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Railtown 1897s history
steam engine

The Sierra Railway Company incorporated on Jan. 1, 1897 was the brainchild of Midwesterner Thomas Bullock. Bullock and his fellow investors — San Francisco banker William Crocker,  rocker’s brother-in-law Prince Andre Poniatowski, and others — had lumber and mining interests in the area. The development of a short-line railroad from Oakdale could replace horse-drawn wagons to bring lumber and mining materials to the growing Sacramento and San Francisco areas.

Bullock had owned a failed railroad venture in Arizona that left him with three steam locomotives and several miles of rail. With the addition of 15 new freight cars, the Sierra Railway was soon moving U.S. mail, passengers and freight.

The Sierra Railway Company also established working relationships with the Southern Pacific Railroad Company and several stage lines to serve mining, lumber and agricultural interests. However, as the costs of gold mining increased with the onset of World War I, the Railway’s profits decreased. Even worse, trucking companies had begun competing with trains.

 During the Great Depression, the Sierra Railway Company went into receivership, a form of bankruptcy in which the company is allowed to reorganize without losing the value of its property. 

On April 1, 1937, it was renamed the Sierra Railroad Company and incorporated under the ownership of Crocker Associates. In 1955, almost twenty years after regular passenger operations had ceased, the Sierra Railroad Company replaced the last of its steam locomotives with diesel power and opened modern maintenance shops in Oakdale. Fortunately, the historic Jamestown shops and locomotives were left intact.

Charles Crocker — a descendant of one of the original investors — decided to bring the Jamestown  hops back to life as an excursion train theme park in the 1970s. The attraction has had support from several advocacy groups. The California State Railroad Museum Foundation, an integral partner, has assisted California State Parks in funding important restoration projects.

This partnership has brought about the recent restoration of steam locomotive Sierra No. 3, one of the three original locomotives that Thomas Bullock brought with him to California.

In 1982, California State Parks acquired 26 acres of land between Jamestown and Oakdale, through a gift from Charles Crocker. This acquisition included trackage rights on the Sierra Railroad.