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Descanso, Alpine & Pacific Railway

Bonus Story - Southern Pacific 2353 on Miller Creek trip

by Chris Guenzler

Jethro Tull was on tour with Emerson, Lake and Palmer and I really wanted to see that double billing of my favorite two bands more than once. I had tickets to a Saturday night show at Irvine Meadows. I learned that out at Campo that same day that Tull was playing, the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum would be running their Southern Pacific 4-6-0 2353 on its Miller Creek trip. As it turned out the Tull/ELP bill would be playing in San Diego that Friday night at the Open Air Theater at the University of San Diego which would be perfect. I asked Jeff if he wanted to go and he wondered if we could stop off at the Descanso, Alpine & Pacific in Alpine. I got the Tull tickets for San Diego and called Roy, the owner, who after I told him about myself said he would be happy to have his operation up and running at eight in the morning after the Tull San Diego show.

9/20/1996 Jeff and I drove down to San Diego on that Friday afternoon, rode the Trolley to Santee before checking in at the Motel 6 near USD. We drove to the Open Air Theater for the concert.

We saw an excellent Emerson, Lake and Palmer set including the playing of "Bitches Crystal" for the first time followed by a long Jethro Tull set that spanned the years. We returned to the Motel 6 for the night.


The next morning Jeff and I were up early heading east down Interstate 8 to Alpine before we drove south for the first train ride of the day.

Descanso, Alpine & Pacific Railway

Jeff and I arrived, parked and met Roy the owner of the railroad here. Roy gave as a tour of the Depot before he took us out to look at the equipment that he owns. It's a two foot gauge and is typical of many industrial and mining operations. It is a full size and not a scale model. The track is constructed of used light rail number 12 to 20, tight curves - 10' minimum radius and steep grades - 6.5%. The rail came from a number of now abandoned operations, the Warlock Mine, Mojave, CA, "a mine in Utah", the Rand Mining District, CA, Poway-Midland RR - rails to light for their use, the Warlock and Blue Mount Mines, Julian, CA and Border Field, Imperial Beach, CA. The rolling stock was made in their shop using an 18" gauge timber car from a mine in Bisbee, AZ and 2' gauge brick yard cars from Oklahoma. The locomotive is a 2.5 ton Brookville {PA}, outshopped 10/14/35 for the Carthage {MO} Crushed Limestone CO. It is powered by a McCormick-Deering P-12, 22.5 horse gasoline engine. This is the same engine that International Harvester Company, Chicago, IL powered their Farmall 12 series tractor with. The locomotive stood idle for 13 years on the Hempstead & Northern Railroad Company, Houston, TX, a 2' gauge line before it was obtained and moved to Alpine for restoration on 10/14/90, its 55th birthday. It was restored to service on 2/27/92.

We board the train with Roy working the engine and Jeff and I riding in the open air car. Roy backed the train from the depot east along Railway Drive on the Thomas Dyke Fill to the end of the track by the front of his property. He reversed the engine and pulled forward past the depot at Shade, to the junction switch heading the opposite way and to the Garden. We headed up the grade to a loop track heading straight through a cut at High Pass and curved out onto a circular trestle with an outstanding view of the valley below. We stopped to enjoy the view and Roy gave us a talk about the railroad. We headed back down the grade past the Garden Loco and Car Shop with its outdoor inspection pit.

We traveled back through Garden to the switch which we ran down to the lower level. We crossed a trestle before making a left hand turn through a cut making a 180 degree turn down the grade. We came to switch staying straight and wound down the grade through a cut. We curved down to the lowest point on the property to Howe, named for the man who designed the Truss Bridge where we went over a wooden through truss trestle later installed. We reached El Pozo and started up the grade before crossing a trestle back to the switch thus completing the lower loop. We went back up to Garden then around the upper loop this time in the reverse direction. We headed back up the line to the Shade Depot thus completing our round trip over the Descanso, Alpine & Pacific.

Roy asked me if I wanted to operate his train and I of course said yes! Jeff rode along and we stopped at several locations including the high bridge at High Pass. Operating the engine was easy and a lot of fun. It was an incredible experience and something I will never forget. A special thank you is in order to Roy for taking the time to give a tour of his unique railroad and for the information he gave me to write the first paragraph of this story. It is quite a railroad and one everyone should ride. Call 619-445-4781 for time and dates of ride.

Southern Pacific 2353 9/21/1996

After the fantastic time Jeff and I had out in Alpine, we drove about an hour southeast to Campo where before we turned into the museum across the valley the Southern Pacific 2353 was steaming away just waiting to give us a ride. Since I had just rejoined the museum, our trip behind this newly restored SP steam engine would be free. While out here I was surprised to find Bill Wallace owner of Bananafish Tours and we discussed me taking another Copper Canyon trip in December.

The Southern Pacific 2353 was built by Baldwin in Philadelphia in October 1912 as the first 4-6-0 in its series of ten thus making it the class engine. In the early 1920's it ran in the Fresno-Los Angeles pool of the San Joaquin Express trains. It was leased to the SD&A on 12/28/1927 and pulled the SD&A passenger trains San Diego to Yuma as well as Race Trains from San Diego to Caliente. It was returned to the SP heading north to the Bay Area first. It was returned to the now SP controlled SD&AE being used as the helper on the westbound freight from Coyote Wells to Hipass. The SP 2353 was retired on January 18, 1957. It was moved to Imperial, Ca, and on February 25th it was moved by air from a compressor on snap track to its resting place at the California Mid Winter Fairgrounds in Imperial. With the PSRM looking for a steam engine to restore, the 2353 was a natural choice having run over the SD&E in its career. On November 25th, 1988 the formal transfer from the 45th District Agricultural Association to the PSRM. It was moved to Campo over November 8-11 and then the task of restoring the engine to operation took place. It was returned to active steam service on March 19, 1996 and a little over five months later Jeff and I are standing looking at this great engine steaming away waiting the minutes until we ride behind it.

Jeff and I looked at the museum's collection before we started a line to board the train to Miller Creek. We boarded the coach behind the engine to enjoy the smell and sounds of steam. With four toots of the whistle, the 2353 started to pull forward with its huffing and puffing sounds and we were in railroad heaven. Think of it, riding behind an SP steam engine on the old SD&AE over the same tracks that it used to run over. It does not get any better than this. We pulled out of the museum site and minutes later crossed Campo Creek. At the Highway 94 crossing, there were photographers waiting for our passage before their chase would begin. The engine sounds echoing through the rock cuts. Our train came to a brief stop at the La Posta Road crossing where they had to flag the crossing. The 2353 then pulled across the crossing and we continued east before we turned north into Clover Flats. We ran along Miller Creek to the head of the canyon where we turned east running to the siding at Miller Creek. Here they let anybody off who wanted a chance to do a photo runby. They backed the 2353 and train backed around the last curve before running it by the photographers.

After we reloaded, they then ran the 2353 around the train which ran backwards to Campo. Jeff and I enjoyed our trip before we high tailed it back home to Santa Ana. That night I saw Emerson Lake and Palmer and Jethro Tull at Irvine Meadows