Everyone’s Favorite Railroad Car

January 14, 2012 12:15 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

sjecabooseCaboose History

San Joaquin & Eastern Railroad Caboose #50

The San Joaquin & Eastern Railroad (SJ&E) was constructed in 1912 to furnish transportation for men, materials and equipment bound for Southern California Edison’s (SCE) Big Creek Project, the largest hydroelectric construction effort known to the world at that time. The railroad was built from it’s El Prado connection to the Southern Pacific’s Friant Branch, north of Fresno, to Cascada (pronounced kã-skãd´a), California (known as Big Creek since 1926). The SJ&E was built in 157 days between 5 February and 10 July 1912. It extended a distance of just over 56 miles, containing 1078 curves up to 60 degrees, 43 trestles (the longest being 576 feet in length) and 255 grades (the steepest being 5.2 percent). Additionally, there was a spur built to the Shaver Lake area, as well as inclines to the various power plant locations and “The Basin,” now known as Huntington Lake. Prior to the construction of Huntington and Shaver Lakes, there were temporary rail lines built within those confines to support the clearing of trees, moving the timber to on-site lumber mills, transporting crushed rock to dam sites and performing other tasks as necessary. The railroad ceased operations in 1933, and was sold for scrap and disposal soon thereafter. Portions of the SJ&E road bed can still be seen today, and even traversed by car. If the reader desires to know more about this wonderful railroad, Hank Johnston’s book, The Railroad That Lighted Southern California, may be purchased at the Central Sierra Historical Society (CSHS) store. A rancher by the name of Harry Ball acquired caboose #50 when he heard that the scrappers were going to burn the low-value wood items not sold and moved it to his property where it became a family ranch office for the next 67 years. In March 2000, the Harry W. Ball family donated the caboose to the CSHS, and it was moved up the hill by SCE to a maintenance and storage yard near Camp Edison at Shaver Lake. There it resided minus all the major metal components; i.e., trucks (wheel sets), brake assembly and couplers; until moved to the new CSHS museum site in August 2007 where it is presently undergoing restoration and preservation. Once restored, it will be displayed on a section of track as a part of the wonderful new CSHS interpretive museum to be built in the years ahead. Two sister cabooses were similarly saved by other ranchers (#51 now owned by the Eastern Fresno County Historical Society located just to the east of Sierra Union High School and #52 owned by the Lesher family on Copper Avenue between Willow Avenue and the Auberry Road in Fresno County). In September 2004, CSHS member Major Brooks Wilson was asked to come on board to participate in the caboose restoration and preservation process. Thankfully, many other individuals, organizations and businesses from the Fresno County community at large, too numerous to mention here, have contributed time and money to this project. Brooks started the ball rolling by researching the caboose origin, locating replacement parts, and preparing a scope of work, milestones and guidelines for an historical survey. Of interest, Hank Johnston’s book reported that the three cabooses of the SJ&E were purchased from the SP in 1912. Subsequent research by Brooks suggested otherwise. Kyle Wyatt, Curator of History and Technology, California State Railroad Museum (CSRM), believed the cabooses were modified by the SJ&E shop crew from SP box or flat cars. Chris DeWitt, Restoration Supervisor, Nevada State Railroad Museum (NSRM), however, expressed the opinion that they were probably built from scratch in the SJ&E shops. After an exhaustive, on-site historical survey 20 July 2005, Chris’ opinion prevailed. Major acquisitions for the restoration include a set of trucks (from an 1870’s era box car) purchased from the Connecticut Trolley Museum, and couplers and major components of an air brake system from the Durango & Silverton Railroad in Durango, Colorado. For periodic updates and pictures of the ongoing restoration, please see this section as well as Gallery. The SJ&E was an important factor in the development of Southern California hydroelectric power and in the communities which grew up along the railroad. Caboose #50 is one of the last few reminders of that great era. The Central Sierra Historical Society is committed to the preservation and presentation of area history. Volunteers are being sought, and no experience is needed if one is willing to join in the excitement and learn. Also, money is needed to effect the funding of its’ restoration process and display presentation in the future. Your support is kindly requested with the consideration of a donation to the caboose heritage project. Please take a moment to fill out the attached donation statement and mail it with your financial commitment to the CSHS at the address at the bottom of the form. If you should have questions or comments about the caboose restoration, please contact Brooks Wilson, 3127 Dennis Avenue, Clovis, California 93619-5103, phone (559) 298-3094, or e-mail Brooks@ADanceofLight.com.


Richard Wilson, Brooks & Colleen Wilson, Auberry Intermountain Rotary (2), Tom & Marge Nelson (2) ,Jeff Crews & Bill Ickler, Jim & Sandy Pittman, Questers, Merrill Lynch, Ponderosa Telephone, Walt Reinhardt, Birthday Club (2), Questers – Valley of the Pines Chapter, Questers – Sierra Chapter, John Bartholomew, 19 August 2006 Dinner/Auction Benefit, 16 August 2008 Dinner/Auction Benefit, and Linda Cottingham .

*Note: The numbers contained within the () indicate more than one donation.


Bob Conry, Vernon Fogderude, Bert Greeley, Dan Griffin, John Harshman, Larry Karabian Doug Koerper – Huntington Construction, Austin Lysight, P.J. Machado-Silvestro, Tom Mozetti, David Nehring, Tom Nelson, Jim Pittman, Wes Qualls, Jerry Sandstrom, Dave Schiefen, Joe Ubbink, Dennis Vasquez, Chuck West Industries, Dr. Rod Wiens, Brooks Wilson, Colleen Wilson, and Jeff Young .

San Joaquin & Eastern Railroad Logo.e…………….Recent Grant received :……………..


Brooks Wilson, Team Leader for the SJ&E Caboose #50 Restoration Project, is pleased to announce that The Bertha And John Garabedian Charitable Foundation recently granted $2,000 towards that project’s completion efforts. Brooks, with the assistance of Dr. Dan Griffin of the Fresno State Foundation and Tom Nelson, both volunteers on the caboose, submitted the grant request in February 2010. The Foundation responded during the latter part of March with the good news. The money is earmarked to be put against the substantial cost of modifying the two sets of trucks (wheel assemblies) presently being made to look as close as possible to the original trucks. The truck modifications are expected to cost approximately $15,000. Modifications will include replacing the coil springs with leaf springs, reinforcing the bolster beams to accept the leaf springs, strengthening the oak bolsters which were found to be in poor shape, fabricating and installing brake rigging, and replacing the journal box lids to make them all match. The lower caboose body bolster straps are also being manufactured to replace the missing originals. These bolster straps rest on top of the trucks and provide some shock absorption during movement of the caboose in a train consist. The trucks have also been thoroughly cleaned of over 100 years of grease and grime, and will be painted black with high quality, weather resistant paint. These trucks were originally under an 1870’s era Singer Sewing Machine Company box car. The car was used for storage at a Singer Sewing Machine Company plant in Connecticut and later went to the Connecticut Trolley Museum. The trucks are called archbar trucks which means they were fabricated out of iron straps and bolted together to form the framing which held the wheels and their axles in place. Modern trucks are made of forged steel and much stronger, but the archbar trucks were the technology of their day and served the railroads well.

Brooks and the restoration crew, on behalf of the Central Sierra Historical Society, extend their most sincere thanks and appreciation for the support shown by The Bertha And John Garabedian Charitable Foundation. For those readers having an interest, there will be two work sessions in 2010: 10-21 May and 16-29 August. Please take a moment and stop by to see the progress of the caboose restoration at the CSHS Museum. The caboose is at the west end of the museum which is located just inside the main gate of Camp Edison at Shaver Lake. We would love to show you around! Also, please put 21 August on your calendars for the dinner and auction benefit at the Shaver Community Center. This event is being held to raise money for the caboose project. Your support and donations would be most welcome! If you need information on the caboose or dinner, please contact Brooks at (559) 298-3094 or e-mail him at Brooks@ADanceofLight.com .

Trucks: The trucks (wheel assemblies) for the caboose were just received in Cheyenne, WY, from the Connecticut Trolley Museum . For photo see Features .

Engine: This is a Baldwin made locomotive, 2-6-2 wheel arrangement (2-6-2 means 2 front pilot wheels, 6 driver wheels and 2 trailing wheels). The engine was #205 on the SJ&E and a picture of it is in Hank Johnston’s book The Railroad That Lighted Southern California. Later the engine went to the Santa Maria Railroad on the California coast and then was displayed at the Santa Barbara County Fairgrounds until 1983 when it was purchased by George Lavacot, a retired CHP officer and later a railroad entrepreneur. He is rebuilding it, but not entirely in the SJ&E style as I had originally thought. The Santa Maria RR made numerous changes to it before retiring it. I am also working to get copies of original pictures of the engine held by a friend of George’s. He has a large photo of the builder’s picture and pictures of it operating on the SJ&E. If successful, I will donate a set of whatever I am able to receive to the CSHS for archival purposes For photos see our Gallery.

The last date for construction on the caboose is scheduled for Ocotber 20th, 2011. AT this time Brooks Wilson hopes to significantly finish the caboose internal workings. PLans are underway for covering the caboose during the upcoming winter months.

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