January 16, 2011

Crane deposits locomotive

WORK CREWS steady a 22 ton Plymouth diesel locomotive as it is being lifted from a trailer onto the railroad tracks in the town of El Dorado Friday afternoon. Democrat photo by Pat DollinsIt wasn’t wrapped, but the train engine that arrived in El Dorado on Friday, Dec. 17, might as well have had a big red ribbon on it.

The 22-ton Plymouth diesel locomotive is a gift from CertainTeed , in Chowchilla. Keith Berry, president of El Dorado Western Railway, said CertainTeed had owned the engine for over 30 years. “They were looking for a place to donate the engine where it would be taken care of.”  In a sense the Plymouth is coming home to El Dorado County. At one time it was owned by American Rock & Gravel Co. in Cool. It was built by Plymouth Locomotive Works, a builder of small railroad locomotives in Plymouth, Ohio, in 1952.  CertainTeed delivered the engine on a lowboy trailer provided by Bordges Timber Shop in El Dorado. Diamond Crane from Diamond Springs supplied the crane to lift the engine off the trailer.  The Plymouth was delivered into the loving hands of the El Dorado Western Railway Foundation volunteers. Berry said there are about 35 volunteers who work on railroad development, rehabilitating old tracks, installing new ties, repairing drainage areas, cutting brush, and repairing and maintaining railroad equipment.  “Our volunteers range in age from 14 to 82. The track crew is generally in the 18-30 range. Machinists work at a shop at the county museum and some volunteers have homework projects where they repair parts at home and bring them back.”  If all goes according to plan, the Plymouth will be carrying passengers from El Dorado east to Missouri Flat Road, a distance of about three miles, beginning around Memorial Day. The next extension planned is west to the El Dorado Y. Long-range, they would like to extend the railway to Shingle Springs.  “This is the living history component of the railway park in El Dorado,” said Berry. “This is part of the first railroad in the United States. People will be able to step back in time to the early 1900s and experience the excitement of waiting for the train to come into the station, then take a ride through beautiful scenery.”  Berry said that when Southern Pacific was running trains there were dirt roads on each side of the tracks for fire service. The right of way is wide. It can accommodate a paved path for walking, a dirt path for mountain bikes and a path for equestrians. “Passengers can take the train one way, then ride their bicycles or walk back.”  The rails are standard gauge, 4-feet, 8-1/2 inches. Berry says a third rail can be installed “that will allow us to use narrow gauge too.”  The trailhead for this section of the tracks will be located at the proposed regional park in El Dorado. The El Dorado County Department of Transportation is applying to the state for grant money to develop the park. The original El Dorado Depot will be reconstructed on the site. The plan includes an information center, picnic area, parking, restrooms and handicapped access.  Berry is a member of the El Dorado County Museum Commission and project manager for the historical railroad. He is a retired hospital administrator, but he has railroad blood: “My great-grandfather worked on locomotives in England. He brought his family to Dunkirk, N.Y., so he and his sons could continue working on trains.”  He said, ”I was the logical person to take on the project because I had experience with the railroad museum in Sacramento and I have the time to devote to it. This is my avocation. The railroad park and train ride are a community public benefit, and will draw rail fans from outside the region.”  Berry, who is a volunteer, says the development of the railroad is being done with private donations, museum volunteers and local contractors. “We want to show that the community can generate support for programs without having to spend millions of dollars,” he said.  The railroad will operate under federal railroad regulations. It will travel at a speed of 10 mph, and when crossing a road will stop and the flag men will jump off the train and stop traffic. “The whistle is tuned to the environment. It’s about half volume. We will be a good neighbor,” he said. The El Dorado Western Railway Foundation is a 503(c)(3) not-for-profit. It is housed in the El Dorado County Museum at 104 Placerville Drive. Mary Cory, museum director is a member of the museum commission and serves as the foundation secretary.  To make a donation or inquire about volunteering, call the El Dorado County Museum at 530-621-5865.
Berry says the train is scheduled to run on weekends and holidays year-round, including some evening rides “Imagine the fun of a train ride in the snow, and the sound of the train whistle tooting,” he said.