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Handcar races back on track

  • Jamie Smith, left, and Tara and Daniel Fluitt, compete with team MOG, representing Museum on-the-Go, during the handcar races Sunday at the inaugural Wunderkammer at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa. (BETH SCHLANKER / PRESS DEMOCRAT)

Santa Rosa's historic Railroad Square chugged back to the future Sunday for the inaugural Wunderkammer, a reinvention of the wildly popular but now defunct Great Handcar Regatta.

In 2011, the Great Handcar Regatta drew an impressive crowd of 12,000, but the event went on permanent hiatus in 2012 due to expected track closures linked to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit construction.

Rising from its ashes, the all-new “Dr. Erasmus P. Kitty's Wunderkammer featuring the Great Sonoma County Handcar Races” attracted a crowd of about 5,000 people by noon Sunday, promoter Ty Jones said. He expected that number to grow to 7,000 or 8,000 by the end of afternoon.

Wunderkammer 2013

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“It was good we were actually able to bring it back this year,” Jones said. “In 2011, it was looking like it would not come back.”

Jones attributed the drop in participation to the weeklong Burning Man encampment, which starts in the Nevada desert today. Both events draw a similar crowd interested in the intersection of art, community and self-expression.

This year's Wunderkammer featured a wider array of music and kids' activities than in the past. A cyclone fence encircled the festival area, keeping out those who had not paid the $10 entry fee.

“It's a little different this year, being all closed in,” said Steve Squire of Cloverdale, who brought one of his reconstructed “tall bikes.” “But there's more people in costumes than before.”

From 2008 to 2011, the Great Handcar Regatta grew so popular that organizers had to start charging for it, to limit the crowds.

With a new partner and a new focus on the arts and music, Jones hopes to build Wunderkammer into a music and arts festival similar to Bumbershoot in Seattle.

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