Train enthusiasts wave at passengers on the Redwood Forest Steam Train line as it heads up the hillside. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

When Jonathan Hawkins got the late-breaking news that Roaring Camp Railroads would be dropping its tourist train ticket price to the historical rate of 90 cents for its 60th anniversary, April 6, he suddenly had a new plan for the day.

He and his 6-year-old son Dante made it all the way from Oakland for the last departure of the day—minutes before it left the station.

“He loves trains,” he said, as his son hopped along a log at the top of Bear Mountain, during a break mid-tour. “Today was perfect.”

Roaring Camp says the birthday trains filled up almost instantly.

Melani Clark, the CEO, revealed the business brought in around $700 through the promotion, meaning it probably won’t be in the black for the day—but that wasn’t the point.

The throwback fare was a tribute to her father, who started the railroad, she shared.

“It was hush-hush,” she said of the digital marketing approach, which went out through an email blast and on social media. “We were afraid if we announced it too far in advance, it would just go crazy.”

Melani Clark, CEO, says she couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate 60 years of Roaring Camp than to slash fare prices to the 1963 rate. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

This old-timey price was the ideal way to kick off a year of events on the grounds, from the Brewgrass Festival the second week in October, to putting on the Redwood Mountain Faire the first weekend in June in partnership with Valley Women’s Club—which will feature Hot Buttered Rum, AJ Lee & Blue Summit, Object Heavy, Stu Allen & Mars Hotel, and Boot Juice—as well as the Mountain Sol Festival, to take place Sept. 16-17.

Clark retold a story that was shared with guests on the Redwood Forest Steam Train line by Conductor Kevin Hill, about how her father finally had the original route ready to go, on the 1963 launch date.

“It rained and nobody showed up,” she said, describing a weather-based sense of frustration that will be familiar to many local residents (after this year’s pair of wet federally-acknowledged natural disasters). “I think my father felt really defeated.”

Her dad went back home, but was called in when a father and a son finally wandered onto the property.

They put the man and his son on the locomotive and fired up the engine, and the rest is history.

Roaring Camp Railroads’ 60th anniversary tours offered up a healthy dose of history and moments of reflection. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

For the big 60th, Dave Hill and his wife came up from Santa Cruz with their two children—and extended family members—in tow.

“My kids love trains,” he said. “To get it for such a good deal was a nice surprise.”

He said he appreciated the lighthearted history lesson given by Hill, as 111-year-old Dixiana steamed her way into the redwoods.

Laura Hull, a Felton resident, said it was nice to help the local business celebrate such an important milestone, since it was integral to one of hers—she got married at the apex of Bear Mountain.

Plus, the train is just part of the fabric of the community, her daughters noted.

“I can hear it from my school,” said Fiona Blackmun, 8, of the engine’s whistle.

“I didn’t know it had such a history,” commented 10-year-old sister Farley Blackmun, who got into the spirit with a twisted-up bandana she wore on her head as an old-school accessory.

John Abel, 67, of Boulder Creek, brought his grandkids.

Spots like Roaring Camp are the reason they live in the Valley, he noted.

“It’s a hub,” he said. “People from all around the world come here.”

Kevin Hill, the conductor, and Steve Mello, the mechanic and fireman, hang out in the Dixiana’s engine room after the final 60th anniversary trip of the day. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

Tom Shreve, 71, the engineer, who’s worked on the railroad for five decades now, walked through some of the upkeep involved in keeping the gears turning.

“Every time you turn around you have to put more money into it,” he said, motioning to a wheelset that indicates it was inspected this year, as part of ongoing maintenance. “We went through and changed a lot of things.”

This winter has seen more damage to the railroad lines than usual, due to the series of atmospheric rivers.

“We’ve had more than one tree come down this year,” he said, understating things. “We had to change out at least four rails.”

And he predicts more damage in the days to come, as foliage bursts forth.

“It isn’t over yet,” he said, referring to the additional weight that will soon be added to weakened vegetation. “All the deciduous trees haven’t put on their leaves and branches yet.”

He says he feels fortunate to serve in his role.

“I’m trying to preserve something that has gone away,” he said. “This equipment is old and needs to be watched over.”

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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