When Chris DeWitt began restoring the historic narrow-gauge Glenbrook locomotive for the state railroad museum in the capital city, little did he know that it would be a 30-plus-year labor of love.
But decades of effort by DeWitt and a team of restoration experts, both state employees and volunteers, are about to pay off.
After passing a “steam-up” boiler inspection in November, final work is underway to give the rare and historically significant Glenbrook a special introduction to the public on May 24. It will be the 140th anniversary of the Baldwin locomotive, built in 1875, arriving at the Virginia &Truckee Railroad machine shops in Carson City.
The locomotive was used on the east shore of Lake Tahoe for the Carson &Lake Tahoe Lumber &Fluming Co., carrying timber between Glenbrook and Spooner Summit. From there a flume was used to carry the logs to Carson City and then transported to Virginia City to help build the legendary mining town and shore up the mines of the Comstock Lode.
The Glenbrook will soon be another jewel in the crown of the small Nevada State Railroad Museum. Narrow-gauge track is being added to the museum’s short loop so the engine can again run the rails.
The locomotive is significant nationally, said DeWitt, whose official title is supervisor of restoration.
“There are not a lot of 1870s narrow-gauge locomotives running in the United States,” he said. “It’s also very significant to this area because it represents the era that started Nevada in the direction that it went.
“And it is also remarkably significant because there is a hell of a lot of original stuff on this,” DeWitt said, pointing to the locomotive in the museum’s shop.
The Glenbrook is one of only a handful of such locomotives that still operate. One other is in Southern Nevada, giving the state two such rarities.
The Eureka, an 1875 Baldwin that used to run on the Eureka &Palisade Railroad in Northern Nevada, is owned by Las Vegas attorney Dan Markoff and is operated on special occasions, including at the Nevada Southern Railroad Museum.
The Glenbrook has been subjected to what DeWitt called a “heroic” restoration that involved the complete breakdown of the locomotive to its individual parts before being reassembled with original parts or reproductions when necessary. Any new parts are fabricated by hand by the museum restorers, except for some special parts that have to be made off-site.
“So we didn’t just dust this off,” Dewitt said. “This has got a substantial amount of work done to it. Some of it fine art and some of it wholesale reproduction.”
It was donated to the state in the early 1940s and sat outside the Nevada State Museum, housed in the Carson City Mint building, until the early 1980s before being moved to the railroad museum for restoration.
A lack of funding and other priorities made the restoration intermittent for much of the past 31 years. But in 2010, the museum received a grant of more than $250,000 from the E.L. Wiegand Foundation of Reno to complete the restoration.
DeWitt, who started on the locomotive as a contractor before becoming a state employee, said it will be an emotional moment for him when the restoration is complete.
He has been joined primarily by restoration specialists Rick Stiver and Mort Dolan, and Lee Hobold, a retired volunteer, in performing the work.
The arrival of the Glenbrook to Nevada made news in 1875. Wendell Huffman, curator at the museum who makes sure the history is correct, found two references to the locomotive’s arrival in area newspapers. But Huffman has other skills, too. He was the only one who could fit through the small fire hatch into the boiler to help perform the steam-up inspection in November.
The Nevada State Journal, a Reno newspaper, reported on May 22, 1875, that two narrow-gauge engines had arrived and “were awful cute little specimens of mechanism.”
The Nevada Tribune of Carson City reported on May 24, 1875, that the Glenbrook and Tahoe had arrived and had been taken to the machine shops in preparation for being trucked up to Lake Tahoe.
“The engines are very handsome, and are the first of the class we have ever seen,” the article said.
Felicia Archer, public information officer with the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, said the Glenbrook will make two historic 1875 locomotives in the museum’s collection. The museum also has the standard-gauge Inyo, which is the museum’s star attraction that runs every year on the Fourth of July.
“So they are getting a collection that is pretty special,” she said.
DeWitt said the worldwide community of railroad buffs have helped on the project. A gong that would have been in the cab’s ceiling was long gone, and the only one known to exist is in Finland. But a man from Southern California came by one day and said he had one and donated it to the project.
Another benefactor helped find an original gauge that was in the original cab. The cab of the Glenbrook is a reproduction.
“So it’s just these little things coming together to make it a little more complete,” DeWitt said.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.