Old Steamers are the stars of Transportation Fair at Railroad Museum

They hadn't been face to face for 125 years, but two iron, oak and brass brothers were reunited this weekend at the annual Transportation Fair at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.

Standing cowcatcher to cowcatcher on the museum's tracks Saturday were the Inyo, the standard-gauge Baldwin American locomotive built in 1875 for the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, and the Eureka, a slightly smaller narrow-gauge steamer built the same year in the same Baldwin factory.

"This has probably never happened before - that two locomotives built at the same time in the same factory for different railroads that never ran on the same tracks have come back together," said Dan Marcoff, the Las Vegas Lawyer who owns the Eureka and trucked it up to Carson City for the event.

The Eureka is one of six steam-powered locomotives hauled to the museum for the millennium edition of the fair. They came by semi truck or even on a tilt-bed trailer, because the V&T shut down half a century ago and its iron rails have been torn up.

The Transportation Fair runs through Independence Day at the museum at Carson Street and Fairview Drive. Both the hometown iron horses and the visiting steam engines are fired up and running on the museum's loops of rail in a parade of steam power. Admission to the museum's interpretive center if free during the fair.

The Eureka was built for the Eureka & Palisade Railroad, which ran between those eastern Nevada towns in the last quarter of the 19th Century. It next hauled lumber at Tahoe for the Hobart Mills until 1939, Marcoff said, then was sold for scrap.

The Eureka was rescued and taken to Hollywood as a movie prop and last appeared on film (You'd need an electron microscope to see it in the movie, Marcoff says) in The Shootist, John Wayne's last film that was partially shot in Carson City.

Marcoff rescued the Eureka after it had been severely damaged in the fire that destroyed the Old Vegas attraction near Las Vegas in 1985. He took about six years to rebuild it. He said he trucks it to Colorado or Arizona a few times a year to run on reactivated narrow-gauge railroads, but this is the first time it's been to Carson City.

Another Baldwin locomotive in Carson for the first time is the Deanna, built in 1891 for a Hawaiian sugar plantation and restored by George and Karen Thagard. It also runs on narrow-gauge rails.

Gauge refers to the distance between rails. Standard gauge is 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches, which Marcoff said rail historians trace back to the distance between Roman chariot wheels. Narrow gauge is 36 inches.

The Deanna's route was extended into Hawaii's sugar cane fields by movable sections of rail and ties, the life-sized version of the "snap track" used by model railroaders, George Thagard said.

The Deanna bears the name of the Sandstone Crag Loop Line, a tiny railroad that consists of a 500-foot-long loop of track that surrounds the Thagards' home in Coto de Caza, Calif. George Thagard said the steamer was a hulk when they bought it and rebuilt it - it now weighs 18,000 pounds.

A non-Baldwin entrant in this year's fair is the Gwen, a product of Britain's Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds. Its gauge is only 18 inches, because it was designed to work in mines, owner Rich Farmer of Northridge, Calif., explained.

Though the railroad museum has several stretches of dual-gauge track that will handle standard- and narrow-gauge equipment, Farmer has to be self-sufficient to provide roadbed for his weighty toy. Lengths of threaded rod are used to temporarily assemble several lengths of parallel iron rail so the Gwen can participate in the steam-up.

In what turns out to be a common challenge for those who yearn for their own real locomotives, the Gwen was a pile of rust on wheels when Farmer bought her at auction in 1983.

Farmer, who began building and running small but ridable steam-fired garden railroad trains at age 14, said he enlisted his brothers in the rebuilding of the 10,600-pound engine. He even got advice from the Leeds Industrial museum, where a matching locomotive is preserved, to authentically outfit the Gwen.

Other visiting engines for the fair are the Falk, an 1884 product of the Marschutz & Cantrell Co. of San Francisco, Calif.; the Seward, a Porter-built steamer that had a career in Alaska and was restored in Fallon by Jim Walsh; and Hawaii Railway Co. No. 5, another Baldwin built in 1925 for service in Hawaii that later powered the Tahoe and Trout Creek Railroad.

Transportation fair attendees can also take a spin behind the museum's Engine No. 25, put their shoulders to the test pumping a hand car, see how a Ford Model T was outfitted to motor along rails and count the new rivets in the McKeen motor car.

The McKeen, built in 1910, is a local example of salvage to salvation for railroad equipment. The streamlined, round-windowed car was powered by its own internal combustion gasoline engine when it plied V&T rails through the Washoe, Eagle and Carson valleys. After the railroad retired it, it served as a diner at two locations in Carson City, then became one of two rail cars to form part of the Al's Plumbing building a couple blocks north of the railroad museum.

When Alex Bernhard built a new home for his plumbing business in 1996, he donated the McKeen and the other car, a 1913 Hall-Scott motor car that was not a V&T veteran, to the museum.

Transportation Fair visitors can see where metal panels and wooden components have been replaced during the ongoing restoration of the McKeen. And, according to a tally scribbled in chalk on the McKeen's side, there are 4,257 new rivets to count and restorers have drilled 5,089 new holes during the project.


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