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Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad Trip 8/14/2014

by Chris Guenzler

We detrained from the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway Beach Train and headed over to the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad train for our trip on that railroad in Felton. But first lets go back to this morning when I walked to the Engine House.

The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad Engine House.

The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad 2 truck Shay 1 named Dixiana.

The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad Heisler 2 truck 2 named Tuolumne.

The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad Plymouth Switcher 40 which pulls out the steam engine on steam trip days. Behind the shop we found two more engines.

The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad 2 truck Shay 6.

The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad Climax 2 truck 5 named Bloomsburg.

The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad Wooden Box Car. Now back to the present.


Roaring Camp Railroads operations began in 1963 under the guidance of F. Norman Clark (1935 - 1985), who was the founder and owner. His purpose was to keep a family tradition of constructing railroads and to "bring the romance and color of steam railroading back to America." In 1958, Clark found the engine Dixiana abandoned near a coal mine in the Appalachian Mountains; he described as looking like a "rusty pile of junk". Dixiana was reconditioned and began service in 1963 on rails that had been shipped around Cape Horn in 1881. The railway route was laid out so that as few trees as possible would have to be cut on the 170 acres (69 ha) Clark acquired with a 99-year lease of the larger Big Trees Ranch.

The Big Trees Ranch was bought in 1867 by San Francisco businessman Joseph Warren Welch to preserve the giant redwood trees from logging. It was the first property in the state acquired specifically for that purpose. In 1930, the Welch family sold part of the property to Santa Cruz County, which eventually became part of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

The first scheduled train trip was on April 6, 1963 with 44 ticketed passengers.

Clark's wife, Georgiana, Vice President of Operations assumed the ownership and management responsibilities following his death on December 2, 1985.

Originally, two large trestles formed a "corkscrew" loop at Spring Canyon, but these were destroyed by a 1976 fire, the smoke from which could be seen from San Francisco. Within six months, a switchback was constructed to bypass the severed loop and the entire line was returned to service. The switchback has an estimated 9.5% grade, making it the steepest passenger grade still in use. The length of the tail tracks in the switchback restricts the trains that may be operated to six cars or fewer. Special events are held to raise funds for repair and reconstruction of the trestles and steam locomotives at Roaring Camp. In 2003, the first "Day Out With Thomas" (Thomas The Tank Engine) special event was held. The event was the single largest in the 40-year history of Roaring Camp, with an estimated 25,000 participants over a three-day period.

The Trip

As I waited for the steam train to come back off the Bear Mountain, I enjoyed watching the handcar riders going back and forth in front of my photo location here in Felton.

My first time ever photographing a Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad train. I joined my mother who was wheelchair lifted up onto the train. We were in a car full of special needs camp kids so I felt right at home with them as I have worked with kids like that for years. We were sitting on the right side of the train.

The train left the Roaring Camp Station.

The train is starting to turn onto the lower loop track that leads to the Bear Mountain.

Starting on the lower loop track.

The train ran by the caboose on display.

The train on the lower loop track.

The inside of our car.

The track which will return us to the station at the end of the trip.

McSkunk Jct.

Up into the forest we go.

We ran by Big Trees.

The train headed out onto the curved trestle across Indian Creek. Do not worry if you miss pictures on the right side of the train. The train loops at the top of the mountain giving you the great pictures on the way back down to Roaring Camp. The train ran through Grizzly Flats before the real climb begins.

The train started up the 9% grade on this unique railroad.

Scene as the train climbed the grade.

The train working up the 9% grade.

I love my forest views I get on this railroad. My first trip was on this back in my kindergarten days of my youth.

The train climbing the grade.

A Wood Rat Nest.

A nice feature of this steam trip is seeing the engine through the open air cars in the front of the train.

Fallen trees are very common in redwood forests.

The train ran through Deer Valley.

Our train is climbing towards Spring Canyon.

This tree attracts red headed woodpeckers who peck holes only into this single redwood tree in this forest. The reason they peck is to hide their food of acorns, grubs, insects and any other junk they can find. They let it mature before they eat it. The train has almost reached the switchback at Spring Canyon.

The train starts up the switchback by backing itself up the grade at Spring Canyon.

The middle level of the switchback that we will next climb over. This switchback was put in after a fire caused by fireflies set the Corkscrew Trestle ablaze on June 27, 1976. The smoke from this fire could be seen as far away as San Francisco.

Part of the old Corkscrew Trestle still stands today. I rode over it as a kid.

Another view of the old Corkscrew Trestle.

The upper level of the switchback that our engine will pull us forward over.

The middle level switch.

The train takes a curve as it climbed up Bear Mountain.

Looking down on the old Corkscrew Trestle.

Downed trees always amaze me!

A trail sign.

The train is still climbing the grade to Bear Mountain.

More views of the Redwood forest on Bear Mountain.

The train has reached Westside Jct which is the start of the Summit Loop.

The train starts around the Summit Loop.

This is the track we return from the summit of Bear Mountain.

The train pulled into Bear Mountain and passengers are allowed off for pictures or a restroom break.

The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad 2 truck Shay 1 named Dixiana sure looked good at Bear Mountain.

Our train at Bear Mountain before we departed back down the mountain to Roaring Camp.

Our train is leaving Bear Mountain.

The view all the way across the Felton Valley.

The track we came up to Bear Mountain on.

Forest view on the way back.

Another view of the old Corkscrew Trestle.

The middle level of the switchback tracks.

The bottom level track.

We had returned to Spring Canyon.

The old Corkscrew Trestle on the return trip.

Another look across the valley on our return trip.

Heading down the switchback.

The lower level of the switchback below us.

Views of the train on the curved trestle across Indian Creek.

The engine did a blow down twice before we returned to Roaring Camp.

The lower loop track that we had started the trip on.

The Duck Pond.

A wood carving on a porch.

The train pulled back into Roaring Camp and I detrained. I found my mother's walker and handed it up to her in the last car. I walked back to the car but stopped for a few pictures.

The train taking water from the Roaring Camp water tower. If you want to spend a great day of train riding on two very unique trains come to Roaring Camp and ride both the Big Trees & Pacific Railway and Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad. You will really enjoy both train trips. I visited the General Store for a book and post card for my mother then walked her over to the Big Trees and Pacific tracks. I then got the car and backed it to her to pick her up. We left Felton but took Graham Hill road and then took CA Highway 1 north to Half Moon Bay where we gassed up the car where I spotted a Southern Pacific caboose. We decided to get dinner there.

We ate dinner at the Daddy-O's to Go where you stand outside and order to the chef in this caboose. From here we returned to CA Highway I then Skyline Drive to Sloat Blvd to the Great Highway which we took by the Cliff House then turned into Geary Blvd then north on CA Highway 1 to US 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge in a fog bank north to San Rafael and our stay at Henry's house. It is always fantastic to see Henry. We spent Thursday night there.