Although the No. 28 spent its entire career at Jamestown, few records remain. Like so many locomotives all across the country, anonymously doing their jobs day in and day out, the No. 28 was built for the Sierra Railway by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia in 1922 – two of only 684 locomotives manufactured in that recession year by Baldwin. The No. 28 is a 2-8-0 Consolidation type engine. Considered a design of great utility, Consolidations were popular throughout North America, and indeed all around the world.
The Baldwin Locomotive Works specification sheets list delivery for No. 28 as “Shipment on own wheels.” It was hauled in freight trains across the country to Jamestown, and entered service on March 7, 1922. The locomotive was built for freight service, carrying general supplies inbound to the region, including rock, cement and supplies into the mountains for dam building projects. Outbound it hauled lumber and other natural products of the mountain mills, mines and quarries, plus livestock and agricultural products – notably apples.
As a boy, Robert J. Hannah lived across from the depot and observed the daily activity of the Sierra Railway. He related the following information to Dave Connery for an article that appeared in the Sierra Railway Journal, #9, September 1995.
By 1930, the Sierra Railway was running only one freight train a day. It would arrive in the early afternoon with the No. 36 out in front and the No. 28 ten cars back, followed by another thirty to thirty-five cars. This somewhat unusual configuration of engines and cars was the result of concerns over the strength of the trestles. The No. 36 was the heaviest locomotive on the Sierra line and it was feared that two engines double-headed might result in a disastrous trestle failure.
Once the train arrived in Jamestown, the No. 36 was disconnected and returned to the roundhouse. The No. 28 was then uncoupled from the cars behind and would push the ten cars in front onto the house track, which just barely accommodated them. The No. 28 would then back up and pull the remaining cars onto the outside track across from the depot. The thirty or so cars were heavily laden with freight and the No. 28 often struggled and strained to pull them the short distance up the rails.
The cars on the return trip to Oakdale were also heavily loaded. As the train pulled out from the depot, the No. 28 would wait until it had cleared the Tuolumne main line switch and then backup and hook onto the caboose. It would then run backwards as a push/pull helper to get the train over the hill outside of Chinese.
On July 10, 1932, as the Depression deepened, the Sierra stopped running a separate passenger train between Oakdale and Tuolumne, instead running a mixed freight and passenger train. Locomotive No. 28 was generally used as the power for the mixed train, until all passenger train service was finally ended on August 31, 1938. The Sierra then ran a bus from Stockton for passengers and express. This bus service was sold to Greyhound in 1942.
By the 1940s, the Sierra had sold off most of their smaller, older locomtioves. The No. 28, No. 24, No. 34 and No. 36, remained as the workhorses of the railroad hauling freight, with No. 18 for movie service and light freight work. These were joined by No. 3 in 1948, restored from the dead line for movie and excursion service. Locomotive No. 18 was retired in 1952 when its tube time expired. This remained the pattern on the Sierra until the 1955 when the more economical and easier to maintain diesel locomotives replaced steam on the line. Locomotive maintenance was moved to a new shop facility in Oakdale, and the Jamestown shops with its steam locomotives became a time capsule of older technology.
For the next eight years, the No. 28 sat mostly idle, except for occasional excursions and movie work. The Sierra ended all excursions in October 1963, after No. 28 derailed while backing an excursion train out of the Jamestown depot lead. In 1963 the No. 28 also made a brief appearance on the TV show Death Valley Days. Although she was never a star like the No. 3, the No. 28 had bit parts in a number of TV shows and movies over the next fourteen years. Her credits include the TV shows Nichols, Overland Trails, Little House on the Prairie, the movies Bound for Glory, The World’s Greatest Lover, and The Granite Lady (a documentary made for the U.S. mint in San Francisco), plus several commercials.
In 1971, the Crocker family, controlling owners of the railroad since its founding in 1897, decided to develop the Jamestown land, shops, and equipment from the Sierra Railroad as a tourist destination and ride as Rail Town 1897, and the No. 28 began a new career regularly pulling excursion trains for tourists. While the trains were popular with visitors and locals alike, the Sierra Railroad remained a marginal operation, even with both freight and tourist revenue. In 1979 the Crocker family decided to dispose of their interests in the entire operation.
The Sierra Railroad freight operation and tracks were sold to a group of investors from Chicago. In order to protect the valuable, historically important resource of the Jamestown Shops and the excursion operation, the Crocker family sold the property and donated the equipment to the California State Parks and Recreation Department in 1982 and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park came into existence. Under state park management, the trains ran seasonally and the No. 28 continued to play an important role in passenger operations. However, in February of 2009 it was taken out of service when corrosion was found in some areas of the boiler during a routine annual inspection. Since then, the locomotive has sat patiently in the roundhouse waiting for funds to become available to make needed repairs.
In August of 2013, repairs began, funded by the California State Railroad Museum Foundation, the Tuolumne County Rotary Clubs and a grant from Sonora Area Foundation and the Irving J. Symons Foundation for Tuolumne County, a Supporting Organization of the Sonora Area Foundation.
The locomotive is expected to return to service in 2014.