The Engine That Was Born Again

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The Engine That Was Born Again

by Cliff Essex

Photos by Henry Sorensen and Gus Haggmark

From Popular Mechanics, December 1960

File:North Redwood Coast RR Locomotive1.png

Around the turn of the century the rough forested hills of northern California's lumber country were laced with hard-working narrow gauge railroads. In time much of this equipment was abandoned and today is highly prized by collectors. Unfortunately it is sometimes impossible to remove this material because of the terrain, or because, in the wet climate that encourages shaded ferns to grow five feet tall, wood and iron have rusted and rotted beyond use.

Henry Soreness felt lucky when he found a locomotive near the ocean, away from the forest. But problems were apparent. The engine was buried up to her boiler in the dirt and gravel of a dry stream and would have to be dug out by hand. Then it would have to be taken across the Mattole river somehow, and certainly an access road would have to be built. All this would have to be done while he was building a new home and running his poultry and dairy ranch 75 miles away to the north.

The relic was actually found by Henry's close friend, Gus Haggmark, who works for Pacific Gas and Electric and shares Henry's enthusiasm for old trains. Gus heard about it from a friend who had stumbled on it while quail hunting.

Investigation showed--and this alarmed Gus and Henry--that title to the old engine was owned by a man in Los Gatos, 300 miles away. He had acquired it in 1940 but lacked the opportunity to work on it, so Henry, for one dollar, became the proud owner on December 29, 1949.

Coach was donated by neighbor to give revived engine something to pull. Cupola converted coach to caboose.

The locomotive had once been used for hauling tanbark from its terminal near the city of Petrolia, to a wharf out in the ocean, terminating at Seal Rock. About three miles long, the route curved around a hill following the Mattole River to its mouth, then along the rocky shore of the Pacific where waves came right up over the rail bed, to the wharf. Freight from the cars was "high-lined" to boats from Seal Rock, because ships couldn't get close enough to put down a gangplank or use a crane. Many washouts of the road and sever damage to the wharf on several occasions forced discontinuance of this operation in 1914, when the little locomotive had her last fire put out until her recent rescue from ruin by rust.

A shed had once sheltered the engine, but it had rotted away. Floods in 1942 and 1943 ha dpiled rock and mud around the relic, leaving it buried so deep that it was first thought there was nothing there but boiler and stack. Pick and shovel work disclosed that she was complete, however, and sitting on track!

Fifteen different pick and shovel expeditions were required to uncover the little locomotive entirely. Each trip in and out required a crossing of the river, and at first a rented boat was used. Later, Henry built an eight-foot flat-bottomed boat that made a very efficient ferry for men and equipment.

June 9, six months after the job began, Henry brought his flatbed truck to the site, fording the Mattole. That day, using the access road they had built, he and his crew hauled out the saddle tank and any other parts they could remove from the engine.

Engine looked like this when found, still riding on buried tracks. Nearly 10 years of work lay ahead.

Ten days later the engine was hauled out and, as it weighed six tons, this was no laughing matter. With no lifting equipment available, a sloping pit was dug in front of the locomotive, deep enough to accommodate the truck. Then the flat-bed was backed into the position, and the locomotive was winched slowly onto the truck. To do this, Henry and Gus, with a crew of helpers, built a windlass, using the principles of a post puller, and multiplied their strength with three sets of blocks.

The truck was flooded out in the river, as was a helping tracktor, and they only got out when another truck was added to the combination.

They weren't through at the site even then, for what good is a train without tracks? More back-straining pick and shovel work uncovered some of the rails that were under three feet of dirt, but an even tougher job was encountered in picking up the rails that went "around the horn" along the river and ocean. These rails were the "light" variety, weighing 25 pounds to the yard, and a standard 30-feet long, which is a clumsy bundle to handle any way you look at it. Most of this section of rail--the longest section of the road--was within a few feet of water, so a raft was built on a group of eight empty oil drums. An outboard motor and hand-poles powered the craft, which was kept as close to the shore as possible. As rails were dislodged on shore, they were shifted to the raft, which was tricky, for in the rough water the raft was as frisky as a cake of soap in a washing machine.

Henry Sorensen (left) and Gus Haggmark (right) with friend.

Later, when everything had been trucked to his ranch at McKinleyville just north of Arcata, Henry made a careful examination of his engine and found that it needed much more than just a face-lifting. It was rough on the outside, but the insides had, so to speak, gone up the flue.

The owners of Bay Tank and Boiler Works in Eureka offered their facilities to Henry with the proviso that he do all the work, and he gratefully accepted. For the next 13 months he cut, welded, cleaned and fitted until he could do no more, and the locomotive was removed once again to the ranch.

Meanwhile, Henry had enrolled in a night class in woodworking so he would be better equipped to build a new engine cab. It was well that he did, for he was suddenly given a caboose by a sympathetic lumber company. This caboose, about 60 years old, had originally been a passenger coach, but somewhere along the line a cupola had been mounted on top and the inside fitted for caboose duty. Henry and Gus have already started to reconvert this car into a coach again.

Sunday, May 22 of this year (1960), Henry pulled the throttle on his little locomotive and moved it out of its shed. This was the first time it had moved under its own power since 1914. It only had a 300-foot run because that's all the rail that had been salvaged in usable condition.

Train fanciers for hundreds of miles around caome to see old No. 1 in her new finery, and find it hard to believe that a few years ago an alder tree grew in her cab and the boiler was home for pack rats.

Henry and Gus are now on the alert for more rail and spare parts. Especially rail, for it pains them to think of the engine all fired up and no place to go. So if you have a few old lengths of light rail lying around in the attic, get in touch with Henry. His ambition now is to run his slim-gauge pike all the way around the pasture.