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Last engine of ‘Crookedest Railroad in the World’ coming back to the mountain

Written by Carl Nolte - San Francisco Chronicle.

Engine No. 9, the last remaining piece from the fabled “Crookedest Railroad in the World” that once climbed Mount Tamalpais, is back in the Bay Area and on its way to a new home in Marin County.

The 98-year-old steam locomotive had been on display in the Humboldt County logging town of Scotia since 1953. A group of Marin residents purchased No. 9 at auction and earlier this week loaded it onto a flatbed truck and moved it to a ranch in Sonoma County.

There they plan to rehabilitate the engine to museum quality and display it somewhere along the old railroad line that ran 8.19 miles and 2,400 feet from Mill Valley to the summit of Mount Tamalpais.

Fred Runner (left) and David Waterman, engineer and mechanic, talk as they stand alongside Engine No. 9, the last survivor of the Mt. Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway, on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, in Sonoma County. Photo: Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle

The railroad, which had 281 curves, advertised itself as “The Crookedest Railroad in the World” and was a noted attraction in the early days of tourism in Northern California.

“The mountain railroad was world-famous,” said Fred Runner, who is president of Friends of No. 9. The nonprofit corporation bought the engine for $56,240 from the Scotia Community Services District and spent another $30,000 to move the 30-ton engine to Sonoma County earlier his week.

The engine is being kept on a private ranch, where the group can begin work on it. It’s in generally good condition, Runner said, but needs some renovation after spending decades outdoors.

“We were very lucky to get it and are euphoric to have it here,” he said.

He won’t say exactly where it is, however.

“The landowner isn’t prepared to have crowds come to look at the engine,” Runner said. “Let’s just say it’s at an undisclosed location.”

That’s a far cry from the glory days of No. 9. The Mt. Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway, which started service in 1896, was such a success that it built a big hotel and dance pavilion at the top of the mountain and operated two other inns, including one in Muir Woods.

John Muir himself rode the mountain train to Muir Woods soon after the redwood forest was made a national monument in 1908. So did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes books. The line and its geared steam locomotives were hailed as an engineering feat in Scientific American magazine, and in 1898 one of the first Edison movies featured the mountain train.

In addition to running the locomotives, the railroad also used small railcars that coasted down the mountain to Mill Valley. The company advertised that these trains were “powered by gravity.” But gravity worked only downhill. The locomotives had to push them back to the top.

Two replicas of the so-called “Gravity cars” are on display, one in Mill Valley and the other near the top of the mountain.

By 1920, the Tamalpais railroad was so flush it ordered a brand new engine from the Heisler Locomotive Works in Erie, Pa. It was given the number 9 and went into service in 1921.

But the tavern at the top burned in 1923 and the railroad needed to build a replacement. Cash was short, so the M.T.& M.W. sold No. 9 to the Siskiyou Lumber Co. in 1924.

The railroad itself folded in 1930 because of competition from automobiles, the onset of the Great Depression and a wildfire that swept the mountain in 1929. The railroad grade was converted into a fire road and also was used as a biking and hiking trail.

The modern sport of mountain biking was developed on the old line years after the last train. It was the mountain railroad’s last brush with history.

No. 9 spent the rest of its working life hauling logging cars, and was acquired by the Pacific Lumber Co. in Scotia in 1950.

The engine was obsolete by then and was put on display outside the lumber company headquarters. There it remained outside in all weather for 65 years.

“It is a mixed bag, but it is in generally good condition,” Runner said.

The old engine needs work to bring it up to prime condition. Friends of No. 9 also wants to build a shelter for the old engine and develop a plan to display it.

“A lot of people are interested,” Runner said. One idea is to display it in Mill Valley, where the railroad began, or at the top, where the line ended.

Now the hard work begins. Runner said the friends group will probably reorganize, repair the engine, develop plans for its future, and raise money to make it all happen.

Carl Nolte is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. See the full article here.


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