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JAUNTS: Ventura County

Steaming Ahead

Rail buffs get activities on track for Fillmore's third annual spring festival.

March 12, 1998|JUDY RAPHAEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Fillmore and Western weekend passenger train may have put the city of Fillmore on the map, but there's more where that came from.

Trains, trains and automobiles--and other novelties--will be the theme at Fillmore's third annual Spring Rail Festival this weekend in Central Park, where visitors will have a chance to ride a variety of vintage trains, including a star steam locomotive, view classic autos and antique farm equipment, see a firehouse display, enjoy music, crafts, homemade barbecue and more.

"It's a family event, really an old-fashioned Fourth of July on St. Patrick's Day weekend," said Rick Swanson, head of the Santa Clara Valley Rail Historical Society, which is sponsoring the festival, a fund-raiser for a planned Fillmore Rail interpretive center.

"The railroad played a major role here in the valley," said Tim Grush, a festival spokesman. "It moved goods and settled people, and it gave citrus growers a role in the East Coast markets. This became a citrus mecca, and the railroad provided Vitamin C for the rest of the country!

"And just down the tracks, in Santa Paula, the Southern California oil boom virtually started with Union Oil," he added.

Abandoned in the 1980s, the line has come back to life since the Fillmore and Western Railway Co. began operating its popular passenger diesel train in 1990. Despite recent flood damage, festival organizers say the line will be open this weekend.

For the festival, two trains will make runs all day both Saturday and Sunday: the 1949 F-7A streamlined diesel engine, built for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway, which will makes the 17-mile round trip between Fillmore and Santa Paula in 2 1/2 hours; and the star attraction--a 1906 Baldwin 4-4-0 steam locomotive taking one-hour round trips through scenic orange orchards.

"It's a rare occurrence, because steam trains are so expensive to operate. But people are really pulled in by the romance and dynamics of all that steam," Swanson said.

"Old Locomotive 51, built for the Great Western Railway in Northern Colorado, has been featured in dozens of films, including 'The Ballad of Cat Ballou,' and 'Of Mice and Men,' and will be pulling five cars," said Swanson, who will be among the attendants on the trains filling passengers in on rail history, engines and cars.

"There are interesting stories about each one. The 'Powhatan,' the cafe-parlor car, was on a rail that ran between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and had a legendary cigar-smoking room where politicians made dark-room negotiations," he said.

The steam engine will also pull the 409, a 1929 Santa Fe business car with a presidential platform and an open-air flat car with bench seating hooked in front.

The diesel will pull such streamlined cars as the Blue Water, a 1948 Santa Fe Railroad sleeping car last seen in the film "Throw Momma From the Train," the Monte Carlo, a 1940s Southern Pacific dining car, and No. 205, a 1934 Penn Central commuter car that features a piano, snack bar and gift shop.

Visitors can also sample rides on Live Steamers (miniature trains) and on the rather unusual "Speeders"--small four-wheeled cars used for track inspection, holding four to six people ("They'll be able to take a short jaunt out for a view of the tracks, just as if they were rail inspectors," said Fillmore Fire Chief-event coordinator Pat Askren.)

"It's a fun time here in Fillmore," said Askren. "It kind of kicks off springtime in the valley here. Everything is so green, and the orange trees are starting to come into bloom. With the train steaming through the valley, it's a picturesque sight. It just takes you back in history a little bit."

BE THERE

Spring Rail Festival--Central Park, Central and Santa Clara avenues, Fillmore. Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The festival is free. Steam train ride tickets: $13 adults; $10 senior citizens; $7 children under 12. Round-trip diesel tickets: $15 adults; $12 senior citizens; $8 children. To ride both trains, $25 adults; $20 senior citizens; $13 children. Call the Fillmore & Western Railway at (805) 524-2546.

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