The “Slim Princess”, engine #18, is a Baldwin (# 37395) 4-6-0 built in1911 for the Nevada California Oregon Railroad (NCO).
Originally #12, she worked the NCO from 1911 until 1926 when, along with engines #8 and 9, was transferred to the “Mina Branch” of the Southern Pacific. Then numbered 18, she worked from Mina, NV to Keeler, CA.
On February 16, 1938 the #18 headed the last narrow gauge train south out of Mina. From then on until her ultimate retirement in October 1954 she worked the 73 miles from Laws to Keeler. After a ceremonial retirement on October 16, 1954 that coincided with the acquisition of the railroads new diesel, #1, the old #18 was vacated from the roster and set aside. How the town of Independence got her is an interesting story.
With the dieselization of the narrow gauge, some folks felt sad. Among them was Anna Kelley. Anna’s mothers parents, Charlie and Ann Recker, were railroading people, so when her friend Independence librarian Bessie Best gave her a gentle prod, “Anna, we have to have something left of the railroad..you go get us that engine”. Anna set herself to the task of securing for her town and posterity a locomotive as a reminder of a nostalgic era reaching back to 1880 when the white tents of railroad surveyors began to cluster in Owens Valley throughout its green (then!!) length.
Could she do it? Persuade the SP to given Independence an engine of its very own? Well, she certainly could try.
Her first move was to write a letter to Mr. Russel, president of Southern Pacific: “We would very much like to have a locomotive. You’ll just sell it to Disneyland anyway, and I promise you it will be well taken care of in Independence, because I will see to it.”
Anna never received an answer from Mr. Russell, but one fine day she was pumping gas at the O.K.Kelley Service Station, which she and her husband still operated, when Richard Torres, a dear friend, said to her; “Anna, can you keep a secret? You’re going to get your engine!” Richard, a section crew foreman over at Kearsarge, had just got orders from SP headquarters to go through all his track and pull the oldest rails and oldest ties: “You see, the rails and ties are dated. When they are put in the ground, there’s a special zinc nail that has the year on the head; that tells the foreman and crew how old the ties is. They weren’t pulling them for anybody else; they were pulling them for me.”
Anna’s engineering of that project, getting engine #18 into its now-familiar location in Independence’s Dehy Park, was the “most fun thing I ever did in my life”.
The engine was sitting at Owenyo when the order was given to turn it over to Anna. The Southern Pacific loaded it on a broad gauge flatcar and took it to the roundhouse in Bakersfield and gave it a real good cleaning and a paint job and then loaded her on another flat car and brought it to Lone Pine.
What now? Where to put the train? Anna went to see Sid Paratt of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which owned the land at Dehy Park: “I’ve got a narrow gauge locomotive on my hands but I don’t know where to put it.” They decided where in the new park the train should go; the railroad supplied a crew from over at Kearsarge station to lay the track. “I arranged to use the County’s low bed trailer and tractor to pull it. There was a winch with a lot of cable…I went to Jimmy Nick (Nikolaus) in Big Pine; he had a low bed like the county’s…so he loaned it to me.”
Everything fell into place; Anna had all the people, machinery and good will she needed.
“We did it all in one day. That track was already in the ground because Richard Torres and his crew had done that.
After the locomotive was in, Anna’s husband brought the tow truck and hooked the cable on and towed it “to the front where it belonged”.
And for the next 5 decades sat old #18 on its narrow gauge tracks, for all who pass to see and admire.
Acquisition part of story from: The Slim Princess lives again!”Anna Kelley’s story” from THE ALBUM Times & Tales of Inyo-Mono Vol. IV, No.4 pp. 22-23