No 297’s last adventure on the West Side

 

The “A” end body bolster seen from underneath. Notice the broken center bearing casting and damage to the bolster itself. July 2013.
The “A” end body bolster seen from underneath. Notice the broken center bearing casting and damage to the bolster itself. July 2013.

On June 7, 1961, the West Side Lumber Company ran its last train when Shay locomotive No. 14 ran from Tuolumne up to Camp 8 to bring in all of the flatcars that had spent the winter in the woods. Among the cars brought down on this final train was No. 297. The train crew left some of the cars brought in from the woods on Bridge Siding, the first siding outside of Tuolumne, and flatcar 297 ended up being the last car in this string, or the first car in from the uphill end of the siding depending upon how you look at it.

As it turns out, not all of the cars were brought in with the last train. The cars left up the line presented an opportunity for adventuresome local teenagers to see the rail line first hand. By getting a car rolling and then setting the handbrake, it was possible to take a leisurely trip over the line as it was all downhill to Tuolumne. As the car neared Bridge siding, the passenger would tighten the handbrake a little more, bring the car to a stop and hop off. Of course, things did not always go as planned!

On one occasion, the “passenger” fell from his ride as the car was rolling down the line, leaving the errant flatcar to find its own way to come to a stop. As it turns out, No. 297 was there to play the role of car stop. As the first car on the uphill end of bridge siding, anything that came down the tracks onto the siding was going to hit No. 297. It appears as though that is just what the aforementioned runaway flatcar did. The runaway car derailed as it entered Bridge Siding. As a result, its coupler smashed into 297’s “A” end outside brake beam. Along with bending the heck out of the brake beam, the impact pushed the truck itself back far enough to bend the center pin, crack the center bearing casting in two, and turn the wooden body bolster into a mess of splinters.

Despite the damage, No. 297 was still able to roll. By 1963 it had been brought down to the Tuolumne yards and sold to Charles Bovey of Montana. Along with No. 297, Mr. Bovey purchased three other flatcars and a supply of trucks and other spare parts from the West Side.

A side view of No. 297. Notice how far back the impact pushed the truck. July 2013
A side view of No. 297. Notice how far back the impact pushed the truck. July 2013
The “A” end of WSL 297, showing the damage to the brake beam caused by being hit by a runaway car. July 2013
The “A” end of WSL 297, showing the damage to the brake beam caused by being hit by a runaway car. July 2013

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