Big Santa Fe Steam Locomotive Visits San Diego After 55 year Absence!

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Locomotive 3751 steamed into San Diego on Sunday, June 1, 2008, its first visit since it hauled the last steam powered passenger train out of San Diego in 1953. Since then the old 1915 vintage San Diego station had not seen a steam powered train of any kind. The long dry spell ended with the triumphant return of the first 4-8-4 built for the Santa Fe in 1926 as the first "Northern" class engine on the railroad. This was big news and made prime time on all local TV networks. The 300-ton super machine was splendid and made thousands of new fans who were exposed to the magic of big time steam for the first time.

Many PSRM members were involved in restoring this historically important locomotive since it was pulled out of a park next to the San Bernardino depot in 1985 by the newly formed San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society. The current president of the Society is Bob Kittel, who grew up a few doors from Museum member Larry Rose in El Cajon. Both were train freaks from the start but the long-time friends lost track of each other after graduating from high school. Fifteen years later Larry was chasing the Freedom Train with 4-8-4 No. 4449 on the point. He was astounded to discover Bob in the cab! Soon Bob was an expert on big steam and got involved in restoring 3751. Bob recruited Larry to help work on the engine and soon PSRM regulars Ken Helm and Dale Prescott were making the weekly trip to Fontana where the big engine was being restored in the old re-bar shop at the steel mill there.

Santa Fe #3751 Visits San Diego
At least a hundred people had a hand in restoring this locomotive. Hundreds more helped fund the work. Larry and Bob worked together doing the cab woodwork. Ken Helm and Larry worked the sand blasting pit for several years getting familiar with every part of this wonderfully complicated machine. PSRM's chief mechanic and ace machinist Bill Palmer also got involved in this engine as did member Tony Neece who remains a 3751 activist to this day. Bob's steam knowledge soon landed him in the president's seat of SBRHS where he remains to this day. Bob became expert at running 3751 as well as being second to none as a steam loco mechanic. Larry did the lettering near the end of the project and the engine was steamed up in 1991 after spending more than 35-years cold as a stuffed and mounted exhibit. The resurrected engine made it's first excursion run from Los Angeles to Bakersfield in December of 1991, then went to Chicago in 1992 as an honored guest of the Santa Fe Railroad. The next big ride for the engine was to participate in Railfair at the California State RR Museum in 1999. The world's first 4-8-4 Northern is now the best known big road engine in California.

As the iron monster roared into town, in the cab window was Amtrak honcho Ron Hyatt. Yes, THAT Ron Hyatt, PSRM's mechanical department chief! Next to him was Bob Kittel as 3751 doesn't go anywhere without him! On the ground chasing was nearly every serious rail fan in Southern California and just about every PSRMA member who had kept their ears to the rail listening for this special run. Many more PSRM types bought a ticket to ride the sold out special excursion.

In the early 1980's a handful of rail fans stood at the fence around the aging engine and had a vision of seeing it run again. The vision was realized after an amazing amount of blood, sweat and tears. The run back to San Diego, after being gone 55 years, was the zenith of the most spectacular steam come back ever done in Southern California. Nothing left to conquer now but the moon and stars!

For a time line and historic details see: San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society and 3751 Restoration History.

Larry Rose