McCloud River Railroad : Passenger Operations:

Steam Locomotive #25


McCloud, CA, 28 July 1969. Photographer unknown, Jeff Moore collection.

The story of what would become one of the more popular excursion steam locomotives in the west started in 1924 when the McCloud River Lumber Company purchased harvesting rights to the 87,000 acre Bear Creek Tract from The Red River Lumber Company. The Bear Creek tract secured the future of the McCloud operations for many years to come and allowed the companies to invest in improving their equipment rosters.

The McCloud River Railroad at the time powered its trains with Mikados #14, #15, #18, and #19; Prairies #4, #8, #9, #10, and #11; Shays #16 and #17; Mogul #12; and 0-6-0T #6. The Bear Creek sale would substantially expand the length of the railroad's log hauls, which in turn brought the smaller size and increasing age of the old Prairies and the painfully slow operating speeds of the Shays into sharp focus. In late 1923 the railroad ordered two large modern Prairies new from Baldwin that became their #20 and #21, which sidelined the Shays after their arrival. The efficiency and versatility of the new Prairies prompted the railroad to start shopping for more such power.

The McCloud River Railroad up to this point had been a loyal Baldwin customer. Baldwin had built fifteen of the nineteen known locomotives the railroad owned through early 1924, twelve of those built new for the road. American Locomotive Company proposed building four new Prairies for the railroad, two about the same size as the #20 and #21 and the other two to a larger size, at a substantially lower cost than the Baldwins. McCloud management accepted the proposal, and Alco built the smaller two Prairies (#22 and #23) in July 1925, followed by the larger two (#24 and #25) in September.

The #25 would be the last steam new steam locomotive the McCloud River Railroad bought, and it proved to be a popular locomotive amongst the operating crews. While purchased mostly for the logging railroad operations, the #25 was large enough to be used in mainline service alongside the Mikados as needed. The #25 worked thirty years in the McCloud woods, spending most of that time assigned to the camp that existed at White Horse, Widow Valley, and then Kinyon. The locomotive hauled its first railfan excursion in 1953, and then in 1955 the railroad gave the #25 a spectacular paint job and used it to power the Gold Spike Special to Burney to celebrate the opening of the new line.. The #25 spent a few more months operating out of Pondosa in the late summer and fall of 1955 before the end of log haul operations finally put steam to bed on the railroad,

Railroad president Flake Willis talked the Board of Directors into keeping the #25 around, and so the company stored it instead of sending it to scrap with the rest of the steam fleet at the end of 1955. Railfan excursions started returning to the railroad in 1959 and 1960, and in the early 1960s many railfans and railfan organizations started requesting that the railroad bring the #25 back into service. The #25 had been overhauled not long before being stored and proved to need very little work before starting its second career as an excursion engine in 1962. The #25 rapidly became one of the more popular excursion engines on the west coast, and several organizations- most notably Pacific Locomotive Association and the Northern California Railroad Club- frequently sponsored trips over the railroad. Two commercial excursion operators tried regularly scheduled passenger excursions using the #25, the Mt. Shasta Alpine Scenic Railroad in 1964 and then the Shasta Huffen Puff starting in 1967.

The #25's boiler certification was due to expire in late 1970, and the railroad ran a number of "last runs" through that late summer and fall. The success of those runs changed the railroad's mind, and it shopped the #25 through that winter. Excursions resumed in 1971, though that year proved to be the last for the Shasta Huffen Puff operation. The other excursion operating organizations stepped up their trips in the following years. However, declining patronage and soaring fuel and insurance costs effectively ended excursions by 1975. In that summer the railroad leased the #25 to MGM Studios, who shipped it and a crew to the Tidewater Southern Railroad to be used in filming the movie Bound for Glory, a biography film of the fold singer Woody Guthrie. The railroad placed the #25 back into storage upon its arrival back in McCloud.

Itel purchased the McCloud River in 1977 and installed Bill Herndon as president. Itel was not interested in owning a steam locomotive, and it ordered Mr. Herndon to sell or scrap the #25 as soon as possible. Mr. Herndon balked at the order and negotiated back and forth with Itel, eventually receiving permission to put the locomotive on public display in McCloud. However, before these plans could be brought to fruition, the Great Western Railroad Museum approached the railroad with a proposal to lease and operate the #25. Itel was willing, and the museum returned the #25 to service in the late spring of 1982. The railroad included efforts aimed at promoting possible movie or television location work in its marketing efforts, which paid off in a big way when Columbia Pictures used the railroad and the #25 in Stand By Me in 1985. The excursions continued into 1986, but by that point relationships between the Great Western museum and the railroad had soured, and the museum filed a breach of contract lawsuit against the railroad. Itel directed the railroad to settle the lawsuit, in which the museum gained title to the #25 and several other pieces of equipment.

The #25 remained stored in McCloud into the middle 1990s. The McCloud Railway decided it wanted the #25 back and opened negotiations with the museum in late 1955. By this point the museum had not paid storage fees on any of its equipment stored in McCloud for a long period of time, and the railroad struck a deal in which it forgave most of that debt in exchange for the #25. Restoration work commenced immediately, and the railroad had the #25 operational again by Labor Day weekend of 1997. The #25 operated sporadically on the McCloud Railway from then until February 2001, when the railroad stored it again after the #18 returned to service.

The #25 languished in storage again until the summer of 2007 when the railroad leased it to a movie production company, which restored the #25 to operation and significantly altered its appearance for potential movie production work that never panned out. The McCloud Railway terminated the agreement in the summer of 2008 and instead decided to prepare the locomotive for sale, with the work partially financed by a couple last steam excursions operated in October and November of 2008. The McCloud Railway placed the #25 up for sale, and in February 2011 the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad of Garibaldi, Oregon, purchased the locomotive and moved it north where it remains in operation today.