Sunday, December 11, 2005

Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad

I rode in the cab of Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad yesterday on the downgrade trip from Bear Mountain.

After the climb to the summit -- an eight percent grade at times -- I was taking pictures of the two-truck Shay locomotive. I was under the mistaken impression that the Dixiana was an old West Side Lumber Co. Shay. I asked the conductor, but directed me to the engineer.

So I walked over to Tom the engineer as he inspected the train for the return trip to the depot. Tom told me that the RC&BTNGRR #1 locomotive came from the east and that it had five or six pervious owners before Roaring Camp purchased it in the early 1960s. (The WSL Shay that's owned by roaring camp is the former West Side #7.) I had confused Roaring Camp with the Yosemite line, which owns two WSL Shays -- #10 and #15.

I introduced myself to Tom as one of the guys who's renovating the Diamond & Caldor Ry. No. 4 in Placerville. In discussion, it was evident that Tom was very knowledgeable of the El Dorado Western Railway Foundation's effort to restore the Four-Spot to its former glory.

Tom motioned me to follow him around the train as he made his inspection (and picked garbage up). We talked. He has seen the West Side & Cherry Valley Ry. parlor and combine cars that EDWRF is restoring. And he knew of the Michigan-California Lumber Co. 0-4-0 Poter locomotive in the yard of the museum.

I followed Tom to the rear of the train and up the fireman's side as we talked. By the time we had passed the first passenger car I had a sense that he was going to invite me into the cab.

A hot, greasy rattletrap -- that was my first impression of the cab ride. When I commented on the heat that radiated off the boiler head, Tom said, "You should've been in here on the uphill trip!" It made me appreciate the intermittent wafts of cool mountain air. The cab must be unbearable in the summer, I thought.

As a railroading novice, I find it hard to describe the trip to the depot. Tom and Doug worked in unison, rarely speaking except to discuss restoration efforts at Roaring Camp. The only command Tom gave was, “Open 'er up, Doug.” Doug responded with no more than a grunt as he jumped into action, turning valves.

Nor can I explain Tom's actions as he led the 93-year old Shay off the mountain. The geared locomotive never got above a walk, even when Tom fed steam to the three verticle engines. The weight on the engine and low gear ration restrained the train from its natural inclincation to run down the hill.

In all, I spent 20 to 25 minutes in the cab of the Shay. It's a ride that I'll repeat again. For the next trip, I'd like to learn the duties of the fireman and engineer. It will be a much more rewarding trip if know what they were doing.

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