By Stan Lynch
Burbank’s newest piece of public art was unveiled in a ceremony on the Chandler Bikeway at Mariposa St. Entitled “Trackwalker,” it is the creation of Burbank sculptor Shiela Cavalluzzi.
The larger than life-size bronze sculpture of an early 20th Century railroad worker was cast at the American Arts Foundry here in town, and features the addition of a train track made with actual pieces of rail held in place with track plates and spikes that the artist obtained. According to Cavalluzzi, she used local freelance animator Jaime Oliff, as the model for the trackwalker.
Like the two other sculpture pieces on the Bikeway, the Trainwalker was paid for as part of Art in Public Places, which is funded by developers who pay a fee on new projects costing more than a half million dollars. City general fund money wasn’t used.
Prior to the Chandler Bikeway opening in August, 2004, it was the site of the Burbank Branch Line of the Southern Pacific Railroad. That line ran from the mainline a half mile east, through North Hollywood, Van Nuys, and through the Sepulveda Basin, all the way to Canoga Park, ,where the line turned north and eventually linked up with the SP’s main Coast Line in Chatsworth. You can get a look at what used to be between Mariposa and Victory Blvd., where the train track is still occasionally used.
Being there at the unveiling with my 5 year-old granddaughter, Madison, I was reminded of what a big part the “Chandler Train” played in my life. While Madison has only known it as a place to walk and ride bikes, I knew it growing up as a fascinating dirt playground that the train ran through twice a day.
Probably because I have never lived more than a block away from Chandler, those train tracks played a big part in my life. I was born a block away from them at the Magnolia Park Hospital on Maple St. and Magnolia Blvd. As a young child we lived on Avon St., where I vividly recall being scared to death as I stood on the corner one night with my Dad as a big, very loud, steam engine came rumbling by.
When I was 7 years-old we moved to the corner of Kenwood St. and Chandler, where I got to see the Chandler Train head out westbound each morning, and return in the afternoon. Our favorite activity back then was to put pennies and nails on the track for the train to flatten. My goal was to place two nails, like crossed swords, and have the train squish them together. Looking back I probably scared the engineer as the train bore down on me as I tried to get the nails to stay on the rail. Not sure why I never thought of using Scotch Tape to hold them in place.
Watching the trainmen drop off railcars loaded with flour at the old Orowheat Bakery at Chandler and Clybourn was always fascinating. Probably the biggest thrill my friend Russell Long and I experienced was the time we rode our bikes, following the train, all the way to the North Hollywood Station. The train had stopped there, and we asked the engineer if we could come up and see the inside of the diesel engine’s cab. Not only did they let a couple of 10 year-olds come up, they gave us a short ride as the crew moved cars loaded with lumber onto sidings at the various lumber yards that were once a staple along the line. Can you imagine that happening today? Somebody would probably get fired.
Although the Chandler Train was always pulled by a diesel locomotive when I was a kid, there was one Saturday morning when I was awakened early by the sound of a steam engine. It was an excursion train loaded with football fans going to a college game in the Bay Area. Another advantage of living next to the tracks came during the 1952 Tehachapi Earthquake. When my Dad ran to my room to see if I was ok, my reply was, “Why? It’s just the Chandler Train going by.” Earthquakes do sound like freight trains coming through your house, after all.
When my son, Steven, was little in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s we used to watch the Chandler Train go by at the end of our block. Many a time when we were driving on Chandler, I would try to catch up with the train so he could wave at the engineer. It was quite a sight, as the boxcars would sway back and forth as the train made its way along the old rails.
I really miss the Chandler Train, but like so many Burbankers, I love the Bikeway. It runs all the way from Mariposa St. to the City Limit at Clybourn. There is an extension that continues through North Hollywood to Vineland Ave. The rest of the right of way through the valley has been turned into a bus way. So my granddaughter and future generations will never see a train on Chandler. Maybe someday there will be a monorail running above the Chandler Bikeway, connecting the Burbank Metrolink Station with the subway station in North Hollywood.