On Thursday 14th July, I visited Knott’s Berry Farm, a theme park at Buena Park in California. While it is known for massive rollercoasters, one of the original attractions, the Calico Railroad is steeped in history. The park’s founder, Walter Knott, began acquiring the authentic vintage equipment in 1951 and work began to grade and lay 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge track for a grand circle rail route for recently acquired rolling stock with service starting that November. The railroad’s opening ceremony commenced on January 12, 1952. Unlike many other theme park railroads, the locomotives and most of the other equipment of the Ghost Town & Calico – Knott’s Scenic Route have been restored to original paint schemes and appearance on Colorado’s Rio Grande Southern Railroad and Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. Also unlike most theme park railroads used as transportation, it travels in a circle and riders disembark at the same place they alight, the Calico Depot.There are two steam locomotives that operate at the theme park. The roster includes two C-19 2-8-0 Consolidation type steam locomotives, both originally constructed for the Denver & Rio Grande in 1881. When retired from service in Colorado, they were D&RGW No. 340 Green River, from the Denver & Rio Grande Western, which was formerly D&RG #400, renamed Gold Nugget No. 40 for many years on the GT&C and RGS No. 41 Red Cliff from the Rio Grande Southern. The locomotive was recently renamed Walter K at the 60th anniversary ceremony January 12, 2012 In August 2016, locomotive 340 has finished its’ overhaul, and will replace locomotive 41 on the main passenger service.There is another unique vehicle in their collection, which is used in the “off season” when there is not the influx of tourists, like in the summer season. “Galloping Goose” motor rail buses kept the Rio Grande Southern railroad viable from the 1930s by carrying mail until they were used to scrap their own line in 1953. Knott also purchased this efficient and unique rail vehicle, the RGS Motor #3, which soldiers on at the GT&C on quieter days during the off-season – serving its original purpose when patronage does not justify hosting a steam engine to pull an entire train. It is “kitbashed” from its original Pierce-Arrow limousine frame, engine, radiator, cowling and body which was converted to rail use by replacing the front axle with a four-wheel bogie truck and fitting the rear axle with flanged wheels at first, then a bogie truck which linked the powered axle to its mate with a chain drive. A RGS shop-built freight box (converted with trolley seats for passenger service in 1950) articulates on the kingpin over the chain driven center truck. The wooden limousine sedan body was replaced after World War II with a 1939 Wayne military-surplus bus body with both left and right doors. It is a Pierce-Arrow gasoline engine has been replaced, first with a war-surplus GMC gasoline engine at the RGS, then at Knott’s with first a war-surplus in-line 6-cylinder Diamond-Reo gasoline engine, and since 1997 with a Cummins Diesel engine supported with an I-beam frame extension salvaged from the demolished Windjammer Surf Racers roller coaster.
Thanks for reading.