Friday, June 23, 2006

Revival on Track

Revival on Track
Nut Tree's Miniature Train is Restored for its Return to Vacaville
By Bethany Clough -- Fresno Bee

The restored Nut Tree train gets a final inspection before its test run Wednesday. Fresno Bee/Christian Parley

Aside from its flair for food, the former Nut Tree restaurant on Interstate 80 was known for its restaurant, toy shop and the miniature railroad with the black-and-red engine that chugged across its grounds.

On Wednesday, the little red train -- which has sat neglected since the Nut Tree was closed in 1996 -- was back on track, at least in Reedley. A shiny, refurbished version chugged back and forth on 250 feet of track at 5 mph, tooting all three of its whistles.

It's the handiwork of Sean and Melissa Bautista and their team of workers who've been restoring the 44-year-old train at their business, the Hillcrest Christmas Tree Farm in Reedley, for the past six months.

The Nut Tree, which closed after 75 years in business, will reopen beginning this fall in phases that include a family park, children's rides, bocce courts and a "village" that will include restaurants, housing and a hotel and stores like Borders and Old Navy.

Hillcrest workers will start installing 1,800 feet of track later this week at the Vacaville site. The train will be finished in August and open to the public in September.

After shipping the train to Reedley on trucks, workers took apart every piece of metal and examined every lever and bolt. Workers cut layers of rusted metal off the side of the cars.

The innards of the engine were replaced, air brakes were added and a new transmission and wheels were installed. Six cars were restored and two new ones were added. Powered by gasoline, the engine is designed to look like a steam engine.

A group of Nut Tree Railroad fans, including Vacaville's mayor and two former engineers, gathered Wednesday to test drive the restored train.

The narrow-gauge railroad once shuttled visitors to and from the private Nut Tree airport, parking lot and buildings. The train, which started running in 1952, carried its one-millionth passenger in 1964, said Shawn Lum, executive director of the Vacaville museum and a former Nut Tree employee.

On Wednesday, Jim Holtz, 59, a former Nut Tree maintenance worker from Vacaville, drove the train in a blue-and-white-striped hat and overalls.

The ride brought back memories for Phil Martin, 70, of Suisun City, who ran the train its last four years.

"The tunnel was always the best part because the kids would scream, and I was always in favor of blowing the whistle," he said.

About the writer:
The Fresno Bee's Bethany Clough can be reached at or (559)441-6431.

Hillcrest Christmas Tree Farm did the work in Reedley for the longtime restaurant attraction. Fresno Bee/Christian Parley

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