Dennis Cassinelli: Nevada’s smallest railroad locomotive

The Joe Douglas is a rare artifact from the silver age of Nevada's mining and railroad history.

The Joe Douglas is a rare artifact from the silver age of Nevada's mining and railroad history.

In 1882, Joe M. Douglas bought a small railroad from Frederick Birdsall. The railroad ran in Dayton Valley, carrying ore tailings from Gold Canyon to a nearby mill with a connection to the Carson and Colorado tracks in Dayton. Birdsall sold the tracks and land to Douglas but took his two locomotives with him when he left. This left Douglas in need of a locomotive to run on his new railroad, so he ordered one from the H. K. Porter & Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., who specialized in small steam locomotives. The 0-4-2T engine was a small one, much smaller than those run on the V&T and the C&C.

Construction of the locomotive was finished on June 12, 1882, and it arrived in Dayton later that summer. It first steamed up on Sept. 14.

Joe Douglas painted his own name on the locomotive, and christened the rail line the Dayton Sutro and Carson Valley Railroad.

Douglas quickly extended his railroad empire. By November, the rails were approaching the town of Sutro, and by February 1883, the line was in regular operation beyond there to the tailings reservoirs of the old Carson Valley Mill site. The Joe Douglas remained the only locomotive on the Dayton, Sutro & Carson Valley Railroad throughout the life of the operation, shuffling back and forth with cars of ore for the several mills along the line.

Needed maintenance on the locomotive was performed by the nearby shop crews of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. Generally, repairs could be handled by V&T shop workers sent to Dayton, but on occasion the little engine was most likely sent to the massive stone shops of the V&T in Carson City for heavier work, riding from Mound House to Carson City on the 3-foot gauge rails permanently attached to the deck of special V&T engine transfer flat car No. 1.

This pattern of operation continued into the late 1890s. Research hasn’t yet turned up the last day of operation of the Dayton, Sutro & Carson Valley Railroad, but most of the mills were closed before 1900. The new century brought a new job for the Joe Douglas. It was sold in 1900 to the Lake Arrowhead Development Co., and the little locomotive was shipped from its Nevada home to the Lake Arrowhead Dam site in the San Bernardino Mountains of San Bernardino County, Calif.

Jim Fouch acquired the Joe Douglas in 1946 or ’47. There followed a succession of owners but, except for painting, little was done to fix up the engine until Bob Walton of San Marino purchased it in August 1968.

Aided by knowledgeable Southern California railroad enthusiasts, the long process of rebuilding the locomotive to operable condition was begun. The boiler was successfully hydrotested in 1970 and most of the machinery was rebuilt. New castings were made and other parts fabricated following original Porter designs, replacing parts that had disappeared over the years. An 1882 photograph of the Joe Douglas operating in Nevada provided a guide in building a new wood cab and for other details. Walton test-steamed the engine and operated it on compressed air a number of times, but the engine hasn’t received a final boiler inspection and certificate needed for regular steam operation. Concerned about the ultimate disposition of the little engine, Walton felt it was fitting and appropriate it return to Nevada, its working home for so many years. Turning down higher offers, Walton agreed to a sale to the Nevada State Railroad Museum in September 1994.

The acquisition was made possible by the generous support of Meadowood Mall in Reno, which provided a grant to the Railroad Museum covering the costs of acquisition and transportation back to Nevada. On Nov. 17, after receiving a new paint job and other minor repairs, the Joe Douglas was placed on display in the center of the mall for the Christmas season, the centerpiece of an exhibit promoting the Railroad Museum. The Joe Douglas is a rare artifact from the silver age of Nevada’s mining and railroad history. The engine is typical of the many small industrial locomotives used in mining operations around the state and throughout the country. There are few locomotives of this age and type still in existence anywhere and nothing else like it at the Nevada State Railroad Museum. The acquisition of the sole locomotive from this local railroad in nearby Dayton represents a valuable and significant addition to the Railroad Museum’s historical collections of Nevada and 19th century railroading.

As has been typical in so much of the past development of the Nevada State Railroad Museum, private support was the key to bringing this historic engine back to Nevada. The public spirit and generosity of Meadowood Mall has enabled future generations to enjoy the Joe Douglas at the Railroad Museum.

This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.


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