From time to time, a railfan — an enthusiast of railways and train operations — will wander into an antique shop on East Branch Street in Arroyo Grande, look around and exclaim something along the lines of: “Wow, this is the depot!”
But the railfan will soon be corrected: “This was the depot.”
Until railway service was abandoned in 1941, the Pacific Coast Railway came through Arroyo Grande, and the depot was once on the same site where A Glance Into the Past Antiques shop now stands.
“I think it’s neat, the idea that people want to come in and feel something,” said Chuck Fellows, a former city councilman who has witnessed the preceding conversation at the antique mall.
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Fellows, a history buff who now sits on the city’s Architectural Review Committee, has been working on a project for several years that would let railfans’ imaginations carry them away just a bit further.
The Pacific Coast Railway was a 3-foot narrow-gauge railway that was originally a 10-mile link from San Luis Obispo to Avila Beach and Port Harford. The line was extended to Arroyo Grande in 1881.
The railway wound through the Village, crossing East Branch Street at the foot of Crown Hill.
Today, this spot is a sliver of city-owned land brightened by a patch of flowers maintained by the Village Improvement Association. The rest is dirt and rocks and a few weeds.
But Fellows hopes that, after some improvements, it will become a spot to which railfans flock.
He obtained two original 14-foot rails, circa 1881, with help from the late Gordon Bennett, a lifelong Arroyo Grande resident who died in August.
Fellows is in the process of collecting 10 rail ties, many of which have since been turned into fence posts, so he can complete an authentic section of railway. (For those who may spot one, the rail ties are about 6 feet long, 5¼ inches tall and 7 inches wide and don’t have any marks that pressure-treated wood would have.)
A kiosk has been constructed as part of an Eagle Scout service project and will include photos and information on the Pacific Coast Railway’s history in Arroyo Grande.
The project was completed by 16-year-old K.J. Harris, a student at St. Joseph High School in Santa Maria. His father, Kyle Harris of Harris Architecture, also sits on the city’s Architectural Review Committee.
Kyle Harris said K.J. raised about $5,000 to $7,000 worth of materials and did much of the labor himself. Donations came from Brisco’s True Value Hardware, Brough Construction and Famco Development.
Fellows said he’s in the process of raising some funds to complete the project, including installing some concrete steps and a retaining wall, and having the informational panels made.
Donations can be made to the South County Historical Society, with a note that the money is intended for the railway kiosk. Fellows can be reached at 710-3277.
Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCounty Beat on Twitter.