In Home & Garden, Locals Talk

by Trevor Park

eric-child-by-oceanWhile I tend to be more public about my work in railroad preservation, I have been a model railroader for far longer.  Starting in 2014, Eric Child and I along with many of our other friends built a garden railroad together in Santa Cruz called the Fern Creek & Western.  Over those 9 years, we have made it into something we are very proud of.  Even after leaving for new opportunities in Oregon, my passion for keeping this project going has been strong enough to bring me home nearly once a month to keep working on our railroad. Today, Eric passed away after a hard fought battle with cancer.   Not only have I lost one of my best friends today, but it is the beginning of the end for our garden railroad. Eric graciously let us destroy his yard and house for all these years, but it is not possible to continue without him.  We do plan to host a couple more open houses so people may enjoy the railroad for one last time.  If you want to read more on the whole story of the railroad, the post below goes into far more detail.  I am grateful to have known Eric, and thankful for all he did for me and many of my close friends.  To say I will miss him is an understatement.

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Eric Lynn Child: March 25, 1944 – June 19, 2023

Today the Fern Creek & Western team lost one of our own. It is with a heavy heart that we report that FC&W co-founder Eric Child passed away after a valiant battle with cancer.

christmas-toy-trains-ericThere is a lot that can be said about Eric. He was a person who was driven, certainly funny, sometimes very stubborn and strong willed, but above all, he had a heart of gold that was unmatched by just about any one out there. Eric made it his life goal to be inclusive, especially when it came to introducing people to model and toy trains. More specifically though, his calling was to foster a passion for trains in aspiring young train fans. He was a strong advocate for kids to have a hands-on experience with trains, breaking the stereotypical scene where the adults run the trains and the kids watch. Nowhere was this more evident than the annual toy train Christmas show founded by Eric at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, where he made it a point that the adults brought trains for the kids to run. Eric made the dreams playing train come true for countless young kids, but there was one kid with a big dream in particular that Eric worked tirelessly to make a reality.

eric-child-and-railsIt was 9 years ago this week that Eric and I broke ground on the Fern Creek & Western. At the time, I was 14 years old and I had dreamed for well over half of my life about having a garden railroad. It was not practical to have a garden railroad at the house where I grew up and I had instead been involved in helping on other peoples’ garden railroads for many years. When I first started spending a lot of time with Eric perusing rail car restoration of full-size equipment, I quickly learned that Eric had previously had a garden railroad that he tore out as he didn’t want to maintain it anymore. One day, I came up with the brilliant idea to put the railroad back so I could live my dream of building a garden railroad. Much to my surprise, Eric agreed to this outlandish idea! As we were standing there postulating about what the track plan would look like, I noticed the old water feature from Eric’s previous railroad, which was overgrown with fern-like plants. Like any good railroad, we had big dreams of building west (for about 500 feet). And thus, the Fern Creek & Western construction commenced!

eric-child-and-friendsConstruction started with just Eric and me, and original layout of the railroad looked unrecognizable compared to how it looks today. Over the years, the railroad went through many changes, some of which challenged our construction capability. But one thing became clear to me very quickly before any changes were made, it takes a village to maintain the railroad. The FC&W team became more than Eric and I, and it propelled the railroad to become better than it could have ever been with just Eric and I working on it. It was Eric’s inclusivity that allowed so many talented people to help us along the way.

While many of us have worked tirelessly to build the FC&W into what it has become, only one person was with the railroad every day, doing everything from basic maintenance to carrying out our wild dreams of expansion on the days when the rest of us weren’t there. Eric’s dedication to the Fern Creek & Western was unmatched. Not only was he dedicated to building the railroad, but he was dedicated to sharing the railroad through open houses, Halloween events and just letting the neighborhood kids come run trains. Beyond the railroad though, Eric was a friend to all of us, a mentor for garden railroading and for life in general, and a person who was selfless in his ability to derive joy from the pride and accomplishments of others who he touched.

The FC&W team as a whole has made this railroad beautiful and fulfilling, but it was Eric that made my childhood dream of having a garden railroad come true. For that, I will be eternally grateful, and I remain humbled by his generosity to let all of us participate in such a fulfilling project as the FC&W. I think I can speak for all of us by saying thank you Eric. Thank you for everything you have done for us and so many others. You will be missed by all of us more than we can express.

eric-child-train-trestleSo with that, the burning question you likely have is what does the future hold for the FC&W. We are continuing forward with opening the railroad for the National Garden Railway Convention in just 2 ½ weeks from now. Eric was fighting his cancer until the bitter end in order to be present for the convention as we had been preparing for this event for well over 2 years. His passing has motivated the FC&W crew to work even harder make the railroad look the best it ever has in his honor. We also plan to open up after the convention for the public, but there are no firm dates yet as to when this will be. However, after these events the railroad will have to ultimately meet its demise. The Fern Creek & Western will live on somewhere else someday, but this particular layout will be no more in the near future. The open houses we have this year will afford everyone the opportunity to enjoy the FC&W one last time before it goes into hibernation. For now though, our crew must continue to push forward and work tirelessly to present the railroad in its best appearance for the NGRC, which is exactly what Eric would have wanted.

Eric, you have your highball. Nothing but clear iron and green signals ahead.
Trevor Park
FCW Co-Founder

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