Nostalgic anniversary of local rail service

April 18, 2008 8:06:04 PM PDT
As the saying goes, "time changes things," and especially perspectives. The stuff that one generation took for granted becomes novel, or even a surprise, for another. It makes this Sunday a noteworthy anniversary in San Francisco and the East Bay, and of all places, in Rio Vista. And it begins with a love for trains.

April 20th marks 50 years, to the day, that the Key System stopped rail service between San Francisco and the East Bay. A time before BART, when commuter trains ran both east and west on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge.

For Fred Krock, it's a memory of youth.

"Sure, BART is better, it's newer, it's faster, but surprisingly enough, BART is only one minute faster from downtown Berkeley to downtown San Francisco," says Fred.

Of the 88 cars that made this run, two survive at the Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista. They're antiques, in original paint, with original ads, like time capsules from another era.

As nice as these cars may be to look at, they're also grimy, greasy, knuckle-scraping labors of love to keep going.

"You bring an extra change of clothes if you work down here," says Mike Dreiling.

The trains would run in a large loop between San Francisco and Berkeley, which led to a problem. Once they arrived at that destination, the cars would be facing in the wrong direction. So how did they turn them around? They didn't. Instead, they flipped the seats. It's safe to say they made joy riding difficult.

Fred would have been 24 years old when these trains disappeared. Bill Kluver remembers the actual day. As he hitched a ride, he remembered the very last scheduled run because he was on it.

"There used to be a saying when you rode the Key System, swing and sway the Key System way," says Bill.

And half a century later, they still do, in this place at least. Old trains commuting through history, gone to pasture.


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