Restoration work on some of California’s oldest steam locomotives has started in earnest again at Railtown 1897, thanks to a special funding arrangement.
With California’s budget problems this year, cutbacks have hit the state parks system, including Railtown 1897 in Jamestown.
Recent layoffs at the railroad themed park were due to deferred maintenance funding cuts by the state. This affected three employees working to restore Railtown’s vintage steam locomotives.
State Railroad museum director Kathy Taylor says when the state cut funding this spring for California State Park’s deferred maintenance, it “caught everyone by surprise.”
The museum leader says the state railroad museum operating budgets are facing a 30 percent cut this year.
The Sacramento-based railroad museum’s Foundation board acted quickly to provide the money needed to keep Railtown staff on the job, despite the state budget impasse, Taylor says.
“Some of the other state parks without a foundation to help provide funding, are going to suffer a lot more than we are,” Taylor says.
The new funding source from the foundation is helping pay for labor and materials to keep the work going at Railtown.
Railtown steam locomotive restoration specialist Norm Comer was affected by the budget cuts and lay-off. He had taken another job at Roaring Camp narrow gauge tourist rail line in the Santa Cruz Mountains after the cutback in late spring. He has since returned home again after funding for his Railtown job was restored.
Comer explains how the position at Railtown now works: “We´re now on a six-month trial basis through the foundation because the foundation has never before created such positions,” Comer says. “So it´s kind of a trial basis.”
Comer, with Warren Smith and Jerry Handford, have been the core crew working on the giant locomotives in the historic roundhouse in Jamestown.
Instead of getting paid from the state, they are now receiving their pay from the railroad museum’s non-profit Foundation. Their contracts can be shortened or extended as needs arise or funding holds out.
Funds come into the Foundation coffers through ticket and gift shop sales and fundraisers.
Taylor says the state has poured a lot of money in a short period of time into the Railtown operations through the deferred maintenance program. State funding helped get Shay No. 2 back up and running, and is helping repair Railtown workhorse steam engine No. 28, she says.
The famous movie steam engine, No. 3, was to be finished with it´s rails-up restoration by the end of the year, but because of state budget cuts, is now third in line for being restored and probably wont see steam in her boiler for at least another year, Taylor predicts.
She says a special fund raising program is in the planning stages to help finish work on No. 3.