Railtown 1897 SHP
Narrated by Russ Christoff
Jamestown lies three miles south of Sonora, and is home to a fine collection of historic steam engines that were previously part of the Sierra Railway Company.
The Sierra Railroad was once a vital mode of transportation throughout the gold country, as the logging industry exploded with lines carrying both passengers and cargo.
Rail travel was difficult in those days, especially up the steep routes to Angel’s Camp in Tuolumne.
On these lines, engines had to negotiate tight turns while carrying tons of freight.
In the 1950’s, most of the steam locomotives were retired in favor of the more modern diesel locomotives, bringing the romantic era of steam travel to an end.
In 1982, the State of California bought the 26 acre park, then comprised of maintenance buildings, roundhouse and aging locomotives, in order to preserve one of North America’s last surviving steam railroad facilities.
Now with the help of the California State Railroad Museum, in Sacramento, and the Railtown 1897 Docent Association, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is open to the public for tours and train rides.
During the summer, and for a small fee, visitors may experience the thrill of riding the rails as steam locomotives take them through the gold country.
If you plan to visit this park, be sure to allow time for this unique adventure.
There is also a wonderful book store that specializes in resources for the railroad enthusiast.
In the roundhouse, I met with the restoration specialist, George.
Tell me a little bit about the ride on the train that heads out of town?
SPECIALIST GEORGE: What we’ve done here is that we have packaged a 40 minute round trip to Witch Creek and return.
It’s not really a Durango Silverton of the railroad of industry, but it’s a good demonstration ride to give people a sample of what steam railroading was all about.
We do pass a number of interesting points in Tuolumne County that actually the first gold rush discovery was on that creek, right by where it passes the railroad.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: And they stop for water?
SPECIALIST GEORGE: Yes, that is the old injection water tank.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: Is it really?
SPECIALIST GEORGE: Oh yeah, we remember that from our childhood, there it is in real life.
All of these locomotives, except for Number 2, have been in many movies, locomotive number 2 is a newcomer here. It came here in about the mid 1970’s.
Locomotive number 3 is our movie star, it was built in 1891 and the first movie it was in was in 1919 and still to this day is in use.
Anyone can have a railroad museum, just collect a bunch of equipment and put it in a building and charge admission to see it.
But what we have here is a collection that nobody has created.
It’s just that time has created it for no reason, it’s just a weird spin on the ball and here it is.
You can’t explain it.