Rod Ohira's People
Train buff tracks Hawai'i's rail history
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
Adams Ke'eaumoku "Moku" Kamelamela can only imagine what it was like to ride the Oahu Railway & Land Co. train from the main depot near 'A'ala Park to Kahuku, passing through the old sugar towns of 'Aiea, Waipahu, 'Ewa and going around Ka'ena Point.
Richard Ambo The Honolulu Advertiser
Adams Kamelamela, right, rides the "Pearlridge Express" at the shopping center. He and other Hawaiian Railway Society volunteers are serving as engineers and docents.
Richard Ambo The Honolulu Advertiser
Schutte was an OR&L engineer, following in the footsteps of his father, John Williams Schutte. Two of Marcus Schutte's three brothers who worked for the railroad company founded by Benjamin F. Dillingham were also engineers.
Kamelamela, a 34-year-old locomotive buff and volunteer historian for the Hawaiian Railway Society, was too young to remember the locomotive engine that, until 1970, used to haul pineapple from the wharf to the old Libby, McNeill & Libby's cannery, which was on the mauka side of Nimitz Highway between Kalihi Street and Waiakamilo Road.
His interest of trains in Hawai'i, especially the OR&L, is satisfied by Hawaiian Railway Society restoration projects, old photographs, research and remembering grandpa's stories.
"By the time he was 6, my grandpa knew how to fire up a locomotive," Kamelamela said of Schutte, who died in 1986. "He had two older brothers (George and John) and they used to have a mock-up of the inside of a locomotive in their back yard. It was a big wooden box with pipes for levers.
"As young children, they used to practice how to drive it."
At age 6, Schutte was also working in the OR&L tool room, his grandson said.
"He was born into a railway family," said Kamelamela, whose late mother, Harriette, was Schutte's daughter. "My regret is that I didn't start asking my grandfather questions until I was in middle school. That's when I got interested in trains."
Kamelamela, a Punahou graduate, recalled that he was 9 years old when he rode his first locomotive.
"It was the Waialua Agriculture Co.'s No. 6," he said. "In 1976, my grandpa's two sons (Marcus Schutte Jr. and Sanford Schutte, both dead) were making a photo album for him and they took me and a cousin to a Hawaiian Railway Society function in Lualualei. The society had restored the old steam locomotive engine and grandpa drove it.
"We rode on the train, and it was an awesome experience."
Later, one of his uncles gave him his first Lionel train set.
Schutte, who lived on Akepo Lane near the main train station and railway yard in Iwilei, enjoyed telling his grandson about his first train ride, which was on OR&L's "Kahuku Freight." It's a favorite story that Kamelamela likes to recall while tracking the train's route on his Hawaiian Railway Society map.
"My grandfather and his brother Johnny hopped the Kahuku Freight at 3 o'clock in the afternoon at the (downtown) O'ahu Railway Depot," Kamelamela said. "The train went down what is now Nimitz Highway and around a bend they used to call Cape Horn. There was another main line that went through Dole Cannery off Dillingham Boulevard where Home Depot is now. The two lines came together in the area of the Xerox Building.
"From there it was a straight shot to what is now the prison (O'ahu Community Correctional Center) and from there the track kind of branched off."
Kamelamela noted the route basically followed Nimitz Highway under the viaduct to Kamehameha Highway past Pearl Harbor and into 'Aiea. "The track followed the bike path (that runs from Pearl Harbor to Pearl City) into Waipahu. The train went through 'Ewa, around Kaena Point to Kahuku. They spent the night in Kahuku."
Kamelamela estimates the trip to Kahuku took six to eight hours.
His interest in locomotives has been heightened this holiday season by the Railway Society's involvement with a custom-built, scale-model battery-operated train at Pearlridge Center called the "Pearlridge Express." More than 10,000 keiki rode the train in its first 20 days of operation, said Pearlridge marketing director Scott Creel.
Railway Society volunteers are serving as engineers and docents for the train, which is displaying the OR&L name with special permission. In exchange for their services, Pearlridge Center is donating one-third of all net proceeds from $3 ride tickets to the Railway Society. Except for tomorrow, the "Express" will be running daily until 6 p.m. on New Year's Day.
Reach Rod Ohira at 535-8181 or firstname.lastname@example.org