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08 April 2011

Hear that lonesome whistle blow . . .

I live just one mile from Roaring Camp, and I can hear the steam engine whistle from my deck. It has a breathy “tu-whoot-ey” sound and never fails to send a chill up my spine.

Roaring Camp came into being shortly after mountain man Isaac Graham settled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains in the 1830s; the Mexican authorities named his settlement “Roaring Camp.” Graham is famous for establishing the first saw mill west of the Mississippi, in 1842,where he thoughtfully left standing the “big trees” coastal redwoods.

Around 1875 the area’s first railroad, the Santa Cruz & Felton, carried tourists to the virgin stand of trees and to the beach; later, the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge railroad began operation and has been running ever since. Roaring Camp owns several Shay locomotives, a Heisler, Climax, and five diesel engines.

Shay locomotives, designed in 1872, dominated western U.S. logging operations. These engines have provocative names and interesting histories. The Dixiana Shay, built by Lima Locomotive Works, served on six different short-line railroads before coming to Roaring Camp. This was the first locomotive acquired by Roaring Camp founder F. Normal Clark, who inaugurated commercial steam train service from Roaring Camp.

The Tuolumne Heisler was ordered by the Hetch Hetchy & Yosemite Valleys Railroad in 1899 to operate at a sawmill near Tuolumne City, California. She was was the last operating steam engine in commercial lumber service at Tuolumne; designed by Charles L. Heisler and built by Stearns Manufacturing Company in Erie, Pennsylvania, the Heisler was favored by lumbermen for dependable operation up steep grades and tight-turning mountain tracks. In 1962 she was saved from the scrap heap and purchased for $7,000.

The Sonora Shay is a 60-ton Shay engine purchased from the Butte & Plumas Railroad after retirement from long years of service. The Sonora is one of only 83 Shays left in North America, and is one of the few fully operational Shay engines in existence today.

The Kahuku Baldwin dates back to 1890 when it was ordered from Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia. This 12-ton narrow-guage steam locomotive was transported by sailing ship 14,000 miles around Cape Horn to her new home in Oahu, Hawaii, to carry sugar cane from the fields to the mill. The engine chugged between the peaks of the Koolau Mountains and the waters of the Hawaiian seas and served under four flags: the monarcharies of King David Kalakaua and his successor, Queen Liliuokalana, the Republic of Hawaii, and ultimately the U.S. Territory of Hawaii.

Retired from service in 1947, the engine was again loaded aboard a ship and transported across the Pacific where she was displayed at the Sutro Museum at the Cliff House in San Francisco. The 76-year-old steam locomotive was in running order, so Norman Clark of Roaring Camp purchased her, loaded her aboard a heavy equipment truck, and brought her to Felton.

Besides the haunting sound of the train whistles, which I can hear all day long, all year long, Roaring Camp offers another unbeatable slice of historical life with the Civil War Re-enactments held each year on Memorial Day weekend. If you ever witness one of these authentic-down-to-the-last-uniform, field surgeon, and cannon shot, do take a box of Kleenex; the experience is moving enough to make you weep.

Source: Roaring Camp Railroad History brochures.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Wonderful post, Lynna! I wrote a book years ago that dealt with very early railways. I've never been to a Civil War re-enactment, but I have vivid memories of a family trip to Gettysburg when I was a child.

12:10 AM  

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