Crown on Metrolink Holiday Toy Express Train 2003

CFE Webmaster and Newsletter Editor Mike Britt’s 1966 Crown Pumper (S/N F1452, ex-Orange County, CA, FD), traveled hundreds of miles all over southern California in November and December of 2003, but never got into gear or used any fuel. Instead unit “9109” (it's designator under the old numbering system used by Orange County until the mid-1980s) was traveling on board a railroad flatcar as part of the Holiday Toy Express Train run by Metrolink, Southern California’s regional commuter rail service. The train visited 45 communities over 11 weekend nights, from Ventura in the north to Oceanside in the south, presenting a free, live holiday show filled with music, songs & characters. Local firefighters at each stop collected toys for needy children, in conjunction with the annual “Spark of Love” toy drive. In addition to its previous claim to fame of having a Code 3 Collectibles model made in its likeness (they still show up on eBay from time to time), this Crown has travelled where no Crown has gone before - down right-of-ways originally built for the AT&SF, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, over bridges, through mountain passes and even a historic 6,966 ft. long tunnel dug way back in 1876. The Crown also carried a banner to promote the new California Fire Museum, which is an endeavor sponsored by a joint coalition of firefighter and fire service organizations and private fire apparatus collectors , including several CFE members, who were VIP guests for several nights aboard the Holiday Toy Express.

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How I got my Crown on and off a train - and lived to tell about it
By Mike Britt, CFE Webmaster/Newsletter Editor

On November 1, 2003, accompanied by CFE members Darrell Gilbert and Don Pogue, I drove my 1966 Crown Firecoach from its home in Irvine,CA, up to the maintenance facility of Metrolink on Pasadena Avenue near the I-5 and 2 freeways (just north of the LAFD shops) in Los Angeles. Our mission was to load the Crown onto a railroad flatcar and we figured we'd have time to go out for breakfast afterwards. Metrolink had arranged for a big rig flatbed tow truck to accomplish the task of getting the Crown from the pavement up to the flatcar. After over an hour of waiting for the tow truck to arrive, breakfast plans changed to brunch plans. Getting the Crown on the flatbed tow was easy. Getting it off was not. Despite more than another hour of trying, the young big rig driver just could not get his trailer jacknifed at a straight angle up to the railroad car in the tight quarters of the railroad yard. In retrospect we should have asked for a LAFD or LACoFD HFEO (heavy fire equipment operator), but this was on Metrolink's tab, not ours. Brunch plans soon changed to lunch plans.

Yes, the fun had just begun!To get the Crown onto the railroad flatcar it had to be very carefully backed onto the train at an angle, going back and forth, a few inches at a time. With less than a half-foot clearance on each side, it took a team effort to do it (my Crown has a tight turn radius, but not that tight!). Using a hand-held radio, Darrell Gilbert acted as my eyes, coaching me along as I inched the rig back and forth, very slowly (and I mean SLOWLY), while delicately steering and double clutching. Earlier, Metrolink had backed the train as far has they could in an effort to assist. It was not until the rear duals of the Crown hit the flatcar that everyone realized the handbrakes on the railcars had not been reset. Not a good feeling. As Darrell Gilbert commented, "Britt's airbrakes were the only thing keeping that train from heading to East LA!" It was looking like it was going to be a late lunch. (To be continued - photo captions coming too).

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