Steam Locomotive No. 34 Part of Sierra Railway’s 125 Year History | News

It’s spring and the train rides return to Jamestown just in time to celebrate 125 years of the Sierra Railway in the Mother Lode.

And now an 87-ton piece of local railroad history, steam locomotive No. 34, belongs to Sierra Railway’s successor in Jamestown, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.

The park and its supporting nonprofit, the California State Railroad Museum Foundation, acquired locomotive No. 34 in early March.

Jeanne Teschke, events coordinator for the California State Railroad Museum Foundation, and Ray Harm, a part-time maintenance worker at Railtown 1897, opened the doors to one of the last operational railroad roundhouses in the country last Thursday to make the light on where steam locomotive No. 34 has been stored for over 40 years.

Locomotive No. 34 is no longer running. It is now used as a display to show the operation of steam engines. Small panels name the components – smokehouse, boiler, valve, piston, hearth, Johnson bar, gauge valves, throttle – on the outside of the locomotive and inside the cab, where the fireman and engineer worked .

Locomotive No. 34 was built in 1925 for the Sierra Railway Co. of California by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and it arrived in Jamestown the same year, said Jackie Olavarria, the historic park’s supervising ranger. of State of Railtown 1897.

“It was used for heavy cargo transportation,” Olavarria said. “Freight transport was its main task until the railroad purchased diesel engines to take over the task in 1955.”

Historians also say that locomotive No. 34 did heavy work from 1934 to 1938, when the Sierra Railroad contracted to operate the Hetch Hetchy Railroad at a time when the city and county of San Francisco wanted modifications to raise the level of the O’Shaughnessy Dam in Hetch. Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park.

In the 1960s, Sierra Railway sold locomotive No. 34 to a private owner, who leased the engine to Sierra in the 1970s for passenger excursions and for Hollywood movies, Olavarria said, adding that locomotive no. ° 34″ is the only Sierra engine to have never left the railroad at some point in its life.

Railroad movie enthusiasts say Locomotive No. 34 appeared in the 1976 film “Bound for Glory” which starred “Kung Fu” actor David Carradine as the anti-fascist, pro-socialist folk guitarist and singer Woody Guthrie during the Great Depression. For the film, locomotive #34 was renamed Santa Fe 1496.

The No. 34 locomotive was last tested as a working engine in May 1980 for another film shoot, Olavarria said. It has remained preserved in the Jamestown rotunda since that time.

A recent, unspecified donation made by railroad enthusiasts Chris Baldo and Marion Hatch means the park and foundation now owns locomotive No. 34, in addition to storing it. A major restoration will be necessary to get locomotive no. 34 back into operation.

The costs of restoring No. 34 are unclear, a spokesperson for the park and the foundation said Friday. A survey of the current condition of the locomotive to determine the extent of work required has not yet been conducted.

The restoration of locomotive No. 34 could include minor repairs to replace major components, including the combustion chamber, boiler, undercarriage and tender tank. The final cost of the restoration will not be known until the park and the foundation understand what work is needed.

By comparison, the restoration of the No. 3 Sierra locomotive, first built in March 1891, cost over $1 million in 2010. The No. 3 locomotive required extensive work, including a new boiler. No. 3 is known among some railroad enthusiasts as the Movie Star Locomotive because, according to the park, it has appeared in more films, documentaries and television productions than any other locomotive. Park claims that Locomotive No. 3 “is unquestionably the image of the archetypal steam locomotive” in the United States from the 19th century to the 20th.

Although the park and the foundation hope to restore locomotive No. 34 to working order, they do not yet have a timetable for doing so. They anticipate that any restoration will take several years.

“We are extremely grateful to Mr. Baldo and Mr. Hatch for helping the Foundation acquire this locomotive,” said Tim Schroepfer, president and CEO of the California State Railroad Museum Foundation. “The Foundation is delighted that this historic locomotive will be preserved at Railtown 1897 in perpetuity, and we look forward to the day when it will run again on this historic railway for the enjoyment of families and rail enthusiasts for generations to come. .”

A ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 2, when Railtown 1897 State Historic Park will accept the donation of Locomotive No. 34 from the California State Railroad Museum Foundation.

April 2 is also the day revenue train rides begin in Railtown, and the park intends to celebrate 125 years of the Sierra Railroad’s history, first established in 1897. Locomotive No. 28, built in January 1922, is now 100 years old, and is responsible for pulling Railtown’s passenger trains that day. Promoters say the Black Irish Band will be on board every departure to entertain passengers with railway music.

Olavarria said the Sierra Railway Co. of California was started in February 1897 by Thomas Bullock, William H. Crocker, and Prince Andre Poniatowski. The tracks reached Jamestown later that year in November 1897.

Sierra Railway began as a freight operation, transporting goods to and from Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. It also had passenger operations, Olavarria said.

According to the 2016 book “Images of Rail: Sierra Railway”, the Jamestown site remains significant to this day because at the time when most other steam locomotive lines converted to diesel-electric in the 1950s and 1960 – Sierra Railway was also converted to diesel in 1955 – it chose to retain its period steam engines and the stores necessary to support them for two reasons.

First, Sierra Railway was already making real money from Hollywood movie producers, and second, a new generation of railroad fans had money to travel to Jamestown by the dozens to ride in passenger cars pulled by real steam locomotives like those that were often only seen on TV and in movies.

In 1971, Sierra Railway renamed and rebranded its Jamestown roundhouse, stores and yards as Railtown 1897 and introduced it as a tourist attraction. Olavarria said the railroad has begun offering sightseeing excursions and field tours open to the public. California State Parks purchased Railtown 1897 in 1982, and it has been open as part of the state park system since July 1983.

In 2003, Sierra Railway merged with a Sacramento-area railroad to create Sierra Northern Railway, Olavarria said. The private company is still transporting goods on the original route, 125 years later. Sierra Northern says it operates more than 100 miles of track in Mendocino County, Tuolumne and Stanislaus counties, and Yolo County.

The Sierra Railway’s Jamestown roundhouse, stores, yards, and equipment are now owned and operated by the State of California as Railtown 1897 Historic State Park, with support from the California State Railroad Museum Foundation for the purpose of non-profit.

Admission to Railtown 1897 Historic State Park is $5 for adults, $3 for children 6-17, and free for children 5 and under. Tickets to ride the trains are $15 for adults 18 and older; $10 for ages 17 to 6; free for children 5 and under; and free for members of the California State Railroad Museum Foundation. For more information, visit

Jose P. Rogers