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Love of trains not stifled by showers

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Posted: Saturday, August 15, 2009 12:00 am

LIHU‘E — “I always wanted to be an engineer,” said Paul Sarnsen of Sacramento, Calif. “I’m an electrical engineer today, but that’s not the kind of engineer I wanted to be when I was young.”

Instead, Sarnsen envisioned himself behind the stick of a locomotive, and the lure of Train Day had him and his family taking advantage of an opportunity for a ride aboard “Paulo,” the Grove Farm Homestead Museum’s steam locomotive, Thursday.

“We could be doing other things like snorkeling, or shopping, but he has the keys,” said Paul’s wife Jennifer who said she’s been visiting Kaua‘i since she was 10 years old. “He loves the trains, and now, he owes us big-time.”

The Sarnsen family was among several groups that braved the rainy remnants of one-time Hurricane Felicia to take advantage of the Grove Farm Homestead Museum’s Train Day.

John Heiderscheit of Wisconsin stopped his project to visit with Grove Farm engineer Scott Johnson, enjoying the opportunity to take a turn in the cab of the locomotive.

“I met John when the Hobby Company was still here,” Johnson said. “And, of course, the talk was about trains. John moved to Wisconsin after Hurricane ‘Iniki, and since he’s back here working on a project, couldn’t resist coming down.”

Johnson said Thursday’s Train Day crowd represented a good cross-section of the country, with a common bond — the love of trains.

“We were here for our honeymoon 19 years ago, and got to visit the Grove Farm warehouse,” said Wesley Hohfeld of Maine. “We come to Kaua‘i every other year, and this time, we lucked out because our trip coincided with Train Day. This is the first time we could enjoy Train Day.”

Hohfeld said unlike the other visitors who were directly involved in the trains, he has been a fan of trains ever since he started working on model railroads.

“We had to ride this train,” Paul said. “Not only does it have my name, this is an endemic locomotive.”

Paulo, a German-made locomotive, was named for Paul Isenberg in 1888. Isenberg was a prominent early Kaua‘i sugar planter for the industry that was started in 1835 by the Koloa Sugar Company.

Isenberg was also the main advocate of a plantation railroad as a means to eliminating the ox-cart means of transporting cane from the fields to the mill located in Koloa.

In 1882, three and a half miles of third-inch gauge railroad track was laid and 50 cars were purchased followed by the purchase of a Fowler locomotive.

Paulo arrived in 1888 after being purchased for $4,000 and shipped around the Horn. Paulo is a Hohenzollern locomotive built in Dusseldorf, Germany, and was joined by Haupu, another Hohenzollern locomotive, in the construction of Waita Reservoir, the largest man-made inland body of water in the state.

Today, Paulo is one of only four surviving sugar plantation locomotives on Kaua‘i. It was restored in 1981 by the Grove Farm Homesteads Museum that continues to maintain the original stable of locomotives.

The entire locomotive collection was listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1977 and is the largest collection of operating Hawaiian plantation steam locomotives in the world.

But the ride aboard Paulo wasn’t the only stop for the Sarnsen family as Jennifer said following the Paulo experience, they were headed for a ride on the Kilohana Plantation Railroad.

After that, it’s Irene’s birthday and dad owes us big-time,” Jennifer said, remembering that she celebrated her 11th birthday in a similar setting. “Maybe we’ll eat at Gaylord’s where you still can enjoy eating in a plantation-style home.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

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