By Jack Stodelle
Suppose it is in the year of 1996, a typically beautiful summer day during the Southern California Exposition and County Fair, at Del Mar. Among the hundreds milling around Bing Crosby Hall is a typical family of three — Mother, Father, and six-year-old Jimmy.
“Daddy!” cries Jimmy, “What is that big, black monster?”
“That,” says his father, “is what was known as a steam locomotive, like the one we saw in that period picture on our phon-a-vision set. I remember Granddad talking about this very one; it ran mostly over Carriso Gorge, on the San Diego &Arizona Eastern Railway, between Yuma and San Diego. And that ornate old coach behind it was the owner’s own private car.”
As he speaks, an atomic-powered, low-slung streamliner roars past on its 80-minute run between San Diego and Los Angeles, a striking contrast to the little old locomotive which last turned its wheels in 1955.
Much could be written about why locomotive No. 104 and the private car Carriso Gorge are now a monument, instead of ending on the junk-pile. It isn’t just that 104 typifies one of man’s greatest creations, the reciprocating steam locomotive, nor that the private car belonged to one of San Diego’s greats, the late John D. Spreckels. More important is the fact that they represent as colorful an era as any in our history; this will be more apparent as the passing years bring that era into its correct perspective.
The task of obtaining this historic exhibit was not an easy one; the work of the historian is never easy. But the job was undertaken, and brought to a successful conclusion.
When it was learned that Southern Pacific, which controls San Diego & Arizona Eastern, had a locomotive to donate to the local children, the Railway Historical Society of San Diego undertook the task of handling negotiations and raising the necessary funds, and considerable time was spent in seeking a location in the metropolitan area. Meanwhile, the private car became available also, which did not simplify the task. The Society, made up of only some twenty-five individuals who are interested in the rich railroad history of the Southwest, was about to give up in despair when Paul Mannen of the Twenty-second District Agricultural Association offered a plot of land on the County Fair Grounds at Del Mar. Then the fund-raising campaign started in earnest; moving locomotives is not cheap.
Friendly co-operation of two railroads landed old 104 and the car in San Diego. Southern Pacific agreed to get it here over its own tracks to the Imperial Valley, and thence by S. D. & A. E. – 104’s own old route to San Diego. There the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe picked up engine and car in the local yards and hauled them over its own tracks to Solana Beach siding; from there it would be necessary to get it, by trucking equipment, over the last long mile to the fair grounds. The 104, with tender, weighs more than 100 tons; the Carriso Gorge is 80 feet long. It was a job for heavy-lift specialists. Local firms were contacted, but the bids were negative or prohibitive. As most of the equipment brought into Los Angeles’ “Travel Town” had been moved by the Belyea Trucking Company of that city, they were contacted. They proved to be more than sympathetic; the Job would be done at bare cost — but even that was $1400.
President Douglas Duncan of the railway historians, assisted by Eric Sanders and Lyle Judd, spearheaded the doorbell-ringing campaign among local business firms and individuals. The response – as was that to the raffling off of a model railroad outfit — was gratifying, and the hard-working little group made its goal.
Last summer, 104 was taken from the scrap-track at Bayshore Yards in San Francisco, and thoroughly cleaned and painted. The side-rods were disconnected, and locomotive and tender were hooked into a freight train. On the way south they picked up the private car – which in later years had become Hospital Car No. 035 of the S. P. Under its thick coats of paint are the rich mahogany and other woodwork which it boasted when it was the private car of the builder of the San Diego & Arizona.
On Sept. 2, 1955, nearly four years after the last steam train had passed over the famous Carriso Gorge route, locomotive and car crossed the mountains into San Diego County. It was a great day for the Railway Historical Society, whose members drove out to Campo to greet their old friends as they returned — a bit ignominiously in the wake of a Diesel engine — to San Diego. The next night Santa Fe hooked onto the two relics, and spotted them on the Solana Beach siding. There Belyea’s men took over, for the trip to the Fair Grounds.
Statistically, 104 was built by Baldwin in 1904, and originally was S. P. No. 2720; It was sold to S. D. & A. E. in 1918, and was used on the completion of the railroad through the United States and Mexico, and later on both freight and passenger runs. It is a “Consolidation” or 2-8-0 type with a total weight of 216,700 pounds, of which 191,000 pounds are carried on its 57-inch drivers. Boiler pressure is 210 pounds, giving 45,470 pounds tractive effort at the drawbar.
Actually older than the railway itself is the private car, which was built around 1890, with hardwood trim and stained-glass decorations – still there, as is the old cast-iron stove in its galley. Much work remains to be done, and the local group, with the assistance of the Fair Grounds staff, is working on its restoration, on Sundays. The original arrangement of the two luxurious bedrooms, the full-length bath-tub, and the room in which the railway’s builder entertained important guests, will be brought back once more.
And so at the fair this year, as you climb the steep steps to the cab of 104, you will be face to face with railroading in the pre-Diesel days, for the half-century-old engine is a link to a colorful era. It is not difficult to imagine yourself at the throttle while the boulders of Carriso Gorge send back the roar of the exhaust and the red glare from the firebox, and the flanges scream around the reverse curves, with a thousand-foot drop on the outside.
It is pleasant to know that this faithful servant, to which the wreckers’ torch was so close at Bayshore Yards, is with us to stay.
So far as San Diego is concerned, the era of steam railroading ended on August 23, 1953, with Santa Fe passenger train No. 72/73, on the San Diego to Los Angeles run. The big steam locomotive which pulled that last “pre-Diesel” train was No. 3751, with Engineer Carl Nielsen and Conductor Joe L. Brown in charge.
Three weeks earlier, in anticipation of the end of steam power, a special Railway Club excursion train, with a steam locomotive, visited here from the north; the date was July 31, 1953.