It’s time to go ride the Wahtoke Railroad, a 1.2 mile long 15 inch gauge railway out at Hillcrest Farms on Reed Avenue, north of the college in Reedley. It’s Railfest, and train enthusiasts are gathering at Hillcrest to celebrate the steam engine.
Hillcrest Farms is a popular pumpkin patch in the fall and a Christmas tree farm in December. For decades it’s been an essential part of the holidays for many Central California families. The Wahtoke Railroad is an important part of those holiday visits.
The driving force behind the trains is an unusual couple who are just as much at home in the air as on the tracks. Sean and Melissa Bautista are both Air Force veterans who bought Hillcrest in 1992. Sean became a pilot for United Airlines while Melissa ran the farm, but Sean’s big plan was to start his own railroad. They set up the track and head a train running by Christmas 1994.
The first train they bought ran, but was badly underpowered. They had Whistle signals — that meant someone needs to come push. They’ve upgraded since then. Around 2000 they began selling train parts, which led to them building trains for clients around the country. Since that first train they’ve built for Disneyland, the San Francisco zoo, city of Fort Collins Colorado, and more.
During Railfest, there will be more than the trains. In the past they’ve had many other types of engines, even boilers as well stationary work horses. Come on out this weekend and enjoy the day with us.
Melissa says, “Come on out this weekend and enjoy the day with us. We are a pleasant bunch of engineers that, just like hot rods, like showing off our beautiful trains from a time gone past. We also like showing steam engines that were used to haul or manufacture items.”
Train tickets will be $5. Hours are 10am-5pm, Saturday and Sunday. No worries on reservations, parking is free, with plenty of areas for a picnic. There will be food vendors as well. For more information, visit their website at hillcrestreedley.com or their Facebook page.
About the Author
Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary “The Western View” is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.