Operation Find Fun

You really don't need to look far in our neighborhood to find fun. Sometimes it comes knocking on your door, front or back. We live in the type of neighborhood where kids still ride bikes and scooters down the street, play in each other's backyards, eat dinner at each other's houses, swim in each other's pools. Sometimes, though, we venture outside of our immediate neighborhood in search of adventure.

There is a train track that goes right past our neighborhood heading west. We walk east along the tracks for about half a mile, passing the grave of a dog named Cole.

We listen carefully for trains and give them a wide berth. Sometimes we can see the cargo, which is mostly cars and trucks, and we like to guess where they are coming from and where they are going.

Our destination is this stone man. We call him Wheelbarrow Man, but he is known by the locals as Coolie.

He carries a heavy load. He is an ambassador of the past and the people who traveled across an ocean to build a track that crossed a new nation.

I had never heard the word "coolie" until a few years ago when this statue was a clue in a scavenger hunt arranged by a very clever friend of ours (a scavenger hunt at night for adults is serious fun). "Coolie" is a derogatory term used in reference to the Chinese immigrants who came to California in the mid 1800's, during the Gold Rush and amidst the frenzy to build a transcontinental railroad. The Irish built the track from the east heading west while the Chinese built the track from the west heading east, and they eventually met in Utah. Despite the hard labor provided by the Chinese, they were looked down on as unskilled laborers (coolie actually means unskilled Asian laborer). Though apparently paid the same wages as the Irish workers, they were forced to pay for their own room and board, which undoubtedly ate away most of their wages (little has changed in the past 150 years). The kids and I learned a lot about the people this statue represents in the book Coolies, by Yin, which tells the tale of brothers who labored on the railroad that passes through our neighborhood.

You might be thinking this post is supposed to be about fun, right? While I find history fun, my children may beg to differ. They do have fun climbing and jumping on and around the Wheelbarrow Man, or reading books in his shade, and I feel that they are getting a good education about our town's cultural history in the process.


  1. Just popping over from Our Report Card to say hello. I'm glad you commented because that's how I found your blog. Who knew blogs would be so much fun? Thanks for writing.

    Oh and, I used to live in Santa Cruz. Don't know where you are exactly but gosh, do I miss it! I love California. I also lived in Los Aptos. Was there in '89 for the big one.

    Peace, Katherine

  2. History is fun! Love the pictures!!

  3. You mean his name's not Wheelbarrow Man!?! Thanks for the history lesson - I did not know all that :)

  4. that sounds like a lot of fun. I love train watching, too.

    nice photos.

  5. When I was a kid, there were train tracks about 1/4 mile from our rural neighborhood in Illinois. I used to ride my trike back and forth over the tracks until I chickened out when the train was coming. Yeah, I was a little daredevil then. No train close by us, up here in the mountains, so one less thing to worry about with my own kids!

    Thanks for the history lesson, too!

  6. I find history fun, too, and I think it's great that you're introducing your children to the history of your community. It's important, I think, for fostering a sense of "togetherness" and "community" to know something about the people who originally populated one's town.

  7. Nice to see your neighbourhood and I am glad that your cultural history is recognised!! It is a very large wheelbarrow!! Now for weird tomorrow - I am struggling!!

  8. We lived in our town a long time and it took me awhile to appreciate the history here. I'll just try to be patient with my boys.

  9. I'm glad I didn't introduce those slang terms to you! Good that you are teaching such a valuable lesson for our future!

  10. I love that picture of the statue with your daughter in bright pink. The bright spot of color in all that grey.


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