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Peter Lerro Photo Charter With Southern Pacific 18 at Laws Railroad Museum 3/23/2023

by Chris Guenzler

This morning, my wife and I awoke at 5:20 and after our morning preparations (with no Internet duties), we drove to Denny's but found it closed, even though it is a 24 hour restaurant and the sign said Thursday to Sunday 24 hours. So we first went to a petrol station which was also closed. But across the road was Sinclair which opens at 5:00, so we picked up breakfast items and took them with us to the Laws Railroad Museum parking lot. There we consumed them and waited for 6:30 which was the time of check-in.

Southern Pacific 18 History

It was originally built in 1911 for the Nevada–California–Oregon Railway and was sold to Southern Pacific in 1926. Number 18 worked the rest of its career on the Southern Pacific narrow-gauge. The locomotive, along with sisters Nos. 8 and 9, were nicknamed "The Desert Princess" for serving the desert areas of Nevada and California. In 1954, a new narrow-gauge General Electric diesel locomotive was purchased as Southern Pacific No. 1 to replace Nos. 8 and 18, resulting in the two steam locomotives retiring soon after the arrival of No. 1. No. 8 was donated to the City of Sparks, Nevada, while No. 18 was donated to the City of Independence, California.

No. 9 was the last Southern Pacific narrow-gauge steam locomotive to retire and pull a Southern Pacific narrow-gauge passenger train, with the last day of steam operation on the narrow-gauge line being August 25, 1959 and was retired a year later.

The locomotive was preserved, along with No. 8, was restored for operating condition between 2009 and July 2017 on a short stretch of track in a public park in Independence, California. Then, in early November 2018, No. 18 was leased to the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango, Colorado to train the crew on an oil burner, as the D&SNG is restoring K-37 No. 493 to operating condition while also converting the locomotive from burning coal to burning fuel oil. Restoration work on No. 493 was later completed on January 24, 2020.

On April 9, 2019, while the locomotive was working a spring excursion, a piston ring broke, creating a hole in the right-side cylinder head. The failure of the piston ring occurred on the grades between Hermosa and Rockwood. The four passenger cars, along with 100 passengers on board, were hauled back to Durango. The next day, No. 18 was hauled back to Durango for repairs.

Pete Lerro and Lerro Photography

Pete Lerro III is a college graduate of Temple University in Pennsylvania where he studied video audio and photography. Lerro is currently a full-time professional photographer and owner at Lerro Photography. When Lerro is not on assignment, he organizes photo workshops across the country and more. His photography expertise includes family, portraits, commercials, products, landscapes, wedding and sports. Throughout his career he has shot for many major establishments including the Department of Homeland Security, NFL, NBA, NHL, USA Gymnastics, IRL and Spartan Race.

Lerro’s photo workshops offer a wide variety of informative experience. With these unique kinds of workshops, guests can expect special access, private photo sessions, and a night of professional photography seminars. Imagine sitting in a guided tour dated back to the early 1940’s, World War II props and actors surrounding you, watching photographers capture the enlightened pioneer era specializing in portraits and human interests.

During shoots such as these, railroads and museums for example, are rented out for the evening, locking in that one-on-one from Lerro to the guests in the workshop.

Lerro is a well established, highly respected professional photographer who offers more than just photographs. He offers an experience. Contact now, for more information.

Lerro's passion for photography dated back to 1999 where he took a class trip to New York City and took his first few pictures on top of the World Trade Center with a throw away camera. After being unimpressed with the image produced, Lerro decided to take it upon himself to learn how to work an SLR camera. Through the coming years of high school, Lerro taught himself the functions, capabilities and essentials of how an SLR camera worked. Through his discovery, he developed a unique style of photography that is seen and felt on every image he captures.

Southern Pacific 18 March 23-24, 2023 Laws, California

Southern Pacific 18, also known as the "Slim Princess", is an oil-fired 4-6-0 "Ten-Wheeler" narrow gauge locomotive built by Baldwin in 1911. In 2017, the Southern Pacific 18 was restored to operating condition and has traveled to several railroads and museums. In the spring of 2023, the Southern Pacific 18 will travel to Laws Railroad Museum in CA for a visit.

The Laws Railroad Museum Historic Site features a number of structures including a depot, water tower, turntable and other buildings. Many of the buildings are authentic Southern Pacific narrow gauge buildings. Sister locomotive 4-6-0 Southern Pacific 9 is also on display in the yard.

For our photo shoot, the Southern Pacific 18 will move around various parts of the museum grounds and do staged shots as well as short runbys with Southern Pacific narrow gauge freight cars. We’ll have a number of reenactors on hand to help enhance the scenes.

Each day, the photo shoots will feature a morning session, an afternoon session and a night session. Most of the scenes will be repeated daily, but there will be slight variations from day to day.

The Lerro Photo Charter

Here we met Peter Lerro who handed each participant a lanyard then twenty-seven of us walked as a group into the museum grounds and down to where Southern Pacific 18 was happily steaming away on this cool early morning. We would have to wait for the sun to rise before movement of the engine occurred. Here we met several people we were acquainted with from other charters and good times were had by all while we talked. Then the picture-taking commenced.

We would take pictures until the sunrise.

Does it get any better than this, Southern Pacific 18 and the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains? I swiched my photo angle.

Southern Pacific 18 reverses on this morning. Peter then gave then orders for a crew member to stand in the doorway.

The crew menmber standing in the doorway of the engine.

Southern Pacific 18 and wonderful scenes of the great mountains.

Sometimes someone gets into your picture.

Sunrise has taken place on this great morning of photography.

I switched angles then had an idea.

More views of Southern Pacific 18.

A silhouette of Southern Pacific 18 was my idea.

Southern Pacific 18 reverses down the track to a more favorable location for photography.

More fantastic views of this wonderful steam engine.

Southern Pacific 18 reverse down the track to the mainline.

Photo runby one coming to the water tower.

Crew members' attempts to give the engine water.

A shady side scene of the water tower.

This finishes the water stop .

Now Southern Pacific 18 would get four cars to pull.

Photo runby 2.

Southern Pacific box car 7, ex. Carson and Colorado 414, nee Carson and Colorado 7 built by the railroad between 1880 and 1905. It went to Laws in 1960.

Southern Pacific stock car 166 originally a Carson and Colorado flat car built by the railroad between 1880 and 1905. It also went to Laws in 1960.

Southern Pacific box car 17, ex. Carson and Colorado 338, exx. South Pacific Coast 1927, nee Lake Tahoe Railway & Transportation Company 7 built by Andrew Brandon circa 1854. It also was preserved by the Laws Railroad Museum in 1960. Much more recently, it returned to service and used with Southern Pacific 18 in 2017.

Southern Pacific combine 401 was built for the San Joaquin and Sierra Nevada eventually to Southern Pacific 1009, then to Nevada & California MW8 and was finally rebuilt with freight trucks and a flat roof, surviving as a caboose until abandonment. It was taken to Laws with Southern Pacific 9 on last northbound train in 1960. It was returned to service and used with Southern Pacific 18 in 2017.

Finishing photo runby 2.

The train reversed.

A crew member gave a rolling inspection.

The train reverses to prepare for the next photo runby.

Photo runby three at the water tower.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains.

A static picture of Southern Pacific 18.

There is a wig-wag crossing signal at the Laws Railroad museum.

Does it ever get this good: a wig-wag, Southern Pacific 18 and a Model A Ford?

Death Valley Railroad Brill Car 5 built by the company in 1927. This is the only restored narrow gauge Brill car in North America. Motor 5 did not work in the Owens Valley in regular service. Rather, it was used several hundred miles away in Death Valley. Like the Owens Valley, California's famous Death Valley was once a center for mining activity. However, by the late 1920's, mining in Death Valley was on the decline, and the Pacific Coast Borax Company, which had extensive claims in the area, started a tourism business to bring in additional income. The magnificent Furnace Creek Inn, built northwest of Ryan, was the result. Motor car No.5 was constructed the same year the Inn opened for use on the Death Valley Railroad, a mining line owned by the borax company and whose tracks came near the Furnace Creek Inn. For a few years the motor car carried passengers and less-than-carload freight through some very spectacular scenery between Death Valley Junction and Ryan. Its use was short-lived, as the Death Valley Railroad was abandoned in 1931 when Pacific Coast Borax closed the last big mine in the area.

Most of the Death Valley Railroad equipment was purchased by United States Potash Company and moved to its mill at Carlsbad, New Mexico, in the early 1930's. The motor car was used to transport mill workers to the job site and it operated in New Mexico far longer than in had on the Death Valley Railroad, not being retired until after 25 years of service in 1956. The car sat abandoned in New Mexico until its eventual donation to the Laws Railroad Museum, along with other pieces from the United States Potash operation. It arrived in Laws on November 27, 1967. At the time it was in less than pristine condition after years of hard service. After sitting outdoors for several years, in 1979-1980, the windows were repaired and the glass replaced, its roof was patched and new paint was applied. This work helped preserve the interior of the car while it sat outside for another twenty years.

Southern Pacific 4-6-0 9 built by Baldwin in 1909 for the Nevada-California-Oregon Railway in Reno. It was one of seven Ten Wheelers sold to the Southern Pacific by the NCO. In 1929, the engine was sold to the Southern Pacific where it was rebuilt and placed in service on the Owens Valley line, originally built as the Carson & Colorado Railroad, the following year. The locomotive, along with sisters 8 and 18, were nicknamed "The Slim Princess". The last narrow gauge common carrier made its final run on 29th April 1960. That year, the steam engine was donated to the City of Bishop, and it is now on display at the Laws Railroad Museum.

The scene at the wig wag.

The engine reverses for the next photo runby. The owner of the car is John Gracey, a local Catholic priest who was there by prior arrangement by Pete Lerro.

The Ford Model A with John as the operator.

Photo runby four.

The Model A drives across the crossing.

The train reverses for the next photo runby.

Photo runby five.

The train reverses for the next photo runby.

Photo runby six.

Reverse move for the next photo runby.

The station at Laws.

Click here for Part 2