A prominent Petaluma contractor and petting zoo owner has ponied up more than $45,000 to buy Howarth Park’s retired train engine after a surprise bidding war broke out for the beloved little locomotive this week.
Glen Ghilotti said he probably paid three times the fair value for the aging C.P. Huntington replica engine, acknowledging that he got a bit carried away during the unexpectedly competitive online auction.
But the chance to own a piece of local history and to build his own private railroad on his family’s Two Rock farm helped him go the extra mile to best a rival bidder who kept upping the ante in the auction’s final minutes.
“When you get an opportunity that knocks on your door to preserve history and have something really, really cool, you have to take a shot at it,” Ghilotti said.
City officials were stunned to see the torrid pace of bidding for the engine, especially after the first auction a week earlier ended with just a single $7,500 bid, well below the $15,000 reserve price.
But the second auction quickly blew past the lowered reserve and wasn’t settled until the auction’s exhilarating last seconds, said Karl Lienau, fleet maintenance supervisor.
“Watching those last 20 minutes was amazing,” Lienau said. “Two bidders were just pushing it up and up and up by thousands of dollars. I was blown away by the amount of money it brought in.”
A total of 42 bids were made over the weeklong auction, most on the final day.
When the electronic gavel finally fell, the $38,100 price was more than five times the $7,500 reserve. With taxes and commissions, Ghilotti said he paid just over $45,000.
Built in 1969 by Chance Manufacturing Co. of Wichita, Kansas, the little red, white and blue engine pulled an estimated 2 million visitors along the city’s 12-inch rail line at Howarth Park for 47 years before it was replaced earlier this year.
Ghilotti said he saw Press Democrat stories about the engine’s replacement, and thought he might like to add it to his huge collection of historic machinery. The founder of Petaluma contracting firm Team Ghilotti also owns three tanks, including a 51-ton Patton, and dozens of antique trucks and Caterpillar tractors, he said.
He figured the little train would make a perfect addition to Glen Hill Farm and Gardens, the 46-acre Two Rock property were he lives with his wife, Genevieve. The couple has five children, two grandchildren and another on the way, and figured a mini-train line would be a perfect fit for their petting zoo and 6-acre organic farm, he said.
Ghilotti never saw the first train auction advertised, but read a recent Press Democrat story about it falling flat. He decided to bid in the second auction, thinking he might have to spend $15,000 to $20,000 to snag the train.
But a rival bidder really gave him a run for his money, Ghilotti said. When the bidding passed his initial budget, he considered bowing out, but then it got personal.
“You know, I think I need to go just one more round, just to teach him what it’s like to lose,” Ghilotti said, explaining his mindset during the final stages of the auction.
Back and forth the two went, until, during extended bidding, Ghilotti prevailed.
To compete his project, Ghilotti figures he’ll need to spend an additional $100,000 on rail cars and to construct the rail line. But he’s not worried about the cost.
“All men die, but only a few men really live in life,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207.