Union Democrat staff

Every once in while we are again reminded how caring, generous, imaginative and talented our Mother Lode communities are.

All we need, typically, is a cause to unite us - something that those of all persuasions can agree on.

Sadly, we most recently found it in tragedy in the death of Lance Cpl. Gavin Brummund of Arnold, who was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan on June 10. The 22-year-old Marine and 2006 Bret Harte High School graduate was the first Calaveras County serviceman to lose his life in the Afghan or Iraqi wars.

To say that the community showed support, sympathy and compassion was a vast understatement.

Brummund's family had the grim duty of traveling to Delaware to claim Gavin's body. They flew back to California on Sunday, June 12, and were driven in military vans to Arnold. The trip couldn't have been pleasant.

But making the ordeal easier were the thousands of Calaveras County residents - friends, neighbors, veterans and hundreds of people who had heard about Gavin's death and wanted to let his parents, brother and wife know that they cared - who lined the entire route.

From San Andreas, through Angels Camp, Murphys, Avery and to Arnold, crowds waved flags, held signs, held hands over their hearts and, no doubt, shed more than a few tears.

"It's a beautiful thing to see the community come out to honor this young man and his family," said one observer.

The outpouring continued Saturday evening at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds, where more than 1,000 people gathered for a memorial service.

Perhaps only a few immediate family members grieved the loss of Gavin Brummund, but a much larger community family shared its concern and care, and this is what makes the Mother Lode such a rewarding place to live.

Families that mourn together also celebrate together, and we have at least a couple of reasons to do so:

•Engine No. 3: Railtown State Historic Park in Jamestown calls it the "Movie Star Locomotive," but the 120-year-old steamer's own story could be a DeMille epic.

After an early life hauling freight and passengers, it caught Hollywood's eye and over decades chugged its way through some 200 films and TV shows. No. 3 shared billing with stars ranging from Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly to Clint Eastwood and Michael J. Fox during its extended heyday.

The engine eventually fell into disrepair, but Railtown and the Tuolumne County community did not despair. Instead they combined to raise some $1.5 million for a just-completed three-year restoration job.

The celebration? It will be over the July 3 and 4 weekend at Railtown, where No. 3 will get back in the harness with steam excursions from the Railtown Depot. Bring your cameras, because the "Movie Star Locomotive" is ready for the spotlight again.

•Soap Box Derby: Back in the 1930s, the Derby turned Sonora into Indy for a weekend each year. Except the wooden racers had no engines and were powered only by gravity and the force of their young drivers' wills.

Sadly, the Derby disappeared with the onset of World War II. But now a young soap box enthusiast and budding entrepreneur aims to turn Tuolumne into Indy for a weekend each year.

Sonora High School graduate and longtime soap box enthusiast Jamie Smith has roared from the starting line in style.

He made bringing the Derby to Tuolumne his senior project. With the community's help he raised $12,000 to repave the Pine Street race course and earlier this month succeeded in spades: Soap Box were part of this year's Lumber Jubilee festivities and fit perfectly with the enduring event's historic theme.

So impressed were Northern California Soap Box Derby officials that they've made the Tuolumne race an annual event.

As we begin a season when thousands will come to Mother Lode because it's such a great place to visit, it's nice to know that it's an even greater place to live.