David Jackson, 54, is spearheading the project, Railtown Tracy, to create a downtown historical district and museum celebrating the city’s railroad heritage.
“I am interested in this town’s history because it has a great history,” Jackson said. “You don’t have a Tracy without the railroad.”
Jackson said the idea came to him about a year ago as he wondered about the vacant area behind the downtown Tracy Transit Station at Sixth Street and Central Avenue.
He sketched out plans for Railtown Tracy to promote the local history of the rail lines.
“What I love about this town is we probably have more rails than any other town on the West Coast and the fewest train than any town on the West Coast — we have a lot of track here and very few trains,” Jackson said.
Railtown Tracy has many ambitious goals, Jackson said, including the museum, a train festival, weekend rail excursions from downtown Tracy and the moving of Southern Pacific switch engine No. 1293 from Dr. Powers Park to downtown.
Jackson’s first step is working to get Tracy designated as a Train Town USA city through the Union Pacific Railroad as part of the company’s 150th anniversary.
Cities gaining Train Town USA designation receive a proclamation from the Union Pacific president and signs for downtown area — an honor that Jackson thinks could build momentum for his plans to create a museum.
“There is really nothing here that memorializes the great history that was here,” Jackson said.
He will try and persuade the Tracy Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors on Tuesday, June 25, to support his Train Town USA bid.
Only local chambers of commerce can submit an application to the railroad for the designation.
Sophia Valenzuela, chamber president, said she won’t comment on the Train Town USA application until after it’s presented to the chamber’s board.
Jackson is confident that Tracy’s long railroad history merits the recognition, which he sees as the first step in attracting railroad enthusiasts to Tracy.
Jackson also wants to organize a San Joaquin Valley model railroad club to create a model railroad display somewhere in the downtown area replicating Tracy Bowtie train activity in the mid-1950s.
Jim Collins, a Ceres resident who is in charge of membership for the Sierra Division of the National Model Railroad Association, said a project of that sort could draw a large number of rail enthusiasts.
“I’m fascinated with the idea,” Collins said. “There are a lot of modelers around who don’t have layouts, or don’t have enough or might be interested in doing something with a large group.”
Jackson said he hopes a drive to move Southern Pacific engine No. 1293 from Dr. Powers Park can generate more interest in Railtown Tracy. The engine was placed in the park in the late 1950s and is now encircled by a fence.
“It is another one of those rally-round pieces,” Jackson said. “I don’t know if it could be rehabbed to ever run again, but it deserves a spot more dignified than where it is right now.”
Jackson said he was unsure what it would cost to move the train or if it would be possible.
“I don’t know how hard it would be to raise the money to move it downtown to put in on display,” Jackson said. “With a group of local volunteers — it would be a great project for people looking for a piece of history to recover.”
Jackson said he would like to collect a caboose and other rail equipment on Union Pacific property in the downtown area in a future museum display.
Dino Margaros, president of the Tracy City Center Association, said the Train Town USA designation could be a good branding opportunity for downtown merchants.
“In downtown, we have to do something a little different — to distinguish ourselves from other communities,” Margaros said.
Margaros said merchants could tap into the brand by adding some kind of railroad theme to their businesses. He feels the theme is an easy fit for the downtown, where a sculpture depicting a railroad worker is already planned for the Sixth Street roundabout.
“Tracy has not been abandoned by the trains,” Margaros said. “As much as it’s part of our history, it’s part of our future.”
The steps to make Railtown Tracy a reality could take decades, but Jackson said he is not discouraged.
“I’m just rolling this darn thing out there to see if other people have this same nutty vision I do,” Jackson said.
A complete description of Railtown Tracy is online at www.tracyrail.org.
• Contact Glenn Moore at 830-4252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.