Rails revived: Historic train depot reopens in Perris
by JULISSA McKINNON
For the first time in decades, a loud whistle announces a steam locomotive rolling to a stop at the historic Santa Fe Railway station in downtown Perris.After 10 years of fundraising, planning and renovations, the historic train station at 4th and D streets is open to the public again.But in this new chapter, the depot will no longer serve as a hub for shipping potatoes or other crops. Instead, city leaders hope the train depot will become an attraction for train enthusiasts and history buffs, especially once the Perris Valley Historical Museum sets up its exhibits in January.
Lloyd Higginson, a station master who staffed the Santa Fe Railway Station in Perris for 20 years, reacts with his wife Gloria during a reopening ceremony on Wednesday.
The $1.5 million depot renovation is just one piece of a much larger plan to refurbish the city's entire downtown, which includes renovating D and other streets and building a Metrolink commuter train station near the intersection of C and Second streets. When all is done, the historic train depot should be surrounded by Metrolink parking."The idea is to have the modern (improvements) next to the historic, and keep the railroad nature of Perris," said Dave Stuart, the city's special projects manager who has shepherded the station remodel since the city jumped into the project almost a decade ago. "To attract higher-end developers and investors you need to fix up your streets, streetscapes, historic anchors and buildings."About 100 people turned out to celebrate the grand re-opening of the depot, sitting at shaded tables in near-100-degree heat to hear tributes to the city's longstanding ties to the railroad.Among the crowd sat Lloyd Higginson, Perris' last station master who staffed the Perris depot for 20 years until it shut down in 1972.Higginson, 86, now lives in Cloverdale, a rural town in northern California. He recalled how the summer potato harvest always brought bustling times at the station, when agricultural crops were the area's main product.
A train pulls up Wednesday during the rededication ceremony of the Santa Fe Railway station at Fourth and D streets in Perris.
Only then would he get extra help at the station as workers toiled to ship out dozens of boxcars brimming with potatoes, typically eastbound, Higginson said. He recalled frequently working until 2 or 4 a.m. to make sure the loads left on time.Perris Mayor Daryl Busch officially dedicated the depot to Higginson, gifting him with a plaque from the city.Higginson retired after a 43-year career with the railroad that, in addition to Perris, took him to Rialto, Corona, Riverside and Arlington."It was one of the better jobs," he said, as his wife and two adult children sat nearby. "The pay was good. It brings back a lot of memories. Several of my brothers worked in the railroad. My father worked in it for fifty-some years."Today, people still make a living from the railroad. Others work on trains for fun.Linc Reed-Nickerson is one of several volunteer engineers who make a hobby out of cleaning and caring for the antique trolleys and trains housed at the Orange Empire Railway Museum located about 1 ½ miles south of the depot."It feels like an extension of the museum," Reed-Nickerson said of the refurbished depot. "It gives us a destination instead of riding out and shoving back. People can ride the trains out here now."