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Re: Kauai railroad

December 05, 2017 09:01PM
I'd strongly suggest that before you go you at least look through any one of the following books, but preferably all three:

Hawaiian Railway Album WWII Photographs, Volume 4- Plantation Railways on Kauai And The Remaining Islands, by Gale E. Treiber
Sugar Trains by Jessie Conde
Sugar Trains Pictoral by Jesse Conde

I sure wish I had these when we went in the summer of 2016, it would have increased my enjoyment a whole lot.

At its height Kauai had something like a couple hundred miles of railroad, all 30-inch gauge save for one 3-foot gauge operation used to build one of the breakwaters in the harbor. Almost all of the railroads were built to haul sugar cane or otherwise support the sugar industry in one form or another. Lihue Plantation was one of the largest operators on the island, their railroad lasted until 1959 and was powered by GE-built centercab diesels in the last years...Lihue sold them all to Cuba after shutting their railroad down, but they arrived on that island rights as the revolution happened and as such Lihue never got paid for them. Grove Farms neighbored Lihue Plantation, and for most of its history sold all of their cane to Lihue, though they used their own railroad system to deliver to the Lihue mill. In its later years Grove bought out another sugar company on the island and got its own sugar mill in the deal. The Grove railroad operation lasted until 1957 and was steam powered to the end, but unlike all other operators they rolled their last four steam locomotives into storage in their old enginehouse in Puhi. Grove Farms was run almost its entire operating life by one man, George Wilcox, and one of his daughters created the foundation that now runs the museum, funded a large endowment to finance it, and then donated the old plantation headquarters and the four locomotives to the museum. Grove restored three of the steam locomotives to operation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but didn't have any other place to run them beyond a hundred feet of track or so in the gravel parking lot outside the old enginehouse, which they now share with a trucking company. This changed a while back when the museum purchased some land to keep it from being developed, only to later find out it contained about a mile or so of Lihue Plantation railroad grade, and that's where they built their present operations, which at present extend a thousand feet or so to where a neighbor has built a garage in trespass across the grade. Grove plans to develop an interpretive/learning park along the full mile of grade, featuring the social, economic, and technological history of the sugar industry on the island. Normally two of their steam locomotives are kept at the operation, the other two are in the enginehouse. The small diesel on site is from the Leslie Salt operation and is owned by a friend of the railroad, they use it primarily for switching. Passengers ride in recreated sugar cane cars. The name of the railroad manager is Scott Johnson, I heartily second the statement that he is a fine human and a generous person. We flew into the island the one day they were operating that month and I thought we'd miss them...so I made reservations for the walking tour of the grounds, only to find the locomotives were not there but elsewhere, but by dumb luck I happened to be there the day they were fired up for a school group, and after they cleared out I got a ride almost by myself to the end of the line and back. I didn't get to see the enginehouse, that will have to wait for next time.

Kauai Plantation Railroad is fun but (historically wise) pure fiction. The current operator secured a 99-year lease of a former plantation headquarters and started developing some tourist related businesses, including a luau, a brewery, and the like. Maybe ten years ago they decided to add a train ride, and built a 36-inch gauge "Figure 8" that looks like it was upscaled from an HO scale layout built on a flat sheet of plywood. They originally had a small Davenport or something similar that is now on the Roaring Camp & Big Trees, current power is three GE 25-ton diesel electrics, one serving as a parts source. At one point they bought a couple 0-6-2Ts from one of the other islands and had plans to restore them and bring them to Kauai but apparently the costs of that got beyond what they could afford, and I saw something about those two locomotives being for sale someplace a little while back. Passenger cars are four or five former US military flatcars off of Oahu that were rebuilt into coaches or open air excursion cars in the Philippines. Their typical ride lasts about 45 minutes, they take you from their depot out to an animal feeding area where you get off the train, feed some farm animals, and then return to the depot. Personally, I'd very highly recommend their hiking tour, you ride out to the feeding area on the first train of the day and then spend a couple hours on foot touring their extensive gardens and farm fields, plus a hike down into a ravine that is being reclaimed by jungle. The guide when we went relayed a lot of information on the various plants, from where they came and why they were brought to the island, a lot of other history, and then he harvested whatever was ripe and ready for consumption from the fields and cut up samples. Certain produce you can pick and take with you. Plus, it offers many opportunities to take some photographs of the train as it makes its rounds that are otherwise simply not possible.

In addition to the train rides, there are quite a number of other relicts around the island, including the already mentioned bridge with rails on it up around Kapaa, the railroad grade turned into a trail along the coast north of there, multiple other concrete bridges scattered principally in the southeastern part of the island, rails in the cement on the docks over at Port Allen, and the like. Kauai Museum in Lihue is fascinating. Don't miss Waimea Canyon.

Jeff Moore
Elko, NV

Subject Author Posted

Kauai railroad

Doc December 05, 2017 09:55AM

Re: Kauai railroad

jalbers December 05, 2017 10:18AM

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Kevin Gilliam December 05, 2017 10:44AM

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Doc December 05, 2017 11:52AM

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Dave Peterson December 05, 2017 12:23PM

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JDLX December 05, 2017 09:01PM

2nd Thursday of the month

John West December 06, 2017 01:08PM

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Brian Norden December 05, 2017 10:28PM

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Doc December 06, 2017 02:10PM

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M Austin December 06, 2017 08:39PM

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