Hear That Train a Comin’
An early upright Fairbanks moves bridges for an 1876 railway
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
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).
There were immediate stops along this route, some for wealthy
San Francisco duck hunters who owned cabins along the marsh, and
also stops at small towns like Alviso and Drawbridge, Calif. Now
Drawbridge did not have a real drawbridge, but swing bridges, which
were operated by hand until an Otto engine was installed at Mud
Slough. At one time around 1925, more than 90 cabins and houses
were built on what was to be called Station Island.
The community was divided like the Hatfields and McCoys. People
on the north side of the tracks rarely spoke to people on the south
side, who were mostly immigrants. Plus, everybody in those days had
guns and weren't afraid to use them. There were houses for "ladies
of the evening" and gambling, but strangely, no stores for everyday