of the railroad has been completed, Short Line will offer excursions between Santa Paula and Fillmore.

"We hope to be operating every weekend in the summer," said Larry Jensen, a spokesman for Short Line. "Eventually we want to have rides . . . (with) lavish dinners and music."

But the train rides are not the only attraction in Fillmore.

The Santa Clara River Valley Railroad Historical Society is building an Interpretive Center to display items related to railroad history, including a 60-ton turntable.


The mechanism, used to turn trains, was donated to the society by a Kansas City railroad company and should be on display by next January, said Pat Askren, vice president for the organization.

The center will also include a replica of a roundhouse used to fix trains in the late 1800s, Askren said.

"I'm thrilled that we as a community have decided to preserve this town and its history," Askren said. "Having a train center in Fillmore with steam train rides and a turning table is something that I've always dreamed about."

Adjacent to the center will be the Fillmore Historical Museum, set in a house built in the early 1920s.

Fillmore City Planner Anthony Perez said the city's project emphasizes the railroad because that is the city's core.

"The town was founded around the railroad. So we are looking on how the people in 1887 might have completed building the railroad and the town," Perez said. "We want to preserve the town's late 1800s character."

Besides the train center, the city plans to improve its image by creating a town square surrounded by the rail center and shops.


To be built near the city's Central Park, the town square project will feature a 15,000-square-foot City Hall, a brick plaza with a cast-iron fountain and walks that fan out from the fountain in the corners of the plaza.

The construction of the new City Hall is scheduled to begin in the summer, Perez said. Meanwhile the city is working with several prospective merchants with an eye to bringing a coffeehouse, antique shops, a bed and breakfast inn and other tourist-oriented businesses to downtown Fillmore.

"We have a beautiful town," Perez said, "and we are really excited in bringing our vision of preserving and improving it into reality.



Today and Sunday, the train will depart from Central Park in Fillmore at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m, 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $12.50 for adults, $7 for children ages 4 to 12 and free for those under age 4. Tickets may be purchased 30 minutes before each ride. For information call 524-2546.

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