trains01 Nov 2008 02:26 pm

There are quite a few places I have traveled to in search of something worth writing about for Kosher Road Trip, but that I ended up not writing about. Sometimes because there just wasn’t much to it (like the tour of the official home of the Tournament of Roses), and sometimes because my husband said: “you CANNOT tell people to drive four hours for this,” even though I thought it was kind of neat (like the town of Boron.)

With Jewish Life Magazine now entering its fourth year of publication, B”H, it hasn’t escaped my attention that I’ve written about a lot of railroad museums in California (and there’s at least ten more I haven’t been to—yet.) So, it was kind of intriguing when I was taking the kids to the Cabrillo Aquarium in San Pedro one day and I saw a sign along the highway that said, “Lomita Railroad Museum.” After driving around trying to find it myself with no luck, we went to the aquarium, but I was determined to locate that mystery museum someday.

The fact that I’d never heard of this museum before was already an indication to me that it was probably kind of tiny, but then, small museums can be fascinating and house nearly priceless items you wouldn’t expect to find in such remote locales. The Lomita Railroad Museum is a very, very small museum, with only a few train cars on the premises. Housed in a replica of a Wakefield, Massachusetts train depot, the museum has a very modest collection of railway treasures like dishes used on the dining cars and conductors’ pins. The best part was being able to walk around in an old caboose and also stand in front of all the knobs and levers in the engine. This was satisfying even to those who can barely say the word “train” (but say it repeatedly.) You could have a picnic lunch there if you like—it’s a nice little neighborhood—and then head off to another activity perhaps.

We got back on the 110 Harbor Freeway and took it right through downtown and then to the 5 North to visit the “Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum” in Griffith Park. You wouldn’t guess from the name that this museum is really something of an amusement park that only offers rides on miniature trains. Or would you? The passenger cars are those padded seats you straddle, but the engine and the caboose look pretty authentic and they run on little train tracks. Sure there’s lots of places that offer little train rides, but this one is surprisingly long. It keeps going and going—into the woods and under tunnels, and past tiny gold mining towns and old west main streets. It’s the closest I’ve come to actually riding a toy train through a miniature village. And the trees and hillsides that you roll past are something special, too.
Since these tiny trains only run on Sundays, there’s a line to board the ride, and if you come at noon, as we did, there’s an even longer wait because most of the conductors have gone to lunch. But for a suggested donation of $3, it’s well worth it. Just watch out if you are under 34” tall. The smallest member of the family almost wasn’t allowed on, but the miniature train officials brought out the official ruler and, wearing his white leather Stride Rites (detailed with trains, by the way), he managed to squeaked through.
The live steamers at this museum are actually “1/8th scale miniature steam, diesel or electric locomotives” and are run by serious train enthusiasts who work on all the trains as a hobby. They’ve probably been to a lot of train museums themselves.

P.S. Look for a report on my website about the places I didn’t write about. Perhaps Boron is your kind of town.


Lomita Railroad Museum: 2137 West 250th Street in Lomita, California, (310) 326-6255,, admission fee, $4.00 for adults and $2.00 for children under 12.

Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum: 5202 Zoo Drive
Los Angeles, California 90027, (323) 661-8958,, suggested donation (they ask you what you want to pay): $3 per person.

Museums&trains01 Jan 2006 12:00 pm

In 1900, a traveler could board a train in Los Angeles and arrive in Chicago about 60 hours later. That’s pretty good, considering that today a comfortable road trip from LA to Chicago would take a few days and include stops for meals and sleeping. The railway passenger in 1900 could dine, sleep, and enjoy the view while rolling across America in a comfortable or even luxury car. So what became of trains and why are so many people fascinated by them, including little children who’ve never even seen real trains before?

Perhaps, for some folks, trains are a romanticized form of travel, capturing in time a simpler life when all men wore hats and all women wore dresses. For children, it may just be the fun of building tracks and attaching long lines of cars that draws them to trains. This multi-generational appeal has produced railroad museums across the country, including several in Southern California. And, while you can find books that list all of the museums, I’d like to offer my opinion of a few of them, because, well, some have more features than others.

As an out of the way but interesting trip, there’s the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum (also called the San Diego Railroad Museum) in Campo, CA. For major train enthusiasts and those of us who like to see historical items up close, this small outpost in the rural town of Campo is worth the three hour drive. Just 55 miles outside of San Diego, Campo is an old cattle ranching town and a stop on the San Diego & Arizona Railway. The draw here is a 16 mile train ride on a couple of old passenger cars which move along the landscape until the engine comes to a loop in the tracks. At that point it is disconnected from the cars and brought around to the other end to reconnect and bring the train back home. Also in Campo is a general store, “Gaskill Brother’s Stone Store” built in 1885, which houses an impressive collection of late 19th and early 20th century merchandise. Canned food, tonics and remedies in pristine condition line the shelves. I mention the general store because the overall flavor of dusty Campo, very close to the Mexico border, made the trip appealing to me, but the driving time may not be worth it to most people, especially people with little kids who just want to get out and do something.

Closer to Los Angeles is Fillmore, CA, about an hour and 20 minutes away. Fillmore is another town that serves as a reminder that America is quite a different place outside the big city. But as far as trains go, there’s not much to it. Fillmore Train Depot offers train excursions with the most passenger cars to ride of any of the railroad museums mentioned here, but it’s quite an expensive ride at $20 a ticket for adults and the ride is too long. When we visited, the usual train route had been changed because of work being done on the railroad line. Consequently, the train took us west for a while, stopped, went back east, stopped at a fishery to feed the fish, and then came back west to the train depot. There was one outdoor car with open air benches and then a few regular passenger cars—- make sure to sit in the open air car if it’s hot. There was a car with snacks and souvenirs, but what seemed to be the main draw and the reason for such a long ride was the dining car, which obviously was not for us. It was interesting to walk through the vintage dining car with tables alongside the windows, and imagine passengers being served hot meals as they looked out at the prairies and small towns along the way. But since we wouldn’t be eating in the restaurant, the trip felt just too long. And there wasn’t much more to Fillmore besides a short but quaint downtown and some well stocked farm stands along the way.

So then we come to the cream of the crop, or rather, the top of the line, also an hour and twenty minutes away in Perris, CA. The Orange Empire Railway Museum, located in Riverside County, has more to it than any other train museum in the area. Run by volunteers who just love trains, this railroad museum is a grassy park loaded with train cars, engines, a collection of old items used on trains, and a few warehouses full of train cars you can look inside. There’s also a neat little area of real railroad signals that can be activated by pressing their buttons— buttons are always a winner.

Come on Sunday and you can buy an all day pass to ride two different trolleys around the museum grounds, as well as the passenger trains pulled by a diesel powered engine. Both trolleys were used in downtown LA in the 1920’s and 30’s and are in amazing condition, thanks to the work of the museum volunteers. The streetcar from the 1920’s has wooden benches with moveable backs for passengers to face forward or backward. It’s amazing the level of quality that could be found in mundane things before glass and wood and brass were replaced with plastic.

The train ride into town is short and sweet, just to get a taste of a commute on an old passenger car. All of the rides are really quite enjoyable and the conductors are happy to explain the history of the cars and answer questions.

We brought boxes of sushi for lunch and ate at a picnic table on the grounds. Also, we were happy to have our coats with us because it was nippy out there.

Your best bet for overall historical information and fun activities: Orange Empire Railway Museum. It’s not expensive, it’s not too far away, it has rides, and the atmosphere is pleasant.

P.S. Yes, there’s always Travel Town near the L.A. Zoo. It’s free and has many train cars to look at from the outside, but no rides on real trains. Still, for people, especially very young people who play with trains, it’s fun to see the real thing, and there is a ride on a mini train (one of three in the Griffith Park area.)

For more information:
Orange Empire Railway Museum, 2201 S. “A” St. ,Perris CA 92570 tel.: (951) 657-2605 or (951) 943-3020, Access to the Museum Grounds is free, (except during certain special events). On regular weekends, an all-day pass to ride the trains costs $10 for adults, $8 for children 5-11, free for kids under 5. Parking is always free.

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum, Campo Depot
31123-1/2 Highway 94 Campo, California 91906
tel.: (619) 478-9937,, open weekends and holidays 9am – 5pm

Fillmore and Western Railway, 250 Central Ave Fillmore, CA. 93015 tel.: 1-805-524-2546, Adult $20.00; Senior.60+ $18.00; 4 thru 12 years: $10.00; Infant thru 3 years $6.00

Travel Town Transportation Museum, 5200 Zoo Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90027, tel.: (323) 662-5874. open M-F, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 10a.m. to 5p.m. Admission is free (train ride $2)