POWAY, Calif. —If you're into steam trains, and want to ride aboard one without going to a theme park, then the Poway Midland Railroad might be just the ticket.
The railroad has been running its 1907 Baldwin locomotive steam engine in the town of Poway in San Diego County, east of Del Mar, since 1997. It runs on a half-mile of narrow-gauge (42-inches-wide) track around the perimeter of Old Poway Park. Though the train is owned by the city, volunteers operate it.
"I enjoy what I do and I get paid a million dollars when I see a smile from a child," said Douglas Williams, a volunteer who is qualified to work as a conductor, fireman and engineer.
Because the railroad runs in a city-owned park, watching it operate is free. Most weekends, many people can be found taking pictures of their family with the train running behind them, or enjoying a picnic while the train runs its circuit.
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The route takes the train through trees, up a small grade and over a trestle, keeping the volunteers busy.
"I think the fireman's job is the hardest," said Kim Keeline, who works at all three positions alongside her husband James.
She got interested in trains because of her husband's interest. She said it took her two years to qualify at all three positions and likes doing things that woman weren't allowed to do year s ago.
"As a fireman you have to do a lot more fiddling with the train. You have to keep track of the fire and the water and during the light-up there's a lot of stuff to do," she said.
For a nominal fee, visitors can ride in a passenger car built to simulate a 1870s style car by Charles Pollard, a former owner of the locomotive who ran it on the grounds of his machine shop in Vista. John Porter, who ran it on his property in Poway, purchased the rolling equipment in 1966.
Porter also built a mock station and train barn on his property, part of which comprised the future Old Poway Park.
The city built a new depot a few years ago where passengers can purchase tickets, and souvenirs of the railroad. The train barn houses all the equipment when it is not running on the main line.
"The locomotive requires a lot of maintenance," said James Keeline.
Every year the steam locomotive has to undergo an inspection by a state agency to ensure the boiler is in proper condition.
"We'll take it apart and put it back together again," he said.
The city bought the train, rolling stock and the area of the park the track was on in 1987. After 10 years, the train was fully restored by volunteers and began operations in 1997.
Besides running the steam train, volunteers also operate a 1894 trolley car that once belonged to the Los Angeles Yellow Line and a 1950 Fairmont Speeder that also pulls passenger cars like the steam engine.
Some of the volunteers strictly work on restoring equipment. Currently the volunteers are working on restoring a 1907 cable car donated to the railroad by the city of San Diego. The car use d to run at Knott's Berry Farm and prior to that ran on the California Street Line in San Francisco.
"Hopefully it will be ready to go in a year or so," Keeline said.
Meanwhile, the volunteers make sure the steam is up to pressure, give a the whistle two quick toots and embark on another journey on board the Poway Midland Railroad.
IF YOU GO:
GETTING THERE: From the Los Angeles area, take the 91 freeway east to Interstate 15 south. Take the Camino Del Norte (exit 22) off ramp. Turn left (east) for approximately 3.4 miles. (Note, the street changes its name to Twin Peaks Road after 1.8 miles.) Turn right (south) on Midland Road. Old Poway Park will be on the right-hand side in about a half mile. The address is: 14134 Midland Road, Poway, CA 92064
HOURS: The steam train runs on the first and third weekends of each month, except for January and February when it is closed for maintenance. It hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday s and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. The trolley runs on the second Saturday of each month and the speeder runs on the fourth weekend of each month.
PRICES: Tickets for the steam train are $2.50 for adults; for the trolley the price is $2 for adults, and for the speeder, $1.50 for adults. The price is 50 cents for all children. MORE INFORMATION: www.powaymidlandrr.org. meadesocregister.com or 714-704-3787