The Orange Empire Railway Museum opened its doors for the tenth year in a row for Perris’ annual California Rods, Rails, and Potato festival today.
“This is our signature community event for the city of Perris,” Walter Carter, the community services manager said. “It’s a chance for folks to come out, see over 150 fully restored classic cars, 25-30 motorcycles, and even classic bicycles in a truly family friendly event.”
Visitors wore hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen for this warm weather day on the outskirts of Perris.
Guests participated in many kid-friendly events with the historical society, voted on the best in show classic cars and motorcycles, and rode the running, fully-restored trolley cars and trains.
“It started out in the streets of downtown Perris,” one-time organizer, business owner, and classic car fan Jerry Mullins said. “But the move to the (Railway Museum) was a perfect fit.”
But what do trains, potatoes, and classic vehicles mean to the city of Perris?
The museum sits on a 10-acre property that once served as a Perris potato farm. Only one structure on the property still remains; the others were brought in painstakingly by Los Angeles trolley aficionados who originally bought the property.
“They were saddened by the loss of the trolley systems, and saved the street cars, tracks, and wires. (They were) all brought in a piece at a time,” said John Smatlak, Chair of education and exhibits at the OERM. “Now, those same trolleys and trains are running side by side with cars from the same era. It’s exciting, like a living, breathing nod to history.”
Though a jump house and standard fair food and games was on the premises, the kids were far more interested in the historical reenactments near the old stone house, the only original structure on the original potato farm.
Historians and docents from the Perris Historical Society and museum hosted activities for which the festival is known: making potato people, painting gourds, as well as engaging in living history exhibits to include panning for gold, making adobe mud bricks, creating arrow heads out of shale, and making “real” tortillas.
Other historic displays included the popular blacksmith station, and the Temeucla Old Town Gun Fighters, dressed in full period clothing. The gunfighters hauled in their “jail” and for $1 were happy to arrest anyone at the festival. An additional $3 would see your prisoner returned to freedom.
“Kids love the trains and all the activities,” Mullins said, with a smile. “It boosts civic pride, for folks to come out here and learn about history, as well as meet the local community and businesses. And it’s a perfect day for it.”
The festival is located at the Orange Empire Rail Museum: 2201 S. “A” St., Perris.
Admission to the event is always free, as is parking.
To learn more, visit http://www.orem.org.
Ashley Ludwig is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.