The trusty C.P. Huntington train in Santa Rosa’s Howarth Park has over the years carried thousands of children, parents and grandparents around a little more than a quarter-mile of track that runs between the trees. But it is increasingly not so trusty.
Engine No. 74 breaks down regularly. Sometimes it has to be lifted off the tracks with a crane, costing a pretty penny. Parts for the vehicle aren’t made anymore. Recently, the 45-year-old locomotive’s broken speedometer had to be replaced with one from a bicycle.
With no money set aside in the city’s budget to replace the locomotive, it looked as if the train might soon go the way of the steam engine.
“It kind of tugged at our heartstrings that Howarth Park would no longer have a train,” said Rose Zoia, president of the nonprofit Santa Rosa Parks Foundation. “That’s frankly unacceptable. It’s a beloved tradition in the community.”
The foundation made saving the train at K-Town its chief cause.
That cause has now received a major boost. David Codding, owner of the Montgomery Village shopping center, donated $100,000 to the effort last week.
The personal gift, given in the name of Montgomery Village — which will appear on the train — was spurred by warm memories, Codding said.
“I said, ‘I’ve got a special place in my heart for that train and the park,’ ” said Codding, recalling how in the mid-1990s he would take his daughter there every weekend to ride the C.P. Huntington and Snowball the pony.
“I just think it’s something that needs to continue on,” he said. “It’s good for parents and good for kids, and it brings the community together.”
“It’s very exciting,” said Anita Anderson, a foundation board member. “We’ve been working on this for two years, hoping that someone local would be as excited about it as we are, and you don’t get much more local than David Codding.”
The donation puts the foundation’s campaign — it has now raised $130,000 in total — within striking distance of being able to buy a brand-new locomotive for $181,000.
The foundation plans to raise money also for a passenger coach — there are two — with access for disabled patrons. That will cost at least $55,000.
“We’re very lucky,” said Kelley Magnuson, Santa Rosa’s deputy director of recreation. “It’s a great opportunity for the city to have them working with us,” she said of the foundation.
Parents and children at the park last week expressed relief that the train’s future is now promising.
“It’s important for the kids,” said Jyoti Kc of Santa Rosa, who said she regularly boards the train with her 4-year-old son.
“It’s entertainment and it’s education,” Kc said.
“It’s fun and it teaches you all about nature,” said Hannah Kafoa, 9, of Santa Rosa, referring to the conductor’s announcements about the surroundings that the train passes.
Should the foundation be able to place an order next spring for a new locomotive (from Chance Rides of Wichita, Kan.), the earliest it would receive the train would be mid- to late 2016, Zoia said.
Will the current train make it that long? It does get a winter break, closing from November to February.
“Our maintenance fleet tries to keep the train running. So far, they’ve been able to keep it going, so it really depends on whether something major happens that they’re not able to fix,” Magnuson said.