travel great distances to view wildlife in their natural habitat. For us rail
fans, the best place to view logging steam locomotives is in their natural
habitat. Such a place exists six miles north of Santa Cruz, California. The
town of Felton is home of the “Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad”,
Isaac Graham (nephew of Daniel Boone) and some fellow
frontiersmen headed west in 1833. Their goal was to reach the Mexican
controlled territory of California. They ended up in a place called Nativadad
and started a settlement near where Salinas is today.
A year later two frontiersmen found themselves with opportunity to acquire a
Mexican rancho north of Santa Cruz in the San Lorenzo Valley. The Mexicans had
granted rights to “Rancho Zayante” to Joaquin Bulea. However, Bulena allowed
his claim to lapse and he relinquished his rights to Ambrose Tomilinson and
Joseph Dye. This acquisition “officially” became the first “American”
settlement west of the Rockies.
Joseph Dye solicited Isaac Graham to help build the first whiskey distillery
in the west. Upon its completion, Isaac set-up a tavern to sell Dye’s brew. The
new businesses drew in mountain men and traders from miles around. The
settlement soon became known as “Wild and Roaring Camp”.
In 1836, the first “California” revolution expelled the Mexican government
from the area. Isaac Graham for his assistance in the revolution was arrested
along with 46 other “foreigners” and sent to Mexico for trial. Fortunately they
were acquitted and received compensation for their hardships. Isaac received
$36,000 dollars which allowed him to return to the San Lorenzo Valley as a rich
man. With the money he was able to buy Rancho Zayate and by 1841 he had a
number of businesses; the first water powered sawmill of the west, a gristmill,
a still and a toll road.
The official gold rush was on in 1849. Isaac decided to stay at his rancho,
but in 1853 he found a large gold bearing piece of quartz creating a local gold
rush. Bitten by “gold fever”, Isaac started buying up mining equipment until he
was heavily in debt. He lost all of his land in foreclosure to his lawyer
Edward Stanley. Isaac Graham died in 1863.
Joseph Welch, a prosperous San Francisco businessman and his wife, loved to
travel down to “Roaring Camp” to admire the “really big redwoods”. In 1867 they
heard from their lawyer friend, Edward Stanley, that Isaac Graham’s Roaring
Camp holdings were going to be sold off to local loggers. Mrs. Welsh did not
like that idea and reportedly told her husband, “they are not going to cut down
my trees!” Joseph Welch successfully intervened and bought the land out from
under the loggers. This purchase was the first “real” effort to preserve virgin
redwoods. The Welch’s called their new acquisition “Big Trees Ranch”.
Two years later, lumbermen thwarted by Welch’s purchase hired a surveyor for
the purpose of building a railroad from Santa Cruz to a point 100ft beyond “Big
Trees Ranch”; the outskirts of early Felton. Fearing they would need a “right
of way” through some of his redwoods, Welch successfully held them off for
several years. But in 1874, the California Legislature granted a charter to the
“Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad Company”. It was the first proposed narrow gauge
railroad to be built in the U.S. and was completed in October 1875. Fortunately
for the Welch’s it was across the river from their redwoods.
The new railroad had a side benefit. It not only hauled revenue loads but
also brought in swarms of tourist. The Welch’s recognized this interest and
built the “Welch’s Big Trees Resort”, creating a prime attraction for the Santa
Cruz tourist industry. This “picnic” rail line eventually became part of the
“South Pacific Coast Line” (Southern Pacific) and was connected with the tracks
in the bay area. The great San Francisco earthquake delayed the conversion to
standard gauge in 1906. The conversion was completed by 1909, but this time the
tracks ran on the east side of the river and the Welch’s lost some of their
redwood trees. The rail line continued service to the bay area until 1939 when
storms washed out the tracks across the mountains. Improved roads into the area
had already started the railroad’s decline in 1935, so the tracks were not
rebuilt. The last leg, Felton to Santa Cruz, was used for freight until it also
had to close down in 1982 due to storm damage.
F. Norman Clark was born into the fifth generation of a railroad family.
During Norman’s childhood, his grandfather worked as a railroad conductor in
Arizona. He invited Norman to spend his summers traveling along the rails and
by car. These travels and experiences made Norman a true rail fan and inspired
him to become a teenage lobbyist to help save the “Los Angeles Redcar System”.
He also joined a non-profit organization, the Southern California chapter of
the “Railroad and Locomotive Historical Society”. This group was dedicated to
preservation of retired steam locomotives. Norman was made vice-president in
charge of rolling stock. The group played a part in the rail display at
Griffith Park and another display at the Pomona Fairgrounds in which Norman had
a major role. Norman Clark was a true steam locomotive preservationist before
the age of 20!
Norman’s real dream however, was to build a working steam railroad. He made
it his “lifetime goal” to recreate an authentic 1880’s rail town reminiscent of
the “heyday ghost towns” he used to visit. He went to work for a development
company where he was able to travel throughout the west and Hawaii and watch
for potential railroad sites. In 1958 he arrived at “Big Trees Ranch”. The
place had a special attraction, especially with the “historical” SP tracks
close by. After exploring the forest, he knew he could build “his” rail town
here. He submitted a proposal to the Welch family descendants (who still own
179 acres of the original 350-acre property) to build a railroad through the
redwoods. The plan outlined how more people could see and appreciate the
forest. The Welch family agreed and gave Norman a “99-year” lease to build his
railroad. Norman only had $25 to put down as a “promise” and hitch hiked home
to Los Angeles for the rest. But his good business plan, family and dedicated
supporters literally put him on track.
|The first steam locomotive to arrive at the new “Roaring Camp
and Big Trees Railroad” in 1962 was a 42-ton Shay retired from hauling coal in
Dixana, Virginia. When the locomotive originally left the Lima factory in 1912,
it wore the #3 for the Alaculsy Lumber Company of Conasauga, Tennessee. The
locomotive had five more owners during its career hauling both lumber and coal
throughout the Smokey Mountains. Re-gauged to 36” in 1938, the locomotive made
its cross-country trip on the back of a lowboy. After undergoing shop repairs
and a conversion from burning coal to oil, the Shay was repainted the new RC&BT
colors; forest green and yellow. Since it was the first RC&BT locomotive, it
received the number 1 and was given the name “Dixiana”.
Roaring Camp and Big Trees first locomotive "Dixiana" #1
“Tuolumne” #2 is a Heisler type locomotive.
Another veteran logging locomotive from the well-known West
Side Lumber Company joined Dixiana in 1963. Roaring Camp paid $7000 in 1962 for
their new locomotive, an 1899 Stearns Heisler. This locomotive was also
originally numbered 3 and was given the name “Thomas A Bullock” in honor of the
general manager of the West Side Flume & Lumber Company. It started out working
for the Hetch Hetchy & Yosemite Valley Railroad in 1899. Today it has the
distinction of being the last operating steam locomotive of West Side Lumber,
the last commercial steam locomotive in commercial service in Tuolumne and is
the world’s oldest operating Heisler. In fact, it loaded itself onto to the
rail car for the trip to Roaring Camp. The locomotive was renamed “Tuolumne”
and the sides of the cab wear the number 2 .
One of the things missing for the new railroad was a way to haul passengers
around. Gondola styled bodies were fabricated specifically for passengers to
ride in. Much of the hardware underneath these bodies is from the Southern
Pacific narrow gauge operation in the Owens Valley. There are also components
and other rail cars from Westside and the D&RG as well. Passengers riding the
trains, may not be aware of the fact their underpinnings may have once carried
Roaring Camp & Big Trees officially started passenger operation on April
6,1963, but the trip was relatively short. Narrow gauge tracks from the engine
house converged out by the original Felton Depot of the “South Pacific Coast”.
The narrow gauge tracks then ran parallel to the SP tracks. The early
excursions were primarily half-mile trips into the forest with four passenger
cars. Each following year the track grew longer until they reached the top of
“Bear Mountain” in 1966.
The railroad was laid out in a “loop to loop” configuration. The climb to
the top traveled over 2 1/2 miles with steep sections of 8 1/2% grades for a
total elevation change @ 550ft. Three wooden trestles were required. One at
Indian Creek, that has a 100’ radius (sharpest in U.S.) and two more at Spring
Canyon laid out in a “cork screw” arrangement. The run gave the locomotives a
real workout while allowing spectacular views of the forest all around.
In 1966, the family of George Whitney put a plantation locomotive up for
sale. It was a museum piece from the “Sutro Baths - Cliff House attraction.
This locomotive was an 1890 Baldwin 0-4-2T built for the Kahuku Plantation
Company of Oahu, Hawaii. Originally named the “Keana” and numbered 1, it was
retired from active service in 1950 after being replaced by a diesel. George
Whitney acquired it for his museum because it closely resembled a steam powered
street locomotive that once operated in San Francisco. Norman Clark was
interested in bidding on this locomotive. Another gentleman by the name of
Disney was also expressing an interest in the locomotive too (for a secret
project in the swamps of Florida).
|Norman was surprised to learn he won the bid for
locomotive. Norman’s wife Georgiana upon seeing the little locomotive said it
reminded her of the ones that used to run behind her home in Hawaii. As fate
would have it, the Clark’s new “Kahuku” was one of the engines his wife used to
watch as a young girl.
Upon Kahuku’s arrival at Roaring Camp in 1966, the
crew discovered the fuel tank was still full of oil. When Norman and Georgiana
went off to dinner, they fired up the locomotive and were running it back and
forth along the parking lot when the Clark’s returned. Norman was upset at
first, but was delighted the locomotive steamed so freely. The “teakettle” was
quickly made ready for service and earned the number 3 spot in the fleet. A
“leftover” number 3-smoke box plate from the Heisler adorned the front of
Disaster hit Roaring Camp a week before the 4th of July “ Bicentennial” in
"Kahuku" #3 parked inside the locomotive shop
I would like to thank Roaring Camp, John Bush, Georgiana Clark, Joanne
Hirasaki, Kent Jefferys, Stathi Pappas and especially Tom Shreve for helping
with information for this article.
For more information, photos, activities and train schedules go to
roaringcamp.com. They also offer more
area historical information in their “newsroom” section.
Other reference websites to look at are;