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Popular handcar race rises again

  • Ty Jones on the railroad tracks in Santa Rosa, California on Monday, August 12, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

For four years, from 2008 through 2011, Santa Rosa's Railroad Square swarmed with crowds of costumed revelers one day each summer, gathering at the railroad tracks to watch fanciful contraptions race.

For a day, the historic district became a portal to another time — the late 1800s, but with more modern "steampunk" overtones.

Fans mourned when the founders of the beloved Great Handcar Regatta announced that the 2011 event, which drew 12,000 people, was the last. Expecting track closures because of Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) construction, promoter Ty Jones and arts activist Spring Maxfield dissolved their partnership.

After a false start last year, and months of negotiations with SMART and the city of Santa Rosa, Jones is back this year with a new partner and a re-invented event.

Next Sunday, Aug. 25, at Railroad Square, Jones and event promoter Kathy Kingman of the Praetorian USA production company will present Dr. E. P. Kitty's Wunderkammer, featuring the Great Sonoma County Handcar Races. This event is set in the early 1900s, but the Victorian element from the Handcar Regatta is expected to persist.

"There's a lot more live music this year," Jones said.

"I would say this is an old-fashioned country fair and circus."

There also will be a busking or performing stage for local musicians, circus acts, and a greater emphasis on food, art and family attractions. And, of course, two dozen elaborately decorated handcars will compete.

Kingman of Praetorian USA, which produces the annual Northern California Pirate Festival in Vallejo, traces her festival experience to her years with the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Marin County's Black Point Forest.

"From there, we branched out to the Sausalito Arts Festival and the Harmony Festival" in Santa Rosa, which is currently on hiatus, said Kingman, who co-owns Praetorian USA with her husband, Mark Solum. "We have our hands in a lot of events. We have a lot contacts for performers."


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