Searching for a Recipe Book…

As we write this on April 23, 2024, we ironically find that it is World Book Day, and a book is something we are searching for. Read on to learn more about our quest to find an original Great Northern Ranch Car recipe book.

A man inside an all stainless steel railroad car kitchen holding up a stainless steel recipe book holder where it will be returned to its original mounted location.

As we write this on April 23, 2024, we ironically find that it is World Book Day, and a book is something we are searching for. For over a year, our NCRy/PLA President, Henry Baum, has been meticulously working his way through the restoration of the kitchen in our Great Northern Railway Ranch Car ‘Hidden Lake’. From countless hours cleaning the stainless to repairing items around the kitchen, Henry’s work is now getting down to some of the smaller details.

We recently found him hanging the kitchen’s recipe book holder back up after being cleaned as shown in the lead photo above. The only problem, we do not have a recipe book to put into it. So… Our quest is underway to see if we can find an original Great Northern Railway recipe book for the Ranch Cars of which there were five built in 1951 by American Car & Foundry.

In the meantime, we wondered what recipes one may find in such a recipe book. Well, here is clue. Recently one of our volunteers, Chris Hauf, found an original GN Ranch Car Menu for sale on eBay and purchased as part of our growing collection of historical info on the car. Here it is!

The menu cover which is folded in half to form the menu as presented to a diner.
The inside of the menu.

So what can we order? A Plate Meal of Meat or Fish with potatoes and another vegetable along with a cup of soup, bread & butter and pie or ice cream for dessert with a drink of coffee, tea or milk included all for $1.60! Various sandwiches are available all for less than $1.00 each along with Chuck Wagon Beef Stew for $1.35. Various salads and desserts are also offered including Pie Ala Mode where the type of pie is unknown. It appears this menu was introduced in May of 1954 based on the form code. Our Steward for this day on this particular car was Mr. Ken McCausland.

This at least gives us some idea of some of the items which may have been prepared or at least finished in the kitchen of the Hidden Lake early in its service life where undoubtedly the offerings changed over time in the combination lunch counter and seated lounge car.

So our quest for the recipe book continues. Have information or something to share, please Contact Us. We would love to hear from you whether it is another version of the menu to share, experiences on a Ranch car either as an employee or a passenger or maybe the small chance that you have a recipe book we could have or could duplicate.

Thanks for coming along on our quest for a book on this World Book Day! We hope someday to again be able to serve some of these dishes along with a cup of coffee stirred with a replica GN Ranch Car stir stick (anyone able to help us make repros?) to you as you ride the Hidden Lake on our Niles Canyon Railway. Donations to keep the work moving forward are also always welcome.

An original Great Northern coffee stir stick from a Ranch Car.
Collection of Chris Hauf
A wide view of the kitchen which is nearing completion and just prior to the re-hanging of the recipe book holder.
Image by: Chris Hauf – Used with permission

Back to Building East…

On Saturday, April 6, 2024 after a several month hiatus, our Build East Construction Crew gathered back to start laying track east of Happy Valley Bridge. Along with a side trip to and from Brightside yard to the work site for a thank you lunch, the crew was able to get 6 track panels put into place adding nearly 200 feet of new track

A group of men and women in work clothes line up along a newly installed piece of railroad track as they work to properly align the track.

On Saturday, April 6, 2024 after a several month hiatus, our Build East Construction Crew gathered back to start laying track east of Happy Valley Bridge. Along with a side trip to and from Brightside yard to the work site for a thank you lunch, the crew was able to get 6 track panels put into place adding nearly 200 feet of new track.

Here are some photos of the work that day in chronological order you can watch at the length of track grows. If you are interested in helping, Build East takes place the first Saturday of each month and more details can be found on our Volunteer page. You can also always Contact Us with any questions as well.

Come Enjoy the Blossoms of the Mudball Express

On October 8th, 2023, one of our trains departed Sunol with a load of Boy Scouts on board to carry out an Eagle Scout project to help bring more blooms to our Niles Canyon. Here is the story from what became the Mudball Express as recounted by Niles Canyon Railway volunteer, Jason Pate.

A ticket for the Mudball Express being held in a person's hand.

On October 8th, 2023, one of our trains departed Sunol with a load of Boy Scouts on board to carry out an Eagle Scout project to help bring more blooms to our Niles Canyon. Here is the story from what became the Mudball Express as recounted by Niles Canyon Railway volunteer, Jason Pate.

Becoming an eagle scout is no small feat. After many years of climbing the ranks, a community service project must be completed by those desiring to become eagles. After completing the Railroading Merit Badge at Niles Canyon Railway, Alex Clayson (Troop 199, Warm Springs, Fremont) decided to do his project along the right of way. Alex has spread native seeds ,”in order to increase the robustness of our ecosystem”. Clayson started his research last spring when he boarded a train with 2 local biologists to survey the canyon. He did this to insure that the seeds being spread would be Bay Area native wildflower seeds. Alex then acquired 7lbs of native seeds!

Along with volunteers, they mixed a pinch of seeds with Sunol clay and compost to form small seed balls. There were many seed balling sessions with nearly 6000 seed balls being produced.

Seed balls all ready to be tossed from the train.
Photo by Jason Pate – Used with permission

On October 8, the train left Sunol loaded with all 300lbs of seed balls. Troop 199 tossed out many seed balls along 84 in Sunol. When we got near Vallejo Mills, other volunteers of all ages tossed seedballs into the flatter areas which got good sunlight.

Ready, aim, fire! Seed balls are tossed from the train.
Photos by Jason Pate – Used with permission

The train did a runaround in Niles and returned to Sunol. By the time we were back, all the balls had been spread containing 13 different species of native flowers like
Lupines and Clarkias. In this project, about 413 service hours were worked. Now, Clayson will complete his paperwork and do a Board of Review to obtain his Eagle, which only 6.5% of scouts have ever done (Long Beach BSA).

Alex Clayson enjoys the ride after all of his hard work creating the “Mudball Express”
Photo by Jason Pate – Used with permission

The Pacific Locomotive Association and our Niles Canyon Railway would like to thank Alex, Troop 199, and all volunteers involved for their efforts in this amazing ecological restoration project. Also, thanks to Bob Pratt for coordinating the event for NCRY.

The canyon is continuing to come into bloom, and we hope you will join us for one of our April and May second and third weekend rides. More information and links to purchase your tickets at the button below.

Taken on April 6, 2024 of our M200 railcar heading into Sunol, we can start to see blooms! We hope you will join us to hopefully see more of the results of the Mudball Express. Image by Christopher Hauf – Used with permission

Museum collaboration featured on local news

Our recent collaboration with the Knight Foundry to have them cast some new brake shoes for our steam locomotive, Clover Valley Lumber Co. #4, along with some other parts for the restoration of Southern Pacific steam locomotive was recently featured on a piece by Joe Rosato Jr of NBC Bay Area.

A side view of the museum's steam locomotive, Clover Valley Lumber Company #4, with a videographer standing next to the locomotive taking a video.

Our recent collaboration with the Knight Foundry to have them cast some new brake shoes for our steam locomotive, Clover Valley Lumber Co. #4, along with some other parts for the restoration of Southern Pacific steam locomotive was recently featured on a piece by Joe Rosato Jr of NBC Bay Area.

You can also find more information on our collaboration with images taken by our own volunteer, Christopher Hauf, during the casting event at Knight Foundry on our blog.

Brake shoe casting in process at the Knight Foundry.
Image by Christopher Hauf. Used with permission.https://www.ncry.org/blog/museum-helping-museum/

We are excited about this collaboration with the first parts already on hand in our steam shop where our crews can work on final machining the rough castings so they can be ultimately installed on the #4 which turned 100 years old this March.

Thanks again to the Knight Foundry and to Joe Rosato Jr. of NBC Bay Area for the great story!

Come Celebrate 100 Years of Service…

The Niles Canyon Railway (NCRy) will host a special birthday celebration to commemorate 100 years of service of its restored and operating steam locomotive, Clover Valley Lumber Co. #4 on Saturday March 2, 2024 starting at 10:30AM. The locomotive has served most of its life working in the state of California and has been part of the museum’s collection since 1973; just over one half of its life after being built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, PA in March of 1924.  

A steam locomotive with a white column of steam trailing out of its stack and back along its passenger train rolls along straight part of the railroad on a sunny winter day in California where all of the foliage is a deep green from the winter rains.

A birthday party for Clover Valley Lumber Co. #4

The Niles Canyon Railway (NCRy) will host a special birthday celebration to commemorate 100 years of service of its restored and operating steam locomotive, Clover Valley Lumber Co. #4 on Saturday March 2, 2024 starting at 10:30AM. The locomotive has served most of its life working in the state of California and has been part of the museum’s collection since 1973; just over one half of its life after being built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, PA in March of 1924.  

A ceremony will be held at 10:30 AM at the railroad’s restored Sunol railroad station and will include photo/video opportunities of operations of the locomotive and speeches commemorating the history and significance of the locomotive. 

Starting around noon, the museum will host a series of short, open to the public rides on its passenger train from Sunol to the museum’s Brightside yard and return.  These rides will allow the media and public to experience the #4 in operation.  We hope riders will purchase a ticket and return to ride one of the museum’s regularly scheduled weekend train rides between Sunol, CA and Niles (City of Fremont), CA, held typically on the second and third weekend of each month from February through October. We have also added an extra Sunday ride day behind the #4 of March 3rd!

The Niles Canyon Railway is the only museum and tourist railroad that runs on the original and best-preserved alignment of the Transcontinental Railroad now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The NCRy is operated solely by a group of dedicated volunteers.   

The event is open to the public.

Saturday, March 2, 2024
Ceremony 10:30-11:30 AM   Free for all to attend
Rides starting around noon and ending at 3:30PM

The short rides for this special day are free on a first come/first served basis, but a donation toward the Niles Canyon Railway’s Steam Department’s ongoing maintenance and restoration efforts is encouraged.   The museum is currently restoring the 1901-built Southern Pacific Railroad steam locomotive #1744 to operation via an extensive multi-year restoration effort.

The event will be held at our Sunol Station located at 6 Kilkare Road.
Our Sunol station has parking in our lot with additional parking across the street from the station.  The event will take place rain or shine.  

Interested media may view our press release available in our Media Center.

Can’t make it on the 2nd, we have plenty of Sundays across March, April and May to ride behind steam and Saturdays with diesel power. Please visit our 2024 Rides Page for more info and to buy your tickets to come ride with us.

Steam locomotive, Clover Valley Lumber Co. #4, pulls a Niles Canyon passenger train in February 2024 east across Farwell Bridge on its way to the museum’s Sunol, CA train station where passengers will disembark after the 1.5 hour round trip train ride through Niles Canyon. Locomotive #4 will turn 100 years old in March of 2024.
Photograph by: Christopher Hauf – Niles Canyon Railway

Museum helping museum…

Operating historical railroad equipment comes with many complications; one being the availability or lack thereof of spare and consumable parts like cast iron brake shoes for steam engines. With members that volunteer at both museums, a wonderful collaboration between our Niles Canyon Railway and the Knight Foundry in Sutter Creek, CA, came to being.

Three men in protective gear pour liquid iron from a ladle into a sand cast form sitting on the foundry floor with another man standing in the background with a shovel.

Operating historical railroad equipment comes with many complications; one being the availability or lack thereof of spare and consumable parts like cast iron brake shoes for steam engines. With members that volunteer at both museums, a wonderful collaboration between our Niles Canyon Railway and the Knight Foundry in Sutter Creek, CA, came to being.

The Knight Foundry is a preserved late 1800s foundry and machine shop. It is the last of its kind to be fully water powered. The foundry remains active in casting and offered to help cast new brakes shoes for our steam locomotive. This process took place on January 20, 2024 with members of our NCRy on site to watch and document the process from start to finish.

A great collaboration, and a place to put on your places to visit in CA. The Knight Foundry offer tours twice a month of this historical gem, and more info can be found on their website. Thanks to the members of the Knight Foundry for their collaboration!

Here is a gallery of images of the cast iron pouring event on January 24, 2024.

All images by Christopher R. Hauf. Used with permission.

Update 3/26/2024

Learn even more about this collaboration in the great piece from Joe Rosato Jr. of NBC Bay Area.

Historic foundry helps Bay Area railway staying on track

Drill a hole they said…

Typically you find that many parts of restoring steam locomotives are never easy or simple. Take the task of re-drilling just one hole in Southern Pacific #1744’s frame. What sounds quite simple was just the opposite.

Typically you find that many parts of restoring steam locomotives are never easy or simple. Take the task of re-drilling just one hole in Southern Pacific #1744’s frame. What sounds quite simple was just the opposite.

With most of the suspension for the main drivers removed from the locomotive’s frame, it was determined that one of the mounting points that would hold a pin to hold a spring pack for the drivers had become worn and oval over the locomotive’s 100+ years of service. It was decided this needed to be repaired.

So… Our welder, John B., completed the process of filling the oval hole back up with weld to the point where there would be enough new metal to drill a round hole of the proper diameter out again. You can see him here starting the process of filling in the oblong hole which is about 4 inches wide as it is the same width as the 1744’s frame.

With the hole welded up, the next challenge was creating a mobile machining rig capable of drilling the hole. Our machinist, Art R., jumped in and over several weeks developed, testing and refined a drilling rig to handle the job.

On Saturday, January 13th, everyone was ready, the rig was mounted and even in part welded to the frame, and the hole cutting process was successfully undertaken over the course of a few hours. Here is a gallery of images of the work.

All photos and videos except as noted by Christopher Hauf – Used with permission

The cutter breaking through… Success!
Video courtesy of John Blaine – Used with permission

See the drilling rig in action in this short video…

With the hole complete, the team can look at starting the process of re-installing some of the 1744’s spring packs so ultimately its rebuild drivers can be placed back under the locomotive.

Please consider a donation today to help us keep this work moving forward.

Thanks and look forward to more updates soon!

Train of Lights 2023 – Thanks…

After 28 operating nights, 25,000+ riders and the contributions of over 150 different volunteers giving thousands of hours of volunteer time, the 2023 Train of Lights season has come to an end. As we head into the New Year and our 2024 operating season, we wanted to take a chance to thank everyone for their support of our largest annual fundraiser.

After 28 operating nights, 25,000+ riders and the contributions of over 150 different volunteers giving thousands of hours of volunteer time, the 2023 Train of Lights season has come to an end. As we head into the New Year and our 2024 operating season, we wanted to take a chance to thank everyone for their support of our largest annual fundraiser.

We thought we would share some images of the train, our riders and our volunteers along with a video of the train running through the canyon at different locations. We did not do another walk through video this year, but we are also sharing last year’s walk-through in case people are interested.

See the 2023 Train of Lights in action…

See the 2023 Train of Lights as it traverses up and down Niles Canyon.

Images from the 2023 Train of Lights

All images by Christopher Hauf – Used with permission

Walk through the Train of Lights…

Walk through the 2022 Train of Lights.

Thanks for the incredible support!
Did not get to ride the Train of Lights or want to experience one of our regular train rides between diesel and even a steam locomotive, please check out our 2024 Train Rides.

2023 “Season of Giving” Fundraiser for SP #1744

How quickly time flies!  We find ourselves in the midst of yet another Sold Out Train of Lights season, having concluded what feels like the first “normal” year in a long time.  Thanks to our tireless volunteer efforts, we’ve continued to run both steam and diesel trains, with many being sold out during the year; we’ve resumed our popular Beer Trains, we’ve hosted a variety of special events, including charters, M-200 runs, and Speeder Runs, made continued progress in our efforts to build East, and have continued to make steady progress on our many restoration projects.  As with last year, we’d like to continue to highlight the Southern Pacific #1744 restoration.

‘Tis the Season

How quickly time flies!  We find ourselves in the midst of yet another Sold Out Train of Lights season, having concluded what feels like the first “normal” year in a long time.  Thanks to our tireless volunteer efforts, we’ve continued to run both steam and diesel trains, with many being sold out during the year; we’ve resumed our popular Beer Trains, we’ve hosted a variety of special events, including charters, M-200 runs, and Speeder Runs, made continued progress in our efforts to build East, and have continued to make steady progress on our many restoration projects.  As with last year, we’d like to continue to highlight the Southern Pacific #1744 restoration.

This Southern Pacific #1744 project continues to be a priority for the organization as it gives us a period appropriate, regionally appropriate, and operationally appropriate locomotive for future steam operations in Niles Canyon.  The SP 1744 will be one of the few locomotives operating on its original railway, with that railway’s original equipment, on a regular basis.  It will also help ease the burden on our volunteers of prepping articulated locomotives for service.  Although the mallets are fascinating and historic in their own rights, they require twice the amount of prep work and maintenance on account of their second engine units. 

General history of the SP #1744 can be found here on Niles Canyon Railway’s website.  You can also find an ongoing video documentary of the locomotive restoration is on TSG Multimedia’s Youtube channel  – be sure to watch them as they are extremely well done and informative, and highlight the progress of the restoration to date. The latest is available below and many thanks to TSG for their help with these videos).

Throughout 2023, our volunteers have continued to make steady progress on the restoration, thanks to the generosity of our donors.  That work included:

  • Installation of all new tires for the drive wheels (tires funded by a generous donation from the Candelaria Fund)
  • Painting of the drive wheels by our volunteers
  • Continued repairs to the driving boxes by our contractor
  • Fabrication of all staybolts for the boiler, including flexible caps and sleeves (partially funded by our generous donors and the Emery Rail Heritage Trust)
  • Finishing pad welding and repairs to the furnace bearing surfaces on the frame
  • Rebuilding of spring rigging equalizer packs
  • Continued cleaning, priming, and painting of the frame
Two of three sets of SP #1744’s with new tires and new painting waiting their time to be reinstalled under the locomotive.
Photo by Chris Hauf – Used with permission.

Going into 2024, we will start to see some major visible progress as our volunteer crew will start re-assembly of the running gear, with the re-installation of the drivers and rebuilding of the pilot truck.  We will also see the next critical phase of the boiler repairs – the installation of the newly fabricated Staybolts.  This is where we’ll need your help for this coming year.

SP #1744’s newly machined flexible staybolts.
Photo courtesy of: Stathi Pappas – Stockton Locomotive Works.

In the December 2022 Club Car, we discussed what staybolts are and how they contain the immense boiler pressure between the flat surfaces of the firebox.  The installation of staybolts is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process with each one taking several hours to install (if you have more interest, search for steam locomotive staybolt installation on Youtube to see the process).  The installation process can be summed up roughly as follows:

  • The holes in the firebox and boiler wrapper are reamed to be precisely aligned.
  • A specialized “staybolt tap” is run through the holes, which cuts threads to match the threads machined on the staybolts themselves
  • The staybolt is then threaded all the way through, securing the outer sheet to the inside sheet
  • The excess threads are cut-off, and the ends are peaned over with a large air hammer to make a rounded end which seals the end of the bolt to the sheet. 

Considering the SP #1744 has over 1400 staybolts – this adds up to a HUGE amount of time and labor. In addition, the SP #1744 has over 700 flexible staybolts that require additional work, as each one has sleeve that needs to welded to the exterior of the boiler shell.

So while there is plenty of work to be done, we need funding to get it done – That is where you come in!  Last year the PLA raised over $68,000 for the SP #1744 project, thanks in part to a generous grant by the Emery Rail Heritage Trust and a generous gift by the Farwell Family.  This year we want to keep the donations coming so the restoration work can continue. 

The Pacific Locomotive Association and their hard working volunteers would like to ask for your support to continue with the boiler work and help us install those 1400 staybolts.  You may donate on-line here:

or via mail by jumping over to our Donate page where the all of the mail in information is.

You may also download this flyer to print and mail should you choose. The flyer was graciously designed by our friends at Gossamer Admin & Design.   

Any amount is appreciated.  Your continued support will help us in bring this historic locomotive back to life and preserve steam railroading for future generations.

Respectfully,

The Pacific Locomotive Association

Lead photo caption
SP 1744 Running Light in 1958, photo courtesy John West

Niles Canyon Railway featured on The Cast of Niles podcast

Recently our President, Henry Baum, joined The Cast of Niles podcast to talk about railroad history, our railroad and our museum’s future plans. From their website, “In this second episode …

Recently our President, Henry Baum, joined The Cast of Niles podcast to talk about railroad history, our railroad and our museum’s future plans.

From their website, “In this second episode of the Cast of Niles, we sit down and talk with the president of the Pacific Locomotive Association that runs the Niles Canyon Railway, Henry Baum. Not only does Henry share with us the opportunities and progress made on the existing railway and future railroad museum, but he takes us back in time to the very beginning of the story of the railway in Niles Canyon almost a century and a half ago. Little do people realize that Niles Canyon played in significant part in the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.”

Please visit them here to listen or to find links to the podcast on all of the major podcast channels including Spotify and Apple.