Robert Dollar Co. #3 in service with Engineer, Lacy Sparks.

We were contacted by Mr. Tim Staten in 2020 who shared these great images with us. These are of his grandfather-in-law, Mr. Lacy Sparks, who was a Robert Dollar Co. locomotive engineer through the time he started with them until the time he retired. These are images of #3 and of Mr. Sparks. We hope …

We were contacted by Mr. Tim Staten in 2020 who shared these great images with us. These are of his grandfather-in-law, Mr. Lacy Sparks, who was a Robert Dollar Co. locomotive engineer through the time he started with them until the time he retired. These are images of #3 and of Mr. Sparks.

We hope you enjoy these. We certainly do! Thank you Mr. Staten for sharing them with us!

You can learn about Robert Dollar Co. #3 via our online equipment roster here.

Saving a cow on our railroad…

The Niles Canyon Railway winds through the canyon on a right-of-way first constructed in the late 1860s as part of the Transcontinental Railroad.   The volunteers, who operate and maintain the railroad, appreciate the scenic rural beauty and the freedom from high density living, just minutes away.  The railroad passes by very few homes and a …

The Niles Canyon Railway winds through the canyon on a right-of-way first constructed in the late 1860s as part of the Transcontinental Railroad.   The volunteers, who operate and maintain the railroad, appreciate the scenic rural beauty and the freedom from high density living, just minutes away.  The railroad passes by very few homes and a lot of ranch land.  Because of its isolated nature, the railroad volunteers are the first to observe and report hazardous conditions on adjacent properties such as fallen trees, power lines, plugged stormwater culverts, and the occasional backyard brush fire.  They also encounter stray sheep, goats and cattle that have snuck through fences and wandered onto the right-of-way. 

On Sunday, January 17th, 2021, two volunteers were working out in the canyon to clean up a very large oak tree that had broken in two, creating a fire hazard.  On their way, they spotted an adult cow that had slid down a hill, under a barbed wire fence and lodged itself between a couple of solid rocks at the base of the slope, 15 feet from our railroad tracks.  The animal was alive, alert, and laying on its side, but because of its position, was unable to get itself up.

NCRy volunteer, Doug Vanderlee, comforts the exhausted cow while waiting for help to arrive.

Using a list of neighbors’ contact information maintained by our museum for such an emergency, the railroad volunteers were able to locate the correct cattle rancher and direct him to the site.  The ranch foreman arrived to assess the situation.  It was a cattleman’s worst nightmare; a downed (and possibly injured) animal weighing 500 to 600 pounds in a place inaccessible to trucks and trailers or horses and cowboys to deal with the scenario using the traditional methods.  Short of air-lifting the cow using a helicopter, there were no easy solutions to the problem.

Luckily, the railroad’s General Manager, and professional heavy equipment operator, Stephen Barkkarie, happened to be at home in nearby Sunol enjoying a well-deserved Sunday off.  He was contacted and arrived on scene with the railroad’s Caterpillar backhoe, which is specially equipped to be able to travel on railroad tracks.  Minutes later, the cattle owner and a crew of 4 cowboys arrived.  Two of them were wearing rowel spurs.  These guys were the real deal. 

In short order the ranch hands threaded a couple of nylon soft slings provided by the railroad under the cow, and attached them to the bucket of the backhoe.  The cow was hoisted onto a railroad maintenance “pushcar”, then transported on the tracks 1/4 mile to an access gate through an adjoining neighbor’s property where it was hoisted off onto an awaiting trailer.  It was very lucky that the neighbor happened to be working on the property at the time to permit access.  All indications are that the cow was not severely injured by the accident and will make a full recovery and will be suckling little calves of her own in the late Spring.

With the ranchers having applied the slings, NCRy GM, Steve Barkkarie, begins the lift with the backhoe.
Up and toward the waiting MOW trailers.
Set down and secured on the Maintenance-of-Way trailers for the short ride to where the cow could be transloaded to a waiting trailer.

At a time when we are increasingly socially isolated from our neighbors, it is heartening to know that there are those who watch out for each other, and will take time out to lend a hand . . . or backhoe . . when the need arises.

Rebuild the #1744 – 2021 Fundraising

To begin to address the fabrication of the needed staybolts for the boiler and to start the running gear rebuild, the Pacific Locomotive Association is launching Phase II fundraising efforts now with the goal to raise $75,000 or more over the course of 2021.

The Pacific Locomotive Association and its Niles Canyon Railway would like to thank you for being a part of our heritage railroad community. Balancing operational expenses and reduced revenue due to Covid-19 restrictions since March of this year continues to be a challenging mission for our museum. Our supporters have helped bolster us greatly with financial support throughout this unprecedented time. The many hours of work from our volunteers have allowed us to continue some of our restoration projects while also allowing us to bring back train operations to Niles Canyon when we were given the appropriate approvals.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the PLA Board of Directors reviewed and adopted a long- term plan presented by the Steam Department to expand our fleet of steam locomotives for train operations. With lots of creative planning and logistics we purchased the Southern Pacific 2-6-0 steam locomotive #1744. This is another milestone for the PLA. We are committed to our goal for long-term sustainability of the Niles Canyon Railway as the premier all-volunteer west coast operating railroad museum for diesel and steam power. The historic SP #1744 is an exceptional fit with the PLA mission statement as it operated for many years out of Oakland on the SP Western Division and in California’s Central Valley.

This rebuild project is unique in that the locomotive was already disassembled and an extremely thorough restoration had been started by the previous owner. The #1744, however, still requires significant boiler work, mechanical work, and reassembly to restore it to operating condition.

Our NCRy Steam Department volunteers have already been busy starting to clean and prime #1744’s frame.

The scope of the project is outlined in a five-year restoration plan to spread out the impact on funding needs. We started a phased fundraising program with Phase I to complete the frame and tender transportation to our Brightside yard and the boiler trucked to Antonito, CO for contract rebuilding. We are now entering Phase II of the restoration plan that starts repairs to the running gear and boiler.

Did you know that main components for the boiler rebuild are 2000 staybolts of different types and sizes? The current staybolts are no longer serviceable and new staybolts must be custom machined and fabricated from raw stock. The average cost to create each staybolt is $60.00 for a total cost of $120,000.

Interior of #1744’s boiler shell after sandblasting and Apexior coating at Stockton Locomotive Works in Antonito, CO. This work took place on 12/1/2020.

To begin to address the fabrication of the needed staybolts for the boiler and to start the running gear rebuild, the Pacific Locomotive Association is launching Phase II fundraising efforts now with the goal to raise $75,000 or more over the course of 2021. The current rebuilding timeline has us budgeting to spend $75,000 each year until the rebuild is complete. If we can raise more than $75,000, we feel the five year rebuild timeline can be reduced.

Your donation will be essential for us to meet our goal of $75,000 to continue our work throughout the coming year. Would you please consider making a donation to help us kick off this phase of #1744’s restoration?

Checks are also welcome and may be made out to the Pacific Locomotive Association. Add in the memo section of your check that your donation is for the #1744 so we make sure to properly direct the funds. Mail to: Pacific Locomotive Association,SP#1744 Restoration,  P.O. Box 515, Sunol,CA 94586-0515

Your directed donations can only be spent on the project for which the donation was earmarked until the project is completed, or in other words when the SP #1744 is once again steaming on the Niles Canyon Railway.

Along with future mailings and articles in our newsletter, The Club Car, we will be posting updates to our website here and social media sites to mark our fundraising and restoration progress.

Thank you very much for your support, and we hope to hear from you soon.

SP #1744 on an excursion on the Knights Landing Branch of the SP – John West photo – Used with permission

SP #1744 – Boiler move

The Pacific Locomotive Association (PLA) is pleased to announce that the move portion of the Southern Pacific #1744 project is now over with the locomotive’s boiler, the last piece remaining in Alamosa, Colorado moved to the nearby Stockton Locomotive Works shop in Antonito, Colorado.

The Pacific Locomotive Association (PLA) is pleased to announce that the move portion of the Southern Pacific #1744 project is now over with the locomotive’s boiler, the last piece remaining in Alamosa, Colorado moved to the nearby Stockton Locomotive Works shop in Antonito, Colorado.  The PLA owes thanks the many donors who have helped finance the move and continue to donate in support of the restoration. 

The 2-6-0 Mogul built by Baldwin in 1901 operated for many years out of Oakland on the Southern Pacific Western Division and in California’s Central Valley where the Moguls were fondly called “Valley Mallets” by their crews.  The locomotive was made famous in later years by operating on several of the last steam railfan excursions on the Southern Pacific.  After many years of operating around the United States, the #1744 is returning home to once again to operate through Niles Canyon on the last leg of the Transcontinental railroad.

PLA volunteers have begun to work on the running gear at the Niles Canyon Railway’s yard and with the boiler moved to Stockton Locomotive Works, Stathi Pappas will now be able to begin the boiler work as well.  The restoration of the #1744 back to service on the NCRy has begun!  The PLA plan to return the #1744 to service is not a quick or inexpensive proposition but we are looking forward to the future when she will once again steam on the Niles Canyon Railway.  The non-profit all volunteer heritage railway encourages donations to help return this classic Southern Pacific Locomotive to service.  You can learn more about the #1744 here including links to our Steam Website as well which has more details.

Oakland Terminal #101 – It is time for your close-up

Recently we had an inquiry about our Oakland Terminal #101 diesel locomotive. #101 is a Baldwin model DS-4-4-1000. Baldwin was a huge producer of steam locomotives in the US including our own Clover Valley Lumber Co. #4 and our new to us Southern Pacific #1744, however, it was never overly successful in transitioning to the …

Recently we had an inquiry about our Oakland Terminal #101 diesel locomotive. #101 is a Baldwin model DS-4-4-1000. Baldwin was a huge producer of steam locomotives in the US including our own Clover Valley Lumber Co. #4 and our new to us Southern Pacific #1744, however, it was never overly successful in transitioning to the diesel electric locomotive market. That makes #101 more unique and makes this type of locomotive harder to find in preservation.

The inquiry was from a modeler looking for some detailed images of the rear platform of the #101. So on a recent visit to our Brightside yard, one of volunteers grabbed some detailed shots around the #101 which is currently stored awaiting from mechanical repairs to its running gear. This is another project where new hands would be very welcome around the yard. To learn how to volunteer, please check our Volunteer section of this website.

So here are a variety of detailed photos of the #101 which we hope will help modelers answer their detail questions. If we missed anything or you would like a different angle or close-up, please us know here. Thanks!

SP #1744 Running Gear Arrives – 9.02.2020

The Pacific Locomotive Association (PLA) is pleased to announce that the frame & running gear from the recently purchased Southern Pacific #1744 has been moved from Colorado to the Niles Canyon Railway.  The running gear was loaded on a heavy haul truck in Alamosa, Colorado on Monday 8/31 and unloaded this afternoon at Brightside yard.  …

The Pacific Locomotive Association (PLA) is pleased to announce that the frame & running gear from the recently purchased Southern Pacific #1744 has been moved from Colorado to the Niles Canyon Railway.  The running gear was loaded on a heavy haul truck in Alamosa, Colorado on Monday 8/31 and unloaded this afternoon at Brightside yard.  The PLA owes thanks the many donors who have helped finance the move from Colorado.  We are also grateful to the employees at the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad who have been instrumental in helping with the process to move the 1744. 

The 2-6-0 Mogul built by Baldwin in 1901 operated for many years out of Oakland on the Southern Pacific Western Division and in California’s Central Valley where the Moguls were fondly called “Valley Mallets” by their crews.  The locomotive was made famous in later years by operating on several of the last steam railfan excursions on the Southern Pacific.  After many years of operating around the United States, the #1744 is returning home to once again to operate through Niles Canyon on the last leg of the transcontinental railroad.

The Pacific Locomotive Association will move the boiler, the final piece of the locomotive still in Colorado, to a contract shop for repairs later this month.  This move will finish the project to move the  locomotive back to California.   With the running gear onsite, NCRy volunteers will now begin the inspection, repair and reassembly of the running gear in preparation for the eventual operation of the locomotive on the Niles Canyon Railway.  The PLA plan to return the #1744 to service will not be a quick or inexpensive proposition but we are looking forward to the future when she will once again steam on the Niles Canyon Railway.  Our non-profit all volunteer heritage railway encourages donations to help return this classic Southern Pacific Locomotive to service.  Please visit our Steam Department website to see more information and progress updates as the rebuild begins.

SP #1744 Running Gear Loaded 8.31.2020

The move of the SP 1744 frame seemed to be a simple process but as usual nothing is simple and things got more complicated as we delved into the details.  The frame & running gear being over 10’ wide would be a wide load on a truck, but what type of truck would be required? …

The move of the SP 1744 frame seemed to be a simple process but as usual nothing is simple and things got more complicated as we delved into the details.  The frame & running gear being over 10’ wide would be a wide load on a truck, but what type of truck would be required?  While we knew the weight of the locomotive, what would just the running gear weigh?  Using our resources, we talked with anyone we could think of that had moved a locomotive in pieces to see if they had weights on both the boiler and frame and got the best information from Steve Lee of Wasatch Railroad Contractors who supervised the recent move of the SP&S #539 2-8-2 from the Grand Canyon Railroad back to Washington.  His weights on the boiler and running gear gave us a rough approximation of the running gear percentage of the total locomotive weight.  As we knew the weight of all the parts shipped in March, the parts weight was subtracted from the locomotive weight to get an estimated weight of 113,400 pounds for the boiler and running gear.  However, we did not know the weight of the boiler shell as it sat in Alamosa.  Not knowing the boiler weight, we could only estimate the running gear weight and it was too close to 80,000 pound weight limit to risk using a shorter trailer, so Renn Transportation ended up using a nine-axle truck and trailer able to carry more weight.  Fortunately, we did use the bigger trailer as based on truck scale weights the running gear ended up weighing around 90,000 pounds.

In Alamosa, Stathi Pappas removed the grease cellars and prepared the frame to roll by cleaning the axles and applying new grease.  The axles were blocked so they would stay in position when the frame was lifted.  Stathi supervised on August 31st, 2020 as two Monte Vista Crane Company cranes lifted the running gear off the rails and onto the rails of the waiting Renn Transportation truck.  In addition to our thanks to Stathi for his help, the PLA wants to give a huge thank you to the San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad employees for their assistance with the move. 

Peter, our driver with Renn Transportation, skillfully drove the loaded truck over the Continental Divide across 10,857 foot Wolf Creek Pass heading west through Colorado, then Arizona, through Las Vegas, onto I-15 across the California border, over Tehachapi to the Central Valley and into the Bay Area.  PLA volunteers built an unloading ramp at Brightside Yard on September 2nd and the locomotive running gear was rolled off the trailer and onto the rails of the Niles Canyon Railway.  The long journey back home to California is over where the locomotive began its career working for the Southern Pacific Railroad nearly 120 years ago.

Train of Lights Cancelled for 2020

Due to the many COVID-19 restrictions and the inability to properly plan, we are extremely saddened to announce our popular Train of Lights event for the 2020 Holiday season will not be feasible this year.

Niles Canyon Railway’s Train of Lights heads into the dusk along Highway 84

Normally we like to share happier news on our website, but we wanted to let everyone know as soon as possible. Due to the many COVID-19 restrictions and the inability to properly plan, we are extremely saddened to announce our popular Train of Lights event for the 2020 Holiday season will not be feasible this year. Typically, we would begin preparations for this event now in early September and even earlier in August, but unfortunately we are unable to commit the necessary resources. Our concern is this signature event with current pandemic restrictions will not be everything people have come to expect, and we must be cognizant of the health and well-being of our volunteer corps who span all ages.

As this was our principal fund-raiser for the year, we still need to meet our financial commitments for the current and first half of the following fiscal year. If you would like to support us to help us get through this challenging time and loss of our operating revenue, you can make a donation or consider joining us. Membership is a great way to support our railroad, and it comes with many other perks as well. You can do both on our website via the links above.

Please understand this was a difficult decision for all of the volunteers here at Niles Canyon Railway. We do have our upcoming September steam runs if you would like a chance to support and ride with us. More details on those trips can be found on our website here.

We are hoping and our volunteers are fully committed to returning the Train of Lights to the rails of our Niles Canyon Railway if the conditions allow in 2021. Thank you again for everyone that has ridden our train over the many years.

Sheltering in place…

The Niles Canyon Railway continues to follow the shelter in place order put in place in Alameda and surrounding counties in the Greater Bay Area to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Therefore, all train rides (Field trip trains/ Sunday train rides/Beer on the Rails/Riding the Rails for Relay) and volunteer efforts are cancelled until further …

The Niles Canyon Railway continues to follow the shelter in place order put in place in Alameda and surrounding counties in the Greater Bay Area to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Therefore, all train rides (Field trip trains/ Sunday train rides/Beer on the Rails/Riding the Rails for Relay) and volunteer efforts are cancelled until further notice. We will keep everyone updated as time goes on. In the meantime, we will keep posting interesting photos of our museum operations and from our archives on our Facebook and Instagram sites as a way to keep sharing our museum’s mission. We ask everyone to please stay safe, and we hope to be back out of the engine house soon enough.

Chinese on The Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental Railroad

The Chinese helped build the railroad, and the railroad helped build America

Pacific Locomotive Assoc new museum-Chinese Railroad Workers impact on the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad 2
circa 1869 Chinese immigarants buliding the transcontinental railroad in California
Chinese railroad workers

Niles Canyon Railway is celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad by hosting a bilingual exhibit honoring the achievements of Chinese workers in building the Central Pacific Railroad using historic photographs of the railroad’s construction contrasted with contemporary photos.  

Sunol Depot exhibit designed by Randolph R. Ruiz

Our Sunol Depot is presenting a series of over 60 panels from the historic collection on loan from Stanford University. Chinese artifacts will also be displayed. The Depot will be open on Sundays 10-4 or by appointment. We will also be open to the school groups who ride our popular field trip trains in spring and summer.

The exhibit runs from May 10 through September 30, 2019.