45 miles east of sunny San Diego, the Pacific Railway Museum in Campo, California might be a great place to be a volunteer Workamper this year!
We arrived at the Campo, CA depot facility which offers a variety of vintage train rides on a diesel locomotive with train cars dating back to the 20th century. The hour long excursion would take my family to the end of the tracks and back, and then over to the Museum to check out relics from our guide Roark, a Workamper.
Toot! Toot! The whistle blared so loud I jumped as I wrapped up my family’s snack bag purchase, with the kind lady in the gift shop. “Last Call for Tickets”, says the conductor. We rushed over to grab our seats on the train, before being left behind chit chatting at the station! “All Aboard!” We hear his last words before the train starts chugging down the tracks. Thankfully we were all comfortably seated and ready for the ride!
We’re off on a train adventure. I’m squeezing in some fun for the family, while I chit chat with Diana Hyatt, President of the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum about how this RV employer uses her connection to the Workamping community to help preserve the history of what was actually the first non-profit railway museum to take passenger excursions across international borders in the U.S.
I was eager to hear the history of this hidden gem, which lies deep in the mountains of Campo, California just 45 miles east of sunny San Diego and just one Immigration check point from our campsite at the Thousand Trails Campground Pio Pico.
Turns out the railroad movement developed slowly into a National & International pastime for railroad enthusiasts during the early 1900’s. While it gained much traction, it was slowed momentarily by the Great Depression from 1941-1945 due to severe rationing of items like tires and gasoline, then saw a steady incline in the time following. The idea from two local professionals who insisted there should be an organized perseveration effort for these engines and their stories, in 1963 the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum was finally founded.
From 1963- 1985 the Railway Museum focused on growing their arsenal of locomotives, equipment, and the recovery of priceless artifacts from recovered vintage trains. Membership was booming and soon passed the 1000 member marker and the Museum had just recently acquired more property for their growing plans of expansion.
All was well until 2004 when a series of 3 drastic events seemed to offer the Railway Museum a hard hit. In 2004, when a fire burned Tunnel 4 and the deck of the Lower Campo Creek bridge at the International Border. Tecate excursions were temporarily suspended. Next in 2005, Train service to Miller Creek was suspended indefinitely due to unsafe track and other factors. Service restored to Tecate, Mexico and longer special trains ran once a year to Garcia, Mex., near Tijuana. The final blow to the sweet ride was on Christmas Day of 2009 when a fire broke out in Tunnel 3 on the Mexican side of the tracks, and forced international excursions to come to an end.
Hearing the stories and history of the organization brought to my immediate attention the role unforeseen circumstances can play on business as well as our personal lives. From what Diana described, it seemed the Railway Museum was quite popular and well visited during its prime. At this time, with two facilities, in Campo & La Mesa, California, they house over 120 pieces of railroad equipment, artifacts, and feature interactive exhibits to showcase them as well as providing public and private rides to the public.
It wasn’t doing to shabby at the present moment, but business could be better and with better business, additional staff would be required to help run the place! This is where she indicated their Workamping program would be growing in the near future!
Workamping at the Pacific Southwestern Railway Museum:
For the train lover in all of us, this Workamping Employer offers the ability to live onsite at the depot, help out in the museum gift shop, ride the train, narrate historical facts as a docent, and much more. It should first we said that this organization is a non-profit. All staff are volunteers and in fact everyone behind the scenes is a volunteer. That includes the conductor, the board of directors, museum docents, ticket agents, gift shop staff, the brakeman and the crew!
Everyone is here based off their own passion to donate their time to providing the public with the rich history of the last transcontinental railroad built in the United States, the San Diego & Arizona Railway. Working here is a labor of love for those with a heart who enjoys locomotives and spreading the joy of having the experience to ride on one with many visitors over the weekends and for special occasions.
“We are always looking for RV work campers at PSRM. For those of you who are unfamiliar with work camping, it is a phenomenon that is gaining popularity throughout the US. Work campers work on the property in exchange for a space in our RV lot to park their personal motorhome.”
With a statement like this posted on a page marked Work Campers, I knew this was an employer who has not only hired many workampers over the years, but one that enjoys hiring from the Workamping community and see the benefits of it.
Work campers are needed to fill the following positions:
• Giftshop Staff
• Ticket Agent
• Museum Docent
Workampers are expected to work about 20 hours per week predominantly on Saturday & Sundays when the Museum and Train are open. During Christmas, with a special train schedule some Fridays will also be expected. A typical schedule is 8am – 5pm. The remaining hours may be earned by doing other tasks around the museum.
- RV parking space overlooking Campo Valley
- Electricity, water and sewer hookups provided in each space
- Freedom to use the rest of your week as you wish.
- Go sightseeing around Southern California or just relax in your space!
As you can see they offer a typical volunteer position agreement. Hours in exchange for your site and hookups and time off to explore. The town of Campo is pretty rural, and to be honest there didn’t seem to be much to do. But for someone looking for peace and quite, with the exception of the train of course, Campo is a short drive away from the crowds, noice, and hustle of the big city! The mountain location is just a day trip over to the beach, Casinos or down to Mexico if you want to head south of the border. The location is also perfect for Fall & Winter Workamping as the air is dry, the weather is warm, and the sun shines all the time!
She said the positions she has available are not for those seeking glitz and glam, but if you love trains, volunteering for a good cause, and you want to come experience what Southern California has to offer, then this could be the place for you! She hires Workampers for all 4 seasons, and some tend to like it so much, they stay for the whole year. The fourth quarter are some of the busiest months with the themed rides, which I thought worked out perfect for Workampers trying to escapee the cold after warm Summers in the north.
Out of the 5 Workamper spaces available onsite, 3 were Solo travelers!
During my time at the depot, I had a quick conversation with Pat before departing on the train, Glenn was busy for the entirety of my visit helping to level out some new sites that are being developed in preparation for hiring more Workampers. Roark was our guide in the museum and the docent, so we spent most of our time chit chatting with him, which was really interesting!
Roark is a single guy who travels in a renovated bus. He’s been a Workamper for the past 2 years and all of that time he has spent with Diana at the Pacific Southwestern Railway Museum. His story starts as a sort of campground RV Technician inside the Thousand Trails Park system. He created a steady stream of income on the road by fixing Rigs and offering oil changes to folks who didn’t want the added burden of finding a local place. He said the money was great and the customers were in no short supply!
After the Thousand Trails system was bought out, he along with other Campground Techs were no longer allowed to provide their services with our commercial licensing and insurance. As fate would have it, around the same time her heard about a Train Museum just up the mountain from his location at the same campground I happened to be parked at for the week… He came over to check it out and noticed they had RV’s parked onsite. After inquiring about why the RV’s were there, he realized there was a whole world of Workamping, and that this was the new life for him.
Roark has always had a love of trains, both big and small and loves the life of living right here onsite with them. His personality fits great with guiding groups of visitors and he knows his facts front and back. Question, after question Roark can rattle the answer off in a blink of an eye, then turn casually back to telling you about the trains history you’re standing in.
HIs job responsibilities require a mix of general tasks including helping out in the gift shop, selling tickets fro train rides, hosting the train rides, museum docent, and much more.
I enjoyed my time speaking with Diana and Roark at the Railway Museum.
If you are looking for a Workamping assignment in a sunny destination thats close but not too close to the action of the Southern California Coastline, consider contacting Diana for a position at the Pacific Southwestern Railway Museum and help Roark in the effort in preserving the physical legacy, historical context, cultural landscape and experience of rail transportation.