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Railroad Days a landmark success

Benny, Penny and Dude provide music for railroaders at the Portola City Park during the 32nd annual Railroad Days. Photo by Austin Hagwood
Austin Hagwood
Staff Writer

The 32nd annual Portola Railroad Days featured gunfighters galore, driving rock music and trains whizzing down the tree-columned Canyon.

But for organizer Patricia Ryan, the jam-packed weekend of Aug. 8 – 10 brought more than dunk tanks and benefits for the city of Portola.

It also delivered a revival of community spirit.

“People seemed so happy to be there,” Ryan said. “One vendor told me it was the best venue they’d been to all summer because the community spirit here was so evident.”

Ryan noted that seeing the city park full of booths and activities — including a bounce house — contributed to the renewed energy and optimism visitors shared. Vendor participation also doubled from last year’s event.

Speaking at the Portola City Council meeting Aug. 13, Council Member Bill Powers called Railroad Days “a fun success” and praised the city for the increase in volunteers making the weekend possible.

Mayor Phil Oels reported the city’s swing-set fundraiser, benefitting the Portola Family Resource Water Fund, raised $1,450 for families in need.

“It was another heart-warmer. I’d like to give deep thanks and express an undying love for my community,” said Oels. “Portola is awesome. People who couldn’t afford to buy a ticket were emptying change out of their pockets.”

Ryan said she estimated 1,500 – 2,000 people attended the event, a significant increase over last year’s numbers. She attributed higher numbers to Railroad Days’ focus on free events and fun activities for people from 1 to 100 years old. Rail fans turned out in force this year as the historic California Zephyr train sped up the Feather River Canyon and into Portola for what might have been the last time. Railroaders from Plumas County and beyond enjoyed spectacular views on rides ranging from Keddie to Sacramento.

Ryan said he hopes the train can become a regular fixture at Railroad Days every three years. After the event’s near-extinction several years ago, she hopes to make next year’s celebration bigger than ever.

“The city said we can add even more vendors to the park,” she said. “It’s really the signature event that pulls the community together and where everyone gets involved.”

Addressing concerns of bringing more attention to Commercial Street, Ryan said she plans to establish activities or displays on the corners of Commercial to channel more business into the area in addition to the shuttle that ran this year. She also praised one vendor who bought a booth and did business in both locations.

“Not only did they do well in the park, they referred people back to their location,” Ryan said. “Another vendor gained new customers in local people who learned they could buy from him online. He already wants to return next year.”

In addition to a resurgence of local pride, Railroad Days also stimulated the local economy. Many merchants and vendors ran special discounts of up to 50 percent over the weekend.

“I bought Christmas presents from five different vendors there,” Ryan said. “It gives you a happy feeling to see so many people enjoying themselves.”

Railroad Days also maintained its commitment to philanthropy. A dunk tank benefited the Portola High School weight room, the Graeagle Lions Club and Eastern Plumas Chamber of Commerce ran beverage booths, and the Lucky Duck Race raised money for Portola Pre-School. Runners and ballplayers combined in the Willie Tate Memorial Run and the co-ed softball tournament to benefit Portola High School’s memorial scholarship and softball team.

Ryan also sent out a special thanks to Pete Rhode for providing PA and sound services over the weekend. “We couldn’t do it without him,” she said.

To help with next year’s Railroad Days or serve on the committee, call 836-6811.

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