Billy Jones Railroad in Los Gatos shut down to get new track By Judy Peterson Bay Area News Group Posted: 01/06/2010 03:04:40 PM PST Updated: 01/06/2010 03:43:23 PM PST A volunteer in the process of dismantling the railroad tracks for repair at the Billy Jones... The Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad at Oak Meadow and Vasona parks has been shut down for repairs until the end of February. "Basically what we're doing is digging up the entire railroad's main line," Peter Panacy said. Panacy is the railroad's executive director and is acting as a foreman on the construction project, along with Billy Jones board member Brandon McCracken. "We're receiving a lot of help from other volunteers," Panacy said. "Some of the volunteers do a lot of grunt work like shoveling." Volunteers are crucial to the project because without them, the railroad would have to raise ticket prices to offset the construction costs. Much of the track being pulled up was laid in 1970, when the railroad first began running through Oak Meadow and Vasona. "A lot of the line is pretty old and it's showing wear and tear," Panacy said. "We hope the new track will last another 50 years." Although the work really begins in earnest this week, volunteers have been doing small jobs since September. "We can get it all done at once by closing down," Panacy said. Train ridership is also down significantly during January and February because of the weather, so there will be less inconvenience to the public. Park visitors can still ride on the W.E. "Bill" Mason Carousel, which will remain open, along with the Snack Shack, on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. But in and around the railroad itself, visitors will see a true construction area, with trucks, tractors and tamping equipment in evidence. "Two companies that have been absolutely vital to the project are A Tool Shed and the Lexington Quarry," Panacy said. "The quarry is providing the ballast drain rock that the tracks sit on. It keeps them in place, basically." The project employs big rock as a base that keeps the tracks from moving. "It's permanent," Panacy said. "The little rocks go on top; that's what you see on the ground. It's easier to walk on." The project, which Panacy described as a "filthy job," has several stages. "We're pulling up the track, and we'll pull up all the old drain rock and mud," Panacy said. "We'll dig that all out and get down to the base clay. After that, we'll put down a layer of base rock and then we'll reconnect our rail." Some of the rail is also being replaced. "After we do that, we use more base and drain rock and then we'll elevate it to the proper grade and make it look pretty," Panacy said. Appearances aside, resetting the track is a crucial step that requires precision spacing between the tracks to ensure a smooth ride. "A smooth ride is the best ride," Panacy said. Panacy has been with the railroad for 15 years and is the only full-time paid employee. "It's been a long learning curve," he said. "The tricky part is the civil engineering—coming up with the proper grade and the proper elevation. If you have a turn, you need to develop a proper radius." While the line is being rebuilt, the steam engine will be undergoing its annual maintenance regimen and will be offline until April. "It takes a lot of effort to prep the engine," Panacy said. "We're putting new tires on the steam engine; the tires are steel rings over iron wheels. The new tracks will help preserve the tires." During March, the railroad will use a diesel engine while the steam engine's retrofit is completed.