Austin McCoy Takes His Love of Trains to Town – Meet Paradise Depot Museum’s Youngest Docent

Austin McCoy first fell in love with trains when he was 2 years old. He was in his car seat and his mom had come up to a railroad crossing, so they knew a train was coming.

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“I told my mom how beautiful it was. I’ve loved trains as long as I can remember,” says Austin, a 12-year-old railroad aficionado from Paradise whose passion for steam engines has led him to become the youngest docent at the Paradise Depot Museum.

At 10, Austin started guiding Saturday tours at the museum, leading locals and visitors from as far away as Japan through the exhibits. He says he enjoys sharing tidbits and trivia about local history and the trains that have played a crucial role in the region’s economic growth.

Austin receiving an award from Paradise Depot Museum Curator Tim McGrath.

Austin receiving an award from Paradise Depot Museum Curator Tim McGrath.

“He puts on such a good tour. He’s so conscientious and knowledgeable,” says Tim McGrath, the museum’s volunteer curator and fellow docent who trained Austin. “He’s brilliant, really. He was like a little tape recorder. I took him through the museum a couple of times and told him what was what. Now he’s got it memorized.”

The museum features a full-size restored caboose in addition to a 30-foot long working HO gauge model of the Butte County Railroad representing the 33-mile rail line that ran between Chico and Stirling City. Children who visit the museum can “run” the model train by pushing a big green button. They even get a badge that reads, “I ran the train at the Depot Museum!”

“This museum was built and dedicated not just to trains that ran here but also to logging that was a big part of our local history,” says Austin, who started visiting the museum when he was about 8 years old. Two years ago, his grandmother suggested he speak to someone about leading tours and becoming a docent.

“It was really Grandma’s idea. She knew I loved trains. She also knew I don’t do lot of things. I’m not really into sports. I’m not into scouting,” says Austin, though he does play the cello and shares that he also spends his free time studying meteorology. He hopes to one day become a train engineer, storm chaser and pilot.

Austin’s father, Steven McCoy, says that it’s been great to see his son flourish as he pursues his passion and also helps out the community. “As parents, we always have to keep an eye out for opportunities for our kids to get engaged in our community,” says Steven. “For some it’s cleaning the parks or other community service. For Austin, it’s been the train museum. There’s always something out there.”

The Paradise Depot Museum was opened in 2007 in a restored train depot situated on the grounds of Paradise Community Park. The depot had been built by the Diamond Match Company in 1904 to service the Butte County Railroad, which carried lumber from its saw mill in Stirling City to their match factory in the town of Barber, now part of Chico. The depot was closed in 1960 and fell into disrepair until Paradise residents initiated its refurbishment in 2005.

See the Train Fun in the North State section for more information about the Paradise Depot Museum. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer docent or supporting the museum in other ways can call (530) 872-8722.

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Sonia Giordani-Johnston
About Sonia Giordani-Johnston

Sonia Giordani-Johnston is a freelance writer inspired by generous people who do small acts of kindness with great love. She lives in Redding with her husband, their four children, a dog and 12 chickens.

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