The Union Pacific Railroad has finally broken ground on a new train depot in east Bakersfield, a turn of events that frees us to speculate on what could or should become of the historic old one, built in 1889 by the defunct Southern Pacific.

You've surely noticed it at Baker and Sumner streets in Old Town Kern — mustard yellow, a little worse for wear, but handsome and distinct nonetheless.

Brew pub anyone? Yes, we are getting way ahead of ourselves.

The Union Pacific, which still owns and operates the station, has had only preliminary discussions with the city of Bakersfield about a possible transfer of ownership, and that was a while back.

"The railroad met with staff several years ago and advised us of their plan to build a new facility," Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy wrote in an email. "They implied that the old one might be made available to the city in some form ... (but) there is no deal in place."

He said the city has not done any research to determine the building's condition or the pros and cons of assuming ownership.

Multiple efforts to reach Union Pacific representatives throughout the day Tuesday were unsuccessful.

It's clearly time for the parties to have another chat. The Union Pacific looks to be about a year, perhaps two, from moving into a new, modern facility a half-mile east of the old station on Sumner near Gage Street. The foundation hasn't yet been poured. 

The old station opened on June 27, 1889, in what was then the town of Sumner — a municipality originally two miles east of Bakersfield, created by Southern Pacific officials who'd apparently had enough of a land dispute with leaders of the existing city. The station served Southern Pacific passenger trains that ran on the San Joaquin Valley Route until 1971, when Amtrak took over. Now, decades after Sumner was annexed into Bakersfield, it's just an office building and crew change center for Union Pacific.

Bakersfield City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, whose Ward 2 includes Old Town Kern, likes the idea of a renovated, repurposed train station.

"As a community, we need to preserve that building and then talk about what we might do with it," he said. "It has value. Let's come up with some ideas. A restaurant, a museum, a microbrewery?"

All in favor, make a choo-choo noise.

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We knew Blaine Hodge was a hero for taking on a man in the process of hacking up a woman with a machete — an intervention that saved a life and could easily have cost him his own. We didn't realize what kind of elite company that intervention would place him in.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society, an association of recipients of the nation's highest military honor, honored Hodge this week as a Congressional Medal of Honor Society Citizen Honors Award finalist for "Single Act of Heroism."

Hodge is in tall company. Very tall.

One finalist, Aaron Feis, lost his life shielding students during the February 2018 mass shooting at his alma mater, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., where he was an assistant football coach and campus security officer. Another finalist, Tammie Jo Shults of San Antonio, Texas, piloted a commercial jet to safety after a catastrophic engine failure sucked a woman halfway out of a window and almost brought down the plane.

Another finalist, James Shaw Jr., a 29-year-old electrician from Nashville, charged and disarmed a gunman who had already killed four at an Antioch Waffle House in Tennessee in spring 2018. And the fifth finalist, Stephen Willeford, also of San Antonio, chased down and shot the gunman responsible for killing 26 people at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church the morning of Nov. 5. 

Hodge, an off-duty security guard and budding rapper-poet, was sitting near the front door of a Starbucks cafe on Stockdale Highway last September when a woman burst inside, screaming for help. A moment later a man, dressed head to toe in black, followed her in — and he had a foot-and-a-half long blade at his side.

The woman leapt into the baristas' station and the man followed her, and he then started swinging his machete. Hodge came after him, allowing the women to escape, but in the process suffered several grievous wounds himself. He needed 100 stitches on his left forearm, 65 on his right thigh, 40 on his right thumb and eight on his chest.

A suspect, Robert Daniel Rivas, 31, was arrested a short time later.

Hodge's physical wounds have healed, but he most likely has permanent nerve damage in his right hand. He still has numbness and partial paralysis there; he can't make a fist.

The Medal of Honor recipients will recognize a total of 20 nominees in four categories — Service Act, Young Hero and Community Service Hero as well as Single Act of Heroism — at a March 25 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

"I appreciate it," Hodge said of his nomination, "but I didn't need the media to tell me I did the right thing. I think someone else on the list (of nominees) is more deserving, but I'm honored to even be considered. I look at it as a positive for the city."

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Twelve states have seen measles outbreaks in the last 10 weeks — almost two decades since the highly contagious disease was said to be eradicated in the U.S. 

Nearly 230 measles cases were reported across the U.S. by the CDC between Jan. 1 and March 7, a number that approaches the 372 cases reported in all of 2018. California has seen several of those cases, with new exposures reported just this week at Los Angeles International Airport.

But in Kern County? Zero.

"We have not had any confirmed cases of measles in the past five years here in Kern," said Michelle Corson of Kern County Public Health. "Kern County has good vaccination rates."

The latest available Kern County report — for child care, kindergarten and 7th grade for the 2017-18 school year — shows that, of the 157 private and public schools reporting, the vaccination rate exceeded 94 percent for the two required doses of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, Corson said.

Some parents, without a shred of evidence, believe the vaccine leads to autism. It doesn't. 

Thank you for vaccinating your child.

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, rprice@bakersfield.com or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; the views expressed are his own.

(1) comment

Stephen

On behalf of the Kern County Historical Society we’ve reached out numerous times to contact someone regarding our desire to place a historic plaque on or about the depot building. Formerly sited in the pocket park at the northwest corner of Baker and Sumner when the park was razed it went to storage. We’ve been unable to communicate with anyone who could address the matter. In a conversation with then Councilwoman Sue Benham, Ward 2, regarding the now gone Baker St. pocket park she described the Union Pacific as "not a very good neighbor."

The problem with the Union Pacific is, as an apparent policy, while they are very protective of the history and the historical assets of properties and equipment originating with them they, by default, are usually dismissive of the same acquired by merger including the Southern Pacific Lines properties and assets.

Look at the difficulty and expense they caused Tehachapi and their preservation community in the acquisition of the Tehachapi Depot building. Today a recreation of that building on that site is a museum.

Recently with planning for a high speed rail system they refused to cooperate in giving right of way for the needed viaduct to pass through the north side of their lightly used train yard leaving them with the unsavory option of running the viaduct down the center of Sumner St. So, I’m not sure where we go from here but it’s hard to make a plan when all you can do is talk to the hand.

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