Lenore Rutherford, The Union Democrat

Rides will be free for area residents this weekend aboard steam-powered excursion trains at Railtown 1897 Historic State Park in Jamestown.

With proof of residency, residents of Calaveras, Mariposa and Tuolumne counties can visit the park and ride the trains Saturday and Sunday to celebrate the opening of the 2013 train operating season. The park is open daily all year long, but the excursion ride season extends generally from April through October.

To kick off the new season, excursion train rides on opening weekend will be offered aboard the famous Movie Star Locomotive, Sierra No. 3.

On Saturday, the public is invited to attend the Early Bird program that starts at 7 a.m. in the historic Roundhouse when the crew lights the fire and prepares the locomotive for the day.

It starts with the tossing of a burning rag into the firebox, then the crew works to fuel, lubricate and water the engine as the boiler is slowly brought up to temperature. Guides will narrate every step of the process.

Then, those interested can follow it into the yard and watch the turntable in operation as it is moved into place at the depot.

The official ceremonies begin with Vietnam veteran Jim Sutherland performing the National Anthem and the raising of the flag at 9:45 a.m., followed by a grand entrance of the locomotive and ceremonial whistle blowing.

Pat Kaunert, portraying Mark Twain, will call out the first "All Aboard" for the season at 10:45 a.m.

Many other special activities will be offered throughout the opening weekend, including live music both days performed on board the excursions trains by Dave Rainwater,tours of the roundhouse and demonstrations of the historic belt-driven machine shop.

Capacity is limited for the steam train excursion rides, so visitors are encouraged to arrive early. All train tickets include park admission and are available on a first-come, first served basis at the ticket window beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Excursion train ride tickets are $15 per adult and $8 per youth 6 to 17. The rides are free for children 5 and younger.

After opening weekend, steam-powered excursion train rides behind Sierra No. 3 are planned on Saturdays, and vintage diesel locomotives on Sundays through the 2013 operating season. Additionally, diesel train rides will be offered on Wednesday, July 10, through Aug. 28.

Visitors are encouraged to call 984-3953 or go online to www.railtown.org for the latest information.