Back in 2009, when I first explored Balboa Park, I noticed a tiny train chugging along. Its only passenger was a giraffe.
I think at that point, I'd never ridden on a miniature railroad—certainly not in my adult years. And if I ever rode a tiny train as a child, the memory of it has vanished.
After having made a lot of progress in this business of "making up for lost time" (and trying to unearth memories of things I'm pretty sure I actually did do as a kid), I'm convinced that some of life's best experiences—Disneyland, carousels, puppet shows—are wasted on the young.
I never understood anything as a kid—I was in a constant state of confusion. And having been bullied into silence and submission by my parents, I was too afraid to ask "what," "why," or "how" most of the time.
So I don't really mourn some of those childhood experiences I never had, because now I have the ability to create memories that will last—and that I can piece together in some kind of narrative, so as to attempt to understand my life as a whole.
To put it simply, I took a ride on that Balboa Park railroad seven years later, at 40 years old, because I could. I had the motive, the means, and the relatively recent memory of a similar experience that I'd enjoyed very much.
This time around, I started giggling from the moment our conductor blew the train whistle and sat at the helm.
The San Diego Miniature Railroad runs along a half-mile track right next to the grounds of the San Diego Zoo...
...so it's been designed as a somewhat "wild" excursion.
Though the entire trip takes only three minutes to complete, you end up traveling the entirety of San Diego County, through towns like Julian, Jacumba, Valley Center, and so on.
This miniature train looks remarkably like a full-size train—and not a "toy" train—but riding it through four acres of Balboa Park kind of feels like you've been transported into one of the worlds of the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.
The railroad was installed in this exact location in 1948, just two years after the The Miniature Train and Railway Company introduced the "G-16" model that runs here (the "G" for "GM locomotive" and "16" for a 16-inch track gauge).
Hundreds of G-16s were manufactured until 1963, but now a few dozen remain (and not all of them in operation). There were G-16s installed and running in Griffith Park for decades, but now the Travel Town Railroad runs a relatively modern (circa 1993) locomotive inspired by those of the early 20th century—though also on a 16 gauge track.
Here, the cars have been restored and are still operating in their original location.
The train ride went by so quickly that I was inclined to ride it again immediately afterwards, feeling like a kid who can't get enough of something amusing, asking for "More!" and "Again!"
But I had more of Balboa Park to explore, so I moved onto the next adventure.
Photo Essay: The Tiny World of the San Diego Model Railroad Museum
A Travel Town Birthday in Griffith Park
The Ghost Train of Griffith Park
Photo Essay: Taking a Spin Into the Last Century in Balboa Park