Annual Maintenance on the Sierra No. 3

Every year, in accordance with the Federal Railroad Administration Regulations (FRA), Railtown 1897 State Historic Park conducts an annual inspection on all operating steam engines. Locomotives that are not operated often enough to accrue either 31 or 92 service days in a 368 day period will have those inspections conducted, at a minimum, of once every 368 calendar days. This annual inspection is a preventative maintenance approach to keeping this famous “Movie Star” locomotive in prime running condition. All moving components of the locomotive are investigated and gone over with a “fine tooth comb”.  Active engineers on the engine give their input on running condition and what may need to be examined. Overall the No. 3 was in exceptional shape and only needed a few minor modifications during this year’s winter maintenance.


Smoke Box cleaned.

One of the dirtiest tasks maintaining a locomotive is cleaning the smoke box. The most efficient way to remove ash and soot from the smoke box is to crawl inside the smoke box and manually shovel and brush the debris out. The hard to reach areas can be whisked through the clean-out plug located on the bottom of the smoke box. On a very active locomotive a smoke box must be cleaned every 90 days. With the minimal use of the Sierra No. 3, it is only required once a year.


Tender removed from the cab to prepare for maintenance.

Here we see the engine’s cab separated from the tender. The tender was taken outside of the roundhouse to allow working space both for projects on the engine and tender. The tender’s interior was wire brushed to remove scale and debris build up, while the engine was lifted with air-jacks to inspect various maneuvering facets of this locomotive.


Park employee’s Phil Hard and Scott Botfield removing the drawbar from the engine and the tender.

A drawbar is a solid coupling between the engine and it’s load. The drawbar is removed annually and examined for any cracks. After removel, a thorough cleaning must be done.


Park Volunteer Garret Hanford removing grease and debris from the drawbar.

First, grease and other substances must be scraped off. A grinder with a cut brush will remove the rest of the surface debris. Once cleaned down to the bare metal, it is ready for a 3 part dye penetrate examination.


Park volunteer Dave Tadlock applying dye penetrate to the drawbar.

First it is sprayed with a cleaner. Once dry, it is sprayed with a colored dye. If there are any cracks the dye will submerge and be seen after the final step. Next, the colored dye is then wiped off with a rag. The final step is spraying the drawbar with a developer. At this time if there are any cracks they will stand out through the developer. Luckily there were not any cracks discovered.


Journal box staple seen between center spokes of wheel. (Note: Skewed leaf springs)

Examining the geometry of the leaf spring suspension and observations of an arm moving too close to the frame, it was decided that adjustments were in order.  It was determined that the journal box staples needed to be removed, built up, and milled to exactly 11”.


Journal box staple removed.

This journal box staple was removed, measured, and inspected.


Park Employee Scott Botfield adding weld to build up the staple.

After measurements and calculations, weld was affixed to the staple legs to lift it to slightly above 11″.


Affixed weld on staple.

Weld applied to staple legs and waiting to be milled.


Machinist Tony Stroud milling the staple.

Milling or machining, is a process of using rotary cutters to remove excess material. This process will ensure precise sizes and shapes. Here we see the journal box staple being milled to exact specifications.


Journal box staple in process of milling.

Milling the staple to precisely 11”.


Journal box staple after milling process.


Park Employee Scott Botfield using a cutting torch to cut off excess slag.

A cutting torch is used to remove excess material from the legs of the staple.


Scott Botfield using a chipping hammer to remove slag from the staple.

A chipping hammer is used to remove remaining slag (waste material) from the staple. It was then planed with a grinder.


Journal box staple and leaf suspension reassembled.


Scott Botfield using a cutting torch to remove a section of the brake bar.

30” of the brake bar was removed and replaced due to apparent defects. The section was removed by a cutting torch and a new section was welded into place.


Park Volunteer Eric Nielsen doing the “Dirty Work” of cleaning the pit.

While the No. 3 was removed from the roundhouse for inspection, park volunteers were able to clean out the pit and surrounding shop area. A clean work space will enable future maintenance to be performed safely and more efficiently.

The Sierra No. 3 was inspected, fine tuned, and is awaiting park visitors for the upcoming running season.



New Volunteer Open House- January 31st, 2015

Railtown Volunteer help visitors understand why This Place Matters.

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park Volunteer help visitors understand why This Place Matters.

JAMESTOWN, Calif. (January 09, 2015) –Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (SHP) is seeking volunteers to help with education and interpretation programs at the park, and will be hosting an open house at the end of the month to offer more information.

The Volunteer Open House will take place on Saturday January 31, 2015 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, located on 5th Avenue and Reservoir Road, Jamestown CA.  All volunteer applications must be submitted no later than Thursday February 12, as training programs will begin on Saturday February 14.  At the Open House, prospective volunteers will have the opportunity to meet Park staff and current volunteers, and learn about the various positions currently available.  Informal tours of the operation will be conducted, and snacks will be served. While no previous experience with trains or public service is required, recruitment is also currently underway for Car Host and Tour Guide volunteer positions.  Experience is not necessary- training will be provided.

Railtown 1897 SHP is known for its century-old steam maintenance shops and train rides, including popular rides behind the famous Sierra No. 3 (also known as the “Movie Star Locomotive”). In addition to weekend excursion steam trains (April through October), Railtown 1897 SHP offers daily tours, roving interpreters, and many special events, including The Polar Express ™.

Benefits for volunteering at Railtown 1897 SHP include membership in the California State Railroad Museum Foundation, free admission to and train rides at Railtown 1897 SHP and at the California State Railroad Museum, a variety of social activities, interesting training opportunities and guest speakers, discounts at the Depot Store, and participation in an annual volunteer recognition dinner. Interested volunteers can download a volunteer application at or call 209-984-4408 for more information.

Railtown’s Motor Car Collection

Behind the scenes at any railroad is the mighty track car. A track car or speeder (also referred to as railway motor car, putt-putt, track-maintenance car, crew car, jigger, trolley, quad, trike, or inspection car, and also known as a draisine (although may be unpowered), is a motorized maintenance vehicle used on railroads around the world by work crews, track inspectors and emergency response crews to move quickly to and from work sites. The track car is slow in comparison to a train or automobile, it is called speeder because it is faster than a hand car or human-powered vehicle. Most cars have a top speed of about 35 MPH. Track cars are small in stature however these maintenance of way vehicles perform any number of tasks.  On modern railroads, this unique type of vehicle was replaced by ‘Hi-Rail’ (or HyRail) vehicles.  Hi-Rails are modern trucks specially fitted with flanged wheels.  The rail wheels can be raised and lowered as needed and they are legal for use on both the highway and rail.

At Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, track cars are most often seen as “fire patrol”, ferrying a crew of dedicated volunteers that keep a lookout for fires started by errant sparks from our steam engines and to promptly extinguish the flames.

Not all of the speeders in use today are historic to the site. We catalog here, a visual sampling of the speeders or motor cars at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. Some of the more restored speeders are the ones we use in daily operations while the older and more “crusty” looking ones are kept intact as collections pieces because of their documented relevance to the Sierra Railway during the earlier years of operations, before the diesel era.  In the preservation world, they are highly valued for their original, unrestored condition in their original context.  Under the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Preservation, this is known as preservation integrity, and we work hard educate visitors to appreciate them in this state.  Anyone can apply a fresh paint job, but it is rare to find original equipment, in original context, in un-restored condition.

Meet the Track Cars


MW 80 “Great White”

MW 80 is known among the engine crew as the “Great White”.  A Fairmont A-8 motorcar, it came to Railtown from the Sacramento Southern Railroad at the California State Railroad Museum. We use this car often during the operating season, and since it holds 8 people it is usually our offering for special events that include speeder rides.


SRy #102

Tucked away in the track auto house or “Speeder Shed” is speeder #102. It has been here since the early years. It is a Fairmont A5-A series car, this dates to the early 1930’s. These cars were called Large Extra Gang Cars and could carry up to 11 workers. No longer operable, its engine is a Continental Motor Company Red Seal, 4 cylinder engine. With parts missing, and a frozen engine, it may sit for quite some time as is.

speeder 104, small cropped

Sry #104

Sry #104 is one of the older Sierra motor cars. It is a Fairmont A5 series B-4 manufactured around 1937. The car operated with a 4 cylinder Waukesha engine, and has a capacity of 9 men. This car was once abandoned at Chinese Camp, and came to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in the early 1990’s.

SRy 106 in machine shop of the roundhouse.

SRy #106 in the machine shop of the roundhouse.

SRy #106 is a sister car to the 104, it is of the same make and manufactured in 1937. It operates today, but is reserved for very special occasions. It has a canvas top. It was acquired from the Sierra Northern Railroad in Oakdale in the early 1990’s and brought back to Railtown. Both the 104 and 106 ran on a Waukesha 4 cylinder engine. Today, both are kept under cover.

SRy #108 May 1978, Jamestown, CA

SRy #108 May 1978, Jamestown, CA

SRy 108

SRy #108-current condition.

SRY #108 is a newer Sierra addition. It was painted SRR 108 back in 1978. This Fairmont  A-5 was part of the original facility acquisition by California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1982. It was probably manufactured in the mid 1950’s. Though it is historic to the site, its age puts it right on the cusp of the advent of the diesel era and Railtown’s period of significance.  Today it is fully operable and is carfully cared for by our dedicated volunteers.

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SRy #110 with park volunteers.

SRy #110 is a Fairmont M19-AA two man light inspection car. It also is a later Sierra acquisition from the Western Pacific. It was manufactured in 1955 and is operable. This model is configured with the aluminum cab and painted “federal yellow”.

SRy 114

SRy #114

SRY #114 is also a newer addition to the Railtown roster. This motor car came from the Western Pacific originally.  It has had extensive rehabilitation work done on it in the past few years, including a new engine, paint job, and most recently a new tool box. 114 is currently running as our primary “fire patrol” speeder. This type of motor car is a Fairmont A-5.

SR MOTOR B full body shot

Sheffield #33

This is by far the oldest and most mysterious motor car at Railtown. It is a  Sheffield No. 33 model. It has a 2 stroke, 3 cylinder engine with a direct drive. This means you pushed the car to start and away you go. No idle, it runs when on. Records show that there were six of these running along the Sierra lines in 1922. This one is probably a remnant from this original fleet. It is stenciled “S.R. Motor B.” in white with dark red body.

W.P. S-2

Western Pacific S-2

Out on “speeder hill” at Railtown, you can find a number of speeder bodies and parts that are sometimes used for surplus. There are two relatively intact speeders on the grounds that were acquired by the Sierra from Western Pacific. Manufactured in about 1960, one of these cars (above) has a belt drive, and the other (below) has a transmission. We do not have record of Sierra numbering for these cars or if they ever ran on the Sierra line.

W.P. S-2 T

Western Pacific S-2T

Olivia dehaviland

Actress Olivia de-Haviland driving the #8 during the filming of “Dodge City” 1939.


SRy #8 Model T

One of our crown jewels found in the historic belt driven machine shop is SRy #8. This Ford model T is mounted on a Fairbanks-Morse frame and dates from around 1922. Though technically a track auto, this two-seat rolling stock was most likely used for light track inspection, or as a paymaster’s car. Today, the car still operates for special occasions, but does not go far from the Roundhouse.


#19 “Hetch Hetchy”, circa 1920 at the San Francisco Muni shops where it was built.

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#19 “Hetch Hetchy” with park volunteers.

The #19 “Hetch Hetchy” is an upscale track car. Its frame and motor were built in 1919 by the White Motor Company. The passenger body is by Thompson-Graf-Edler of San Francisco and interior appointments by Meister & Sons of Sacramento. The front rail trucks, wheels, brakes and self-contained turntable were added by the San Francisco Municipal Railway shop. The first “track bus” No. 19 could carry thirteen passengers, but was originally furnished as an ambulance car during Mountain Division construction and was used on the Hetch Hetchy dam project. Faster than most “speeders”, it originally could travel up to 5o MPH on level track, running in overdrive. This vehicle was refurbished to its original configuration and operating condition at Railtown 1897 State Historical Park in 1998-1999.

More on this unique track car: Hetch Hetchy Railcar #19

Historically, the track autos were used for track inspection, to transport VIPs to work sites, as the paymaster’s car,  or as ambulances for injured workers. The Sierra Railroad rented them out for private use in the early 1900’s.


Newspaper article taken from the Pott’s family scrapbook, 1907.

It is interesting to note how expensive it was to rent the track auto (with chauffeur) for a day, $15.00. That would be about $300.00 in today’s currency.

Visit Railtown 1897 State Historical Park to see the motor car collection in person. During special events you will have a rare opportunity to take a ride on the house tracks in one these unique cars that were once vital to the railroad.

Fabrication and Installation of Boiler Patches


No. 28

No. 28

The No. 28 project is moving right along. Recent focus has been on replacing thinned sections of the firebox. The firebox was assessed after a thorough descaling of  water deposits. Through ultra sonic inspection the crown sheet, knuckle, and area under the firebox door all showed some signs of thinning. The original crown sheet and knuckle were removed and were sent out to have the pieces replicated. The fabricated crown sheet was formed at Benicia Fabrication & Machine, Inc. in Benecia, CA., and the knuckle was formed by Chelatchie Boiler Works, Inc. in Camas, WA..

Original crown sheet being removed.

Norm Comer cutting out original crown sheet.

Portions of the boiler that needed to be replaced were removed in sections by a cutting torch. These pieces were lowered with a electric chain fall and sent out to be duplicated.

Crown sheet removed from     the interior of the boiler.

Crown sheet removed from the interior of the boiler.

Once the crown sheet was removed, the exposed interior of the wrapper sheet was needle scaled to remove accumulated water deposits. After a detailed cleaning the wrapper was inspected for defects. No issues were detected.


Crown sheet marked for stay bolt holes.

After the crown sheet was formed and returned it was then laid out and measured. The sheet was marked in a grid format. 130 holes were drilled on each half of the crown sheet. These holes will later be tapped and threaded to receive stay bolts. The stay bolts will connect through the wrapper to the firebox sheets.


Tony Stroud and Phil Hard.

Stay bolt pilot holes were drilled out at 7/8” and later will be opened up by aligned reaming to .920. They will then be tapped with a 1 inch-12 continuous thread through the firebox and wrapper.

Original and fabricated knuckle peices.

Original and fabricated knuckle peices.


Scott Botfield beveling the knuckle prior to installation.

Upon arrival, the slightly larger fabricated patches were rough cut to size by a cutting torch. The pieces were then ground down until they fit the side sheets. The edges were beveled down to a V which is needed for the welding procedure.

Engine side of crown sheet installed.

Engine side of crown sheet half installed.


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New crown sheet halves tacked into place.


Greg Nelson welding inside the firebox.

Greg Nelson welding inside the firebox. Photo by Dan Ryan.


Greg Nelson welding the seem between the firebox knuckle and crown sheet.

Greg Nelson welding the seam between the firebox knuckle and crown sheet. Photo by Dan Ryan.

New crown sheet and knuckle welded into place.

New crown sheet and knuckle welded into place.


Now that the firebox is patched up a substantial amount of work is on the brink. Next step is to thread the stay bolt holes, then installing the stay bolts.

Previous Sierra No. 28 Update: Hydrostatic Testing of Superheater Tubes

Next Step: Tapping and Installing Stay Bolts.


Hydrostatic Testing on the Superheater Tubes

Advancement on the No. 28 project-


Pressurizing superheater tubes.

A hydrostatic test was conducted on all 21 superheater elements. 300 lbs. of pressurized water was applied to determine if there were any leaks. Steam engine Superheaters were engineered to increase efficiency by transforming saturated steam into dry steam.  Saturated steam moves from the throttle valve through the dry pipe into the superheater header attached to the tube sheet in the smoke box. This steam then passes through elements which are housed in the superheater flues. Combustible gasses from the firebox move through the tubes and heat the water and the steam inside of the superheater element.  At the end of it’s cycle through the elements, it proceeds into a separate compartment of the superheater header into the distribution pipes, then on to the piston valves and then on to the main steam cylinders. Dry “superheated” steam is more efficient than wet saturated  steam.

Superheaters are more expensive and require extra maintenance however the benefits are reduced water and fuel consumption.

Interior view of a superheater unit

Interior view of a superheater unit

Performance of a steam locomotive superheater.

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Warren Smith polishing seats prior to hydrostatic test.

Photo of a hydro test conducted on the super heaters.

Park Volunteers Warren Smith and David Ethier performing the hydrostatic test.


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Superheater tubes awaiting inspection.

Leaks that were found were marked for repair. Only 3 had leaks and were welded to repair.


Tube marked to be repaired

Tube marked to be repaired

After the cleaning, testing, and repairs were completed, the superheater tubes were stored awaiting installation.

Previous Sierra No. 28 Update: Removal of Firebox Pieces for Replacement

Next Step: Fabrication and Installation of Boiler Patches


New This Year! Veterans Day Train Rides & Shop Tour!

JAMESTOWN, Calif. – To honor their service and celebrate the patriotic holiday, California State Parks and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (SHP) are proud to offer veterans and active military personnel with complimentary excursion train rides plus complimentary Park admission on Tuesday, November 11, 2014. In addition, the excursion train running on Veteran’s Day will be pulled by an ex-military diesel locomotive and special Shop Tours will be available.

The 613 is a military Veteran, too!

The 613 is a military Veteran, too!

Veteran and active military personnel are encouraged to wear their uniforms with pride while enjoying a special excursion train ride available at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. this one-day-only on a first-come, first-served basis.

Plus, Park visitors of all ages are encouraged to arrive early on Veteran’s Day for special Shop Tours that will be offered from 10 a.m. to noon. Interested guests will have the chance to get an up-close viewing of exciting repair work currently underway on Sierra No. 28, a 1922 Baldwin locomotive.

See work underway on the Sierra No. 28 restoration in out Shop Tour at 10am.

See work underway on the Sierra No. 28 restoration in out Shop Tour at 10am.

The complimentary admission and train ride offers are valid for veterans who served in the active military, naval, or air service of the United States veterans as defined by Section 980 of the Military and Veterans Code. In addition, any active duty or reserve military personnel for the United States Armed Forces or National Guard of any state also qualify.   Veterans must show their current military ID or proof of discharge under conditions other than dishonorable or bad conduct.

For more information about Railtown 1897 SHP, please call 209-984-3953 or visit for updated information. Like us on faceboook.

Buster and Hobo- the Sierra Railway Dogs

One of the most well known celebrities of the late 19th century was a little dog known as Owney the Mail Dog. For nine years and 140,000 miles, Owney travelled the country by rail, always riding in the mail car and cared for by the mail clerks. His fame grew as he traveled across the country and later around the world. Owney is one of many dogs that have taken to rail travel over the years. In Italy, Lampo, rode the trains and his story was told in the book, “Lampo the Traveling Dog,” by Elvio Barlettani. Pepe Marvel, a young dog who regularly rode the   commuter train in Valparaiso, Chile, became an instant celebrity when pictures of him sleeping on a rail car were circulated on the internet.   Pepe was adept at avoiding the transit security and sneaking on board the trains. His traveling days ended when he was finally apprehended and later adopted by a Buenos Aires family.

Buster the Sierra Railway Dog- artist's rendition by Karen Kling

Buster the Sierra Railway Dog- artist’s rendition by Karen Kling

Tuolumne County and the Sierra Railway were not without their own  canine celebrities. Old Bob was a well-known local dog who regularly rode the stage coaches that traveled between Sonora and Milton.  Besides being a friend and companion to the stage-drivers, he was also an eyewitness to several hold-ups. When the coaches were replaced by the railroad, Old Bob was lonely and despondent. One day, he hopped aboard a train to Stockton for a little change of scenery. Not being a city dog, Bob quickly became disenchanted with what Stockton had to offer. Then he spied a hack driven by Frank Robinson and jumped aboard and made himself comfortable under the front seat. From that day on, he was cared for by the hackmen of the city.

Hobo, arrived in Jamestown about 1898 with Station Agent F.T. Boyd.  Hobo found railroading to his liking and made the train station his home base. He loved everyone, but was particularly fond of the rail workers. Hobo was a wanderer and never one to stay in a place for too long. When he grew bored with Jamestown, he hopped aboard a train and rode up the rails to make new friends and see new sights, returning to Jamestown when the mood struck. Hobo didn’t care much for warm temperatures and would make his way to Sugar Pine or Strawberry each year to spend the summer months, returning each fall to Jamestown. Hobo was a village dog and he was fed and cared for by the many members of the community who loved and admired him.

Bummer, was a very intelligent shepherd dog who lived above Sonora with rancher Joseph Barron. Besides his ranch hand duties, Bummer took it upon himself to fetch the daily paper. Rain or shine, Bummer made his way to the Black Oak Station each night and awaited the arrival of the mail train. After receiving the paper from the express messenger, he would hurry home to his master.

Bummer’s career almost ended when he chased a squirrel across the train tracks and derailed a small motor rail car. Badly injured, he crawled home and was nursed back to heath by Barron.

When you are riding the train at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, don’t forget to bring your own canine companion, and remember the history of the Sierra Railway dogs who came before.