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The Spanish Creek Lumber Company’s No.2 engine in 1926 or 1927 at the Spanish Peak Mill in Spanish Ranch. Photo courtesy of the Plumas County Museum

From the forests to the fairgrounds

This little engine has a story to tell

There were tense moments as volunteers slowly moved historic engine No. 2 out of the art barn to its new location at the Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds last month.

One day it will tote tykes and their families around the fairgrounds, which will be an entirely new phase for an engine that began life by hauling lumber to a mill.

A little history

The Spanish Peak Lumber Company began operations at Spanish Ranch, six miles west of Quincy, in the fall of 1916. Within a few years, the company built and operated an aerial tramway to ship rough-cut lumber from the sawmill to its planing mill at Gray’s Flat on the East Branch North Fork Feather River.

Initially, the logging operation used steam-powered donkey engines that dragged or “yarded” the logs into the sawmill. When the nearby timber had been cut, the company began hauling logs on gasoline powered, chain-drive, solid tire Fageol trucks and trailers.

This continued until 1925, when a “technological reversal” was made. Parking the trucks and trailers, the company began hauling logs on a narrow gauge logging railroad.

The first locomotive was a gasoline-electric Whitcomb named “No.1,” which operated a year or so before it wrecked. It was rebuilt, but in the meantime, a second locomotive was commissioned, with the imaginative name of “No. 2.” This 25-ton engine was built to company specifications and delivered to the mill in June of 1926.

The railroad logging operations continued in the Pineleaf Creek and Snake Lake areas north of Spanish Ranch until 1933, when Spanish Peak Lumber Company went into receivership due to the Great Depression.

The two engines were disposed of to other entities. No. 1 went to Swayne Lumber Company in Oroville, while No. 2 was sent out to Nevada and Utah to scrap out other railroads. In Utah it was changed from its three-foot narrow gauge to standard gauge.

From there, the diminutive engine ended up in the Bay Area under ownership of the U.S. Navy where it went to Camp Parks in Alameda County. After many years, it was transferred to the Bay Area Electric Railway Museum at Rio Vista Junction, where it languished on a spur track.

Back home

In early 2001, the late Kent Stephens of Chico State arranged for the Plumas County Museum to acquire the Spanish Peak Lumber Co. No. 2 locomotive. Todd Anderson of Harco Trucking hauled it from the museum to Wilburn Construction on Lee Road where it was restored for about a year.

The following year, the Plumas-Sierra County Fair requested it be brought to the fairgrounds for display or possibly to operate it. Wilburn Construction, Plumas County Public Works and Caltrans moved it into the art barn, where volunteers worked diligently on it for over 15 years.

By 2006, the engine could move on its own. It was reconfigured back to its narrow gauge status; the cab was rebuilt; a new engine was installed; windows were replaced; plumbing, electrics and other components were reconstructed; and the whole thing given a paint job close to the original color.

After 14,639 volunteer hours, it was decided that it was far enough along to move it from the art barn to its new home behind the grandstands. On April 23, a volunteer crew gathered to begin the almost daylong task of moving the engine.

Tim Mannies and Bob Meeks of Wilburn Construction provided a large loader and mechanical expertise; Mike Curran of Mike Curran Trucking brought his low-bed trailer and truck to haul the engine; and Kathy and Leland Cotter, Ken Myers and Larry Trotter assisted.

Cotter had prepped for the project by welding two railroad track panels to use to “leapfrog” the engine to the east entrance of the Art Barn from its home at the west end. Once the engine was out the door, it was rolled up a rail ramp onto Curran’s lowbed trailer.

From there it was trucked through the fairgrounds to the new shed behind the grandstands. The unloading process was basically a reversal of the loading process, with added angst over whether it would stop when it reached the end of the track. It did.

A lot of help

Although we are happy to have it moved, there is still much work to be done. We still have ties and track to lay, storage and work sheds to construct, and various other related items to complete.

The Plumas County Museum is proud of all the work its volunteers have done for this effort over the years. Unfortunately, Al “Jay” Ricks, Dave Ricks and Leonard Mosley are no longer alive to help us enjoy this part of the project. Jay was instrumental in the welding, fabrication and understanding of locomotives and their parts; his son, Dave, helped out with tools, equipment and expertise; and Len Mosely put in more than his fair share of scraping his knuckles and almost single-handedly rebuilt the wood cab for the engine. We owe them a special debt of gratitude.

Ken Myers, who helped with the move, is one of the original restoration crew, beginning work in 2003. Sandy Coots, now in Washington state, was the ringleader in getting the whole thing started. Jim Boyer, of Lake Almanor, spent hours milling axles and wheels, hunting up parts and materials, and helping shape things up. Dave Amos, Dan Chapman, Chris Coen, the late Ray Evans, Jason Girourd, Bill Henwood, Greg Jewers, Clay Johnson, Randy Kelsch and the Quincy High Auto Shop Class of 2005, Bob Lowrey, Aaron Myers, Ray Nichol, Carol Paoli, Ken Roller of Portola, Sam Self, Steve Habeck and Ethan Doty of the Western Pacific Railroad Museum were also instrumental in putting the locomotive back together.

Newer volunteers include Kathy and Leland Cotter, Carl Peterson and Larry Trotter, who volunteer under the auspices of Community Connections.

John Kolb, Jim Webster, Ralph Koehne, John Schmid and Rich Knoettgen surveyed a proposed 5/8-mile loop track on the south side of the fairgrounds to run the locomotive. At this point we plan to utilize about a third of that loop. It is hoped that sometime in the near future we can implement the entire project.

The project envisions a depot/museum where visitors can board a log “passenger” car and ride this unique Plumas County attraction.

For more information or to volunteer on this endeavor, call the Plumas County Museum at 283-6320.

One thought on “From the forests to the fairgrounds

  • Nice job preserving your history.

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