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25 Year Old Photos Found

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Newly Discovered 25 Year Old Photos

What moving can do for you

While rummaging through things to move back into our house from 'the studio', which is now storage, I thought about my old 'brag book'; a book of my train photos I used to carry around and show to anyone who cared.

It seems to have disappeared shortly after we moved to Idaho about 12 years ago. I have been telling my wife that I actually had completed model railroads in the past, but had no photos to prove it.

Well, I found my brag book and not only did it contain photos of my model railroads over the years, it also had forgotten photos of the old Half Moon Bay and Western Railroad of a thirteen year old boy's imagination and the famous ninteen inch gauge Swanton Pacific Railroad that I have been wanting to tell a story about for some time!

Part 1: The Half Moon Bay and Western Live Steam Railroad

Turn page to Part 2: Swanton Pacific Railroad

Boy was this a fantasy based on the Little Engines catalog! I dreamed up this 7 1/2" gauge loop of track for the empty lot next door and maybe an extension to the old Ocean Shore Railroad roadbed a half mile down the road! It was to have a small yard, station with passing siding and engine servicing facilities and looked like an HO scale 4x8 foot layout in about 75x150 feet. Of course it was to have a siding through some trees to a secret door in our fence to our backyard!

I ordered 40 feet of rail, spikes and joiners from Pete Nuskey (who I believe is still selling the same rail) in 1977 when I was 13 years old and started building the backyard siding to the fence with all scale materials: Along with Nuskey's excellent scale supplies I used redwood 1x1s for ties, decomposed granite sand for a roadbed base to hold the track firmly in place, covered with pea gravel obtained from some yard somewhere for finished ballast. I built a three-point track guage out of some scrap iron at school shop to set the gauge accurately. The track wouldn't quite stay the way I liked it (I didn't pre-bend the rails to the 30 foot radius), so I drilled holes in the ties at about four foot intervals and inserted 12" spikes like big atlas flex-track!

When about half-way done with the project one morning in the fall of 1977 I stopped to take a few photographs with my 126 instamatic camera.

Here you see the newly laid track passing by the 'forest' of 'scarlet-runner beans' on the right my dad planted each year on the south side of our play yard to seperate it from the vegetable garden.

I still really liked my 'Big Jim' action set (a non-military competitor to GI Joe) so I set up Jim on the track for a posed shot:

The back of the photo says " 'Jim', head of construction crew, poses for photographer. Fall '77"

He wouldn't stand up on his own so I used one of my extra 12" spikes in front of his left boot to hold him up. I set the camera on the rails and laid on the track to see a little bit through the viewfinder.

I remember taking these pictures to school and kids wouldn't believe me when I said it was a model, half of them thought they recognized the guy in the picture!

Unfortunately, we had to move about six months later (wouldn't you know it!), so it was all removed in January of 1978. I don't know if there are any other pictures. The kids in the neighborhood thought I was nuts, maybe I was, I never had anything to run on it so I used to spend hours out in the yard just looking at the track and imagining a Little Engines 0-6-0 steaming quietly with nowhere to go but through the secret hatch in the fence that was never constructed. I knew when I took it out that it would be a long time before I ever really built my own backyard railroad. To a kid prone to depression, it was kind of hard to take.

About ten years later I finally made the running gear for a little gas engine 'Sparky' that could roll along the 8' bench track I made with the leftovers from the HMB&W.

Here is Sparky in 1984 or so with just the wooden parts completed. I milled all the wooden pieces for the cab myself, the windows slide and the doors opened. I even cut real glass to install.

I owe a lot to a Golden Gate Live Steamers member from the East Bay whose name I don't remember who turned my wheels and axles for me several years later, if I ever find him, I will have to thank him.

About 1994, my brother Rollie got it running by putting a new engine in it and building an entire new superstructure out of scrap steel (and renaming it 'Scrappy #101' to fit) - Link is to his R&R Railroad photo page - Scrappy is at the end.

Part 2: The Swanton Pacific Railroad

Here I am really stretching for dates and exact details, but I believe we first discovered the Swanton Pacific in the fall of 1979. We were coming back from Santa Cruz, northbound on Hwy 1 and I convinced my dad to turn off at Swanton to see if there was any sign of the old Ocean Shore Railroad and San Vicente Lumber Company operations. We drove to the end of the road and turned around. On the way back my brothers and I thought we saw a train! We carefully pulled into the drive way of a red house and saw it; narrow tracks and a roundhouse under construction! There didn't seem to be anyone around so we went up to the house and knocked. The lady said they were out on the train and would be back in a few minutes. As we were walking down the tracks kind of in a stupor at finding a train in the woods we heard the whistle and saw it coming, the big Pacific #1913 from Calistoga! A 19" gauge live steamer right in our backyard almost! Well, within about 30 miles!

All these guys were having a good time as they were quite 'rummy' by the late afternoon when we got there. We met Charlie Hoyle (whose name I knew from the many photos of his published in the South Pacific Coast books), Al Smith (the owner of the operation, past Southern Pacific Employee and former owner of Orchard Supply Hardware) and several others whose names escape me now. Interestingly, I knew most of the names from railroad books!

We asked where we get tickets and one of them started yelling in a slurred way something like 'Hey, this guy needs to get his ticket punched! Somebody punch this guy's ticket!' We weren't sure what to make of this, but got on the train and rode down the canyon, across a high bridge made from an 86' Trailer Train Flatcar and to the wye at the end where we turned around and headed back up the hill, the big loco barking loudly with just the load of three cars and a few people.

Al told us of his plans to run his track all the way to the ocean if he could clear it with the neighbors. He told us of his large tract of land (15,000 acres?) he purchased to try and reassemble the original Spanish land grant in the area. He explained the train was running for the most part on the old Ocean Shore Railroad roadbed and he showed us the still existing high-lead logging cables and the 'spar-pole' still left in the clearing (near where the station is now located). We asked about the other former Overfair Railway locomotives and he said he had just acquired them all! When we made it back to the round house he said he was using the turntable originally built, but never installed on the Calistoga Steam Railroad, and their plans for the roundhouse.

Then I found these photos and remembered the story of them, if not the date. The photos show the work shop where Al showed off the 0-6-0 that had just been tested. It showed little deterioration in the boiler, was a minimum of 5/8" thick and able to run at full original boiler pressure.

Al is on the left. I don't remember the other fellow's name, but I remember he was pretty nice and the most sober of the bunch!

Al also showed us the U-boat diesel he got from somewhere in the south. He told us it was built by a shipbuilder of 1" plate steel and was so heavy, when they tried to lift it with a large fork lift, it just tipped the forklift over!

On the line at the end of the day this little critter built on what looks like a single passenger car truck struggled to pull the work train up the hill to the end of the track:

The bumber sticker on the locie was the requisite 'I Brake for Artesians' of the time. He had all the original Overfair freight cars that Billy Jones had at one time and a whole string of old cars on a siding to be repaired in the future.

I remember Al saying that they would have a work day on some date and invited us to come back, but I don't actually remember coming back until years later on my own.

As I am writing this, I remember some black and white Polaroids I took of the day in 1979 and don't think these photos are from the same visit. I think these color photos might really be of another visit some time later (remembered to check and yes, they say '83 on the back, from the photo processor). The photos appear to be from an old '110' camera, so maybe my brother Robert took them. It's all about as foggy as the coastal skys so just enjoy it as a bit of a story. If you have anything you can add, maybe you were there too? Please contact us and fill in our blanks...


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Updated 22.12.2001