At one time Atascadero had its own railway.
It was a delightful mixture of commercial agriculture and entertainment for both children and adults.
In the 1950s poultry production was a major industry for Atascadero, both for meat birds and eggs. Remnants of one of the larger poultry installations still remains on Traffic Way, just north of the school district’s bus maintenance center.
The late Arnold Hoffman operated an egg ranch on property near Monterey Road Elementary School. Most everyone local went there to buy eggs because Arnold also loved anything that ran on steam.
Arnold’s egg ranch featured a scaled-down railroad that took visitors to his farm on a trip through a miniature ghost town, past a small pond that featured a little bridge and even a three-quarter scale red barn. By the time I got to know Arnold in the 1970s much of the railroad had been taken out, but I remember the little barn.
The engine was built by a local machinist, George Rowell. To give you an idea of the scale, the steam-driven engine was nine feet long and weighed just under 1,000 pounds. The rail cars featured bench seats for the passengers. I’ve talked to a number of local adults who remember going to the egg ranch to pick up eggs and ride the train.
My first interview with Arnold was in the late ’70s when he took delivery of an even larger steam engine. I don’t remember if he had any track left in the ground, except for a run from the engine house out about 100 feet. Later Arnold sold that engine and purchased a 26-foot, wooden steam-powered boat. I remember a wonderful ride in the vessel on Nacimiento Lake with Arnold at the helm.
His steam boat was used in a movie directed by Clint Eastwood. The boat was pictured on the Sacramento River in an Eastwood film about the life of jazz saxophonist Charley “Bird” Parker.
Arnold was the person I went to for information about steam power. I remember how he delighted in telling everyone, “Unless it wears a bra or runs on steam it isn’t worth tinkering with.” Arnold and his wife, Marian, were Colony Days Royalty in 2005. Arnold lived into his mid-90s. Marian still lives on the family property. A daughter, Rachel Somars, is a local business woman who operates a nonprofit corporation that provides funding for animal causes.