Wawona Express makes final run at Smittcamp property

Bill Smittcamp sits in the driver’s seat of the Wawona Express prior to the train’s final run at his family’s property at Nees and Minnewawa avenues in Clovis. DANIEL LEON/CLOVIS ROUNDUP

The Wawona Express that circled the 55-acre Smittcamp property for nearly three decades made its last run Thursday, Sept. 20 before it was donated to Storyland & Playland, the children’s amusement park at Roeding Park.

With three generations of Smittcamp family members on board, the train took a short ride through the property to mark the end of an era. 

Following the ceremonial final run, the train was loaded on a flatbed and transported to Hillcrest Hillcrest Tree Farm in Reedley for repairs and maintenance. Once all the safety boxes have been checked, the Wawona Express will be delivered to the park.

“In honor of my parents, Earl and Muriel Smittcamp, our family is donating this wonderful train to [Storyland & Playland],” said Bill Smittcamp, president and CEO of Wawona Frozen Foods. “The story goes: in 1992, my father acquired this [train] and we were planning on putting it on the corner of Villa and Herndon where we had our driving range. [There were] a few complications with the city so we move it up here and have had it at this facility for the last 25 years.”

The locomotive, which sits on about half a mile of track, loops in a circle around the Smittcamp property before it returns to its station next to the Wawona Peach Tree Fruit Stand. It has been used throughout the years for community events and other functions held at the Smittcamp property, including fundraisers and family parties.

“When it was an adult party, people would park in the front pasture and we would trek them around to the backyard to the event,” said Smittcamp. “When it was a kid’s birthday party, we would just run the kids around and around.”

The donation brings a second train to the Storyland & Playland site, ensuring there will always a train available for guests to ride.

For Storyland & Playland parks board chair Bruce Batti, the donation speaks volumes of the Smittcamp family’s involvement in the community.

“I think it’s symbolic of the connectivity we have as a community,” Batti said of the donation. “For me, for the board, and for the parks, the Smittcamp donation is a godsend. What it allows us to do is make sure that we don’t disappoint children by not having a train that is running.”  

Since opening Storyland in the fall of 2015, the parks has given over 140,000 train rides to children and families.