Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Train Man of Ventura, California


Tom Cruise had his Rainman, the City of Ventura has it's own very distinct Train Man.

Jerry Drapeau was born in Ventura, California in 1929. He has woken every day of his seventy-seven years in a house or an apartment in that fair city, that lays sandwiched, between Calabasas and Santa Barbara. Jerry has witnessed the population of Ventura explode from about 11,000 souls in 1930, to the over 104,000 reported in 2005. From the bawdy oilfield days of the past to the yuppified air of today, he is a living chronicle of all things past.

Jerry told me his dad was in the Saving and Loan business beginning in the early thirty's and his brother was an attorney later. When I asked him what he "did" for work in his younger years, I got the quick reply, "Well, not much, I didn't really work, other some courier trips to Los Angeles for my brother". I left it at that, It really wasn't any of my business and it had nothing to do with why I found Jerry Drapeau such a remarkable person.

You see Jerry has a very "unique" calling. Every morning he arises early, eats his breakfast, and then hops on his rusty beach cruiser for the the approximate 30 min ride from his "assisted living" apartment to the Ventura Train Platform down by the Fairgrounds. He is always there before the 9:00 arrival of the first train on what he refers to as, "his shift." He's an easy man to spot. A gangly man with long arms and legs, sporting a beat up white bicycle helmet over his signature worn baseball hat. One would be reminded of a modern day Ichabod Crane with the addition of the ever present smile.

It turns out, Jerry Drapeau is a "trainspotter". This is not to be confused with Irving Welsh's excellent book or the movie of the same title. According to the English to American Dictionary:
TRAINSPOTTER n. These are people whose hobby is to, well, spot trains. They stand in railway stations or on bridges and note down the types and serial numbers of any trains that go past.
And is exactly what he does. As each train arrives, Jerry pulls from his over the shoulder artist bag a lined cardboard sheet, and in beautifully self taught calligraphy, he marks the train number, whether it is on time and how many cars it was pulling. He "counts" every train between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm. After his last train, he pops back on his bike and rides back to his apartment, that he warmly refers to as the "Townhouse." He explained to me that, "The townhouse would probably be his last home", and mentions, that his father had lived in the same place for 11 years before his death, at age 84. some years back.

Once the cardboard is completely filled, he then hand scribes all of this information into a hard bound tomes. I asked the obvious, "Why do you do this, Jerry? Is there some historical or business relevance to saving this information". I was assured there was not, that all that he received out of this exercise was an immense feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment.

I inquired to how he began on this never ending quest. "well, Steve, about thirty eight years ago, when the trains were still steam, I met a guy, named Don Sease, who was hanging out at night at the station. I asked him what he was doing and he explained, "He counted trains." We became great friends and he took me on as his "apprentise". I did the days and he stayed for the 3:00 am train. Yes, Jerry Drapeau has being counting trains daily for over thirty-eight years! Then with a visable tear in one eye, Jerry explained that Don had passed on a few yers back and the burden was now his alone.
So,if any of you get up that way, look for Jerry he just loves talking about the "biz".

The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

About the Writer

Steven Lane is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
Want to write articles too? Sign up & become a writer!

3 comments on The Train Man of Ventura, California

Log In To Vote   Score: -1
By V on January 04, 2007 at 04:21 pm
Just delightful!
 Report abuse

Log In To Vote   Score: 0
By Ariel on January 04, 2007 at 11:25 pm
That's an insane story!
 Report abuse

Log In To Vote   Score: 1
By Matt Weston on February 10, 2007 at 08:51 pm
Brilliant. This guy sounds like he was plucked out of a Samuel Beckett play. William T. Vollman wrote a great article in the Jan. ed. of Harper's on "catching out" on freight trains. It's not available on-line (a-holes) ... but a good read if you can get yr. hands on it.
 Report abuse

Add A Comment!

Click here to signup or login.

Rate This Article

Your vote matters to us