Christopher Stevick and Lauren Williams share more than just a love of trains. In separate efforts, the Petaluma men have worked tirelessly to preserve the memory of the trains that once carried passengers and freight into and out of the city.
Williams helped restore one of the rail cars stored at a trolley barn on Baylis Street and sometimes drives a restored locomotive south to Washington Street on a 200-yard track outside the barn. As president of the Petaluma Trolley Living History Railroad Museum, he also oversees a plan to restore trolley service on a trestle that runs along the Petaluma River and on repaired tracks from downtown to the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets mall.
The museum’s first step was uncovering that old Petaluma & Santa Rosa main line track alongside the DeCarli trolley barn, which it shares with the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Historical Society.
The next step requires breathing life back into the trestle that runs along the river behind the businesses on Petaluma Boulevard North. That’s Stevick’s quixotic pursuit, one that may be permanently derailed. Ultimately, restored track would reach north to the outlets.
“The trolley is just one of the reasons for getting the trestle done,” Williams said. “We’ve had consultants from the east come out and do feasibility studies for the trolley. It came out as a positive.
“Christopher says the trestle is the keystone for the entire thing, and he’s absolutely correct.”
Stevick is a contractor, art historian, restoration expert and preservationist who has for a decade fought against the odds to save the 500-foot rotting trestle that rounds the curves of the downtown Petaluma River Turning Basin.
He has compiled reams of documents, lists, financial estimates, videos, time lines, charts and more to help make his case to preserve the 1922 trestle that was once part of the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad.
“The trestle defines this town’s iconic charm,” Stevick said. “If we had the trestle fixed, we would be a national destination.”
Although his effort is separate from that of restoring a Petaluma Trolley to transport shoppers from downtown to the outlet mall, the two are inextricably linked. And both efforts have stalled.
The main barrier is money. The recommended trestle option — replacing much of the original woodwork with new materials — is ready to go out to bid if $5 million ever materializes. It plan has essentially been shelved for lack of financial support.
While others have given up, Stevick continues to seek potential funding sources. He has no plans to give up, but acknowledges that he is frustrated.
“Life is full of bait and switch,” he says.
At one point, the electric trolley system that operated on the trestle had 200 cars running 10,000 carloads of freight and 250,000 passengers annually from as far away as Forestville, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.
The last time it held train cars was August 1994, when two 80-ton locomotives pulled a 40-ton grain hopper, Stevick said. Five years later, thousands of people stood on its wooden decking as part of the River Festival.
But in more recent years, the trestle has been ignored. Downtown development now faces away from the river; the boardwalk has become an unremarkable riverside alley. The wooden deck surrounding the tracks is rotted, broken, vandalized and fenced off as unsafe.