|Published in The Grapevine Independent on April 1, 2005.
Thieves sidetrack railroad
By SHELLY BLANCHARD, Editor
The spirit of a sunny Saturday morning set aside for hunting Easter eggs and celebrating spring in Rancho Cordova's Hagan Park was dampened by thieves last week who effectively derailed the hobby railroad which has entertained the community for more than three decades.
Instead of providing some of the first rides of the season as it has for years, the engineers of the Sacramento Valley Live Steamers Railroad sat glumly along the sidelines of "Spring Extravaganza," the Cordova Recreation and Park District's annual sneak peek of summer programs, victims of vandalism.
How and when the railroad will get up and running again is anyone's guess.
Troubles on the railroad began to unfold last Tuesday night when vandals, under the cover of darkness, tore up a small portion of the railroad's aluminum tracks, probably for scrap value.
|But when railroad volunteers came back Thursday morning to make repairs, they discovered the thieves had returned, this time making off with about 220 feet of track - a loss that will be both costly and time-consuming to repair.
SVLS member Lee Frechette said the loss represents about $7,100 in materials and a couple of weeks worth of labor. And it has set members scrambling to come up with the specialized materials repairs will require and wondering how to pay for it.
"This is the first time we have had to cancel the train at the Easter egg hunt in 30 years," Frechette said. "It's a horrible, sickening feeling to know that a tradition like this is interrupted for somebody's personal greed and profit."
In addition to canceling the Easter weekend rides, the SVLS has canceled its regular schedule for this weekend, and it is unknown when the rides will resume.
Also in jeopardy are the five or more weekly school field trips hosted by SVLS beginning in mid-April and continuing through the end of the school year. On the trips, preschoolers and kindergartners come for rides and a picnic, while older students learn about the importance of the railroads to the history of the west, along with some applied science and basic physics.
"There's a lot more being lost that just the Easter run," Frechette said. "We definitely won't be running for a few weeks."
The loss of weekend riders exacerbates the track replacement problem because the group depends on donations by riders to help maintain the railroad. While donations are not keeping up with costs in recent years, any losses at this juncture add to SVLS miseries.
What's more, the latest theft is not the only hit in the last year; it's simply the most serious.
Over the past 12 months, vandals ripped out 70 feet of track for a $1,200 loss; and another 120 feet near South Sugar Pine was lost to thieves setting SVLS back another $2,052. Fifty feet of station track cost $700 to repair, and when they made off with another 60 feet at Snake Bite Junction, the tab was $1,026.
Add on last week's loss, and the total comes to 520 feet of track valued at $12,078 to replace. That's 45 percent of the railroad's annual maintenance budget - and the season hasn't even opened yet.
The SVLS is not the only group suffering loss of aluminum in Hagan Park. Earlier this year, thieves made off with all the floorboards and seats attached to aluminum bleachers around Hagan Park's swimming pool; aluminum garbage can lids have disappeared; and an aluminum batting cage structure was cut up and carted off, presumably to an aluminum recycler.
"You name it; if it's aluminum, it's stolen," Frechette said.
Park district officials have made it known they wish there were more park patrols in Hagan Park to attack the vandalism problem. In the meantime, SVLS is replacing lost aluminum track with steel rail that is less desirable to thieves and more difficult to steal.
And the Live Steamers, who have prided themselves over the decades of never asking for payment for rides, are now in a position that donations from the public could make the difference between operating or remaining closed down.
Frechette said the public can help get the railroad back on track a number of ways, including reporting suspicious activity at the railroad or in aluminum recycling shops.
The biggest need, however, is cash to purchase replacement track, ties, and three-quarter and three-eighths inch crushed rock used for ballast.
"Opening hearts and wallets is a big thing," he said. "What we need most is cash to buy materials."
Established in Rancho Cordova in 1965 and completed with a Golden Spike ceremony in 1973, the Sacramento Valley Live Steams Railroad has a total of 6,300 feet of mainline at its location behind the Petting Barn on the fringe of the park.
The trains are built to one-eighth scale, as are the wooden trestles, truss bridge and tiny buildings that line the track. Railroad club members pride themselves on their family-friendly orientation and are dedicated to preserving and relating the romance and history of American steam railroading.
Persons wishing to make donations may do so by sending checks to Sacramento Valley Live Steamers, PO Box 273, Rancho Cordova, CA 95741.
For more information about the railroad, visit www.svls.org.