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A Speeder Trip on the Amador Central Railroad 10/18/2014

by Chris Guenzler

I contacted the Amador Central Railroad group about this trip which was part of a NARCOA (North American Rail Car Owners Association) sanctioned event. They said I could ride and bring Chris Parker along as my guest on this unique speeder trip. I was told to be there by 9:00 AM that morning. Since Maureen Angle lives near Ione, I contacted her and we agreed to have breakfast at a local cafe that day. I would drive my mother's car and meet Chris Parker at LAUPT the day before at 12:45 PM.

10/17/2014 I worked at my job at Heninger Elementary School in Santa Ana then went home to load the car. Chris called and told me that one of his workers had cut his finger and was at the Emergency Room with him in Torrance. I would drive to the Denny's parking lot by LAUPT and call him again when I arrived. It was an easy drive and soon I was there. I called Chris who was still at the Emergency Room and discussed options, which was to take the 3:20 PM bus to Bakersfield and San Joaquin 703 to Stockton. Chris told me to start my drive north to Stockton and I would call him again from the rest stop at the top of the Grapevine. So I went solo north and had no problems getting to that rest area. Once there, I learnt Chris was now at LAUPT and would get his tickets to come north on the bus/train to Stockton. Now much relieved, I decided to drive to CA Highway 43 and head north in search of trains, making a quick stop just south of Shafter.

Pacific Electric trolley 466 built by St. Louis Car Company in 1918, is part of the Red Wagon Cafe. This could be a former Peninsular Railway interurban car, eight of which did and became Pacific Electric 1050-1057. I went north to Shafter.

BNSF 5608 West with Norfolk Southern 9029 and 9605 in the consist at Shafter.

San Joaquin 712 running very late. From here I continued north on CA 43 through Shafter where I took a picture from the car window.

Santa Fe wooden caboose 773 with a side door, built by American Car and Foundry circa 1910, at the Shafter Depot Museum. I drove through Wasco and continued north on CA 43 until I saw a headlight coming my way, pulled off the highway and walked across the road to set up for a picture.

Amtrak San Joaquin 714 near Elmo. I returned to the car and headed north.

A few miles behind Amtrak came BNSF 4437 East. Back in the car and at Sandrini, another train was in the siding. I crossed at the grade crossing there and parked.

BNSF 8058 East in the siding. That was it for the trains. I drove north on CA 43 to a Valero petrol station and filled the car then continued to Selma and stopped at a Carl's Jr for dinner. Back on CA 99, there was an accident first a Selma then another at Merced. The rest of the trip to Stockton was uneventful and I checked into the Clarion Inn and relaxed, watching some television before it was time to pick up Chris Parker. I drove to the ACE station where the train stops in the middle of the street, parked on the street across from the station and waited for Chris to arrive on San Joaquin 703.

The former Southern Pacific Stockton station now used by the Altamont Commuter Express trains.

Right on time, San Joaquin 703 arrived and I found Chris among the passengers who had detrained. He had ridden in a car that felt like an ice box and everyone had to put on sweaters and jackets just to stay warm in it. The crew did nothing even though the passengers complained. We drove back to the Clarion Inn for the night.

10/18/2014 About 6:15 AM we checked out of the Clarion Inn and started the drive on CA Highway 88 to Ione, taking CA 124 into Ione and were surpised to find a steam engine in Police Department Park.

Amador Central 2-6-2 7 "Iron Ivan" built as McCloud River Railroad 8 in 1901 by Burnham, Williams & Company, one of the early incarnations of Baldwin Locomotive Works. In 1937, it was bought from McCloud River by the Amador Central Railroad, a shortline operating 12 miles between a connection with the Southern Pacific at Ione and Martell. It was re-numbered 7 and worked from 1939 until retired in 1956.

Amador Foothills S12 10, ex. Amador Central 10 1972, ex. Southern Pacific 2121, nee Texas and New Orleans 105 built by Baldwin in 1952.

The former Southern Pacific freight house in Ione has been moved to this new location. We parked the car, waited then walked both sides of the streets before going into the coffee shop to wait for Maureen Angle. She arrived and I gave her one of my Chris Guenzler 2015 railroad calendars then decided to go to the Ione Cafe for breakfast where I ate French Toast and sausage links. We had a great conversation and it was good to see her. It was her Science experiment when I worked with her at McFadden Intermediate School that led me to getting sober, saving my life and all the great things that have happened to me since. We said our goodbyes as she had an appointment to go to and Chris and I went down to where our speeder trip would be leaving from.

A brief history

Railroads were first established in the early 1850's in California. The Sacramento Valley Railroad and the Arcata and Mad River Railroad were two of the first railroads in the state. California became connected with the rest of the nation’s railroads in 1869 with the Golden Spike ceremony at Promontory Summit, Utah, connecting the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads.

In 1873 that the Big Four (Crocker, Huntington, Hopkins and Stanford) organized the Ione Branch, to run from Galt to Ione. Construction started in 1874. In late 1876, the last of the track was completed in to Ione.

The importance of having a rail line that connected the gold mines and timbered areas of the county to the rest of the state was recognized by numerous businessmen. The railroad could transport people and freight (clay and clay products, sandstone, copper, gold, timber and timber products, mining equipment and hydroelectric equipment and other items).

In 1904 Jackson Dennis formed the Ione and Eastern Railway Company and began purchasing the right of way for the railroad. Grading of the rail line began in summer and laying of the rail started in early 1905. In February of 1905, the railroad advertised they could transport freight from Ione to Ranlett Station near the Newton Copper Mine. By March the line was operating from the Ione to Martell Station with stations at Ranlett, Jack Dufene and Mountain Springs (Sunnybrook).

The Ione and Eastern did not prove to be as profitable as expected and the company defaulted on the bonds in 1908. Charles Erickson, who held the bonds, purchased and incorporated the line as the Amador Central Railroad Company. For the first five years the railroad was not profitable, but with the purchase of a new engine, it became profitable for a number of years. Meta Erickson took over operation of the railroad when Charles passed away in 1910.

Revenues for the railroad diminished greatly with the Great Depression. Two of the railroads largest customers, the Argonaut and Kennedy mines, had closed. By 1932 the railroad stopped passenger service, including the transport of high school students to the only high school in Ione.

The railroad originally had 12 trestles. One trestle burned in 1935 and two more trestles burning in 1938, costing the railroad a large sum of money to rebuild those sections. Consequently, in 1938, the rail line filed for abandonment and closed in November. Local businesses, including the Ione Fire Brick Company and the new mill at Martell, reorganized the line and suspended the abandonment. Numerous improvements were made, but in 1939, two more bridges burned, costing the railroad $18,000. In November of that year the roundhouse at Martell burned. Good news in 1940 was that a new lumber mill was built at Martell, increasing capacity and thus revenue for the railroad. Some of the mines also reopened and started shipping concentrate on the railroad.

The increased revenues from the mines were short-lived. With the start of World War II, the mines were again closed. In 1945, the Winton Lumber Company purchased the railroad. They purchased diesel engines, replaced the wooden turntable with a steel one, and replaced some of the rail with heavier rail. Most of the freight included lumber and clay and brick heading west and petroleum products and machinery heading east.

In recent years, owners include Georgia Pacific (1988) and Sierra Pacific Industries (1977). In 1998 the railroad was renamed the Amador Foothills Railroad. In 2010 the railroad was sold to the Amador County Historical Society and the Recreational Railroad Coalition Historical Society.

Our Trip

We met at this table, signed releases and then were told who we would be riding with. Later we picked up our tickets for our trip today.

We met Fred Dunn and this would be the speeder Chris and I would be riding. We had an excellent chat with Fred that helped pass the waiting time for our trip to start.

The History Tour Map of the Amador Central Railroad.

My ticket for my trip on the Amador Central Railroad.

Our future route that will lead us up the Amador Central Railroad.

The rest of the speeders then arrived and everyone then met their operators for today's trip.

We had a trip safety meeting led by Grant Vogel and then a history talk by Deborah Coleen Cook. I called Let's Talk Trains as I waited for our trip to begin.

The speeders used for today's trip

These were the speeders that would be used

Fred Dunn, who would take Chris and I on his speeder on this unique trip on the Amador Central.

We next started our trip leaving Ione.

Crossing the first of the many cattle guards.

Going up the east leg of the Ione wye.

The west leg of the Ione Wye where the speeders were put on the rails earlier today.

We crossed the Ione wye switch.

There was only one speeder behind us.

Heading east on the Amador Central.

The Red Flag is put out when you close in on another speeder in front of you. We then put out our Red Flag so the speeder behind us would know that we were closing in on a speeder in front of us.

We ran through another cattle guard as we neared the CA Highway 124 crossing.

There were flagmen at all the road crossings we would be crossing today, such as the one here at the CA Highway 124 crossing.

The speeders then took the next curve before they separated as we headed up the Amador Central Railroad.

Heading up a piece of straight track, a rare thing on this railroad.

We took this curve.

Then we saw a Red Flag as we made our way to our first history stop. The speeders all stopped and we were led up a trail to the viewpoint overlooking the Newman Clay Mine.

The Newman Clay Mine.

Our group listening to the history here.

Views of the speeders.

We left the mine and continued east.

Views as we made our way towards the CA Highway 104 grade crossing.

The Red Flags were out again as we approached that grade crossing.

Our speeders crossed CA Highway 104.

Our speeder went by Milepost 2. We came to our next history stop at the old Newman's siding and everyone got off for another history talk.

The old loading dock for train cars at the old Newman's siding.

Our group listening to the history talk given here. On the way back to the speeders we found an old tie in the ground.

We left the old Newman's siding.

Heading east on a beautiful fall morning in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.

The Red Flags were up as we came to our first SWAG crossing of the day. Here we had to Stop, Wait and Go if the crossing is clear.

Back on the move again after the SWAG crossing.

Chris Parker enjoying himself on the speeder trip on the Amador Central Railroad.

We went over another cattle guard on this trip.

Rolling up the track heading east.

Another Red Flag meant another SWAG crossing to get through. We made our next History Stop at the Fill Site where there once was a high trestle which was later filled in.

The view from the fill.

I walked back to that last SWAG to get a picture of this sign. True or False "You are crossing a piece of history. This railroad has the steepest climb in the United States". The answer: "False".

The speeders at the Fill Site.

Looking down from the fill.

The History Talk.

Leaving the Fill Site for points east on this railroad.

We went over another cattle guard.

Our speeders took the next curve.

CA Highway 88 came into view below us on the right.

Our speeder is about to cross the bridge over CA Highway 88.

A car passing below us on CA Highway 88.

The speeders taking the curve above the CA Highway 88 bridge.

Looking back at the bridge.

A cow was getting a little too close to our route.

Still climbing the grade.

Our car behind us has his Red Flag out.

The speeders went through this cut in the shade.

Click Here for Part 2 of this story!