My dad and granddad both worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad in Texas. Both were Road Foreman of Engines, which means that if an engine was having problems, they would go fix it, regardless of where it was and what hour of the day. Sometimes that meant them getting up in the middle of the night and driving sixty miles to fix an engine that had stalled or broken down somewhere.
My dad committed suicide in the railroad yard northeast of Palestine, Texas. When they found his body, its condition caused the authorities to estimate that he had been dead for three days. Since they found him on January 18, 1961, that would mean that he killed himself on January 15, which is my oldest brother’s birthday. I guess he had such a love of trains that he couldn’t think of any place better to kill himself…. as if there is a good place for that specific task?
When my wise old grandmother adopted me, my granddad actually lived and worked in Taylor, Texas, about 250 miles away. He would come home to Kingsville every Friday, arriving around 10:00 p.m., to spend the weekend with us. It was a joy when he was in town because I often got to ride the trains with him from Kingsville to Bishop, a 10-mile round trip. He originally had worked in the Kingsville repair shops before they closed so he still had lots of contacts around town. Those contacts allowed me to ride in both the engine and the caboose, and resulted in my own lifelong love of trains.
Whenever there’s a railroading event nearby, and there are a lot here in Southern California, I try to get to them. One that I went to earlier this year was northwest of Los Angeles, in the little agricultural community of Fillmore. I think the city still exists simply because everything throughout the year revolves around the historic Fillmore & Western Railway.
In the spring, they have their annual Railroad Days Festival. If you have never been, go. If you have children or grandchildren, take them.
In all the railroading events I have been to in 55 years, Railroad Days Festival was the best. They have more historic rolling stock than I have ever seen in one place, and they give hourly rides on historic diesel engines, cabooses, passenger cars, and steam engines. Take lots of money because the really great rides, like in an engine cab, cost the most. And there are so many different rides—diesel engine, steam engine, caboose—that you’ll want to go on all of them, like I did. It’s really cool.
One of the most popular rides is in the consist pulled by one of their steam engines. I took the ride first to see where it went. Once I knew that, and with hourly rides, I got in my car and went out to the end of the line where I got the following video. Turn the sound up and listen to the huffing and puffing. And the smoke! Who knew that pollution could be so beautiful?
The Fillmore & Western Railway is a tourist railroad operating on former Southern Pacific trackage from Piru through Fillmore and to Santa Paula. The tracks were built in 1887 to move citrus from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The steam locomotive, #14, is a Baldwin engine built in November 1913 by The Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia.