March 12, 2009
[Article by King Harris (3/12/09) for his series entitled "It's Good to Be King" which appears in the Tolosa Press Newspapers
Curtis Reinhardt has a one-track mind. He loves trains. His affair began in the mid-fifties while he was a youngster growing up in Centralia, Missouri, when he got his first HO gauge model train that toured tiny tracks nailed to a big board that was brought out every Christmas. "It became a family tradition," he told me recently. "I've loved railroading my entire life." Reinhardt rides the rails every chance he gets, whether it's a train chugging through the mountains of Peru or an Amtrak slithering its way along the California coastline. But Reinhardt is more than a passenger. He's a genuine railroad enthusiast, involved with many local rail entities like the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum and the SLO Model Railroad Association. Which is why it didn't surprise me that Curtis might be the one who is engineering the drive to create the California Central Coast Railroad Festival planned for the fall of this year. Down the line Reinhardt plans to couple our beaches, our wineries, and our tourism industry to our many and storied local railroad enterprises that include the Pacific Coast Railroad Company operating in Santa Margarita, the Bittercreek Western Railroad in Arroyo Grande, the Santa Maria Fright Line, and Amtrak. "You get all these groups that are generally focused on their own niche to come together for five days in several different venues, and the crowds will come," Reinhardt believes. "It's a festival with a railroad theme that we hope will attract families and tourists as well as the hardcore rail enthusiast." Some sites, other than railroad locations where train rides will be available, will include lectures and tours at various Central Coast train depots, railroad museums, and such historical sites as the Santa Maria Sugar Beet Building and the Hartford pier at the Port of Avila. Reinhardt has even tapped local theater outlets where train movies will be screened. Hr is even getting help from local libraries to present historical perspectives. To top it all off, he has scheduled state and local dignitaries to gather at San Luis Obispo's fabled Farmer's Market to kick the festival off.
"We've got seven months to bring it all together until October 8-12 2009, the date we have chosen. We're starting to organize committees and group meetings like one we had just recently. We've looked at the weather and hotels and made sure festival operators would be available at that time. Most importantly, we want to make sure we can conduct several railway excursion along the Union Pacific line from Paso to Surf."
What really excites Reinhardt is that this look back at the past will invigorate train travel in the future. He is a firm believer in the role that Amtrak plays.
"Amtrak is adding more trains per day like the Surfliner and the Coast Starlight, and hopefully a Coast Daylight going from San Luis to the Bay Area, not only for tourism and recreational travel but for business and family vacations." Reinhartdt is quick to point out that the second most popular train route next to the crowded line along the Eastern corridor between Boston and New York is the Amtrak trail from Los Angeles to San Diego. "There is a lot of support for new overland and local railway routes. But the future I believe will be in high speed rail service being studied such as the line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas."
In that vein, I asked Reinhardt if Amtrak has been getting a bad rap. He admits in the past its reputation has suffered with late arrivals, bad tracks, and dirty windows. "But it's not fair. Amtrak is working to better relations with Union Pacific that owns the railroad lines and frequently shuttles Amtrak to the side because of its heavy fright traffic, especially up north. I believe Amtrak is working hard to change perceptions, and has been going all out to encourage rider ship."
Reinhardt is convinced these perceptions about modern day rail travel will also be changed with the inauguration of the California Central Coast Railroad Festival. "I think there's a basic fascination that attracts people to railroads, from the first time a kid watches a model train circle the tracks. Maybe it's something to do with fantasy and motion. He envisions he's on board. It's really universal. The fascination sticks with us, as we get older. There's nothing like traveling through the countryside and seeing things you can't see from a car. It's a great way to stay in touch with your youth."
I couldn't agree more, Curtis. My fascination with trains was more of an obsession. I remember spending days upon end at railroad crossings where the red lights of the crossing gate would come to life and the bells would clang announcing the impending arrival of a long freight pulled by a pair or more of horn-blaring earth-shaking diesel locomotives guided by an engineer whose one hand was on the throttle while the other was left free to wave. I always waved in return, wondering at the same time how does one actually become an engineer. Is there some kind of school or something?
After hearing that story, Curtis suggested I pose that question to the many train buffs at his upcoming railroad celebration. If you've got any questions about the California Central Coast Railroad Festival, contact Curtis at 805-773-4173, or visit his website at firstname.lastname@example.org. All aboard!