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MIJ: Mt. Tam rail worker turns 100
Friday 4 Jul 2008, 10:12
Filed under: Marin, Railroad | Tags: ,

Happy 4th!!!!!!!!

Sierra Filucci
Article Launched: 07/03/2008 10:42:23 PM PDT

Independence Day at the Provines house will look like many others – potato salad, macaroni salad, chicken – but dessert will be special.

Family patriarch Bill Provines, the last living employee of the Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway, turns 100 today, the Fourth of July.

He’s asked for yellow cake with chocolate frosting.

“I told my daughter-in-law to put one candle on the cake,” said Provines. “I didn’t want to burn the house down.”

Provines, of Novato, grew up in Mill Valley where he worked for a grocery and dry goods store, riding a horse cart up the dirt streets to deliver groceries.

“Then in July 1926 an engineer from the Mount Tamalpais railroad came to the house and wanted to know if I wanted to work in the engine,” said Provines. The railroad was built in 1896 and ran

from today’s Depot Bookstore and Cafe on Throckmorton Avenue in Mill Valley up to the summit of Mount Tam. The railroad was scrapped in 1930.

Provines was fresh out of the College of Marin, where he was one of 85 in the school’s first graduating class, when he began work as a fireman fueling the engines. He sometimes worked seven days a week.

“I enjoyed every minute of it. I never missed a chance to go up and down the railroad,” Provines said.

In between work at the railroad, Provines attended University of California at Berkeley where he graduated with a degree in economics in 1929, right smack in the Great Depression.

“Jobs were hard to get in those days,” said Provines.
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“But an executive for an insurance company offered me a job.” He ended up at Royal Globe Insurance Company for the next 40 years.

It wasn’t until he retired 35 years ago that he started to relive his railroad days. He and his son Doug, who worked for the postal service, would visit Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Mill Valley, where Doug’s kids attended, to talk about the history of the railroad.

“We’d go to the school once a year,” said Doug, “and he’d talk about the railroad and take the kids part way up the old railroad track. This is when he really started getting into it.”

Since then, he’s gone to several events celebrating the history of the railroad, including the 1983 release of the book “The Crookedest Railroad in the World” by Ted Wurm and Al Graves, which documented the history of the track that included 281 curves.

On Thursday, Provines got a haircut at Russ’ Barber Shop in Mill Valley, where he’s been going for nearly 40 years. He wanted to look “prim and proper” for his birthday party, said friend and fellow railroad enthusiast Fred Runner, 51.

“His body isn’t as rugged as it used to be,” said Runner. “He’s stooped over a bit, but when he shakes your hand, it’s like a 20-year-old.”

“The Provines’ longevity tends to be as good as it gets,” said Russ Kerr, Provines’ barber, recalling his customer’s three sisters who all lived into their 90s.

Provines says he has no secrets to long life. “I’ve broken all the rules,” he said with a laugh.

“I’m just an ordinary person. I just take things as they come. I don’t claim to have all the answers.”

And what do you get for a “devout Catholic” man turning 100?

A framed papal blessing from the pope, says his family.

Contact Sierra Filucci via e-mail at sfilucci@marinij.com

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