Trains are not a common form of transportation where I live. To go anywhere, you get in the car. Fortunately, some thought has been given to how the area I live in was planned; it did not “just grow” (like Topsy, I think), but ideas of liveable space at its root. We have little shopping areas within walking distances, and parks in every neighborhood. Much of what I want can be had by walking, but to get to work, I need to drive. When I was a kid in Chicago, public transportation, specifically the El, is my remembered form of getting someplace.
Anyway, there is a bit of romance about trains. The Istanbul Express comes to mind. The lonely whistles of trains heard as they cross the prairies. Rushing rivers seen from the windows of narrow railways winding through the mountains. Jack Kerouac and Carl Sandburg.
And then, the local historical train: The Fillmore and Western Railway. This is a a small company, for tourists and train enthusiasts, riding the no-longer-used rails in the backwoods of Ventura County, through orange groves and behind the houses of Fillmore, Santa Paula, and Piru. It’s really fun! There is an old Pullman, from the 20s, to dine in, with possibly some of the old fixtures, and another car with a combination of what looks like old seats from the 40s or 50s, and perhaps earlier. Behind the cars are open carriages, shaded from the sun, so you can get out and look at the countryside as you ride through it.
Riding a train is sort of like spying. Things you don’t see from the road are seen from the train. Looking into the farmland, we saw orchards and beehives, as well as transients sleeping behind fences and in makeshift camps. Paths amongst eucalyptus trees looked inviting, as did the oranges and lemons on the trees. The air was clear and blue, and with the small rains of the past couple of months, the hillsides have emerged into a green that is already beginning to fade back to beige and brown.
Besides looking out the windows and wandering to the back of the train to take pictures, people were fun to look at and to talk with. We saw families with small children, couples, kids of all ages. Once we settled in, and the rhythm of the train became familiar, comfort levels rose and we – and others – wandered around.
Bits and pieces of the train became interesting – whether it was the debris left behind by the wanderers, or the small details of the train itself. Waving at children who waved at us was so much fun – I remember doing that when I was little. Look!
One of the fun things is that this train is just slow. We used our phone apps to determine how fast we were going – no faster than 16mph while we were recording, and certainly much slower through the little towns – old California farming communities. Our trip was from Fillmore to Santa Paula, with about an hour in Santa Paula before returning to Fillmore, stopping for 30 minutes at a local koi vendor.
California is not just freeways and too many people. There is a lot here. Agriculture, history, people, scenery. Ventura County is north of Los Angeles, and like much of the state, has a variety of things to offer. It is a beautiful place to be, and certainly this short little trip reminded me how lovely it is.