Kristian Tristan – Keeping Poway’s trains running
By Emily Sorensen
There are lots of things that teenagers do for fun after school: watching television, skateboarding, playing video games. Working on 100-year-old steam engines, however, is a little more unusual.
Rancho Bernardo High School junior Kristian Tristan has been volunteering for the Poway Midland Railroad at Old Poway Park for a year and a half, and couldn’t be happier.
“I’ve always been interested in trains,” said 17-year-old Tristan. “I love it, it’s my passion.”
Tristan volunteers multiple times a week after school until 5:30 p.m., and spends “almost all day” Saturdays and Sundays, working both running the trains and restoring them in the train barn.
Tristan and his family were visiting Old Poway Park one afternoon when he met Poway Midland Railroad president Chuck Cross and got to talking trains. “[Cross] saw the passion I had for the trains,” said Tristan. Tristan asked Cross if he could be a volunteer, and he has been dedicating his weekends and afternoons to the Railroad ever since.
Trains run in Tristan’s blood, as his great-grandfather worked with trains.
“What really got me going is my grandparents’ supporting me in every way,” said Tristan. “My grandfather said he was so proud of me, and it means the world to me for him to say that.”
His volunteering has become even more of a family affair, as his passion for trains has led his younger brother to begin volunteering with the Poway Midland Railroad as well.
In addition to helping run the train on the operational weekends, much of Tristan’s volunteer time has been dedicated to restoring and maintaining the Poway Midland Railroad’s stable of trains, cable cars and passenger cars, which include the flagship 1907 Baldwin Steam Locomotive, a replica 1870 passenger coach, an 1894 Los Angeles Yellow Line trolley car, and a 1950 Fairmont Speeder.
“I started with restoring the [1906 San Francisco] cable car,” said Tristan, “restoring the benches, painting, and doing metalwork.” After six months on the cable car, Tristan worked on the speeder, and is now working with his fellow volunteers on restoring and maintaining the railroad’s trolley, which he has been working on for a little over three months.
In addition to his work restoring the antique trains, Tristan has also been undergoing fireman training for a year, which allows him to work the fire on the Baldwin steam locomotive.
“A fireman controls the water, loads the fire, brings up the fire, and helps the engineer,” said Tristan. “It’s about the funnest job.”
Tristan also helps out the Poway Midland Railroad by working in the shop, running the register, selling tickets and merchandise, which he’s been doing for over six months.
“I literally do everything,” said Tristan about his volunteering. “I operate, I conduct, and I work in the store.”
Manual labor is also a part of Tristan’s volunteer duties, replacing worn out or damaged railroad ties and cleaning up the rocks along the tracks to prevent damage to the wheels.
Tristan, who is in drama at his high school, considers himself an actor, and his work on the train an extension of his acting. “It’s kind of like I’m acting, like I’m back in the time,” said Tristan.
Though he admits he was teased a little at first by his friends for his unusual hobby, Tristan said when they actually saw what it was he was getting to work with, the teasing turned to something more like awe. “They said, ‘this is really, really cool. You have one of the best jobs. You’re working with history,’” said Tristan.
Tristan, who is also a Boy Scout who is hoping to go for Eagle Scout, even plans on incorporating his volunteering with the railroad into his Eagle Scout project. “This place is actually really, really important to me,” said Tristan. “I’m getting experience and an education doing this, and experience is everything.”
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