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The McCloud Steam Trips

by Chris Guenzler

I had always wanted to ride the McCloud River Railroad after seeing a picture in Trains Magazine of one of their Snowflake Specials. In Flimsies, a railfan magazine had a blurb about a trip over Labor Day weekend that both Jeff and I decided to ride. We drove up to Mt Shasta City railfanning along the way and stayed at a nice little motel just outside of town. The next morning, we drove up and over the divide to McCloud and easily found the log built train station.

The First McCloud Steam Trip - Clear and Warm 9/9/1983

Jeff and I walked down to the engine house first finding the McCloud 37, a SD-38 a rather rare type of diesel locomotive out switching a few cars.

It would be joining us on the trip. The McCloud 25, a 2-6-2 built by Alco-Schenectady in 1925 slowly backed out into the clear morning sun with only a few clouds hanging over Mt Shasta in the glorious distance.

After a few quick pictures, the steam engine wearing white flags slowly backed down to it's train letting out steam from it's cylinders as it moved. Our train would be the McCloud 25 on the point, three Great Western Tour coaches, two ex Southern Pacific vista gons complete with steps up to the sides so you could get in and out, the 37 and a caboose. When everyone was loaded and everything ready, with a blow of the whistle we were off.

With Jeff and I out in the vista gons we went by the shops and rounded the wye taking the eastern branch toward Bartle. Mt Shasta is almost in continuous sight as we slowly traveled by the Sawmill and the McCloud's yard before we left its limits and headed out into the forest. As we traveled east we were told to be on the look out for the motor car that once had been used on the Vinegar Valley Express. It was a homemade contraption and we spotted it resting out in the forest to the south of the tracks with a tree growing through the middle of it.

We crossed Mud Creek before running through Esperanza climbing a short hill before dropping slightly to Ash Creek. We made our way up a short hill to Kinyon prior to reaching Bartle where we detrained while the 25 took water from the tank there. Once it was watered and oiled, they announced that we would do the first photo runby of the day.

The 25 backed out of sight before charging forward smoking nicely with it's bell clinging away. Once we were all on board, we started toward Hambone. We left the line to Burney and started up the grade with both the steamer and diesel working hard. The views of 14,162 foot Mt Shasta were outstanding, We climbed to the location where Car A once was where the original line to Hambone used to join back in after coming via Pondosa from Bartle.

We continued climbing along the western flank of Bear Mountain as we ran northeastward to Hambone.

Once we got there we did another photo runby before they cut off the engine to service it providing great photo opportunities for all who cared.

Box lunches were passed out here and it was a rather nice location for a picnic lunch. Once we were all back on board, the 37 pulled us back down to Bartle where the train was wyed putting the 25 back on the point.

We watered the engine again before they did the final photo runby of the day. With that done, we all rode back to McCloud in great spirits thus ending the first trip on the McCloud Railroad. Jeff and I drove back down to Redding for the night before driving home the next day.

McCloud Steam Trip 2 Snow and Sun

My Father and I left at 2 AM and drove up to Mt Shasta arriving there mid afternoon in the rain. We had a great dinner at the Tree House before we called it a night.

2/19/1984 We went back to the Tree House for breakfast before we drove over the divide to McCloud.

Three BN NW-2 greeted us to McCloud.

The McCloud SD-38 rested before the day's event.

Our train this time was the McCloud 25, the three Great Western Tour coaches, caboose 102 and the SD-38 38. It was sunny out but quite cool with the promise of deep snow east of town. The bad news was that we wouldn't be going to Burney as planed due to a mud slide. The new plan was to take the train to past Obie where the line to Pondosa took off then head west to the top of the switch back on the divide at Signal Butte. It was disappointed and excited both at the same time. I really wanted to go to Burney but getting to Signal Butte was a good trade off as I had never been there either. We left once everyone was loaded into the warmth of the coaches and headed east past the engine house curved around the wye before passing the sawmill and the yard. Once we headed out of town the snow started covering the ground and got deeper the further we travelled east. Mt Shasta was standing guard over us on a beautiful winter morning.

We made our way to Bartle where the 25 took water from a tank car before performing a beautiful runby in the deep snow.

We reboarded and traveled around the south end of the wye heading for Obie. We crossed State Highway 89 and started to climb the grade as the snows got deeper. Deeper we climbed into the forest curving our way to Curtis then made a series of tight horseshoe curves before we arrive at Obie but the train pulled down to the junction of the Pondosa Spur.

Here we were allowed to get off into the knee high snow and they performed another photo runby. The 38 then pulled us backwards to Bartle where they wyed the train to put the 25 back on the point of our train. We stopped as the train was watered once more with the passengers given their box lunches.

After lunch we did another photo runby before we headed west to McCloud. This time though we did not go into McCloud but headed up the grade to Signal Butte. We wound our way up the grade to Hopper where we passed the old water tower. We continued to climb through the forest before making a large reverse turn bringing us up to Signal Butte.

We were allowed to detrain as the 38 then pulled the train up the grade out of sight towards Summit before the 25 took charge and did one last photo runby in bare patches of snow. The 38 then pulled the train back down the grade to McCloud ending a wonderful winter excursion on the McCloud Railroad. We drove back to Chico for dinner then Yuba City for a stay at the Motel 6 before driving home the next day.

McCloud Steam Trip 3 Mt Shasta City East

This time it was going to be both my parents and my good friend Bill Compton who joined me on another McCloud Railroad steam trip. We left early and after picking up Bill we drove to Mt Shasta City and spend the night there.

5/11/85 After a good breakfast we went down to wait for the train at the SP interchange in town. Bill and I walked down to the grade crossing and waited for the power to show up.

A few minutes later it rolled down the grade into Mt Shasta City. Leading our the consist was the McCloud 37 , followed by cabooses 037, 101 and 102 then the McCloud 2-6-2 25. After a bit of switching to put the 37 on the rear of our train of four vista gons they attached the rest of the cabooses and the 25 was ready to pull. We loaded the open cars and while we waited for departure, the SP 8371 east roared through Mt Shasta City. When everyone was aboard they whistled off and the trip started to Bartle. The train left Mt Shasta City quickly and started climbing the grade to Summit. As we climbed there was a great view of Black Butte to be had looking back down grade. We passed through Big Canon as the train climbed the southwest flank of MT Shasta on a beautiful clear May day. I was surprised to find snow remaining on the ground as we neared Summit. We crested the grade and started a brief descent to Signal Butte where we pulled past the switch and then the 37 pulled us down grade past the water tower at Hooper and into McCloud. We pulled down the track towards the depot only far enough to clear the wye switch to put the 25 back on the point of our train.

We ran east with me getting a good picture of the ex Vinegar Valley Express out in the forest. We pulled into Bartle where lunch was passed out while the engine was watered and serviced.

We did the only photo runby of the day before we ran east to the wye and turned the train before we retraced our rails back to Mt Shasta City with the 25 leading to Signal Butte and the 37 pulling down to Mt Shasta City. On the way back I got sick to my stomach over the side of the vista gon. We arrived at Mt Shasta City and even with me not feeling that well, it was an excellent third steam trip on the McCloud Railroad. We drove down to Oroville for the night and the next morning with me back to normal we drove home.