Be The Change – Steve Williams, Butte County

Four years ago, Steve Williams was driving home from work when he spotted train tracks hidden in the grass on property next to a highway. He had been looking online to purchase a small train for his 4-year-old son Max. Diagnosed with a heart defect two days after his birth, Max had gone through several open heart surgeries.

Steve located the property owner who showed him a 1940s vintage small-rail logging train he was willing to sell. “My son was scheduled to have another surgery and I had to wait,” Steve said. Two months later, he returned and bought the train.

Steve had only thirty-four days to get the train running for Max’s upcoming 5th birthday. The newly named train, the Miracle Express Maxamillian No. 8, marked the beginning of Max’s Miracles/The Max Williams Foundation, and Max’s Miracle Ranch, a working California farmstead, orchard and entertainment center that provides a retreat for families with children who are dealing with heart defects, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Steve had purchased the ranch, located in Biggs, 22 years before when attending Chico State.

While Steve and his wife Molly traveled back and forth to San Francisco with Max for his treatments, they were shocked to find that many families in the same situation couldn’t afford hotel rooms. Steve explains, “When Max was about three years old we started meeting families that were sleeping in their cars while their children were receiving treatment. I started researching what was available to help parents who needed financial assistance.” Not finding much, Steve wanted to fundraise to provide families with gift cards to pay for food, gas and hotel rooms. He also wanted to turn part of the ranch into “a place where families can have a day off.”

Now the father of eight children, Steve has created a haven where kids can just be kids. The ranch is open to the public for special events, birthday parties and school field trips, and is always open to “miracle children” and their families at no cost, offering train rides (a trackless train can be rented off site too!), gold panning, hay rides, a picnic area, a petting zoo and play areas, as well as a small chapel where families can take a moment for prayer or contemplation. The ranch grows and sells organic produce, and offers families the opportunity to “pick your own” from May to November.

John Rickers has witnessed Steve’s generosity firsthand. As a neighbor to the original train owner, he helped Steve move the train and they’ve become good friends. “Steve will go out of his way to help anybody,” he says. John’s son Ian also helped move the train; now age 12, Ian is a cancer survivor and a “Miracle Child.” John and his family attend many of the holiday events Steve organizes. “What people don’t realize is

that while we’re all going there and having fun, he’s working,” John says. One year Steve called the families to see if they were coming for the Christmas event, and then had gifts ready for all the children. John reflects, “Nobody goes there and leaves empty handed.”

Steve works with communities to bring awareness regarding children’s health issues. For  February, which is American Heart Month and Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week (Feb. 7-14), Steve is collaborating with the mayors of Chico, Biggs, Live Oak and Gridley, who plan to make public proclamations to help educate people about heart defects.

Today Max’s Miracles serves approximately 585 families. John Brown, father of 7-year-old Stevie who has been battling leukemia, recounts the first time they found Max’s Miracle Ranch: “We didn’t know what the ranch was and saw the train on our way to Sacramento for Stevie’s treatments. On our return, we asked if Stevie could ride it. Steve has been a wonderful support to our family,” John shares, “We talk a lot and he calls to make sure we are doing okay.”

Max’s Miracles, born from the discovery of train tracks on the side of a highway and from seeing parents of sick children sleeping in their cars, has been realized through steadfast dedication and an amazing amount of hard work. Most importantly, it is Steve’s strong passion and desire to help those in need that has brought relief and joy to many children and their families.

To contact Steve or for more information about Max’s Miracles (including an upcoming February 14 Miracle Miles Bike Run), visit or call (530) 354-7168.

[sws_blue_box box_size=”580″]Our Be the Change column mission is to feature those, especially from the North State, who are actively making a difference in the lives of children and families. If you would like to nominate someone who is making a difference, please write to [/sws_blue_box]

Darla Greb Mazariegos
About Darla Mazariegos

Writer Darla Greb Mazariegos is a mother of three and part of the North State Parent staff.

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