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The Tecate Three Kings Train 1/11/2004

by Chris Guenzler

Think for a moment as you live in the greatest country in the history of planet Earth. Our children have houses full of toys and each year they get more. This situation reaches from our border with Canada all the way to our border with Mexico. We are indeed blest to be living in such a great nation as ours. That happiness at home though ends at our border with Mexico. Just southwest of Campo there is a town there called Tecate, best known for their beer that is produced there. The economy here is very poor and there has always been a need to provide gifts to all the boys and girls who would not get anything for Epiphany, the time in Mexico when the gifts are given. Epiphany was the time in our history when the Three Kings or Wise Men brought their gifts and offerings to the Baby Jesus. This is the purpose of the Christmas Train to Tecate.

The extremely sad story behind how this train all started

Life plays cruel tricks to people and how they react to it shows what kind of true character they have. Jack and Clare Stewart were the parents of Bekki Stewart who died in a car accident in 1996 when she was only 36 years old. At the Thanksgiving Dinner that same year, Jack and Clare gave everyone twenty dollars to be used to make a child happy at Christmas in the memory of their beloved Bekki. The people purchased gifts with the money and they were then given out to a needy family.

At the Thanksgiving Dinner of 1997 each member of the family was again given twenty dollars. Someone in the family had taken the San Diego Railroad Museum's Excursion Train from Campo to Tecate and remembered seeing all the poor children playing along the tracks on that trip. The idea of using the Museum's excursion train to pass out candy canes using the money the family had put together was conceived. The Museum offered the use of their train between Campo and Tecate for the delivery of the gifts. The Christmas Train was born. They wanted to go in December but it was discovered that in Mexico Epiphany was on January 6th, 1998, the most important gift giving day in that country. The date of the first Christmas Train was then set for Saturday January 10th, 1998 and they took Three Kings in costumes along with them on the trip. Because they took the Three Kings it has become known as the Three Kings Train in Mexico and always arrives each year on the weekend closest to January 6th.

It takes a lot of people to make this all happen

People in the USA found out about the Christmas Train and its purpose, donations and volunteers came pouring in to assist the effort. This gift giving has evolved from the throwing of candy canes from the train which wasn't a safe way of doing things to packing gift bags and fruit for the children of Tecate. Volunteers have been busy collecting toys and have been working with the US and Mexican Customs, the International Border Rail Institute, the Mountain Empire Historical Society, City of Tecate and Tecate DIF, the Snyder Smart System, the San Diego Railroad Museum and the Carrizo Gorge Railway to provide the Three Kings Train for the children of Tecate on January 11th, 2004.

How did I get a chance to ride this special train. My Carrizo Gorge story had been featured on Trainweb. I had posted it on and One day I got an e-mail from Charlie and Margaret of the "". They had read my Carrizo Gorge Story and asked me if I would like to come along and write a story about the Three Kings Train. I asked if Richard could come along and take extra pictures which was fine. I went to my post office to get a rush delivery of a passport and ten days later it arrived in the US Mail. I booked a hotel room in El Cajon for the night prior to the trip, before battling a major cold that made me miss three days of work.

The gifts donated this year were for Boys 2,194, Girls 2,530 and Babies 863. They had exceeded all of the goals for giving this year. The gifts for the children were made up at Specialty Produce. Russ and Sons Trucking donated a 44 foot Trailer for storage and then trucked the trailer to Campo on the Friday before our trip. A most wonderful crew unloaded some 300 boxes of gifts into a railroad box car donated by the San Diego and Imperial Valley Railroad. Later in the day the Carrizo Gorge Railroad arrived and made up the train for the delivery of the box car to Tecate Saturday morning at 10:00 A.M. where it would be met by members of the Mexican Customs and the City of Tecate to accept the gifts. The gifts will then be loaded into another truck and taken to the Tecate Police Station for storage until Sunday morning. Sunday morning bright and early the truck will be taken to the stadium and unloaded and ready for the volunteers arrival. While all that was taking place down south, I was at Fullerton for Lets Talk Trains Show who were celebrating my 775,000 rail miles before attending a surprise 75th year birthday party for my mother. Richard picked me up almost at Eight PM and we drove down to the Best Western Lamplighter Inn & Suites for the night.

Sunday morning January 11th, 2004 after a continental breakfast, Richard and I drove to Campo and parked just as the train was backing into the Campo Depot.

The Three Kings Train to Tecate 1/11/2004

The 2004 Three Kings Train consisted of Carrizo Gorge GP-9 5911, Coaches 753, 751 and ex Amtrak 5601. The 753 and 751 were from the San Diego Railroad Museum originally Lackawana Railroad 2585 and 2583 later becoming Erie Lackawana 3585 and 3583. The Carrizo Gorge 5601 is ex Amtrak 44 seat coach 5601 built in 1939 for the Atlantic Coast Line as 201 later becoming the Seaboard Coast Line 5601. Our trips power would be the GP-9 5911, the ex San Diego & Imperial Valley 5911, ex Kyle Railways 5921 and ex DRGW 5921. There was a baggage cart loaded with bags of stuffed animals.

After I checked in, I watched some of the others taking the trip check in.

I watched the volunteers decorating the outside of the 5911 with the stuffed animals, bows and ribbons. Here is the work in progress.

Here is the decorated engine.

The Three Kings Train left Campo right at 9:00 AM. This would be Richard's first train ride into Mexico. We entered a narrow canyon to the west of Campo and then crossed Campo Creek. The valley opened up as we ran along the northern side of the valley. We passed Chicken Ranch and Dog Patch before we reached Division. After crossing lower Campo Creek we entered Tunnel 4 and crossed under the International border with Mexico, bursting out into the Mexican daylight before we reached Lindero. Beyond there, we entered Tunnel 3 and a half where the center of the Tunnel 3 collapsed in 1933 by fire making two tunnels out of one. Since 2001, the east end of Tunnel 3 was day lighted except for the west portal which still stands. Here we reached the sand loading siding. We now have kilometer posts having left the milepost back in the USA. We entered the valley of Tecate Creek and followed it down along the southern edge of a ridge down into Tecate with its famous brewery. Along here, we passed very primitive homes with no running water or electricity and seeing some children here I hoped in my heart that some of them would make it down into Tecate to receive gifts from our Three Kings today.

As we headed to Tecate, our Three Kings changed from their daily selves into their costumed characters for the day. King One was radio personality Enrique Monrones, King Two was San Diego Police Department Assistant Chief George Saldamando and King Three was Tijuana-Tecate railroad manager Mitch Beauchamp. As our Three Kings Train closed in on Tecate, the train's horn attracted kids and families to the tracks. Kids had placed pesos on the rail to be run over by the Three Kings Train. One of the Three Kings threw out gifts to some of these children from the rear car of our train. The Tecate Police joined in the festivities by providing grade crossing protection as well as escorting our train into town.

Our train came to its stopping location opposite the Estudio Maunuel Cecera, which stood across Tecate Creek from our train. Security detrained first to create a path for the Three Kings who led a procession from the train into the stadium.

We passed the line of families that followed a safety tape path from the entrance of the stadium into the dirt parking lot where it snaked its way south to north like an accordion. This was one of the most impressive sights that I had ever seen. A line where no one was cutting or pushing or shoving, just thankful people each waiting their turn. The smiles on the children's faces were amazing to see as they watched the Kings entering the playing field. This stadium was once the bull fighting ring until one day years ago when some of the stands collapsed and the city of Tecate turned it into a baseball stadium which is also used for soccer matches.

The families began to enter the stands as the gift giving stations were being readied. All around the edge of the infield dirt were nine tents. They were set up with boxes of gifts at the rear and tables at the front where gifts would be placed for the Kings and others to pass out.

On the pitcher's mound was a stage where musicians and clowns performed for the crowd as they waited for their turn to receive their gifts. The tents in order of what was given out:

1. Bebes{Babies} Stuffed animals, diapers, play toys and bottles. King One was stationed here.

2. Rest area for volunteers.

3. Ninas{Girls} Toys, crayons, school supplies and candy. King Two was stationed here.

4. Help area.

5. Ninos{Boys} Toys, crayons, school supplies and candy. King Three was stationed here.

6. Second rest area.

7. Toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap.

8. Candy Canes.

9. Coloring books.

At the stations without Kings, volunteers handed out the gifts. These gifts were given to all children as they would assist them in their daily lives.

As the stadium slowly filled, Richard and I walked over to the nicely restored Tecate Depot which stands right behind the Tecate Brewery.

On the way back to the stadium, I stopped to photographed our train set waiting for its afternoon return to Tecate before I returned to watch the start of the gift giving.

Right at Eleven AM on this bright beautiful sunny morning, the first of the children and families entered the playing field to receive their gifts. As the children approached the first King even if he was not going to be giving them anything, they would light up with a big smile and a glow. Some hugged him while others just smiled or shook his hand. They would then proceed to the King who would give them their first gift and it would be repeated. This process would be repeated over and over again until every child had received his or her gifts. This was really a truly special event for me to watch take place. I took pictures of all this and was amazed at how many children wanted me to have a picture of them on this great day. I watched this all taking place for about an hour as I worked.

After noon, Richard and I walked into town for lunch. I was not really hungry but I joined in for some Coca-Cola. We ended up at Taqueria La Placita where Richard ate a Chicken Enchilada after he tortured himself with hot peppers and the like. What some people will do for pleasure? This very nice restaurant was located on the east side of Tecate's town square.

By the time I returned to the stadium at 1:30 PM, the last of the families had entered the stands and only two sections had families still sitting in them. All the volunteers had been very busy handing out gifts while I was away. I took this time to take a few more pictures of this most wonderful event. At 1:54 PM, the last family stood up and was now on their way to the field. At 2:05 PM, this last family stepped through the gate which closed behind them and proceeded to get their gifts. Five minutes later the 7th Annual Three Kings Train Gift Giving for the year 2004 was over. After the volunteers cleaned up we all returned to the train for our trip back to Campo which would leave Tecate at 3:30 PM.

The train headed out of Tecate with the Tecate Police leading protecting all the grade crossings. Everyone who saw the Three Kings Train all waved with large smiles on their faces. It had been a great experience in my life to witness this great event which took place today. Thanks to all the people who made this happen but I did not want to forget the gate keepers or those hard working crowd control people up in the stands. The people who spent their day shuttling the gifts from the boxes to the tables or the passers to the gift givers. Everyone together made this a successful day. We reached those poor homes on the way out of Tecate on the hillside and as we came around one of the curves standing in a doorway of a house were three small children waving their gift bags at us. What I had hoped this morning in my heart had come true thanks to everyone's hard work today!

The train curved along the hillside high above Tecate Creek and made its way to the sand spur where our engine crew with Bob as our engineer had spotted that someone had lined the switch into the siding. Bob had stopped the train with plenty of space and after the conductor had relined the switch we headed into Tunnel 3 and a half. The speeder following us then stopped to spike the switch for mainline running only. We entered back into the United States inside the south end of Tunnel 4 and crossed lower Campo Creek where I ended my photography for the trip. I returned to my coach seat in the 5601 and filled out my US Customs Form. I relaxed looking out the window thinking about all I had been a part of today. It had been a great Three Kings Train Trip to Tecate. We returned to Campo and had to wait to be taken through Customs in groups of ten at a time. Our car was the last car to be done but it was quick with just having to hand them your driver's license and they checked you off. With that done, we were free to go on our way.

Richard and I drove back to Interstate 8 and the Rest Area there before heading straight home ending a fabulous train riding experience into Mexico aboard the Three Kings Train to Tecate. I would like to thank everyone who participated in this years train. Special thanks again to all the Volunteers who had collected toys, the US and Mexican Customs, the International Border Rail Institute, the Mountain Empire Historical Society, City of Tecate and Tecate DIF, the Snyder Smart System, the San Diego Railroad Museum and the Carrizo Gorge Railway. All of these groups and people led to a very successful Three Kings Train for the children of Tecate on January 11th, 2004.

For pictures of the trip to Tecate.

For pictures of the Three Kings Gift Giving.

For pictures of the return trip to Campo.

For future Three King Trains To Tecate please go to:The