They came from as far away as South Carolina, Arizona and Chicago with one goal in mind: to be among the few who can say they’ve ridden a passenger train through the famous Tehachapi Loop.
“I’ve been wanting to ride this for 30 years,” Chicagoan Keith White said Sunday afternoon after disembarking from Train No. 14, from Los Angeles to Bakersfield.
Amtrak’s Coast Starlight route, which runs between Seattle and Los Angeles, doesn’t normally come through Bakersfield. But maintenance work on the coastal route caused a planned one-day detour through Bakersfield and over the Tehachapi Mountains to the east.
It was just what railroad buffs, or “foamers,” had been waiting for.
“They call them foamers because they foam at the mouth when a train goes by,” Las Vegas resident Lova Reynolds said, laughing.
Reynolds and her husband, Bryce, drove from Vegas and shadowed the northbound train as it wound westward through the mountains.
Their son, a resident of San Jose, was aboard, so they drove ahead and met him at the Amtrak station in Bakersfield.
A second train, No. 11, left Bakersfield bound for L.A. at just after 1 p.m. Sunday. Several members of the Tehachapi Loop Railroad Club had tickets.
Club President John Bell and other members have studied, photographed and videotaped the famed example of engineering ingenuity many times. But Bell admitted he’s never had the pleasure of riding in a passenger rail car as it followed the curved rails of the Tehachapi Loop.
He has done the next best thing, however.
“Oh, yeah. I used to hop freight trains and take video of the Loop,” Bell said, grinning. “If you ever want to see good video of the Loop from the perspective of an open box car, let me know.”
The Tehachapi Loop is a large circle of track designed to bring trains up a steep section of grade more gradually. Long trains actually cross over their own rail cars as they move through the loop.
The track was completed in 1876, but has accommodated freight trains almost exclusively since 1971. Railroad buffs across the continent covet the experience, said White, the Chicago resident.
It’s very important to enthusiasts, White said, to log “rare mileage” on rail lines like this one. That’s why it was worth an early morning flight to L.A., a bus trip back Sunday evening and another early morning flight back to the Windy City on Monday.
“This is the fulfillment of almost a lifelong dream,” White said, sounding practically giddy about the rare opportunity.
“It is so spectacular,” he added. “It’s one of the best-kept secrets in California."