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  • Sierra Shortline


    A pair of Sierra steamers strain to make it up the hills from the farmlands to the mountain timber country led by 2-8-2 Mikado number 36. The Sierra seldom bothered with ballasted or drained roadbed and the rail was small and light. Photo courtesy Sierra Railroad.
    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 77


    LEFT TOP: A trip over the present Sierra would have to exclude the romantic branch line with its switchbacks and bridges to Angels. The Sierra interchanges with both the Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific at Oakdale, California. Passenger operations ceased in 1938 so we'll have to imagine the train.

    LEFT BOTTOM: The Sierra's uses the Santa Fe tracks to reach the station. Here, the Santa Fe crosses the Southern Pacific tracks with the Sierra's steel Oakdale enginehouse in the background. The line's three diesels live here.

    RIGHT TOP: This oil tank, oil columns, water faucets, and sheds are all that is required to fuel and lubricate the railroad's three diesels. A freight train leaves Oakdale every weekday morning and returns that evening.

    RIGHT MIDDLE: The two tracks (actually a passing siding) at the left are the Sierra's and those at the right the Santa Fe's. The Santa Fe tracks serve as an interchange with the Sierra and lead onto a large Hershey chocolate plant.

    RIGHT BOTTOM: The Oakdale engine house is 40 x 100 feet in a light green with a natural aluminum roof. The only Sierra structures are the engine house, a similar size warehouse, and a few sheds in the Oakdale area.

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 78 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 79

    There's a certain amount of glamour about most of the real railrod operations - particularly if you don't have to shovel the coal that keeps a steam locomotive going - but one railroad; the Sierra, in the foothills of California's Sierra Nevada mountains has had more than its share of glamour. From the average man's viewpoint the fact that the railroad was the two-railed star of such motion pictures as "High Noon," "Duel In The Sun," and "Union Pacific" as well as dozens of television specials including every episode of "Petticoat Junction" is enough to make it interesting. The model railroader, in search of a prototype for his relatively short trains and excess of locomotives in relation to cars finds the Sierra interesting too. The line's steep grades and tight curves kept most trains down to less than twenty cars. Trains of only two or three cars and a caboose were common during the railroad's busiest years of operation. The line reached from the rolling farmlands at the base of the gold rush country right into the mountains. When the terrain became too tough for the standard gauge operation the most famous of the three-foot gauge railroads; the West Side Lumber Co., took over to reach well back into the timber. Even the railroad's rolling stock had a unique fascination all its own. The Sierra is one of those too rare shortline operations that serve as perfect prototypes for most model railroads.

    The Sierra was established in 1897 to haul the gold ore shipments from the fringes of the Mother Lode country, cattle, and lumber out of the mountains and down to the Salinas Valley connection with the mainline Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads at Oakdale. This connection with two of the West's largest lines is yet another reason why the Sierra makes such a fascinating prototype for a model railroad. Few short lines connected with more than one railroad let lone two with such diverse equipment styles as the AT&SF and SP. The SP's passenger equipment, from the pre-streamlined days of heavy steel and dark green paint, was the only "modern" passenger equipment to find its way onto the Sierra. The Sierra climbs from Oakdale's 155-foot elevation to 1405 at Jamestown, 1796 at Sonora, and 2690 at Tuolumne in 57 rail miles.

    LEFT: The Sierra crosses rolling rangelands to enter the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains near the railroad's first major eastern town; Sonora, California. The Chinese style station was 20 x 40 feet but it burned to the ground in 1946 leaving only the railcar and storage garage. The freight station now serves as the railroad's general office. Sonora once had a large wood works, foundry, cider bottling plant, ore reduction plants, and an ice works. Today, oil and occasional freight are the main shipments. Station photos courtesy Sierra Railroad.

    RIGHT: This pillar crane once served to unload equipment from the Sierra's waiting flat cars and gondolas. SS Ltd. has a similar crane in HO scale that is intended to rest against a wall. Free-standing cranes like this were common before fork lift trucks came into popular use.

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 80 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 81


    LEFT TOP: The Sierra's Jamestown freight (right) and passenger depots. The depot burned in 1913 but it was rebuilt exactly as the original except that the roof was made conventional in place of a Chinese-style set of eaves like the Sonora depot and the freight station. The depot is 36 x 54 feet.

    LEFT BOTTOM: The Sierra's roundhouse was built as a four-stall structure in 1910 after the original three-stall burned. The original turntable was a wooden Gallows frame style set in a shallow pit. Later the left two stalls and shop lean to were added and a 60-foot steel turntable set in.

    RIGHT TOP: A pair of water columns once served the thirsty tenders of the Sierra's steam locomotives on their way out of the roundhouse or as they waited to couple back onto the day's passenger train for its trip to the outside world. The Sierra's rails into its main terminal at Jamestown branch here with the freight and passenger stations dead ahead and the roundhouse just to their right.

    RIGHT BOTTOM: The track to the right leads to the freight yard and on to the end of the line at Tuolumne. The metal-covered shed is the sand house. Most of the buildings date from the 1900's.

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 82 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 83

    The railroad has owned a total of 25 locomotives in spite of the highest and latest number plate being 44. Twenty-two of these were steamers purchased over the railroad's peak operating years prior to 1930. One of the railroad's original locomotives; number three 4-6-0, is still in operating condition and is, in fact, the star of most of the movies and the Petticoat Junction TV series. A twenty-mile branch line was built by 1903 to reach the mines near the town of Angels. The Pickering Lumber Company Railroad connected with the Sierra at Ralph and the famed West Side Lumber Company Railroad interchanged loads of lumber and logs at Tuolumne. Many of the tourists that visited Yosemite National Park just north of the Sierra) prior to the completion of the Yosemite Valley Railroad in 1907 (and, later, the influx of better roads and cars) traveled over the Sierra on the line's six daily passenger trains. The passenger service dwindled to one mainline train a day and a one or two car service to Angels until 1938 when all regularly scheduled passenger service was dropped. Like so many gold-hauling railroads, the Sierra's heyday peaked just before depression years when the price of gold dropped along with the bulk of the readily accessible ore deposits. The railroad purchased its last steam locomotive; a relatively giant 2-6-6-2 articulated, from the Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company in 1952 as a final effort to continue operations as a steam-powered hauler.

     LEFT: Tyco offers this HO gauge replica of the Sierra number 3 in either kit or ready-to-run form. The engine is about twenty percent larger than it should be for accurate scale but it does look like number 3. P.O. Putnam from Phoenix, Arizona, added a few details to his (No. 65) and painted it in weathered tones just to show how realistic it can be.

    RIGHT TOP: The Sierra kept four of its original 22 steam locomotives when it changed over to diesels in 1955; number 28, a 2-8-0 built in 1922; number 34, a 2-8-2 built in 1925; number 36, another 2-8-2 built in 1930; and the famous number 3, a 4-6-0 built in 1891.

    RIGHT BOTTOM: PFM has imported a pair of duplicates of the Virginia & Truckee's "Reno" in both modern and wood burning styles. Either of them could be easily converted into exact replicas of one of the Sierra's four 4-4-0's.

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 84 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 85


    LEFT TOP: More than a half dozen of the Sierra's locomotives were bought brand new. They, and most of the used engines the railroad purchased, had tiny drivers to give the maximum amount of tractive effort; speed was a secondary consideration. Number 20 had only 42" drivers. Sierra RR photo.

    LEFT BOTTOM: New domes, cylinders, and a smokestack from Kemtron, Selley, or cut from brass stock would help to make PFM's HO scale model of the Maryland & Pennsylvania RR 's No. 43 into a duplicate of the Sierra 's Number 24. Sierra photo.

    RIGHT: PPM's Baldwin (Long Bell RR No. 105) is nearly identical to the Sierra's number 30 which was also built by Baldwin. The PPM engines are sold ready-to-run and most ar HO scale, made in Japan from brass.

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 86 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 87

    A pair of Baldwin 1200 horsepower model S-12 diesels (considered only as switchers by most railroads) supplanted regularly scheduled steam operations in 1955. A third and nearly identical Baldwin was purchased in 1966 when the steam locomotives still in the Jamestown roundhouse were earmarked exclusively for movie or fan trip service. There are still five of the original Sierra steamers sitting inside waiting for the hopefully soon day when the line will be used as a steam-powered tourist line like the East Broadtop, Edaville, and the Strasburg railroads of the east. There is only enough business, in 1971, to keep one of the diesels in operation pulling the once-a-day freight up from Oakdale in the morning and back from Tuolumne that afternoon.

    The Sierra owned at least one example of all of the popular small steam locomotive wheel arrangements; two 0-6-0's, four 4-4-0's, the famous No. 3 4-6-0, a 2-6-0, five 2-8-0's, two 2-6-2's, two 2-8-2's, and a final 2-6-6-2 articulated. If this variety is not enough the Sierra had a Heisler-pattern and three Shay-style geared logging type locomotives. PFM offers an exact duplicate of the 2-6-6-2 and reasonably close models of a 4-4-0, 0-6-0, 2-6-2,  and a pair of 2-8-0's that could easily be modified to match the Sierra's engines numbered 4, 6, 7; 2 ; 30, 32; and 24. PFM also offered reasonably similar models of a Heisler, a two-truck, and a three-truck Shay that could serve as ready-to-run replicas of Sierra engines in HO scale. NorthWest Short Line has an HO scale ready-to-run brass 2-8-2 that is very similar to the Sierra's number 34. Tyco has a plastic kit and ready-to-run model of the Sierra's movie star steamer; the number three 4-6-0 that is fine for HO scale track. Unfortunately, the model is a good 20 percent oversize in virtually every dimension except track gauge. It is, however, a close copy of the style and proportions of number 3. N and HO scale modelers will have to settle for scratchbuilding their Sierra engines or simply numbering and lettering similar wheel arrangement locomotives to match Sierra power.

    The rolling stock and structures of the Sierra are as interesting, to the modeler, as the line's locomotives. All of the railroad's passenger equipment was of the older wooden type with open platforms. Several coaches and a three-door baggage-mail car; all of about 60-feet in length, were known to operate under the Sierra name. The most unusual cars were a baggage-coach and a coach that were only about 40-feet long. MDC has plastic kits of a pair of cars that are similar (although not identical) to the Sierra "shorties" and Selley has the combine in cast metal for you HO scale modelers. Northeastern, Westwood, or LaBelle HO scale kits can be converted to exact replicas of almost any of the Sierra's wooden passenger equipment. A number of both wood and steel Southern Pacific passenger cars were also operated over the line. The railroad used at least one combination caboose baggage-coach car instead of a standard caboose. The current cabooses are also wood but their sides have been sheathed in steel to ease maintenance. The structures on the Sierra are fascinating examples of railroad architecture with many of the buildings having unusual Chinese-style upturned roof eaves. 

    LEFT TOP: PFM has also imported a precise replica of the Sierra's Number 38. The locomotive is a good small articulated for most model railroads where the curves are a bit sharper than life. The locomotive had only a short life span on the Sierra; purchased used in 1952 and sold in 1955. This Sierra RR photo was taken on one of the locomotive's last trips hauling a trainload of railfans in Southern Pacific passenger cars.

    LEFT BOTTOM: Many of the Sierra's original freight and passenger cars still reside in the Jamestown yards. This 7,016 gallon, 28-foot, tank car was built in 1907. MDC makes a similar car kit in HO scale.

    RIGHT TOP: This truss rod 40 ton wooden boxcar is typical of the equipment the Sierra built or bought at the turn of the century. MIX, LaBelle, and Central Valley have similar cars in HO scale. Walthers has decals.

    RIGHT BOTTOM: The first two Baldwin S-12 diesels nudged out the Sierra's steam locomotives as the railroad's prime power in 1955. Number 44 was purchased in 1966 and is identical to the other two. The current Sierra diesels and cabooses are painted in DuPont Dulex Fleet Yellow No. 93-1379 and Red No. 20726A. The steam locomotives are used only for fan trips and movies.

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 88 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 89


    LEFT: An original wooden caboose has been sheathed in steel and painted the Sierra's yellow and red colors for use on the modern freight runs. Northeastern has an HO scale Great Northern wood caboose kit that could be modified extensively to match the Sierra 's number 7.

    RIGHT TOP: The Sierra's most famous pair of passenger cars; a 40-foot baggage-coach and a 40-foot coach are now stored under roof. Both are used for frequent movie and TV roles. They're the shortest cars used in regular prototype passenger service. The Sierra used them on the now-abandoned Angels branch as a daily "train" behind a few freight cars.

    RIGHT BOTTOM: The Sierra used this combination baggage-coach caboose at the tail end of many of their freight trains in place of a conventional caboose. LaBelle's combine could be converted into an HO scale model of the car.

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 90 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 91

    Most of the buildings have been burned or razed over the years but the entire roundhouse and shop facility, dating to about 1907, still stands at Jamestown along with the freight station and passenger station. The turntable at Jamestown was originally a wooden Gallows frame unit but it was replaced with a deeper pit and a longer steel turntable some time after 1916. The roundhouse was enlarged from its original four stalls to its present six stalls about the same time. There was also a Gallows frame turntable at Tuolumne and another at Angels. A corrugated iron two-stall engine house now services and stores the three diesels at Oakdale. The passengers used the Oakdale Santa Fe wooden station. Several sawmills occupied the upper reaches of the railroad along with the interchange cranes and platforms to transfer the lumber to the Sierra's cars. There was little freight interchange with the narrow guage West Side Lumber Company Railroad since the three-foot gauge line was used primarily for hauling in uncut logs. The low rolling hills with their peppering of oaks and pines and the rock cuts would make scenery-modeling easy and effective. Most of the bridges were wooden trestles of the type offered in HO scale by Campbell and in N scale by Cal Scale. A steel deck truss brige was used, with trestles on each end, to carry the branchline across the S tanislaus River to Angels. Photos of many of the line's locomotives and structures appear in the $6.00 book SIERRA RAILROAD available through your dealer or by mail from Howell-North., 1050 Parker St., Dept. MR, Berkeley, Calif. 94710.

    Kratville Publications, 525 Farnam Blvd., Room MR, Omaha, Nebraska, 68102, has an illustrated $14.50 book RAILS TO THE MOTHER LODE that devotes a portion of its pages to the Sierra along with photos and information on the West Side, Pickering, and Hetch Hetchy lines that fed the railroad.

    Hallmark Models HO brass ready-to-run VO-1000 Baldwin switcher is a reasonably close replica of the VS-12 machines that the Sierra is now using. Some of the better hobby dalers may still have one or two of the Hallmark engines in stock.

    We can't think of a better full-size short line to recommend as a prototype for a model railroad.


































    Article Details

    • Original Author 1001 Model Railroading Ideas
    • Source 1001 Model Railroading Ideas
    • Publication Date Winter 1971

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