As the Napa Wine Train leaves the station in Napa for its leisurely ride to St. Helena, chances are Clyde Jeffrey “Jeff” Hullquist is close by in his black-and-white police cruiser.
A third-generation Napan who grew up wanting to become a police officer, Hullquist is the police chief and only member of Wine Train police force — officially, the Napa Valley Railroad Police Department and the county’s smallest police force.
The best part of the job? “I think it’s being out here doing this,” Hullquist said as he drove up Highway 29, his police radio crackling in the background, as he shadowed the luxury dining train moving at a leisurely 18 miles per hour.
Unlike his fellow sworn police officers in Napa County, Hullquist receives a salary paid by a private employer, not taxpayers. He’s also the only one whose desk is in an old caboose.
But like his fellow officers, Hullquist is armed, writes tickets and issues warnings. In serious situations, he can make arrests and book suspects in the Napa County jail.
He does not write a lot of tickets, he said. His priorities include making sure the train is safe along its 21.5 miles of tracks, that drivers stop at railroad crossings, and educating the public about railroad safety. After all, the train transports about 100,000 people a year and crosses about 100 crossings along Highway 29.
While he follows the train, Hullquist keeps an eye on the tracks. He also checks bridges for graffiti, patrols the Wine Train’s parking lot on McKinstry Street, the train stops Upvalley and the turnaround area in St. Helena. He also responds to reports of people walking on the tracks and other trespassers.
“We believe that our presence is the most effective deterrent to crime,” Napa Valley Wine Train spokeswoman Melodie Hilton said of her company’s one-man police force.
Hullquist’s pet peeves are bus and limousine drivers who fail to stop at railroad intersections.
In November, Hullquist arrested a limousine bus driver from Sacramento after he allegedly failed to stop at a rail crossing in St. Helena. Hullquist booked him into the Napa County jail after the man turned out to have a warrant for his arrest and was allegedly driving on suspended driver’s license, according to court records. That was Hullquist’s sole arrest in 2012, according to the jail.
In December, the Napa County District Attorney’s Office charged the suspect, Jarett Edward Chamizo, 29, with driving with a suspended driver’s license, driving under the influence with a prior and failure to stop at a rail crossing, according to the complaint.
On Jan. 2, a judge issued a bench warrant for Chamizo’s arrest after he failed to appear in court, according to court records.
As the sole police officer with the Napa Valley Railroad, Wine Train’s parent company, Hullquist, 56, is on the job all the time.
On Monday, at 12:30 a.m., he rushed to Solano Avenue after a Trailblazer driven by a 23-year-old man, allegedly under the influence of a controlled substance, crashed into a tree and landed on Wine Train tracks, damaging the line. Napa Police arrested the man while Hullquist dealt with the track repairs.
He also assists other agencies. The day before Christmas, Hullquist was among the responders who rushed to the Third Street Bridge after a man jumped into the Napa River.
Napa Police Capt. Jeff Troendly said Napa Police occasionally assist the Napa Valley Railroad Police Department. Napa Police will sometimes call Hullquist to reach the engineer if the train needs to be slowed along the way. “That works well for us,” Troendly said.
The Napa Valley Railroad Department is certified by California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which sets law enforcement training and operational standards.
Hullquist, a member of Napa Valley College’s first police academy, started his career with the Napa Valley Wine Train as a conductor and security person in 1997.
Hullquist volunteers for other tasks at his company. He make signs for the Wine Train and repairs the company’s radios. He’s also performed a few weddings on the train after becoming an online-ordained minister years ago to help out a friend who was getting married.
Anthony Giaccio, the railroad’s chief executive officer, said the department “is a great aspect of being part of such a world-famous railroad.”
“People from all over the world reach out to us for our expertise on running vintage cars, and our CNG. They also approach us for help in creating and managing railroad policing issues. Jeff is a leader and teacher in the railroad police industry,” Giaccio said.