After 86 years, an extraordinary piece of local history returns to Mill Valley. From December 9th through the month of May, the Lucretia Little History Room of the Mill Valley Public Library will display a one-of-a-kind handcrafted steam engine model that was built 105 years ago by the once-world-famous Mill Valley and Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway.
A fantastic work of machinery with still-working piston rods and drive shaft, the 80-pound, 57-inch-long model is a remarkable example of a Shay engine locomotive, one of the types of locomotives that once climbed Mount Tam. Employees of the Railway built the all-metal model in the railroad’s Mill Valley shops, right next to full-sized Shay steam engines.
Most of the work on the model was done by Mill Valley resident Howard Folker, a conductor, engineer, and machinist for the Railway. Folker completed the model in December 1911 and that same month the engine was put on display in the Railway’s ticket office in San Francisco’s posh Palace Hotel. A 1911 newspaper article in the Sausalito News describes how holiday shoppers would crowd around the Market Street window to get a glimpse of the locomotive and its moving parts.
In 1929, after years of popularity, including passengers such as Susan B. Anthony, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, and John Muir, the Scenic Railway ran its last trains, eventually filing for abandonment in 1930. The Railway was scrapped that summer by Chicago’s Hyman-Michaels (now Azcon Metals), and the model was taken to the company’s Midwest headquarters. Earlier this year, the nonprofit Friends of Mt Tam arranged a two-year loan of the model. In April 2016, after a meticulous restoration by master modeler Phil Gazzano, the model went on display at the Civic Center Library in San Rafael.
An unveiling event and short talk by historian and Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway author Fred Runner will take place in the History Room at 1pm on Friday, December 9th. On Wednesday, March 1st, as the featured speaker of the Mill Valley Historical Society’s First Wednesday program, Runner will return to the Library to speak in more detail about the model and the history of the Scenic Railway in Mill Valley.
Many thanks to Fred Runner, Arlene Halligan and the Friends of Mt Tam for making this display possible.