The Mother Lode


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

We’re off! Also, we got started on a vacation trip to Nebraska. Go figure! (Maybe that proves that we’re off.) I just signed up with AirBnB, and our first experience will be tonight in Murphys. The software is a bit flaky, but we hope the room isn’t.


First sight to see was the wizard of Oakdale. And we know nothing more than what you see right here, so don’t ask.


The water tower from Petticoat Junction. In fact, we are at Railtown, the museum at Jamestown. We’ve been here before, but not for quite a number of years, so it’s nearly new. We aren’t much interested in train rides, especially behind today’s Diesel offering, but of course signed up for the guided tour of the roundhouse.



Of course, Shays are the most interesting Loks of all, because you can see all the gubbins doing their gubbing. Also because they are the real workhorses of rough country, grades, agility, anything you want, except speed. Max is about 15 mph, with a brave engineer. Our guide says they shed parts; whenever they take this one out for a run, they have a patrol to sweep the route afterward to collect the bits and pieces that get left behind. Great toys!




One of the guys on the tour was a volunteer at another rail museum, and was kind enough to explain the speed and reversing mechanism in terms that pretty much most of us could understand. I even mostly understood it myself.


This was another interesting artifact. It’s called a blind driver, a drive wheel without a flange. It rides between fore and aft flanged wheels, and cannot have a flange itself because it has to mediate between its neighbors on curves. I don’t think I knew about these before.


The wheels themselves are cast iron, too soft and brittle to stand up to the load, so they have tires. Above, a tire ring, a loop of gas jets that heats the tire red hot, which causes it to expand enough that it can be slipped over a cast iron base wheel. The tire can be machined down a few times as it wears, and is eventually replaced with another. Replacing a tire was a good job to complete just at quitting time, so things would be cool enough to work with come next morning.


To ferry VIPs to the Hetch Hetchy dam construction site, this White truck was turned into a rail vehicle. A couple of interesting things: behind the cowcatcher and between the leaf springs is the crank start. That must have been tricky.

The steering wheel remains in place, because the throttle and such were mounted on the steering column. So they adapted the wheel to apply the front brakes.

But most interesting of all is the square frame visible midships below the vehicle. It could be put down onto the rails. The vehicle was jacked up so that the wheels cleared the rails, and spun around to go back the other direction. A built-in turntable!


As well as bits and pieces for the Loks, they made tools here. A complete machine shop, and with overhead shaft power. Unfortunately, the buildings have shifted to be out of true, so the shafts cannot safely be run today.


Some of the pulleys are wooden laminates.


The roundhouse was round, of course, because it at least partially surrounded a turntable.


The turntable is (now) driven by compressed air.

It wasn’t so hard to turn the table, but stopping a swinging Lok required finesse as well as brute force.


I liked the little locking slider here.


These artifacts have a long and colourful history in the movies. Several of the Loks and cars are half length, which was convenient on tight mountain turns, but also in wide-angle views of trains in western movies, where pretty much no one ever notices.


Smokestack cosmetics, to make the Loks look like whatever they wanted. By the way, westerns typically show the tenders piled high with firewood, but wood hasn’t been used for two hundred years. All of these Loks burn oil, even during their stints in the movies.


The freight room; I especially like the good-sized crate containing an Underwood typewriter.

Enough! We went on to Columbia, a state historic park. Real gold rush history here, a place where the placer washes undermined the houses of the town; not a problem, houses can be rebuilt.


Popular and picturesque place.


We saw serious industrial blacksmithing this morning. Here’s the other side of the coin, the smith busy at work making ornamental horseshoes and other tourist merchandise.



Time for lunch, enough that we really weren’t hungry this evening.


A real Wells-Fargo office. Their scale was accurate enough to weigh the signature in pencil on a piece of paper.


And real horses. Not sure how much of the rest is real, but it’s a good time for all.


And panning for gold is probably a good lesson in how dirty, thankless and unprofitable most miners discovered their lives to be.

Enough! Time to go to Murphys. Parrot’s Ferry road is a good route. I had this road in mind some years ago when I took Wards Ferry road into Sonora from the south. The worst drive I ever had in my life. Steep grades, vertical on both sides, less than one lane wide in many places. Well, today was much better.




Murphys’ unique claim to fame is its E Clampus Vitus wall of comparative ovations. Sometimes humorous, but always on point.


Sir Francis Drake, above, not eligible to be a Clamper because of a tendency to piracy (an understatement), being presented with a fish by Hi-Ho the Indian.



The Lok driver, alleged to be the only teetotal Clamper, a scurrilous rumour that was found to be untrue.


And down the street is the Pourhouse (great name!), with a plaque for Michelson (think Michelson-Morley experiment) at curbside.

We went out to check in at the BnB (no breakfast; does that just make it a B?), have a nap, and mellow out. Walked back into town, enjoyed a couple of dark brews at the Pourhouse.


If we lived here, this might go far to becoming our Local.

Busy day. Good day. Good night.


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