February 25, 2019

Viva Lost Vegas! Fillmore & Western Murder Mystery Luncheon Train Adventure

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect after all the recent rain we have had, for our trip to the beautiful Heritage Valley in Ventura County. The Fillmore & Western train tour with DayTripper Tours is one of my favorites. I remember the first time I led this tour thinking, “wow I had no idea all of this was out here”. I had never heard of the Hollywood movie trains and there have been so many movies, T.V. shows, commercials and music videos filmed using the trains of the Fillmore & Western.

The Fillmore & Western trains are family owned and operated by Dave and Tresa Wilkenson who are from Ojai, California. The company started out as Short Line Enterprises in 1967 and most of the rolling stock, as they call them, come from the major movies studios like MGM, Paramount and 20th Century Fox. Dave use to work for Short Line Enterprises and eventually ended up buying it in 1996. His love for the movie industry and trains makes for a perfect marriage and they do a variety of train excursions and they still lease their trains to the movie industry.

There are two types of excursions through Daytripper Tours that you can take with the Fillmore & Western tains. Our recent tour was the Murder Mystery luncheon train called, “Viva Lost Vegas” featuring the P. Maxwell Production Troup who are the in-house entertainment for the Fillmore & Western Railway. They have performed at the Roosevelt Hotel and the Magic Castle in Hollywood, the Alisal Ranch in Solvang, the Black Forrest Inn in Big Bear and many more venues all over the Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties. They have been providing the entertainment for the Murder Mystery Trains since 1995 and are a troupe of improvisational and interactive professional entertainers.

As passengers on the train we become part of the cast and crew as they interact with us which is really fun and we have to try and guess “who done it” as they say. Everybody writes down towards the end who they think it is and there is a small prize given away to anybody who guesses correctly. Two passengers guessed correctly on our tour.

Now, along with the Murder Mystery show is a delicious chicken glazed lunch that begins as soon as we board the train. We arrived about 40 minutes before boarding so there was time to stroll through downtown Fillmore which is like stepping back in time to the 1930’s or 40’s. That is why the movie industry loves to come to the area for filming. If you are not familiar with the city of Fillmore in Ventura County and it’s location, it is right off of Highway 126 near Santa Clarita. When you get to Magic Mountain on Highway 5, you head east on Hwy 126 and you pass through the town of Piru (prounced pie-roo) where many people sadly lost their lives during one of the worst civil engineering disasters off our country back in 1928. That is when the St. Francis Dam broke just after midnight on March 12th.

The St. Francis Dam was built by William Mullholland. A name that many of us who live in Southern California are familiar with. He is the man responsible for bringing water to Los Angeles so that it could become the big metropolis that he envisioned. He over saw the building of the 233-mile long Los Angeles aqueduct which was completed in 1908. Still standing today as an engineering marvel. What I find amazing is that Mr. Mullholland was a self-taught engineer. He only had an elementary education and learned by reading books.

Sadly, with the collapse of the St. Francis dam that was built on an ancient landslide (which would have been difficult to know at that time) he went from hero to zero and it basically ended his career. He had inspected the dam just 12 hours before it collapsed and when it broke it sent 12.5 billion gallons of water running through the towns of Castaic, Piru, Fillmore and Santa Paula traveling 54 miles, 200 feet across, taking everything it’s path all the way out to the sea. When William Mullholland’s daughter woke him up to tell him the news all he was hoping is that nobody has lost their life. Sadly, that was not the case. The exact count is not known but at least 450 people lost their life that day. There were hero’s that evening and other stories of miracles that but it would leave him devastated. He took full responsibility for what happened but was never that same after that. There is a museum at the Fillmore & Western railway, 1919 Rancho Sespe bunkhouse used for farm laborers that you can visit before you board the train. They have a lot of memorabilia and photographs, there is a 1905 Craftsman home built for Fillmore’s first dentist and the original Santa Fe depot were passengers boarded to travel to Los Angeles, San Francisco and other places. The last passenger train stopped on January 13, 1935. Today the trains are used for different types of excursions all throughout the year. And of course when a movie studio would like to lease them.

There is a lot to see along the way as you ride the trains of the Fillmore & Western, as it makes its way to the town of Santa Paula and Saticoy. You see century old citrus groves, avocado groves, gigantic nurseries and hand waves from the locals as the train passes by through the small neighborhood as people are going about their day. Piru, Fillmore and Santa Paula are all popular filming locations for the movie companies. When you go on this tour we tell you some of the movies that were filmed using the trains, which have included some of the locals who have been “extras” on some of these films. I am sure that there is a movie, T.V. show, commercial or music video that you have seen that features the Fillmore & Western trains or the towns of Piru and Santa Paula, you just don’t know it. Come along next time and find out.

During intermission the train stops at a garden emporium called the “Loose Caboose” where you can buy local honey, beef jerky, fruits, olives, salsa and more. There is an aviary, Koi ponds, turtles, chickens, pigs and goats to see. Just a cute little place to stop and shop.

As we boarded the train to return to Fillmore a delicious carrot cake was served and we finally get to learn “who done it”. I can’t tell you though. You’ll have to join us next time for one of our Murder Mystery trains with the Fillmore & Western.

Until then, happy trails to you, until we meet again.


Donna D’Alia
DayTripper Tour Manager

Tour: Fillmore & Western Viva Lost Vegas Murder Mystery Train
Date: February 23, 2019


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