Thursday, September 28, 2017

Roaring Camp & Big Trees

Frank writes...

Part Two of my California trip was to the Roaring Camp & Big Trees, a tourist line based in Felton, California along the right-of-way of the old South Pacific Coast Railroad narrow gauge. The operation is based at a timetable point called Big Trees, in the redwood forest, and includes two separate divisions. The standard-gauge line runs south to Santa Cruz, to the boardwalk, while the much shorter narrow-gauge line winds its way up to the top of nearby Bear Mountain.

Upon our arrival in the morning we checked out the narrow gauge engine house, where Shay 7 was simmering, being readied for service. It was built by Lima in 1911 and in later years worked for West Side Lumber Company. Behind it is a diesel and a smaller two-truck Shay, number 3, which was built in 1912 and ran in Virginia. Neither was operating during our visit.
Our first ride was on the standard-gauge line down to Santa Cruz. The train was pulled by a CF7 and consisted of an ex-B&M wooden coach and a (probably ex-B&M) wooden combine bracketing a pair of open-air cars.
We rode in the coach, which was at the back of the train and gave a nice solarium view. The car seemed to be in generally good shape although some of the windows really needed work.
Here we are going through the redwood forest. The scenery was spectacular.
Getting into Santa Cruz, we went through a tunnel (the conductor said that some of the ties in the tunnel still have extra tie plates for dual-gauge track) and then did some street running through Santa Cruz before arriving at a wye. The conductor had a wireless microphone and kept up a running commentary for virtually the entire journey. The script was well written and often irreverent, so it wasn't as irritating as it sounds. And it allowed the railroad to do something that struck me, from a marketing perspective, as very smart. At one point he started into a routine encouraging people to watch out their windows for "our local Mike's Bikes franchise, spare bike parts and repairs." In reality what riders saw was the first of several homeless encampments (complete with various bike parts strewn about) along the line - this is, after all, sunny California and homeless camps are much more common than in the north. But framing these squalid dwellings as something of a wry joke struck me as a move shrewdly calculated to raise riders' spirits and distract their focus from the undeniably depressing sights outside their windows. Perhaps a bit callous, to be sure, but smart from a purely marketing perspective.
We arrived at a wye located off the west end of the Santa Cruz boardwalk and beach, where we reversed into town. Above we're coming off the wye, under a road bridge, and onto street trackage towards the boardwalk. There was some sort of triathlon going on and race organizers had unwisely placed cones on the tracks, so you can see people (also unwisely) scrambling to retrieve the cones just before they get run over.
The train made its way up the street behind the boardwalk. There were cars and people all over and the train was doing a backup move just like we do at IRM. I don't envy the guy on the tail hose.
And here the train is at the Santa Cruz boardwalk. There was a one-hour layover, during which we toured the rather Coney Island-ish boardwalk area and grabbed a quick lunch, then the train made its way back up to Big Trees. It was about a one-hour trip each way.
The next trip was on the narrow-gauge division. Between trips passengers can tour a small "wild west town" setup at Big Trees including a cafeteria, gift shop, and some midway attractions like gold panning and costumed photos. Then the Shay pulled into the station from its previous trip, with open-air cars in tow.
The ride through the redwoods was pretty spectacular. There was again a conductor providing a running commentary and we were told that the grades on this line (which was constructed for tourist purposes, in the 1970s I believe) were at some 8% with a brief stretch of 10% grade.
The Shay was really working.
Halfway up the mountain we passed the charred remains of the Corkscrew Trestle, on which the narrow-gauge railroad at one time crossed back over itself via a large, steep trestle. It was the victim of a fire started by an arsonist in the late 1970s, a fire which also affected the trees in the area.
The line replaced the trestle with a switchback; this was the point with the steepest grade. It was a pretty impressive show from a locomotive that had already been working hard practically the entire trip. (Shay 7 is oil-fired, as apparently are all steam locomotives in operation in California.)
Here's a shot of Shay 7 at the summit of Bear Mountain. It's all downhill from here! The railroad is a dogbone, with the "wild west town" at Big Trees in the middle of the lower balloon loop.
Ours was the last trip of the day, so after getting back to the station I got a shot of the Shay taking its train back to the shop area.
And what day on the peninsula isn't complete without a streetcar ride? I didn't get a ride on Muni 1011, shown here, but did see it out the car window in E-Embarcadero service to the Cal-Train depot. This car, a double-end PCC built in 1948 by St. Louis, was a true basket case until just a few years ago when it was completely rebuilt by Brookville. It has been painted in Market Street Railway's patented "white front" livery, which looks a bit odd on a PCC car.
Muni's F-Market line heritage operation is popular as always. We rode on one of the relatively new (to Muni) ex-Newark, ex-Minneapolis cars. These cars were originally identical to Shaker Heights 63 at IRM. They've been significantly rebuilt over long service lives though.
And of course a cable car ride is a must. It's incredible they haven't banned people from riding the running boards yet.

1 comment:

Tony Gura said...

This website provides the locations of all streetcars in service on the E and F Lines in San Francisco.

Unfortunately Muni was replacing the gearbox driving the California Street Cable Car which caused it to be shut down for a week. This is the first time it has been replaced since they reopened after a complete rebuild in 1984. The other three gearboxes driving the remaining lines will also be shut down over the next two years.

I doubt Muni will ban people from standing on the running boards since passengers enjoy riding it so much. However, the fare collection method could change since some stories have come out about missed fares and allegations of pocketing fare money. Ironically, this is the reason the free-for-all method of fare collection used on the cable cars became obsolete over 100 years ago.