He’s been working on the railroad all his livelong days. Larry Harper of Poulsbo, Wash., has had an affinity for trains since he was a young boy watching the ones roll under the Christmas tree. “It sort of just grew with me,” said the 68-year-old Clear Creek Dentistry patient. “I went from operating small ones on the floor to collecting and driving bigger ones.”
Today Harper, a retired naval officer, is one of 130 train enthusiasts who comprise the Kitsap Live Steamers, a non-profit organization which operates a 7 ½-inch gauge, live railroad at the South Kitsap Regional Park, 3101 SE Marbeth Lane, in Port Orchard.
“What we do is give the community a
unique educational and recreational opportunity that is not available anywhere else nearby,” explained Harper, a past president of the club. “It is a completely volunteer operation. Rides are given two times a month, April through October, on a donation basis and it is only through the support of the public and our own membership that this railroad survives and continues to grow.”
KLS was formed in 1990 and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Harper joined the group when he moved from Southern California to Washington 10 years ago. “While our active membership spans across the entire Puget Sound region, we have associate members all over the world! We come from all different professional walks of life and just share a love for locomotives,” he said.
The club owns and maintains its own equipment and the one-mile track, but relies on its some 70 volunteer engineers and their individually owned electric, diesel and steam-powered trains to keep up with the 800-1200 rides it provides on each 2nd and 4th Saturday throughout the spring, summer and fall months. Harper personally owns and donates the use of his 2 ½-inch scale train that spans more than 20 feet from engine to caboose.
Harper can haul five people on his battery-powered Y & L Line, but some of the club’s equipment can carry 25-30 people each run around the 10-14 minute loop. “It’s a pretty scenic route,” he said. (You can take a virtual ride with the KLS here.)
“I can’t think of a better hobby than one you can share with others,” Harper said. “Each year we partner with other charitable organizations to do benefits where, instead of offering rides for donations, we set a ticketed price and pass the proceeds along to that good cause. This year our Ghost Train rides will go to the Kitsap Foster Care Association to help purchase Christmas presents for foster children.”
While Harper enjoys the mechanics of operating the equipment, it’s something less tangible that keeps him coming back to volunteer his time almost every run day of the season. “My wife, Yvonne, and I have been patients of Dr. Haws at Clear Creek Dentistry for a decade now – the entire time we’ve lived in Washington. I have periodontal disease so I am faithful about coming in every 3-4 months for cleanings,” he said. Maintaining his smile is important to Harper because it is something he intends to keep sharing for the long haul.
“I’m going to keep riding this train for as long as I can!” Harper said with a chuckle. “When I look at the faces of my passengers light up, I light up. Just last week, we gave a ride to a 3-week-old baby and also recently gave one to a 101-year-old lady. It’s rewarding and fun…for all ages!”
If you are interested in riding the rails before the KLS 2015 season concludes, Harper encourages you to come out to the South Regional Park this Saturday, Oct. 10, or on Oct. 24 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for the final FREE runs, where donations to the club are kindly accepted. The Ghost Train, with “scary scenes” provided by local boy and girl scout troops, is scheduled on Oct. 24 from 5-9 p.m. (or until 1,500 passenger tickets have been sold). Presale tickets are $4 and available starting at 10 a.m. on Oct. 10 at the park depot, with tickets the day of the event for $5. Food, bounce houses, carnival games, trick or treating, and more will be provided in addition to the train ride through the haunted park. This event is appropriate for age 5 and up. For more information, please visit Kitsap Live Steamers.