FAIRFIELD — John Coleman wanted to do volunteer work after his retirement and he likes trains and history.
He found a home at the Western Railway Museum on Highway 12 between Rio Vista and Suisun City. Here, he and others work on the electric trains that once served the region and other parts of the nation.
At the museum, Coleman’s interests converge.
The Western Railway Museum is largely a volunteer operation. Volunteers restore the decades-old electric trains, restore the tracks and drive the trains along the tracks to give museum visitors a ride. Volunteers research and preserve the historic narratives that go with the trains.
“It’s very challenging and we do have some wonderfully skilled people here to keep things going,” Coleman said.
Coleman came to Fairfield in 1969 and worked as a teacher and later district librarian in the Travis School District. He retired and volunteered at the museum about seven years ago.
His first job at the museum involved keeping the train cars clean – he swept them, cleaned the windows and polished the wood. Running a train museum and a mini-train line is about more than the romance of the rails, it’s hard work.
“Just making sure the public sees a well-kept car,” Coleman said. “Much of the public, when they come to visit us, that’s what they see.”
These days, Coleman is chairman of the museum’s board of directors. That means keeping track of administrative work, such as the nuts and bolts of the museum, getting a historic train car from San Diego and the museum’s budget.
Coleman’s fascination with trains goes back to his youth. He can remember a train trip at age 3 or 4 with his mother to visit his father, who was in the Coast Guard. He remembered riding the Key system electric cars across the Bay Bridge in the 1950s.
“I’ve always had these memories of trains,” Coleman said.
He walked through the museum train sheds recently and pointed out his favorite cars. One is the Birney Car, built in 1920 and the first mass-produced train car that could be operated by a single person. Patrons sometimes called them “dinkey” cars because they are small, a museum report said.
“I just think it’s a really cute, functional car,” Coleman said.
His favorite train car among the museum’s large collection is one of the oldest, dating back to 1886. It was a steam railway car and later converted to electric. It ran in New York and later hauled Kaiser shipyard workers during World War II from Oakland to the Richmond yard.
For more information on the museum, go to www.wrm.org.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.