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Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad 3/14/2021

by Chris Guenzler

We awoke and after preparing ourselves, drove to the Black Bear Diner for breakfast where I had French Toast and Elizabeth had blackberry French Toast. We then drove to Campbell where we gassed up the car before driving the rest of the way to Felton. When we arrived, Greg and Marty were already there watching the steam engines.


Roaring Camp Railroads operations began in 1963 under the guidance of F. Norman Clark (1935 - 1985), who was the founder and owner. His purpose was to keep a family tradition of constructing railroads and to "bring the romance and color of steam railroading back to America." In 1958, Clark found the engine Dixiana abandoned near a coal mine in the Appalachian Mountains; he described as looking like a "rusty pile of junk". Dixiana was reconditioned and began service in 1963 on rails that had been shipped around Cape Horn in 1881. The railway route was laid out so that as few trees as possible would have to be cut on the 170 acres Clark acquired with a 99-year lease of the larger Big Trees Ranch. The Big Trees Ranch was bought in 1867 by San Francisco businessman Joseph Warren Welch to preserve the giant redwood trees from logging. It was the first property in the state acquired specifically for that purpose. In 1930, the Welch family sold part of the property to Santa Cruz County, which eventually became part of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The first scheduled train trip was on April 6, 1963 with 44 ticketed passengers. Clark's wife, Georgiana, Vice President of Operations assumed the ownership and management responsibilities following his death on December 2, 1985. Originally, two large trestles formed a "corkscrew" loop at Spring Canyon, but these were destroyed by a 1976 fire, the smoke from which could be seen from San Francisco. Within six months, a switchback was constructed to bypass the severed loop and the entire line was returned to service. The switchback has an estimated 9.5% grade, making it the steepest passenger grade still in use. The length of the tail tracks in the switchback restricts the trains that may be operated to six cars or fewer. Special events are held to raise funds for repair and reconstruction of the trestles and steam locomotives at Roaring Camp. In 2003, the first "Day Out With Thomas" (Thomas The Tank Engine) special event was held. The event was the single largest in the 40-year history of Roaring Camp, with an estimated 25,000 participants over a three-day period.

Our trip

Elizabeth was surprised when she saw that the entrance to the park was through a covered bridge which she knew nothing about.

The Roaring Camp Covered Bridge built in 1969, the first Pratt-Truss covered bridge built in California since 1896 and the shortest covered bridge in the United States.

Roaring Camp caboose 501.

A bobber caboose.

Wagon top boiler built for their Shay Dixiana.

The Felton water tower.

The Roaring Camp and Big Trees station. We visited the gift shop in the General Store for T-shirts, mugs and lapel pins and were successful.

Roaring Camp and Big Trees Heisler 2 "Tuolumne", originally West Side Lumber, built in 1900. I was hoping this would be the locomotive for our trip as I had never ridden behind it before.

The train before it pulled down.

Roaring Camp and Big Trees Heisler 2 "Tuolumne" pulling the train forward.

This train left and went up the mountain on a safety run.

Next the Dixiana, Shay 1, backed into the station, took on water before it left and went up the mountain. This time, we knew what to do.

We ran across the area and got pictures of it heading up the mountain on its safety run.

The second train of the day backed by us and went further down the track to clear out of the way. Passengers were told if they were on the 10:45 AM train to step back and let all the 10:30 AM passengers board their train when it arrived.

The Dixiana, Shay 2, was built by Lima in 1912 as standard gauge 3 for the Alaculsy Lumber Company in Conasauga, Tennessee. It was sold to the Atlanta, Georgia dealer Southern Iron & Equipment in 1919 and then became Smoky Mountain Railroad 3 at the W. M. Ritter Lumber Co., in Proctor, North Carolina, where it was converted to 36" gauge. It moved to McClure, Virginia and was then sold to the Coal Processing Corporation in Dixiana, Virginia, in 1938. In 1958, F. Norman Clark, the founder of Roaring Camp and Big Trees, found the engine abandoned near a coal mine in Virginia and bought it in 1962.

The Dixiana taking on water.

The train pulled down to load the passengers. This was done with social distancing and there were eleven people in our open car with plenty of space between each group. Masks were required to be worn the entire trip and you were told to remain seated during the trip. Charlie, the conductor, gave us an informative and interesting commentary throughout the trip. His knowledge and sense of humor was excellent.

Starting the climb up the mountain.

The canopy of trees along the route.

The Big Trees sign.

The Indian Creek trestle bridge.

Looking back down at the Indian Creek trestle. We now started up the 9% grade.

The engine is working hard climbing up the grade.

Charlie the conductor giving us information.

Views as we passed through Grizzly Flats.

Climbing the grade to the woodpecker tree.

The woodpeckers chose this redwood as their tree of choice to peck at.

The train continues to climb to Spring Canyon.

This is the part of the Corkscrew Trestle that I rode on back in kindergarten with my parents before an arson fire in 1976, the year I graduated high school, destroyed it. A switchback had to be added in its place so that the train could continue up to the top of Bear Mountain.

At Spring Canyon, we start up the switchback which would take us up to the next level, where we would be going forward again to the top of Bear Mountain.

The journey up the switchback that replaced the Corkscrew Trestle.

The track that would lead us to Bear Mountain.

The view looking back down to where we had come from.

The top of the Corkscrew Trestle.

Looking up to the top of the forest.

The disadvantage of being in the second to last car on the train.

Climbing up to Westside Junction.

The Westside Junction sign. This is the junction where the turning loop is located.

Climbing the rest of the way to Bear Mountain.

The cathedral grove of redwood trees.

Looking up at cathedral grove.

Bear Mountain, where in non-pandemic times, people would get off the train but not today.

The remains of clear cutting of the forest.

The trip back to Westside to wait for the second train to pass.

Charlie inspecting the train.

The track that the second train just took.

Looking behind us as we come down to the switchback.

The view coming down the switchback.

The view looking down the mainline as we head back to Felton.

Scene on the way back.

The leaning tree that passengers are allowed to touch.

Descending down the grade.

The Dixiana gave us a blowdown before arriving back in Felton. Both of us were happy that it happened on our side of the train.

The train is now almost back to Felton.

These cabooses are for rental during non-pandemic times. We arrived back at the loading location and detrained.

Immediately a cleaner was disinfecting the car we had just ridden so this just proves how much they protect their passengers from any COVID-19 germs that could have been aboard. This was done for every car. I went to the gift shop and purchased some more souvenirs while Elizabeth talked with Greg and Marty.

The next train of lucky passengers heads up the mountain being pulled by my favorite engine, the Dixiana. From here, we walked down to the shop area.

Elk & Little Kanawha 2 truck shay 6 built in 1912.

Santa Cruz, Big Trees and Pacific CF7 2641 former Santa Fe 2641.

Roaring Camp and Big Trees 12 ton switcher 40 built in 1958 by the Plymouth Locomotive Works in Plymouth, Ohio, which worked for Kaiser Steel in Fontanta, California, where it was 1021, and was acquired by Roaring Camp in 1978.

Santa Cruz, Big Trees and Pacific CF7 2600 former Santa Fe 2600. This officially ends our coverage of the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad. We will be back when they are operating Santa Cruz, Big Trees and Pacific line some time this year. Elizabeth thoroughly enjoyed her first experience at Felton and would come back in a heartbeat.