Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Imagine a real Thomas The Tank Engine

Yesterday morning I noticed something as I dropped my three-year-old granddaughter off at preschool. While waiting in line, I saw two boys wearing Thomas The Tank Engine t-shirts. A third boy sported a brand new Thomas daypack.

It got me to thinking. If the railroad tracks along the 28-mile Placerville Branch are torn out by Iron Horse Preservation Society, as proposed by the Friends of the El Dorado Trail, then these boys (and their sisters) will never have the opportunity to ride the rails on the historic Placerville Branch rail line.

Sure, the parents of our young Thomas fans could drive the family to the California State Railroad Museum and ride the train on the Sacramento Southern Railroad. After all, the museum is a worthy destination with its amazing collection of locomotives from California's long railroading history.

But I say, why drive over 40 miles to ride an excursion train when there could be at two local railroad venues, one at each end of the line? Boys and girls from throughout the area would encourage their parents make the short drive to passenger depots in Folsom, Latrobe, Shingle Springs, El Dorado and Diamond Springs.

Can't you picture a young El Dorado County family boarding the train at the newly re-created historic Southern Pacific passenger depot in El Dorado? Approved by the county Board of Supervisors last year, the El Dorado County Historical Railroad Park will soon become the premier rail destination for the local region.

The Diamond and Caldor No. 4 Shay locomotive would pull the train – with young Thomas fans sitting on the edge of their seats – to the end-of-track at Missouri Flat Road, near the location of the old Diamond Springs interchange with the Diamond and Caldor Railway. On the ride, the conductor will tell our young Thomas fans how the Four-Spot once pulled trains loaded with rough-cut lumber from the Caldor mill to Diamond Springs.

Then these young Thomas fans will get the view of a lifetime as they poke their heads out the window. At the head of the train, the brakeman will uncouple the Four-Spot from the train. And the engineer will guide the century-old geared steam locomotive through the switch onto the run-around track.

What child wouldn’t react with enthusiasm as the Shay backs down on the run-around track? The engineer and fireman will wave as if they were personal friends of each boy and girl on the train. Our young fans will have come into contact with the real “Thomas” in person.

Along the way, our young Thomas fans will enjoy an afternoon of family fun, while viewing some of the best countryside in California. And, they’ll experience history in the best way possible – by experiencing it firsthand! Captivated by the train crew, dressed in bib overalls, long-sleeved shirts and striped engineer caps, our young Thomas fans will feel the heat of the engine as it passes by. And the sweet aroma of the steam exhaust will capture their hearts.

If the citizens of El Dorado County allow the Friends of the El Dorado Trail and Iron Horse Preservation Society to rip out the twin steel tracks of the Placerville Branch, they’ll be tearing out a piece of our history for good. And families, both young and old, will never be able to experience the once daily passenger local, bound for Placerville.

Come to think of it, I don’t recall seeing any boys in bicycle t-shirts! Tear out the tracks and these boys and girls will miss the sights and sounds of the real Thomas The Tank Engine.

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