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All Tracks Lead to Fillmore

Railroad festival features trains--and train lovers--of all sizes.

March 22, 2001|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thousands of railroad enthusiasts are expected to turn out this weekend for Fillmore's sixth annual Spring Rail Festival. This year's theme will be "2001: A Train Odyssey," although the activities will certainly be slower-paced than most of what Stanley Kubrick had in mind.

This family event will feature numerous rail-related displays, including elaborate operating model trains. Live music will include kids' songs from Wendy's Music and bluegrass by McPossums. Arts-and-crafts booths will be open for business, and the Jolly Jumper will be full of children, plus there will be displays of vintage farm equipment.

And no one has ever starved to death at this event, so expect plenty of food.

"It's a celebration of railroad history as well as trains," said Carol Mailloux of Fillmore & Western Railway.

A full-size 1906 Baldwin steam engine will be on display but not running because of a leak in the boiler, she said. "But we do have the Little Sespe, which is a very small steam engine. While the Baldwin is 120 tons, this one is 10 tons. Everyone thinks it's cute, and cute is good."

Back again this year is the Student Engineers program, in which kids can operate Little Sespe.

"The Student Engineer program will use our Little Sespe, but you'll need reservations in advance," Mailloux said. For $40, "you get to run the little train. It's wood-fired, and it's very rare--it's from before the turn of the century. There are only two of them still running; the other one is in Florida."

The usual train rides through the orchards toward Santa Paula also will be available all weekend. These one-hour diesel rides will use the railway's vintage cars--either coach, dining or parlor, often used in movies. Train rides will be $12 for adults, $8 for kids 4 to 12 and $5 for children under 4.

Another prime attraction will be the 1956 Union Pacific sleeping car, one of the last flat-sided aluminum cars ever built. It had been on display at the Miramar Hotel in Montecito for 20 years after it was retired from active service.

"We have a lot of cars, but that one is kind of special," Mailloux said. "We think of trains as sort of a sit-up thing, like a bus, but this one goes back to the time when train travel was something quite elegant, when a person spent a lot of time on the train. They're fun to look at--they're very compact, yet everything's there."

Despite the fact that railroads have fallen on hard times compared with a century ago, people still love them. Millions of model railroaders can't be wrong, after all.

"I think it's the same thing as with horses, only on a larger scale," Mailloux said. "They're really powerful and they're fairly sleek. The old trains are something out of a different era. Every generation seems to find something attractive about trains."

Last year, more than 10,000 people descended upon Fillmore for the event. At least that many are expected this year with spring's decisive return.

"This is one of the premier festivals in California, and the weather should be absolutely gorgeous," Mailloux said. "People work on this thing for most of the year, so it is a tradition in Fillmore; and since Fillmore is a railroad town, people are actually celebrating their heritage. The town wouldn't be here if it hadn't have been for the railroad."

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DETAILS

Sixth annual Fillmore Spring Rail Festival, Central Park, Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. COST: Free. CALL: (800) 773-8724.

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