Central Coast Living takes a trip back in time at Bitter Creek Western Railroad where the tracks are lined with nostalgia and imagination.
It’s a private property in Arroyo Grande that is not usually open to the public but this Saturday is your first chance to visit this summer.
Doug Calicchio’s train hobby has moved full steam ahead ever since discovering Bitter Creek Western Railroad in 2000.
“This [steam] engine was the first engine I ever got and it’s blossomed to many more,” Calicchio said. “You start the fire and all of the sudden [the engine] starts dripping water, it starts oozing the steam, it starts coming to life..”
Trains are a lifelong passion of Calicchio’s.
“Growing up, I wore out my Lionel trains. I don’t have too many old trains because I just wore them out,” he said.
Calicchio is one of many train enthusiasts who come to Bitter Creek Western Railroad to relive childhood memories on a bigger scale.
In the 1980s, Karl Hovanitz and some friends dreamt up how to take their model train hobby to the next level.
“We actually started literally at lunch, drawing lines on a napkin,” he said.
Today, hundreds of volunteer hours by train tinkers as resulted in the track that spans 10 acres in Hovanitz’s backyard.
“This is the largest home railroad in California and probably in the country,” Hovanitz said.
There are about two miles of track including bridges, tunnels and intricate decorations along the 15-20 minute-long route.
The small-gauge railroad attracts visitors from across the country and around the world.
“We have had tours of train enthusiasts from Europe, South Africa, New Zealand,” Hovanitz said.
Regardless of age, Hovanitz says visitors to his backyard railroad are often mesmerized.
“The younger generation – they’re mostly fascinated,” Hovanitz said. “The older people -they’re living a dream of their childhood.”
For Calicchio, the track offers him a place to pass on his passion to his grandchildren.
“I’m grandpa Choo-Choo. [My grandchildren] just have a ball. They can’t wait to come here for Fourth of July. They’re running the trains and everything,” Calicchio said. “It’s nice to enjoy your hobby with your family.”
Bitter Creek Western Railroad is not open regularly but Hovanitz you can check the BCWRR website where he post public ride days.
Hovanitz welcomes school children and other groups for field trips to Bitter Creek Western Railroad. To arrange a visit, contact him through the website. Volunteers are also always welcome to come work on the track.