JAUNTS : Old Depot Is Right Stop for Train Buffs : Facility is the site of an Autumn Rail Festival that includes historical exhibits and a barbecue.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you have a soft spot in your heart for trains, Santa Paula is the place to be Saturday for the Santa Paula Depot Days and Autumn Rail Festival.

There won't be a train in sight, but there will be plenty of train goings-on, including railroad videos, a slide show in 3-D, barbecue and a sneak preview of the new railroad exhibit soon to open at the Santa Paula Union Oil Museum. Tickets are $12.50 for adults and $7 for children.

It's fitting that the festivities are at the city's century-old depot. Proceeds from the event are earmarked for development of a park-like rail attraction around the depot, according to Dave Wilkinson, president of the Santa Clara River Valley Railroad Historical Society.

Visitors can take a short walk from the depot to the museum for a glimpse of the new exhibit, "History of Railroading in Ventura County," scheduled to open Oct. 9.

The exhibit will only partially be in place during the Saturday event, but train buffs can preview what's ready during tours set for 4 and 5:30 p.m. What they'll see are train photos, such train paraphernalia as whistles and bells, and the redevelopment plans of both Santa Paula and Fillmore for showcasing their rich train heritage.

They'll also see posters from movies shot in Ventura County using the vintage train collection of Short Line Enterprises, based in Fillmore. Short Line, which has run excursions between Fillmore and Santa Paula, has provided trains for several movies, including "Throw Momma From the Train," "Chaplin" and "Of Mice and Men."

When the exhibit is in place, it will include a re-creation of a train station and ticket office, according to Short Line's Larry Jensen, who is helping put the exhibit together. It will feature an old Southern Pacific railroad desk, the clock from the Santa Paula Depot and a potbelly stove from the old Piru depot. Kids will be able to tap out Morse code messages on an old telegraph key. Also, a short track will be set up in the museum for two old hand-pump cars.

Historic photos in the exhibit will tell the story of railroading in Ventura County--a tale that began in 1887 when Southern Pacific finished a track from Saugus through the Santa Clara Valley to Ventura.

Santa Paula's depot was constructed that year, shipped in sections from Southern Pacific headquarters in Sacramento. The town existed before the railroad, but afterward it flourished. Citrus farmers and the oil industry used the rails, but with the arrival of trucks and automobiles, trains declined.

In 1977, Santa Paula residents rallied to save the old depot, now owned by the Santa Paula Community Fund. It was refurbished and now houses the Chamber of Commerce, meeting rooms and an art gallery.

Saturday's activities are being organized by the Santa Clara River Valley Railroad Historical Society, the city, the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce and the Community Fund.

The railroad video and slide shows will run from 2 to 10 p.m. at the depot. A "gandy dancer" (an old railroad term for workers who put track together) barbecue will be served from 3 to 8 p.m. All this will be topped off with a get-together from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Glen Tavern Inn in Santa Paula.

Details

* WHAT: Santa Paula Depot Days and Autumn Rail Festival.

* WHEN: Saturday, from 2 to 9 p.m.

* WHERE: Santa Paula Depot, 963 E. Santa Barbara St.

* HOW MUCH: $12.50 for adults, $7 for children. Tickets available at the depot the day of the event.

* FYI: 524-1201.

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