Railroad History

Arrowhead Incline Railway

In a recent column, I wrote about a seldom-mentioned trackless trolley line that once ran in the Cajon Pass. Well, here is another relic that many railroad buffs may not know much about.

During the turn of the 19th century, the Arrowhead Reservoir and Power Company was responsible for the arduous task of hauling hundreds of tons of cement and other construction materials for the building of a dam for the man-made lake in Little Bear Valley, known today as Lake Arrowhead. In an attempt to speed up the process, the company’s engineers constructed a three-rail incline railway from Waterman Canyon to Skyland summit near Crestline to transport supplies.

Grading was completed by February 21, 1906, and the first rails were laid on May 12. Two balanced freight cars were alternately hoisted up and lowered down the 4,170 foot, 45 degree incline by “donkey engine” attached to the cars by cable.

The up car and down car would pass each other at the midway point. Unfortunately, this experiment resulted in one big headache after another. The route was steep, long and there were frequent breakdowns.

When the first trip was made on July 31, 1906, carrying three tons of cement bags, the cable car hit the midway dip in the rails, resulting in the cars jumping dangerously into the air. In fact, many loads were lost, and many corrections had to be made.

(Read article here)

Runnin’ the Rails

Above the tracks of the Clinton railroad bridge, in a room reached by a formidable flight of stairs, sits Korinna Bates, of Mt. Carroll, Ill., one of the Union Pacific’s many draw bridge operators.

Draw bridge operators man the bridge 24 hours a day and seven days a week from March to Dec. 15. They work on holidays. Bates works Monday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. She has been working for the railroad for a little more than 11?2 years.

Bates has several duties. Her primary functions are watching railroad traffic and watching traffic on the river. She has two radios, a maritime radio and a Union Pacific radio, which helps her coordinate opens with the dispatchers.

(Read article here)

Retired Pullman porter looks back on career

His office was a fast-moving train on the Santa Fe Railway. And while some people complain about being on-call 24/7, Belton Calmes’ reality was a lot harder — working 17 hours a day, cooking food in the kitchens for affluent guests on board the sleeper cars built by George Pullman.

For 30 years, Calmes worked for the Pullman Co.

Amtrak recently honored Pullman porters as part of National Train Day activities. “On meager salaries and tips, they raised families and sent children to college,” an Amtrak release states. “They worked hard under extreme conditions but always treated customers like royalty. They were goodwill ambassadors for the railroads. They were proud men. They were Pullman porters.”

The numbers of living Pullman porters are diminishing. But at age 92, Calmes who lives in the Chicago area with his wife, Cleo, is spry with a good sense of humor.

Asked about his three decades on the train, he says “I liked the job, I stayed until I retired. At times, it would be harder than others.”

(Read article here)

Inland Empire used to run on rails

There were no swaying palm trees, well-manicured parks, or stately columns greeting the new arrivals at San Bernardino’s first downtown train station. In fact, the unattractive station provided a fitting end to the dingy “back door” corridor that brought passengers into the city’s business district of the day.

In spite of the unimpressive entrance, downtown merchants celebrated the arrival of the San Bernardino and Redlands Railroad (SB&RR) in 1888. The narrow-gauge (36 inches between the inside edge of the rails) steam line ran on established roads between San Bernardino and Redlands.

When the line began regular service on June 4, 1888, the ride between the two cities took about 40 minutes, and the fare was 30 cents one way and 50 cents for a round trip. The train ran every two hours since the new company only had one locomotive.

The little locomotives of the SB&RR (also known as the Redlands Motor Road) had to carefully negotiate the sharp turns of the city streets. The low-speed turns often created a shrill squeal as the train’s steel wheels ground their way around the sharply curved tracks.

The sights and sounds of steam locomotives (that were about the size of a UPS delivery truck) smoking and clanging their way down the middle of city streets became more common as new tracks were laid around the city.

(Read article here)

Railtown Museum spring wildflower tour

On May 2nd, Railtown State Historic Park will provide guests with a unique opportunity to experience spring wildflowers from onboard a train! The special afternoon wildflower train will departs from the Railtown Depot at 4:30 PM. Prior to boarding the train, passengers will have the opportunity to learn about the wildflowers of California’s Sierra Nevada foothills.

Railtown’s Wildflower Trains will feature Interpretive Park Rangers from the nearby New Melones Recreation Resource Center, answering questions and pointing out flower groupings along the way. Wildflower Trains take guests on a 6-mile, 1-hour roundtrip ride through the scenic, rolling landscapes of California’s Gold Country. Along the way, trains encounter meadows and rolling hills, with such local flora as “meadow foam”, “gold fields” and other colorful flowers typically in bloom. A stop along the route will provide passengers with the opportunity to distribute wildflower seeds, too! Train capacity is limited, and reservations are suggested. Wildflower train tickets are $10 adults, $4 youth ages 6-17, ages 5 and under ride free.

Located in Jamestown, California, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is home to one of America’s last intact, still-operating railroad roundhouses. Known as “The Movie Railroad,” Railtown 1897, its historic locomotives and cars have starred in hundreds of film and TV productions, including High Noon, Back to the Future 3, and Petticoat Junction. Tour the Historic Jamestown Shops and Roundhouse daily. Weekends April-October (also selected dates November-December), ride behind a real steam locomotive.

Visit the Railtown website here

Northern California’s Skunk Railroad

Except for the passengers’ high-tech cameras and modern garb, a time traveler from the last century would feel quite at home riding California Western Railroads Skunk Train in the 1990’s.

The view from the restored rail cars is pretty much unchanged: towering trees, deer drinking from the Noyo River, an isolated fisherman’s cabin peeking from the forest. With occasional whistles as it chugs through tunnels, over bridges and past open meadows, the train follows the coastal “Redwood Route” as it has since 1885.

Built as a logging railroad, the Skunk line began that year as a logical vehicle for moving massive redwood logs to Mendocino Coast sawmills from the rugged back country. Steam passenger service was started in 1904, extended to the town of Willits in 1911, and discontinued in 1925 when the self-powered, yellow “Skunk” rail cars were inaugurated. The little trains were quickly nicknamed for their original gas engines, which prompted folks to say, “You can smell ’em before you can see ’em.”

California Western welcomed more “modern” equipment in later years, which rail fans can still ride. The vintage 1925 M-100 motorcar — the only remaining train of its kind in use anywhere today — runs the line year-round, as does the 1935 M-300 motorcar. During the busier summer months, they are joined by three 1950’s diesel-powered engines, and famous Old No. 45, a majestic 1924 Baldwin steam engine, the kind most kids dream of when they think “train.”

Moving at a leisurely pace (29 miles per hour maximum), the trains pull covered cars as well as open observation cars — perfect for capturing photographs of the truly exhilarating journey.

The Skunk Railroad is considered one of the top ten most scenic railroads in America.

You can visit the Skunk Railroad website here

Historic Steam Locomotive To Visit the West on Heritage Tour

No, you didn’t step through a time portal, that really is a steam locomotive. Thousands of individuals will have the chance to see this “living legend” in person when Union Pacific’s historic steam locomotive, No. 844, travels from its base in Wyoming, to California on a 32-day, four-state tour.

The “Western Heritage Tour” will be rolling from April 11 through May 12, heading through many cities and towns that witnessed the birth of the railroad. The 844 will make special stops in eight cities across Nevada, California and Utah for the public to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity, the No. 844 Western Heritage Tour. The Steam Locomotive will help “heat up” some special celebrations:

* The City of Roseville, Calif. Centennial
* Western Pacific’s Centennial at Portola, Calif.
* The 140th Anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike in Ogden, Utah

(Read article here)

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad

Located in Nevada City, California, the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum is dedicated to the preservation of local transportation history and artifacts from the narrow gauge railroad era.

In addition to the railroad, this Sierra foothills county boasted such turn-of-the 20th century transportation as an electric streetcar line, a steam powered automobile, and the first commercial airport in the United States.

Visitors are offered a docent-led historical tour of the museum, railyard, and restoration shop. Exhibited in the main gallery is Engine 5, an 1875 Baldwin that began service hauling lumber, then passengers and freight for the NCNGRR, and finally as a movie engine at Universal Studios in Hollywood. The railyard houses a collection of wooden rail cars, some restored, others awaiting their turn in the restoration shop. The shop is usually a busy place with volunteers doing rolling stock maintenance and other restoration projects.

(Visit website here)

A link to railroad history

No doubt you are familiar with the image of a train chugging forward, spewing out a fat column of steam. You may have even drawn it yourself. But you’ve probably never seen such a sight on a commercial railroad.

That’s because railroad engines today are usually powered by a combination of diesel and electricity.

Years ago, though, most train engines burned coal to heat water. That created steam, which drove a piston, which in turn moved the train’s wheels. When the steam escaped the engine, it let out a gasping noise – the “choo-choo” sound – we all associate with old trains.

All that steam trailing outside the train meant a loss in heat and energy, which could have been used to power the train. To save energy, most railroads in America switched to diesel locomotives after World War II. However, one railroad – the Norfolk and Western (N&W) Railway in Roanoke, Va. – continued to use steam engines.

At the time, a professional photographer from Brooklyn, N.Y., named O. Winston Link, decided to take photographs of N&W steam engines before they disappeared.

No one paid Mr. Link to take photos of the trains – his project was just a hobby. From 1955 to 1960, he took 2,400 photographs of N&W trains, in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland.

Eventually, Mr. Link became famous for his photographs. And today you can see his collection at the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke.

(Read article here)