When Joe Peterson becomes interested in something, he rolls up his sleeves and gets involved. He’s a methodical and hands-on kind of guy and loves to include his family and friends in his pursuits. I’ve known Joe all my life; he’s my cousin! Here, he describes his passion for trains which started at an impressionable age.
tp: I know that you love trains; would you please describe when and how that started?
JP: Like many things we like and do, when the light went on is usually lost in a time fog! But, here's a photo of me at 10 months, sitting by the Christmas tree with some kind of toy train next to me.
Obviously, the seeds were sown at that time ;-) The next photo of me with a train is at Christmas when I was two years old. This was a wind-up metal train and I can actually remember it! From then on, it just grew and blossomed to the fanatical obsession that I currently have.
tp: How have your railroading activities changed over the years?
JP: I received a progression of toy trains at various Christmases until the arrival of the LIONEL TRAIN SET (I hope you heard the deep, resonant announcers voice there). Now I had an electric train that I could set-up on my bedroom floor and do all sorts of things with and to. And, someone gave this young kid a cannon that shot rubber tipped shells and the trains made great moving targets.
In the late '50's I was introduced to HO model trains because Dad built his own train set and was getting Model Railroader magazine. An especially great read on rainy nights with an active imagination. I even started building a layout but that ended quickly when we moved from San Francisco to Sunnyvale.
For high school and college years, model trains took a back seat to "normal" teenage life. During college I met some other fellows with an interest in trains and once we were graduated and earning money, we would drive to and photograph nearby working railroads.
tp: Did you travel around, chasing trains?
JP: One friend, John Whitmore, had a motorcycle so, in 1968, he and I rode our bikes on a two week pilgrimage to see steam railways still in operation in California. Since that trip, there have been many more with a core group of five who have recorded railroad operations on the west coast.
In the late '70's, I learned about the Pacific Locomotive Association (PLA) and their Castro Point Railway. Many times we would go to Molate Beach, just north of the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, and ride and film the operation. At one point, when they were about to close, they had five steam engines up and running at the same time! Quite an achievement for a volunteer group.
They lost their lease in the early '80's but, at the same time, the Southern Pacific Railroad was pulling out of Niles Canyon and gave their land to Alameda County. The PLA was able to lease the old right-of-way from the county and the Niles Canyon Railway was born. Eventually, they re-laid the track from Niles to Sunol and began running trains for the public.
tp: Aren’t you involved in the Niles Canyon Railway Train-of-Lights?
JP: In the '90's, I came across the Niles operation and finally became a member. My first experiences were as a docent for the regular Sunday trains. I thought that this was a great way to learn about the railroad, it's equipment and environment. The next step was to study, pass the test and become a brakeman. Now I could actually help make the trains go and work with the public more directly.
At Christmas time, I joined the group of workers helping to decorate all the cars for use in the yearly Train-of-Lights and this operation is high in Christmas spirit. Look here, Niles Canyon Railway Train-of-Lights and you'll get to see some great videos. Each car is decorated inside and out with lights, garlands, presents and more.
Even Santa comes down from the North Pole to check things out.
If you would like to enjoy riding this train, keep an eye on the ncry.org website starting October 1st to see when tickets go on sale. They have sold out rather quickly in years past.
tp: Where are your current railroading activities taking you?
JP: About four or five years ago, I joined the Maintenance of Way group and started learning what it takes to keep the trains rolling along. Since then, I have learned about a variety of equipment and tools used to replace joint bars and old ties, lay new track, keep sight lines open and a lot about maintaining that very same equipment.
Now and then, with supervision, I have even run some of the larger locomotives and someday I will progress from brakeman to conductor and then into the cab as fireman and engineer.
I still go out and photograph and videotape other railroad operations but they are becoming fewer with each year that passes. It is nice to have the Niles Canyon Railway in "our back yard" so it is easy to work on and enjoy. In fact, every Wednesday, a small group of us get together to do some light track work to aid the railroad and the larger Saturday work party. Great experience, exercise and fun.
On another level, I get to share my love with my great nieces, Peyton and Daveigh, who just turned seven and show an interest in railroads both big and small. We've enjoyed the model railroad display of the Golden Gate Model Railroad Museum in the Josephine P. Randall, Jr. Museum in San Francisco and this photo is of us on the steps of the 1423 diesel locomotive run by the Niles Canyon Railroad. The birth of another spark?
So you can see that it has been a many year, multi-level love affair that continues to this day. Only now, I get to play with the real thing ;-)
tp: Thank you cousin for telling us just how you became a railroading enthusiast; it sounds like you just can't help it!