Derailed by thieves, model train buffs get thousands in donations

Derailed by thieves, model train buffs get thousands in donations
Volunteer at Goat Hill Junction takes riders for a spin. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

When thieves stole as much as $9,000 in aluminum tracks and other materials from the Orange County Model Engineers, the train buffs felt derailed.

But things are firmly back on track for the operators of Goat Hill Junction, a 40-acre network of tracks in Costa Mesa operated by longtime railroad buffs.


After hearing about the break-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 were filled with checks and money over the weekend.

And the group's postal box?

"Stuffed to capacity," said Hank Castignetti, president of the model railroad club.

"It's heartwarming, frankly, to see the response from the community," said Castignetti. "It's been overwhelming, and we're just so gobsmacked over this."

Casual estimates put the donations at about $4,000, perhaps more.

According to police, sometime on March 1 or 2, thieves broke into the train yard and stole materials, including more than 2,000 feet of aluminum tracks, with the likely intent to sell it for scrap value.

The engineers have since said they're interested in boosting security with a camera system or other measures. The railroad is open to the public and has been located at Fairview Park since 1989.

The theft hasn't stopped visitors, though. Over the weekend, the group hosted 2,762 riders.

Last week, Castignetti said his group figured that it would receive about $4,000 in donations. The estimate came on the heels of the Costa Mesa-Newport Harbor Lions Club donating $1,000.

But now, things seem to be building steam.

"I would guess that $4,000, that is going to be on the low side," Castignetti said.

Those who wish to make donations can send checks to Orange County Model Engineers, P.O. Box 3216, Costa Mesa, CA 92628.