● By Wendy Sipple
Imagine sitting on a bench at the El Dorado Depot, hearing the train whistle blow, the wigwags clinking as the steam locomotive huffs and bellows its way up the grade from the “Y.”
Picture the mighty engine crossing El Dorado Road, chugging around the final curve, screeching its brakes and rolling into the station. See eager passengers board the rail cars and envision a crew connecting an empty boxcar to the Placerville-bound train. Listen as the whistle of the train fades off to the east, and quiet surrounds the station again.
For some El Dorado County residents, this scene remains a distant memory; for others it exists only in the mind’s eye. But for everyone, it will one day be a realistic re-creation of the days when steam and iron colored the landscape. Recently, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors approved preliminary plans for the development of a railroad museum in the town of El Dorado. The proposed El Dorado County Historical Railroad Park, located on the old Southern Pacific right of way, will display and operate railroading artifacts currently housed at the El Dorado County Historical Museum. The Museum has been collecting, preserving and restoring artifacts from the county’s rich railroading past for many years. It has long been the goal of the Museum commissioners, volunteers (hailed as “the fire in this boiler”) and staff to have a facility dedicated to their interpretation and presentation.
“We explored other sites, but the area in El Dorado kept coming up as the most accommodating for what we wanted to do,” says Mary Cory, director of the El Dorado County Historical Museum. “We were also warmly welcomed and received by the community of El Dorado who strongly support the project.”
Survivors of a time when logging companies harvested “green gold” from makeshift camps like Caldor and Pino Grande, include the 102-year-old Shay Number 4 Locomotive, a Tally-ho Rail Bus, an 1892 Porter Number 6 Switch Engine, a skid shed, sidings, turntable, and a bobby car used to haul lumber via the 1,200-foot-high cableway over the American River. Some of this rolling stock will comprise an operating railroad between El Dorado Road and Blanchard Road. An architectural rendering of the park also contains plans for re-creating the original depot.
“We want to present to the public, whether they be eight or 80 years old, the movement of these artifacts to bring them back to life,” says Keith Berry, commissioner of the El Dorado County Museum and president of the El Dorado Western Railway Foundation. “A cold, dead steam engine does not portray the true magnificence of the machine when it is hot and you smell the oil and steam, and hear the funny sounds of the metal. That was the romance of steam,” says Berry.
Currently, various funding opportunities are being explored. Development of the Railroad Park will occur in phases over time and as outside funding becomes available. The Museum expects to collect a small but steady revenue stream from a gift shop, and ticket sales for rides aboard the restored Tally-ho Rail Bus.
For more information about the future El Dorado County Historical Railroad Park, call 530-621-5865.