Hear That Train a Comin’

An early upright Fairbanks moves bridges for an 1876 railway


| December 2006



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A photo from a Drawbridge, Calif., brochure of the old Southern Pacific Railroad. The original engine shack that housed the Fairbanks engine can be seen to the right.

"Dad, what do you want for your birthday?"
"I'd like an old Fairbanks upright."

That's not exactly how it went - that's just how it turned out. My son, Dave, a contractor, was remodeling. He found a Fairbanks engine 40 feet up in an old barn, mounted originally to run a line shaft. The owner hooked a cable to a pulley from his Jeep to the engine and cut it loose to retrieve it from the barn. You can guess what happened: As I was told, the engine came down; the Jeep went up. Standing on the Jeep's rear bumper, the owner was in the front seat looking up at 2,000 pounds of engine. Fortunately, the Jeep had enough cable on its winch to let the engine down to the ground and a waiting cart. My son made a deal (the details are unknown to this day) for the Fairbanks. Later, we found out that several other people also wanted it.

Dave called me one day on the pretense of having me look at his remodel. Actually, it was to look at the engine, and he said, "Happy birthday." It finally sunk in after he repeated it three times. Boy, I was more than shocked. Now in reality I am a Stover nut, but I have to admit, this engine is a great runner.

Running a railroad

In 1876, James "Slippery Jim" Fair and Alfred "Hog" Davis decided to build a railroad from the California bay area to Santa Cruz, Calif. They snuck this in under the nose of Leland Stanford (referred to as the "Robber Baron") and his Southern Pacific Railroad empire. Leland wasn't very happy when Slippery Jim and Hog built 80 miles of narrow gauge track connecting Newark and San Jose, Calif., and called it the South Pacific Coast Railroad.

The big problem with the construction was that there were two navigable waterways, Coyote Creek and Mud Slough, which, as required by the U.S. Coast Guard, had to be open for boat traffic.

Hand-operated swing bridges had to be built, and in 1880 these bridges were operated by George Mundershietz. He worked for the railroad and lived in a small cabin midway between Mud Slough and Coyote Creek (about 1/4-mile each way).