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End of line near for Howarth Park train

  • Kelsey Lea, 17, operates a simulated 1863 C.P. Huntington steam train at Howarth Park in Santa Rosa on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ PD)

Howarth Park's little train that could, C.P. Huntington, just can't anymore.

After 44 years of faithfully hauling precious cargo around its quarter-mile track, the end of the line is near for the little blue and red replica of a 1863 steam train.

Parts are becoming harder to come by, breakdowns more frequent, and the maintenance costs are increasing as the aging engine nears the end of its useful life.

“We're on our last leg here,” said recreation supervisor Amy Rocklewitz. “We're limping along hoping to get through the month of October.”

The train's maintenance challenges have been mounting for years. but the city never set aside money to replace it. At 50,000 rides per year, the train is one of the city's most popular attractions.

So the city is hoping a new park foundation established to support the city parks will come through. An agreement is in the works that will allow the Santa Rosa Parks Foundation to begin raising funds for park projects, and the train is the new group's top priority, Rocklewitz said.

The current locomotive is a gas-powered C.P. Huntington, Engine 74, built by Chance Rides of Buffalo, N.Y. It is a replica of a steam engine that was used by the Central Pacific Railroad during construction of the western portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The original is on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

The current engine replaced the original miniature steam train that “Pop” Lampson, a retired railroad engineer from Lakeport, established in the park in the late 1950s.

Representatives from Chance Rides were stunned at the age of the current engine when the city inquired about the cost of a replacement, Rocklewitz said. The cost for a new engine and additional car that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act is about $260,000, she said.

Many replacement parts are available from the manufacturer, but because of its age many are not, explained Jon Merian, the city's fleet superintendent.

Mechanics just last week installed a new set of wheels on the train, he said. But others parts like components that assist the starter, the compressor that powers the brakes, and the fuel pump have all required the city to scrounge for the necessary parts.

“The sources for locating new and used parts are drying up,” Merian said. “We've pretty much exhausted the used market.”

That has sent the annual maintenance cost over $20,000 per year, or $30,000 a year total when track maintenance and inspection are considered, Rocklewitz said.

City officials say they expect the train to continue running through the end of the October, when the parks rides close for the winter.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter@citybeater

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