LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i joined the major cities of New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago in the observation of Saturday as National Train Day.
Now in its fifth year, National Train Day celebrates train travel and the ways trains touch the lives of people with events being celebrated across America, states the National Train Day website.
Festivities highlight the unique perspective passengers enjoy as they take in the vastness and beauty of the American landscape, from cities big and small, to country vistas and everything in between, when traveling by rail.
Scott Johnson, the engineer at the Grove Farm Museum, arranged for free train rides aboard historic steam locomotives to commemorate the occasion.
The romantic steam whistle marking the start of the ride carried to the King Auto Center parking lot, where State Farm Insurance and the East Kaua‘i Lions Club were hosting the annual Keiki Bicycle Rodeo; the action paused when the whistle blew as Lions and participants relished the memories it evoked.
At the Haleko Road railroad facility, guests were treated to rides aboard Wainiha, Hawai‘i’s last steam-powered cane train.
“Paulo, Hawai‘i’s oldest operating plantation locomotive, still needs some work and is resting today,” Johnson said. “Her homecoming was celebrated when she was turned around, and when she operates, she faces the riders instead of showing her butt.”
Johnson said pending county and other government approvals, plans are already in the works to extend the current rail track. If everything goes according to plan, perhaps Kaua‘i can host its own “golden spike” ceremony in October.
“That’s a big ‘if,’” Johnson said. “But it’s good to dream about what can happen.”
Currently, riders aboard the historic locomotives enjoy a ride along the original Lihu‘e Plantation Co. railroad right-of-way, crossing a historic stone bridge that recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and traversing through a field of banana and ti leaf through sites where plantation homes and buildings once stood.
Paulo, manufactured in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1887 at the Hohenzollern Works and shipped to Koloa Sugar Co., the first commercial sugar plantation in the kingdom of Hawai‘i, is named after Paul Isenberg, the owner of Lihu‘e Plantation and an officer of Koloa Sugar Co.
Wainiha, built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was owned by the McBryde Plantation and was named for the North Shore stream and had the capability of pulling up to 55 cars.
It was sold to Lihu‘e Plantation in 1932 and Grove Farm bought Wainiha in 1955 to haul sugar cane until 1957, making Grove Farm Plantation the last to haul cane by steam.
The Lihu‘e Plantation railroad right-of-way, adjacent to the historic Lihu‘e mill which is in the process of being dis-assembled, was acquired by Grove Farm museum in 1999 to provide the only authentic plantation steam train experience in the state, its website states.
The ride is a memorable experience and an invaluable learning experience to comprehend the impact of sugar as a major influence in Kaua‘i’s history and economy, as attested by the hula halau Na Lei Mokihana O Leina‘ala when its kumu hula, Leina‘ala Pavao-Jardin, motivated keiki hula dancers with a ride aboard Paulo prior to their performance at the Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Hula Competition, where the halau finished in first place.
During the National Train Day observance, people were offered the opportunity to become founding “Friends of Wai‘oli” members to enjoy the benefits of supporting the ongoing preservation and conservation efforts of Wai‘oli Corp., which safeguards the Wai‘oli Mission House, Grove Farm and Mahamoku museums and their collections, including the locomotives and tracks.
The Grove Farm museum features free train days on the second Thursday of each month.
Visit www.grovefarm.net for more information.
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.