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 from 1926 until she headed the last narrow gauge train out of Mina on February 16, 1938. From then on until her ultimate retirement in October 1954 she worked the 70 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. Now how the town of Independence got her is an interesting story in itself.
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, sometimes looking good and sometimes not so good, for all who passed on Hwy. 395 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
In 1996, Independence resident and railfan Myron Alexander noticed #18 wasn’t looking so good anymore. He approached the Eastern California Museum director and asked if he could clean it up and make it look good again, the answer was “sure, but we don’t have any money to spend”. Myron set out to start work on #18. One of the first things he wanted to do was to grease up the locomotive and so he took one of the big grease fittings off the engine and took it to the Lone Pine Napa store where owner Dave Mull asked “what did that come off of!” After learning the source of the grease fitting Dave not only tracked one down but he said I want to help fix up that locomotive. And so it went with Dave and Myron enlisting the help of their friends and slowly the old #18 began to looked worked on. By 1997, Randy Babcock had happened by the #18 and noticed a sign on the fence that stated “If you want to help see Dave at the Napa store”, and so began another chapter with the #18.
Work progressed slowly and sporadically over the next 4 years with no real clear plan. In late 2000, Myron passed on suddenly and it was decided enough work had occurred that #18 could be safely steamed up to honor him. On January 25th, 2001 the #18 was steamed up to about 50psi. and the whistle was blown.
Between 2001 and 2009 little to no work occurred on the #18. Focus was mainly on what to do with it and obtaining permission to restore it to operation. In 2009 a full comprehensive report was developed for the Inyo County Board of Supervisors which ultimately turned the entire project around and secured the permission to begin the restoration of #18 to operation. Between 2010 and 2016 the #18 restoration was in full swing.