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All aboard! Reedley farm kicks off steam train apprenticeship program

Hillcrest Tree Farm
Hillcrest Tree Farm in Reedley offers visitors the opportunity to ride a steam-powered train through orchards and stands of Christmas trees.

Read the transcript for this report below.

ELIZABETH ARAKELIAN, HOST: Steam-powered trains may seem a relic of the past, but a Fresno County farm has made them its specialty. And as KVPR’s Kerry Klein reports, a rare steam train program is “calling aboard” all interested apprentices. 

KERRY KLEIN: The ride-on train at Hillcrest Tree Farm in Reedley is fun and popular with kids. It’s also one of the few steam trains in existence, now that diesel engines are standard. But those few steam engines still need people to run them – which is why Hillcrest is training apprentices to become conductors and engineers. Hillcrest engineer Conner Habib says there’s a lot more to the job than wearing an old-timey hat and blowing a whistle.

CONNER HABIB: There’s track, there’s road bed, there’s infrastructure, there’s right of way maintenance, those sorts of things, so all of those things are taught during the training program.

KLEIN: Today, steam engines are mostly novelties at amusement parks and tourist destinations. Habib says Hillcrest has made a name for itself by making or repairing parts of many of those trains.

HABIB: In the industry there seems to be a good respect for Hillcrest and what they do.

KLEIN: The apprenticeship program runs one weeknight per week, and one weekend every month. Habib says enrollment is open for teenagers and older. For KVPR News, I'm Kerry Klein

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.