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Restoration Update: Reconstructing No. 9’s Pilot / Cowcatcher

Among the challenging parts of restoring Mt. Tamalpais & Muir Woods engine No. 9 is recreating a complicated piece called the pilot. 

Commonly known as a “cowcatcher”, the pilot sticks out ahead of the locomotive, just above the top of the rails. The pilot or cowcatcher deflects objects on the track, to keep them from getting under the wheels and derailing the train.

During its history, the pilot on Engine No. 9 became a simple one during its logging career contrasted with the original slanted and wedge-shaped pilot that ran up Mount Tamalpais.

No. 9’s new pilot will be made up of over 300 steel and wood parts. Recreating its pointed shape required hundreds of hours of research, studying old photographs, meticulously measuring the parts of the locomotive, comparing the existing pieces against the photos, and creating a blueprint and a construction plan. Luckily for us, Joe Breeze wanted to do it. He has been an advisor to the Friends of No. 9 since the day we bought No. 9 at auction in 2018.

Not only is Joe a fan of the Tamalpais Railway, he has spent a lifetime engineering, machining and constructing high-performance bicycles and testing them on Mt. Tamalpais. Joe is considered one of the fathers of modern mountain biking. In fact his first one, Breezer No. 1, is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in the National Museum of American History.

Joe began his work on the pilot in July 2022, and continues to refine the design. One of Joe’s longtime friends is wooden boat builder, Jeremy Fisher-Smith. Jeremy will do the woodworking and Jeff Millerick will manage the metal parts. The finished pilot is expected to weigh about 300-pounds.

Joe, Jeremy and the Millerick brothers bring tremendous skill to this project. Our donors make it possible. We can’t thank them enough.

July 6, 2022

Joe Breeze kneels at No. 9's pilot, a structure useful in logging but not on Mt. Tam. We needed to recreate the original wood and steel pilot of 1921, but we had no blueprint. The pilot (or cowcatcher as it is commonly known) is a complicated structure using over 300 parts. Luckily, Joe offered to help. He made precise measurements, accurate to 1000th of an inch. In his computer he created a 3D blueprint of No. 9. That blueprint, old photos and some time in the field are the necessary basics needed to recreate the long-lost pilot of No. 9.

July 15, 2022

Using Photoshop, Joe Breeze lightened the shadow areas of the 1921 "builder's photo", a shot taken just before No. 9 was shipped across country, from Erie, Pennsylvania to Mill Valley. This shows the back of No. 9's original pilot (cowcatcher). Joe was able to analyze its structure and compare it against an existing pilot at the Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista. They matched.

July 6, 2022

Joe taking measurements.

November 2022

Enlarged section of Joe's blueprint shows how the new steel and wood pilot will look on No. 9. The top-left view shows the wedge shape protruding out from the front of the locomotive and the bottom view shows the intricate mix of wood and steel to create the distinctive shape of the pilot on Mt. Tamalpais in 1921.

July 14, 2022

Looking at the construction of the steel and wood pilot of Western Pacific No. 94, at the Western Railway Museum near Rio Vista. Left to Right are Fred Codoni, Joe Breeze and Western Pacific No. 94.

Photo by Alex Krivoruchko.

October 12, 2023

Looking over the plans of No. 9's pilot are (L to R) Jeff Millerick, Jeremy Fisher-Smith and Joe Breeze. At right is a foamcore model of the pilot Joe built as an aid using the drawings this team will use to fabricate and assemble the 300 wood and metal pieces.


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