A Visitor’s View of Spring Railfest

Today I did something unusual. I went to a rail festival at Orange Empire Railway Museum.

Perhaps I should explain why this was unusual. After all, we’ve been members at Orange Empire since the late 1980s. We’ve been volunteering at rail festivals for years. What’s so odd about going to a rail festival? What’s unusual about this time is that I went as a visitor. No volunteer assignments. Parked in the main lot, and came in the main gate. So I’d like to share my impressions with you… as a visitor, and as a long time member.

We’ve been coming to Orange Empire since perhaps 1986 or 1987. I think we joined in 1988. We’ve seen the museum grow from a dusty, volunteer run hodgepodge with old equipment boneyards everywhere to a professional, well-laid-out volunteer run facility. Coming in, you go past lovely ticket booths (ex-Disneyland, if I recall correctly) down a nicely landscaped path to the heart of the museum. Signage directs you to the lawn where there was food and entertainment, or to the trains where you could ride trolleycars, the nicely restored diesel train, or the steam train. You could also wander through the car houses seeing old cars.

Now, I should note that this was the Spring Rail Festival. Thomas had left the bulding. That meant we didn’t have the craziness… or the crowds… of Thomas. If I had to guess, there were perhaps 500-750 people there. It wasn’t crowded at all.

If you’re the type that craves adventure rides, this isn’t for you. If you want adventure, go up the road to the March ARB air show. If anything, this Spring Rail Festival struck me as old-fashioned, turn-of-the-century entertainment. You could sit in the park, listen to bluegrass bands, and have lunch. You could ride trains. You could experience a slower pace. For me, it was just what I needed: to sit at a picnic table and listen to a pretty good bluegrass cover band; to sit on a park bench, feel the breeze, and just relax. To have some wonderful BBQ pizza. To take a day at a slower pace. To relax.

What is wasn’t, however, was the Spring Rail Festival of old. There weren’t the crowds. This wasn’t an old-style fest where we were running three diesels every 20 minutes and a steam train and the Irish tram and the Carhouse 4 shuttle. It wasn’t crowds and crowds of people waiting in line in Perris. Perhaps those days are gone: where crowds are drawn just to see the trains. The crowds come out for a media sensation (“Thomas”); they don’t come out for a day in the park. Looking back on it, I guess that’s just OK. Things change over time.

However, there was something missing… and it wasn’t the crowds. It was the people. Let me explain… with the old festivals, the same people showed up and volunteered, and the members of the museum became a family. You got to know people and to care about people. Since Thomas (and the deprecation of the Spring Rail Festival into a lower-tempo affair), the volunteer nature has changed. There’s no camaraderie in the Thomas crew, because there are so many non-museum members volunteering (Civil Air Patrol, the nearby military school). The volunteer contingent for Spring is low, so not all are called. With this, we’ve lost the family nature of the museum. Perhaps this is a side effect of the organization growing both bigger and older, but it is a loss. There needs to be a community event that needs volunteers, that are drawn exclusively from the membership, that has organized outings for dinner afterwards. Perhaps there needs to be organized activities for members in various geographic areas. Something to build up the friendships and relationships that used to be there.

But perhaps that is just me reflecting on the past. From my point of view, it was a wonderfully relaxing day. Who cares that I had websites to update, shopping to do, and laundry loads to process. I took a day to relax, and I needed it. Next will be going back up to temple for a talk by Rabbi Gershom Sizomu on the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda.

Music: Better Day (Dolly Parton): The Sacrifice