'Steam nerds' keep 19th century train magic alive (pictures)
In California's Gold Country, the longest continually-running steam locomotive operation still offers a view of how the 19th century engines work. CNET Road Trip 2012 got a first-hand look.
Backing out of the roundhouse
JAMESTOWN, Calif.--For 115 years, this small Gold Country town has been home to a steam locomotive repair and maintenance facility loved by tourists and Hollywood alike.
Featured in more than 200 movies and TV shows, and a favorite of train aficionados, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park here offers the opportunity to see how steam locomotives have worked for more than a century -- and even to take a ride in a passenger car pulled by one of the venerable engines.
As part of Road Trip 2012, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman visited Railtown and got an up-close look at how hostlers -- the hard-working people that move steam locomotives around railyards -- handle the intense heat of their job.
Railtown maintains three steam locomotives -- No. 3, which was used to help build the Sierra Railway in 1897, and which is seen here, and Nos. 28 and 34, which were purchased for the railway in the 1920s.
As Tadlock works on finding the right mixture of oil and air, smoke begins to rise out of the locomotive's smokestack. Because it's not black smoke, this is called an "economy haze," Tadlock explained.
These three gauges provide the fireman and the engineer with information they need in order to know whether the locomotive is ready to roll. The large gauge on the bottom shows how much pressure has built up in the boiler, while the top two provide similar information about the brakes.
These are the locomotive's tenders. On the right side -- and also out of the frame on the left -- is a round section carrying all the locomotive's water. And in the center is the container full of oil.
This is the "Johnson Bar," or reverser. It is used to determine the direction the locomotive moves. If pulled toward the foreground, the locomotive will move backwards. If put towards the background, it will move forward.
Dave Tadlock points a device at the firebox that is used to instantly determine temperature. Inside the locomotive's cab, it can easily be 140 or 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The outer metal wall of the firebox is at 319 degrees in this picture.
These two brass handles are used to control the locomotive's brakes. On the right is the engine brake, which is used to stop only the engine. On the left is the train brake, which stops the entire train.