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.

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.

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.

Build East – Major milestone achieved!

On Saturday, May 6, 2023, our Niles Canyon Railway Build East Track Construction Crew reached another major milestone as they completed the ballasting, leveling and tamping of all of the current installed track which now ends just on the east side of Happy Valley Bridge. This is a major milestone for the team who has been working for many months methodically working their way toward this goal; insuring the railroad was properly leveled and hardened to allow trains to now pass all the way to Happy Valley.

On Saturday, May 6, 2023, our Niles Canyon Railway Build East Track Construction Crew reached another major milestone as they completed the ballasting, leveling and tamping of all of the current installed track which now ends just on the east side of Happy Valley Bridge. This is a major milestone for the team who has been working for many months methodically working their way toward this goal; insuring the railroad was properly leveled and hardened to allow trains to now pass all the way to Happy Valley.

With this milestone accomplished, the team will shift their first Saturday of the month efforts towards being to extend the railroad east of Happy Valley Bridge. New volunteers are always welcome and more details can be found here on our Construction Volunteer page.

Here are a series of photos across the day leading up to the final tie being tamped and a group photo being taken at Happy Valley Bridge.

All photos by Christopher Hauf – Used with permission

Trips from PLA’s past – 1968 Truckee Limited – More photos

On May 30, 1968, the PLA operated the first of its Truckee Limiteds over the Southern Pacific. The trip was a round trip one day adventure from Oakland to Truckee, California and return. This was one and only time one of the three unique SP DH643 hydraulics pulled a passenger train. In this follow up blog post to an earlier post, we share some new images and info.

The Pacific Locomotive Association (PLA), the owner and operator of our Niles Canyon Railway, was initially founded as a group to be able to organize and run trips behind the then disappearing steam locomotive. While the group quickly shifted into railway preservation in the late 1960s, it never lost its trip operating roots.

On May 30, 1968, the PLA operated the first of its Truckee Limiteds over the Southern Pacific. The trip was a round trip one day adventure from Oakland to Truckee, California and return. This was one and only time one of the three unique SP DH643 hydraulics pulled a passenger train.

We already published one blog post in early 2023, available below, with one set of images from one of our PLA/NCRy members. If you have not seen it, please check it out.

First blog post covering the 1968 Truckee Limited.

Here are several more photos by T. O. Repp of the special train that day running from Oakland over Donner Pass that have been shared with us to share with you. Thanks to Mr. Repp for sending us and allowing to share his images.

16th Street Oakland – T. O. Repp photo – Used with permission
16th Street Oakland – T. O. Repp photo – Used with permission
Truckee Limited at Colfax – T. O. Repp photo – Used with permission
Truckee Limited meet on Donner Pass – T. O. Repp photo – Used with permission
Truckee Limited – T. O. Repp photo – Used with permission

While from a later Truckee Limited, PLA/NCRy member, Brian Wise, recently shared an advertising brochure for the 1970 version of the PLA’s Truckee Limited. He was kind enough to let us share it here.

April 26, 1970 Truckee Limited brochure – Brian Wise Collection – Used with permission
April 26, 1970 Truckee Limited brochure – Brian Wise Collection – Used with permission

Did you ride this trip? Do you have anything else interesting about the trip you could share with us as we continue to document our history? Please contact us if you do.

Thanks!

SP #1744 receives 2023 John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust Grant

Our Niles Canyon Railway was recently informed that we are the recipient of a 2023 John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust grant in the amount of $31,000 to be used toward the manufacture of new staybolts, staybolt sleeves and staybolt caps for the boiler of our Southern Pacific #1744.

Our Niles Canyon Railway was recently informed that we are the recipient of a 2023 John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust grant in the amount of $31,000 to be used toward the manufacture of new staybolts, staybolt sleeves and staybolt caps for the boiler of our Southern Pacific #1744.   This was the largest of the 19 grants awarded this year.

Current fundraising progress for the staybolts for SP #1744, Would you please help us get to our stretch goal?

This grant adds to over $35,000 already raised for the boiler components starting with Giving Tuesday last November to give us just over $67,000 raised in the past 5 months!   The NCRy has a goal of raising $75,000 total in 2023 for this project although we have now stretched that goal to $125,000.  This will allow us to cover not only the manufacture, but some of the installation of the staybolts into the boiler by our boiler contractor, Stockton Locomotive Works.  

We are still actively fundraising for this work.   We thank those of you who may have already given and ask those who may not have made a donation to please consider one soon.   Tax deductible donations in any amount can be made via our website on our Donation page.    Additionally, checks made out to the Pacific Locomotive Association may be sent to: Pacific Locomotive Association,SP#1744 Restoration,  P.O. Box 515, Sunol, CA 94586-0515

We want to thank the John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust with this grant; the second the NCRy has received in the past several years.   Previously they gave us $10,000 for the men’s bathroom restoration in our Southern Pacific twin-unit coach.    We greatly appreciate their support, and the recognition of the hard work of the volunteers of the Niles Canyon Railway!

Continued frame repairs to the SP #1744 are ongoing to eventually support the rebuilt boiler. From our 3/18/23 work session.
Photo by: Chris Hauf – Used with permission

Paint work underway on GN Ranch Car ‘Hidden Lake’

With a lot of new steel installed along the roof line and throughout the kitchen side of the body, Howard Wise has recently turned his skills from metal work to painting and lettering; starting the four color Great Northern paint scheme on the kitchen end of the car as a first step to continuing the work down this side of the car and eventually across the whole car. Learn more about the process and how you can help with a donation.

Over the past several years, a dedicated team has been working inside and out to restore our Great Northern Railway Ranch Car ‘Hidden Lake’ which was donated to our Niles Canyon in February 2019. On the exterior, this effort has been led by master craftsman, Howard Wise, who is also the driving force behind the restoration of Southern Pacific #9010. With a lot of new steel installed along the roof line and throughout the kitchen side of the body, Howard has recently turned his skills from metal work to painting and lettering; starting the four color Great Northern paint scheme on the kitchen end of the car as a first step to continuing the work down this side of the car and eventually across the whole car.

Here is a timeline of photos supplied by Howard showing just a few of the different steps taken on the kitchen side of the car to remove and replace corroded steel, prep and prime the car for paint, and start the complex four color paint scheme including the lettering on the car. These photos are by no means comprehensive of all of the incredible work our volunteers have done on this side of the car over the past year plus; work which is now being continued on the opposite side of the car to a similar degree.

To help keep the paint progress moving forward, we have launched a new Facebook fundraiser to support a portion of the cost of the paint work. With high quality, long lasting primers and paints costing upwards of $300 per gallon and the need for four different colors for the as built GN paint scheme, we would love your support in any amount to help us offset the cost of painting the kitchen side of the car. Steel work is still underway on the other side of the car. While $3500 will not pay for all our painting supplies, it will cover most of them for this side of the car which would be a huge help to the project!

You can visit our fundraiser at Facebook at the button below. Prefer to donate via PayPal directly, there is a link for that too? Or if you like to learn more and get the address to donate via check, please visit our Donation page here.

Thanks and look for more updates soon!

Further paint progress as of 3/20/2023.
Photo by: Chris Hauf – Used with permission

Celebrating International Women’s Day

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we wanted to share some photos of the many women who volunteer with our Niles Canyon Railway and help us continue to thrive and prosper.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we wanted to share some photos of the many women who volunteer with our Niles Canyon Railway and help us continue to thrive and prosper.

From our Ticket Agents to our Gift Shop team to our Maintenance-of-Way team to our Railroad Operations Department to our Commissary Department to our Car Department and beyond, women are represented in all facets of our operation. They contribute a large number of volunteer hours across these departments to help us fulfill our mission, keep our museum running smoothly, and offer our visitors the best experience possible.

We would love to have more women come out to volunteer with us in whatever capacity that interests you! Please visit our website for many of the volunteer opportunities we have to offer across the museum. We are proud to celebrate the many contributions of women to our organization on this International Women’s Day!

All photos by Chris Hauf – Used with permission.