The railroad buffs who operate Goat Hill Junction just can't seem to catch a break.
Just weeks after thieves broke into the model railroad grounds and stole $9,000 in aluminum tracks and other material, vandals broke into the 40-acre Costa Mesa attraction and caused $4,000 in damage by smashing six picnic tables and prying open an irrigation box.
"This is the first time we've seen wholesale destruction like that," said Hank Castignetti, spokesman for the Orange County Model Engineers, who operate the miniature railroad system.
After the thefts in early March, the hobbyists felt derailed until donations began to roll in.
The Costa Mesa police and firefighter associations each donated $500. Goat Hill Tavern, a popular watering hole in town, donated $1,000, and the donation boxes at the railroad filled up.
"It's heartwarming, frankly, to see the response from the community," Castignetti said at the time. "It's been overwhelming, and we're just so gobsmacked over this."
But moods soured after the vandalism attack that left picnic tables damaged. One of the tables was cut free from where it was anchored and shoved under a bridge on the model railroad track. A piece of track was ripped up and used as a crow bar to pry open an irrigation box. Graffiti was sprayed around the bridge.
"This is getting way, way more complex than just the railroad club can deal with," Castignetti said.
Club members said they have no choice but to ramp up security, but being located in public Fairview Park, the railroad complex is tough to keep an eye on around the clock.
Costa Mesa Lt. Paul Dondero said the department does not have the resources to constantly monitor the area but has at times in the past investigated incidents at Goat Hill Junction.
"Is this a homicide case? No." he said. "But it's something that has an effect on the whole community, and it's something that everyone in this community values. That's important to us."
Gaetano Russo, a longtime city maintenance worker, said he goes to Goat Hill once or twice a week to check up on the place, and said graffiti is common.
"For us, it's a usual thing," Russo said. "Usually they call it in, but if I'm in the area, I'll go there and check anyway."
Castignetti said the group's postal box continues to see "huge stacks of checks," though a final tally from all the donations — including the ones gathered at the club's on-site donation box — hasn't been calculated.
"I get choked up sometimes thinking about what these people are doing for us," he said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times