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


A Day At The Museum

As always, I spent Veterans Day volunteering at Orange Empire Railway Museum. Two observations:

  1. Something I hadn’t seen before. Walking to my station as car attendant on the “A” car on the Thomas Train, I suddenly notice a bunch of liquid running out of the corner of the UP chair car, “B”. Going inside, my suspicions were confirmed. One of our visitors ignored the closed sign on the car restroom and the fact everything was covered with dust, and took care of his child’s (luckily liquid) potty emergency.
  2. As we got dinner, I was discussing with my wife how things have changed in our over 20 years of volunteering there. Whereas there was lots of member community in the early days: both at town hall after each day (with chips and dip) and at either Sizzler or Amigos Tres afterwards, that aspect is gone. Town Hall is overrun with the youth volunteers, and there is less interaction and camraderie between the members at the end of each day. Perhaps this is inevitable with the aging member base; perhaps it is a side-effect of how Thomas is run. I do, however, miss getting to know my fellow members as well.

Day Out With Thomas Update

Well, our bids are in. We’ll be working a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum on Veterans Day, November 11 (I’ll burn a vacation day). In a change from our usual pattern, we’ll make it a day-trip with no hotel: leaving Northridge around 6am, getting to OERM around 8a-9a (usually the first trains are empty anyway), and then leaving at the end of the last shift. If you are coming out that day, let me know and we can say “hi” to each other. This is a great event for those with young children, who particularly love the Thomas stories.


Weekend Musings

It’s a quiet weekend. Yesterday was spent cleaning the house and doing desk stuff (as well as starting Season 2 of “The Tudors”). Today, after finishing the cleaning (and a few more hours of “The Tudors”), we’re going to Fiesta Hermosa, dinner, and then to the Hermosa Beach Playhouse to see “The Green Room” (where we’ll meet up with shutterbug93). Tomorrow we’ll see “Star Trek” (probably at 11a or 1135a) [possibly with ellipticcurve], and after that, the kid is off with her tech-crew friends to CityWalk, while we do… who knows what?

Of course, this means at least two reviews, but those will be for tomorrow. So, for today, let me share an interesting article about the former Fred Harvey restaurant at Union Station. I remember seeing this first back in the 1980s, when the UCLA team won the regional programming contest, and took the train to St. Louis. There was this empty, abandoned restaurant (and you know how I am fascinated by abandoned buildings). Years pass, and it turns out the space is used. No, not as a restaurant (too expensive to bring up to code), but as a rental facility for parties and events. As for Fred Harvey, he will live on as well. As part of the completion of Carhouse 7 at OERM, a large number of rail cars parked on the side of Carhouse 1 have been moved to Carhouse 7’s protective storage (at least according to the most recent Gazette). According to the same Gazette, that space will eventually become a Harvey Museum, spearheaded by the museum’s own Harvey Girl Society. With respect to OERM, I should note that the growth of this museum (and its museum family) has been remarkable. We joined back in the mid-1980s (the group itself dates back to the late 1950s), and the progress in just over 20 years has been amazing, and is a true credit to the museum’s volunteer leadership.


Busses, Boats, Cars, and Trains

I’ve been busy the last two days. So let me get you caught up…

Yesterday, for our conference special event, we took a bus to the Dana Point Sportfishing Pier for a whale watching cruise. We didn’t see any whales (well, except Jay), but we did see two different types of porpoises, and a bunch of sea lions. Even more than the sea mammals, just being out on the open ocean was wonderful. The In-N-Out that I planned for lunch was liked by all, everyone loved the cruise, so that was a success.

Coming home the traffic was really bad, especially along some stretches of I-5. What do they think it was, Friday? Anyway, Marshall and I hit Zankou Chicken (yum) for dinner, and made it home around 830pm.

Today, I took Marshall out to OERM. He’s a train buf, so he had a good time… and I enjoyed seeing the museum without the craziness of a full festival day. We got back a bit ago, and soon it will be off to nsshere’s old school to see their school play. Tomorrow morning… Dim Sum with ellipticcurve. Busy, busy, busy.


Orange-Tinted Observations

Well, we’re back from Orange Empire. A few observations:

  • I don’t know whether it is normal for Veterans Day, but attendance seemed way down. The Thomas Train has a number of cars, which we fill in reverse order, from H (closest to Thomas) to A (closest to the real engine we drag along for effect). Only one trip did we fill down to the A car (which I was on in the morning). Most trips, we only got as far as E or D, with the occasional C or B.
  • The economy certainly has an effect. From the folks I talked to, there were fewer pre-sales — more sales at the door (meaning folks didn’t decide until they saw gas prices had gone down). There were also spikes in ridership at 9am and 3pm, both times within the $4 discount window.
  • I brought my ren faire stave with me, because my back had been bothering me last week and I wanted additional support if I was standing all day. It proved incredibly useful. Not only did it assist me in walking on the train, but it served to help people get on and off the steep steps (being an additional handrail). It helped get dropped batteries out from seats, served as a way of notifying folks through a window, and garnered numerous questions and compliments.
  • The bookstore mix was different this year, being 100% Thomas with nary an OERM item in site. In fact, there was only the Thomas tent, and nothing OERM was in the tent. I wonder if that helps or hurts OERM — certainly folks don’t bring home stuff with the OERM logo on it, and the true railbufs that do come out can’t get some of the neat books we have.
  • The tent, however, seemed to be doing good sales. Many shelves were decimated of Thomas merchandise after the first three days.
  • I also wonder how much the economy will hurt the museum membership. I know a number live in the Inland Empire… which is being hit hard by foreclosures, and a large number are retirees, who are seeing their savings decimated. I could see this resulting in a drop in membership or donations, alas.
  • The sunset tonight, as I was driving W on the 60 to the 71, was just beautiful.

What Are You Doing Here?

What are you doing reading LJ, when you should be out at Orange Empire Railway Museum? That’s where I am (this is a robopost). nsshere and I are car attendants for A Day Out with Thomas. So if you’re in SoCal, and not working today (or able to take a vacation day), come on out to Perris, CA and say “Hi”. Go for an early or late ride and save $4 off the tickets.

[Seriously, I’m at the museum and away from the computer all day. So I set up this robopost because I wanted to post something. Do come out to OERM and say “Hi!”, and remember to honor our military veterans today.]