Jon Cox walked past seven passengers waiting to board the 8:50 a.m. train Thursday at Centennial Station, looking for anyone with business-class tickets.
The passengers smiled, but remained silent.
“You just saved yourself $22 and a long walk,” Cox said, chuckling.
“I joke about that because business class is behind the locomotive. Coach is at the gate.”
Cox, a nine-year volunteer, helped direct and welcome passengers boarding and departing the train. It’s one of his laundry list of volunteer duties that include everything but the actual selling of tickets.
Cox and others like him have kept the station going for 20 years and provided Thurston County with its only Amtrak stop. The station is the only completely volunteer-run station in the country, according to Rich DeGarmo, president of the Centennial Station Volunteers Committee.
The station will celebrate its 20-year history Saturday. The public is invited to the station at 6600 Yelm Highway SE from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Those who attend can enter for a chance to win two round-trip tickets to San Francisco on the Coast Starlight.
There also will be a locomotive simulator, food vendors, entertainment and other door prizes, such as Mariners and Seahawks tickets.
The green-and-white building with landscaped grounds and seating area is a far cry from the humble shed the station used to be.
Cox remembers seeing the original station for the first time in the 1980s.
“I had seen better-looking school bus stops,” Cox said. “It was falling down around itself off Rich Road.”
For Lloyd Flem and a core group of concerned citizens, the shed was an unacceptable station for the state capital.
“We had to do something better than what we had,” Flem said.
The group started the Amtrak Depot Committee.
“We just kept pushing it and eventually we got one of the major players involved,” Flem said. “We have immense pride in that station; the actual structure itself was built with local money.
“Overwhelmingly the money came donated in the form of labor, skills and materials.”
Once the station was built, the burden of keeping it operational fell on the shoulders of volunteers like Cox who spends his Thursday mornings at the station.
It’s one of four volunteer jobs Cox has picked up since he retired from the state Department of Transportation in 2000.
“We have never missed a train,” Cox said. “The station has been open for every train, no matter how late or early.”
A minimum of two volunteers staff the station between 8:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. during three shifts. Sometimes those shifts go into the night if a train is late.
“The only late train that could come is as early as 6:15 p.m. or as late as the middle of the night, and they come rain or shine,” DeGarmo said. “(The volunteers) come to open the station to the passengers – they are very service oriented.”
That service isn’t strictly for railroad business.
Roberta and Bob Pinson from the Lacey Sunshine Lions Club were at the station Thursday to plant flowers for Saturday’s festivities.
Roberta Pinson said she plans to show up once a week now that she is in charge of the station’s flower beds. She and her husband were planting white alyssum and red begonias.
“I have to come back weekly to deadhead and for upkeep,” Pinson said. “The bluebells won’t last past Saturday – I was going for the red, white and blue look.”
Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/thisjustin @chelseakrotzer