Guest Column Viewpoint Letter

Easter Sunday was supposed to be spent with my visiting elderly parents. They had set out on a road trip from Arkansas to see friends along the way, spend time with other family in Clovis, Calif., and then make their way here for the weekend before starting the drive back east. However, my dad’s health issues stopped them from reaching any further than Clovis.

Left to ourselves, my wife and I decided to hop aboard Roaring Camp’s Big Trees and Pacific Railroad Beach Train and grab an ice cream from the Boardwalk. Sunday started in Felton with a few showers throughout the morning, but had cleared up nicely for the afternoon trip.

We arrived at Roaring Camp to a packed parking lot. Parents and kids walked to and from the lot, Easter baskets hung full from their arms, and finely crafted paper bonnets adorned their heads. Steam trains chugged and whistled, and children of all ages erupted in cheers—both for the trains as well as for finding eggs in the hunt! Near the station platform, musicians played and led kids in songs about bunnies and bouncing, as well as how the wheels on the train go round and round.

We made our way past the big platform to the smaller one heading down the hill to Santa Cruz. Shortly after, the big red locomotive and its cars showed up and parked for us to board. The train’s conductor, Gary Guttebo—a 40-year veteran at Roaring Camp—welcomed us all aboard with a big smile. My wife and I took a seat in the open car for the best views. Soon the train filled with others who were on their first leg of the trip like us, along with lots of families returning to Santa Cruz from a fun day at Roaring Camp.

With help from Conductor Gary, some youngins called the ball and we chugged our way into the old growth redwood stands. Trees as big as buildings surrounded us as we waved to hikers on the trails. My wife and I have recently moved to Felton and this was our first trip (of hopefully many) down to Santa Cruz on the train. Everyone on board was excited and having fun already.

The cool breeze from the open car, coupled with mottling sunlight, relaxed us into a cozy ride while Conductor Gary pointed out details and histories about the trees, the train, the San Lorenzo River and the terrain. We cruised along cliff sides overlooking the river, through clearings and over trellis bridges. As we crossed Highway 9, everyone on board waved to the stopped drivers who happily waved back. We were nearing Santa Cruz!

Then, something happened. The train came to an abrupt stop. Conductor Gary stopped describing the explosions from the former black powder factory and—probably inadvertently—said into his microphone, “That doesn’t look good.” Some of us laughed nervously.

After a few moments up front with the engineers, Conductor Gary had the rough task of letting a train full of passengers know that something had broken and, unfortunately, the train would not be going any further. We would have to sit tight and wait for another locomotive to come down from Roaring Camp to pull us all back up the hill.

A bit of confusion took hold as well as consternation from those who were on their way back to Santa Cruz. But Conductor Gary allayed all worries. There would be transportation provided to anyone who needed it once we returned to Roaring Camp. For folks like me and my wife, well, our trip would be over.

Still, there was a good handful of unhappy faces from children and adults. Conductor Gary saw this and knew what had to be done. He announced that he had some music to play, songs about Easter bunnies. The first song would even have a parade! He grabbed a broom and started inviting kids in the back to join him. Conductor Gary waved the broom up and down like a drum major’s mace and led a parade of children from the back to the front and back again. We clapped for them each time they went by. Little frowns turned to big smiles again.

The music continued and even gave the adults a chance to show the kids how to do the Hokey Pokey just before we turned ourselves around and headed back the way we came. The second locomotive pulled us back across the trellis, across Highway 9, alongside the cliffs and the San Lorenzo, on through the old growth stand of redwoods, and into Roaring Camp.

As we neared the platform, Conductor Gary assured the adults on board that not only would there be a line of cars ready to drive returning passengers to the Boardwalk, but that everyone would also have their ticket purchases refunded. Well done, Roaring Camp.

Disembarking, we thanked Conductor Gary for keeping spirits high on what could have been a disastrous trip. But that just didn’t feel like enough. I wanted to thank him publicly. Thank you, Conductor Gary! You made our day light and fun even amid the disappointment of my parents not being able to join us in Felton and a breakdown on the train. We will see you again soon.

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