Engine No. 18, the historic locomotive in Dehy Park in Independence, has been placed on the fast-track to restoration and may be making trips between Independence and Laws sometime in the next several years.
The Carson and Colorado Railway Society received permission from Inyo County and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power last week to make the narrow gauge locomotive operational.
“After 15 years we have a good goal and a stable full of professionals who really know the ins and outs of trains,” said Dave Mull, president of the Carson and Colorado Railway Society. “Everything is in place for us to go on this and it could be a real shot in the arm for Independence’s economy.”
The group has a five-year agreement with the LADWP to do the restoration. There is a team of train buffs signed on to help, including members of the Railway Society from as far away as Southern California and Nevada.
“Bringing credibility to this project has been essential,” said Randy Babcock, a member of the Railway Society. “I think the time is now, with the enthusiasm everybody has and the money we have right now.”
Babcock said that as members of the Carson and Colorado have worked on painting the train and prepping it for the restoration work, residents and visitors have stopped by and made donations to help get the train steaming.
“People have been coming by and just stuffing checks through the fence to us when we’re out there,” Mull said.
“We have plenty of funding right now to get into this and get over the hump,” Babcock added.
The group is also looking to apply for a $10,000 grant through Trains Magazine to help with the restoration. Babcock said he is familiar with the editor of that publication, who has been encouraging him to submit an application for the annual grant.
The Carson and Colorado Railway Association will also hold a fundraiser barbecue and raffle at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2 to help raise money and awareness about the project.
The Railway Society said it will take approximately five years to get the engine up and running again.
Though there have been no official plans, the Carson and Colorado group has often mused about the possibility of running track from Laws to Independence, and operating the train as a tourist attraction that could shuttle visitors from the historic Eastern California Museum to Laws Railroad Museum, possibly with stops in Big Pine and at the Bishop City Park.
Fifth District Supervisor and Board Chair Richard Cervantes said he has located about 60 miles of rail in India that could be purchased for the construction of a track once the No. 18 locomotive is running again.
“I look at this and I see the economic possibilities for Inyo County,” Cervantes said, adding that he would like to see the engine used as a tourist railroad.
Second District Supervisor Susan Cash said she has spoken with leaders of other counties, trying to find any similar projects, but learned that Inyo is unique because it owns the historic locomotive. She too said she would like to see it turned into a county-wide attraction.