Railtown 1897 Seeks Interested Volunteers & Hosts Special Open House in February

Volunteer Open House on February 8; Applications due February 12 

JAMESTOWN, Calif. – Fascinated by trains? Love working as part of a team? Enjoy meeting with people from near and far? Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (SHP) is now accepting applications for people interested in volunteering to help communicate the fascinating railroading history of the “Movie Railroad” in the beautiful Sierra foothills.  Interested volunteers are encouraged to attend a Volunteer Open House on Saturday, February 8, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Volunteer applications must be submitted by Wednesday, February 12, and a thorough volunteer training program will begin on Saturday, February 15.  Community members are encouraged to join this worthwhile program that offers an opportunity to support the local state historic park while learning more about California’s rich history, meeting new people and developing friendships with those who share similar interests.

While no previous experience with trains or public service is required, recruitment is currently underway for Car Host and Tour Guide volunteer positions in 2014.   At the Open House, prospective volunteers will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Park staff and talk with current volunteers to learn about the various positions that are available.  Informal tours of the operation will be conducted, and snacks will be served.

weekender volunteer ad

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, Railtown 1897 SHP offers daily tours, roving interpreters, and many special events.

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 www.railtown1897.org or call 209-984-4408 for more information.

2nd Annual Christmas Train – Thank You Tuolumne County for Your Continued Support of Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

no 3 to sonora- tc thank you

On Friday,  December 13th, for one night only, The Sonora and Twain Harte Rotary Clubs and the Kiwanis Club of Sonora in cooperation with Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, the Sierra Northern Railway, the California State Railroad Museum Foundation, J.S. West, and Sierra Pacific Industries will bring “movie star” Railtown’s Engine #3 to Sonora to say “Thank You!” to the community for helping “Keep Railtown Rolling” and to show off the recent restoration of this historic locomotive.

Santa will be on aboard for the children, local choirs will carol, and warm beverages will be provided!

The event will be held in front of the Tuolumne General Hospital (Hospital and Washington Streets) from 5 to 8 pm

The Sierra No. 3 visits Sonora

For the second time in 20 years, the Sierra No. 3 returns to Sonora in a special appearance on Friday December 13th from 5 until 8PM, at S. Washington Street and Hospital Road.  Visitors will have the opportunity to climb aboard and visit with Santa while the train is in Sonora.  Hot Chocolate, carolers and lots of holiday lights will be part of the free event. Parking is available in the Tuolumne General Parking lot.

 Thank You Tuolumne County

The Sonora and Twain Harte Rotary Clubs have joined together for this unique event as a way to thank the people of Tuolumne County for stepping up to help ‘Keep Railtown Rolling’.  The last operating weekend for train rides at Railtown will be December 14th & 15th, and will be pulled by the Sierra No. 3, with Santa on Board!

Sierra No. 28 Repair Project: A History of the No. 28

The Sierra No. 28 was acquired new in 1922, along with a new-to-them turntable. This photo depicts both acquisitions when they were new.

The Sierra No. 28 was acquired new in 1922, along with a used turntable–the same one still in operation. This photo depicts both acquisitions when they were new to the railway.

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.

The Sierra No. 28 as it was when it left the Baldwin Motor Works in 1922

The Sierra No. 28 as it was when it left the Baldwin Motor Works “on its own wheels” in 1922

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.

The Sierra No. 28 was one of only six steam locomotives retained by the Sierra Railway in 1946.

The Sierra No. 28 was one of only six steam locomotives retained by the Sierra Railway in 1946. This photo depicts it in operation in the 1950’s.

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.

The No. 28 at the Jamestown Depot during filming of Death Valley Days, October 6, 1962. Photo by Brian Curnow.

The No. 28 at the Jamestown Depot during filming of Death Valley Days, October 6, 1962. Photo by Brian Curnow.

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.


Previous Sierra No. 28 Update: Ultrasonic Testing and Boiler Inspection

Next Sierra No. 28 Update: Removal of Corroded Staybolts, plus, Firebox & Tube sheet inspection

Sierra No. 28 Repair Project: Ultrasonic Testing and Boiler Inspection

To meet the Federal Railroad Administration’s  1472-day inspection requirements (for more information, see previous blog post), the Sierra No. 28’s boiler must be thoroughly inspected for boiler integrity,

Grid marks are applied to the boiler in order to guide the ultrasonic testing.

Grid marks are applied to the boiler in order to ensure all surface of the boiler is consistently tested. (The blue tubing is part of a ventilation system in the boiler for employee safety while working in the confined space).

Volunteer Dan Mayer uses a grinder to spot-clean mineral build-up from the outside of the boiler. Two tennis ball sized spots per grid were needed for ultrasonic testing.

Volunteer Dan Maher uses a grinder to spot-clean mineral build-up from the outside of the boiler. Two small spots per grid were prepared for testing.

Project Volunteer tests the boiler using ultrasonic equipment, and marks the thickness onto each spot as he goes. Early results were looking good for the No. 28's boiler health.

Project Volunteer David Ethier tests the boiler at each spot using an ultrasonic probe, and notes the thickness of each spot as he goes.  The probe works similarly to the way that a dolphin uses echolocation–by sending and receiving a frequency and measuring the time it takes to return.  The device is calibrated to measure steel in this case.  You can see the numbers written directly where the measurements were taken.

Here, most of the ultrasonic measurements have been taken and results are looking good.

Here, much of the needed testing has been completed, as you can see by all of the numbers written in the grid.

David completing the final samples, on the backhead.  The UT device can be seen in his left hand, as he applies the sensor in his right.

David completing the final samples, on the back head. He is standing where the engineer would sit, if the locomotive were reassembled.

A copy of the previous Form 4, completed in 2003.  The form is several pages long.  Measurements are listed on the form, in addition to the results of calculations.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s “Form 4” is the document that must be submitted to document the condition of the boiler.  This is the first page of the previous Form 4, completed in 2003.   Measurements are listed on the form, in addition to the results of calculations.  The Form 4 is submitted, as well as the Form 3 (annual inspection) and the Form 19 (Alteration and repair report for steam locomotive boilers).  In addition to meeting FRA requirements, these forms become an important part of the artifact’s history, particularly the Form 19 which will help us document changes over time.


Previous Sierra No. 28 Update: Removing Boiler Tubes

Next Sierra No. 28 Update:  A History of the No. 28

Advance Tickets on Sale Now for Holiday-Themed Train Rides With Santa at Railtown 1897

“Santa’s Starlight Express” and “Santa By Daylight”


Photo by Michael Sharps

– Santa is taking some time out of his busy schedule to make special daytime and nighttime appearances at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (SHP) in Jamestown this holiday season!  Special train rides with Santa will operate over the three-day Thanksgiving weekend (November 29, 30 & December 1) and again the weekend of December 14 & 15.

Nighttime Rides Aboard “Santa’s Starlight Express”

For two nights only — on Friday, November 29 and Saturday, November 30 — visitors are encouraged to bundle up and join Santa and his musical friends for two lighted Christmas trains departing at 5:30 and 7 p.m.

The special train rides — lighted and filled with the music and magic of Christmas – are sure to get visitors in the holiday spirit with live holiday music and caroling aboard the train.  Santa will join riders on a train of festively lit cars pulled by a vintage diesel locomotive.  Every child will have plenty of time to whisper their wishes to Santa as he and his elves make their way through the train, accompanied by entertaining live music.  Also, free hot chocolate will be served on board the trains.   And, as another special holiday treat, Sierra No. 3 — known as the “Movie Star Locomotive” — will be all decked out and on special display as well.

Tickets for the nighttime rides aboard “Santa’s Starlight Express” are $24 for adults, $12 for youths, and free for children 2 and under (traveling on a lap).  New this year, first-class tickets are available for $33 for adults and $15 for youths.  Discounted train ride tickets are available to members.

 Rides Aboard “Santa by Daylight”

Popular “Santa By Daylight” train rides also continue this year on November 29, 30 & December 1, and again on December 14 & 15. With Santa on board, a holiday-lit vintage diesel locomotive will pull the trains on November 29 & 30 whereas Sierra No. 3 will do so on December 1, 14 & 15.   Trains run hourly from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and cost $15 for adults, $8 for youths, and free for children 5 and under (and for members).

Advanced tickets are strongly recommended and are available online at www.railtown1897.org or by calling the depot store at 209-984-3953.

Sierra No. 28 Repair Project- Removing the Boiler Tubes

A major component of this repair project is the 1,472 day inspection, as mandated by the Federal Railroad Administration. The inspection requirement is that every fifteen years or 1472 “service days,” the boiler shell must be fully inspected, and an ultrasonic thickness (UT) survey of the boiler and firebox must be performed and documented.  From these test results, support the Form 4 engineering calculations for working pressure of the boiler.  The No. 28 would have been close to this milestone when the scheduled repair project was finished, so it was built into the project to avoid disassembling the locomotive twice in a row.

The boiler tubes must be removed to access the boiler for inspection. These tubes carry hot gasses from the locomotive’s firebox to more efficiently heat the surrounding water in the boiler, and make steam. They were last replaced during the last 1,472 inspection in 2003. When they are installed, a tool is used to expand the tubes into the tube sheet so they will not move or come loose.  To remove them, the tubes are cut away from the tubesheets at both ends (in the firebox, and the smokebox).  Then they are pounded loose and pulled out through the smokebox.

Senior Maintenance Aid Phil Hard uses a crafted lever to remove tubes through the front end.

Senior Maintenance Aide Phil Hard uses a shop-built lever to remove tubes through the front end of the locomotive.

A view of the front boilerplate. Tubes are being pulled forward through this plate. The smaller holes each contain a boiler tube, the larger holes are for superheater flues, which are not being removed.

A view of the front tube sheet. Tubes are being pulled forward through this sheet. The smaller holes each contain a boiler tube. The larger holes are for superheater flues,  which are not being removed.

____________ works inside the firebox to detach the boiler tubes from the rear boilerplate and help "push" them forward to be pulled out the through the front.

Machinist Tony Stroud works inside the firebox to cut the boiler tubes from the firebox tube sheet and help “push” them forward while another staff member pulls each tube through the front.

In this video, project volunteer Warren Smith shows the process in a bit more detail. Due to their position behind the branch pipe, some of the tubes could not be pulled out straight.   This problem was solved by pushing the tubes into the boiler, where they rolled to the bottom, were retrieved with a tool, and pulled out of a more accessible hole.  An alternative removal method is to pull out and cut off in segments, but the method used here was more efficient. The voice you hear at the other end of the boiler is that of Norm Comer.

The No. 28 has 148 of the 2″ tubes.  Removal took approximately 13 days with paid and volunteer labor.  The tubes are in generally good condition, and some cases could be re-installed.  However, for this project, we decided that it would be more time-effective to replace them with new material.  With the removal of the tubes, the final demolition is complete, and we are moving into the next phase of the project!

Previous No. 28 Update: Removing the Jacket

Next No. 28 Update: Ultrasonic Testing and Boiler Inspection

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park Announces First Female Engineer

Stephanie Tadlock, Engineer

Stephanie Tadlock, Engineer

Volunteer Stephanie Tadlock recently joined an exclusive club, she was promoted to the position of Steam Locomotive Engineer at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, the park’s first female to hold this position.

Engineer is the most advanced position on the train crew. Commonly confused with conductor (who directs the movement of the train), the engineer is charge of operating the locomotive. To qualify for the position, Stephanie put in years training in every position on the train crew, including brakeman, conductor, hostler and fireman, before qualifying as an engineer earlier this summer.  Railtown 1897 State Historic Park’s railroad operations are regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration.  The park currently employs 20 volunteer train crew members who adhere to the training, testing and operating requirements administered by the FRA, and operate steam and diesel excursion trains from April-December.

A resident of Merced, Stephanie grew up on a small farm outside of Madera, CA. In her day job, she works as a program analyst in Fresno, with a 2-hour round trip commute. One wouldn’t imagine that would lend much free time, but somehow between cross country motorcycle trips, helping her dad with antique shows, and spoiling her granddaughter, Stephanie has shown the drive, energy, and aptitude to become Railtown 1897’s first female engineer.

Stephanie began volunteering at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park  after her husband, Dave, transitioned from volunteer tour guide to volunteer train crew member in 2007. After realizing that Dave was at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park every weekend, Stephanie and her son began volunteering on the fire patrol crew during Dave’s second year in order to be able to see Dave once in a while! After spending a year learning and becoming immersed in the camaraderie of Railtown’s volunteer crew, in 2008 Stephanie volunteered for train crew and, as she says “that’s about the time I got bit by the steam bug.”

Though excited about her new position as engineer, Stephanie still enjoys hostling and firing. “There’s just something indescribable about bringing a cold mechanical hunk of metal to life with your own two hands,” she says.

Thanks, Stephanie, for your dedication to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, and here’s to many more years to come!