Thursday, May 24, 2007

Patience for Railroaders

It's been said that patience is a virtue. It's a moral quality that I've long held in my personal life. And it's a value that I've come to appreciate in my railroading life, which is really just an extension of my personal life.

Like others involved in the business of steam locomotive restoration, we at the El Dorado Western Railway have come to appreciate the virtue of patience.

Early indications told the crew that Diamond and Caldor No. 4 would be steaming within months.

"We figure 75 more working days, maybe this fall or winter," one early supporter of the project told the Mountain Democrat in August 1993.

Project leaders confidently said the locomotive would become a "serious" income source for the museum. Renovation was estimated to cost $35,000.

By the time of the May 1997 steam up, the crew looked forward to running trains on the abandoned Camino, Placerville and Lake Tahoe right-of-way, adjacent to U.S. 50.

"Wouldn't (a logging and rail museum on Newtown Road) be a tourist stopper - to see a passenger train hooting and steaming alongside the highway?" asked the Democrat in an editorial.

One volunteer "waxed enthusiastic about the Shay, rattling off its specifications, reciting its history, relating the progress of its restoration by foundation members" to a Democrat reporter one year later. Restoration work on the engine was estimated at 75 to 80 percent complete.

Today the project seems as far from operation as it did the day the needle jumped to 160 pounds 10 years ago.

At times we face obstacles that appear insurmountable. These days you rarely hear any volunteer proclaim project completion in 75 days. We know better.

But there's hope for the locomotive.

I remember reading of one steam renovation project that took 20 years to complete. By that standard, we are six years away from acquiring a steam tag from the State of California.

I recently found these encouraging words from fellow railroader Doyle McCormack, president of the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation:
I thought forty years of railroading had taught me patience. Sitting in sidings, waiting for trains, waiting for dispatchers, waiting for signals, just to name a few. But now I realize that was the patience of hours, not the patience of weeks or months. I hope that you have learned patience in your lives, too, because it seems we’re all going to need it as we work toward our goal of a home for Portland’s three steam locomotives.
There's hope for the El Dorado Western Railway and the Diamond and Caldor No. 4 Shay geared locomotive.

Patience is waiting for the project's completion when there's no light in the tunnel. Like the ORHF, we've experience the "patience of weeks or months" and years.

But patience doesn't sit by the depot and spin yarns. It's built on a hope-filled vision of the future.

Patient railroaders work while they "suffer long" (to quote the Old English rendition of patience) and wait for the day the old Four-Spot will steam.

The vision of a logging and rail museum on the Southern Pacific right-of-way between Diamond Springs and El Dorado has replaced the Newtown Road museum.

While six to eight volunteer trainmen gather at the engine house each Saturday to give new life to the engine, others meet with community leaders and property owners to secure a future for the No. 4.

We may have no other option but to wait for the next steam up. In the interum, the El Dorado Western crew is working one part at a time and working toward the day when vurtue will be rewarded with a Shay running down its own demonstration railroad.

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