The Pearlridge Express pulled into its holiday station at Pearlridge Uptown Center Nov. 21, and with it was beloved conductor Larry Howard.
Howard has been a driving force behind the yearly event since it first launched in 2002, guiding the mini-locomotive and its keiki passengers through a toy wonderland for seven years.
“I love to see the expressions of the kids and all that, and it’s a really great opportunity,” he says. “(Trains are) a really important part of education for Hawaii kids. For a small segment of time we had a railroad ... and who knows? It may become really important again out here.”
Howard currently serves as vice president for the Hawaii Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society. He says his love of trains grew out of a spur-of-the-moment job he took as a teenager growing up in Minnesota.
“Between my junior and my senior year of high school, I lied about my age and seven of us got on the railroad as a candy dancer (railroad workers who replaced the wooden cross ties on the railroad tracks) and worked on the railroad that summer,” he says with a hearty chuckle.
After spending a career overseas teaching with the Department of Defense, the retired high school principal found his way to Hawaii. But he hasn’t run out of steam yet. He can be found most days lending a much-needed hand to community organizations in his neighborhood, including the Rotary Club, the Kapolei Foundation and the nonprofit Hawaiian Railway Society in Ewa.
“Probably two-thirds of the workers at the Pearlridge train are Railway Society members or volunteers,” says the Kunia resident. “We like it, we enjoy kids and enjoy working there, and I think that comes through to a lot of the parents. I think it’s a good thing for them - and it’s a good thing for us.”
Howard and the Pearlridge Express are chugging along now through Jan. 3 during mall hours. Tickets cost $3 per child, who must be 48 inches or shorter to ride. Proceeds benefit HRS. For more information, call 488-0981.
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