Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Lost Locomotive in the Sacramento River

Before he became Master Mechanic for the Central Pacific Railroad, Sacramento railroad pioneer A.J. Stevens was hired as a mechanic for the San Francisco & Alameda Railroad. In January 1866, C.W. Stevens and younger brother A.J. Stevens built one of the earliest steam locomotives on the West Coast -- the “J.G. Kellogg.” Named after a principal investor for the railroad, the J.G. Kellogg was sold multiple times throughout its lifetime and renumbered as the Central Pacific No. 176, the Stockton & Visalia No. 2, the Stockton & Copperopolis No. 2, and Southern Pacific No. 1100.

In July 1891, the engine was eventually sold as Anderson & Bellavista RR No. 1, owned by the Shasta Lumber Company near Redding, California. On the fateful day of November 17, 1893, it was transported by ferry across the Sacramento River near Anderson where it failed to stop on the ferry and fell into the deep water below. A month later on December 16, 1893, the Weekly Shasta Courier newspaper printed an article which stated, “The Shasta Lumber Company’s engine has been ‘snaked’ out of the river, where it has been in soak for two or three weeks.” However, legend grew of the sunken locomotive, with some people claiming it fell a second time in the river in the late 1890s and never recovered.

In his book Red River: Paul Bunyan’s Own Lumber Company and Its Railroads, Robert M. Hanft, professor emeritus of transportation at Chico State, writes: “In 1970 a new highway bridge was being erected just downstream from the fiasco. Divers worked in the swift cold water and one reported he had come across a steel hulk 40 feet down that appeared to him to be an old steam railroad locomotive. Northern California newspapers buzzed with the story in January of 1971 and speculation arose about what should be done with this find, whose property it was, and how it could be retrieved. The story of how it got there in the first place was revived, with no more than the customary mangling of facts.”

Over the years, attempts to locate the lost locomotive have been made by historians, railroad fans, and other curious individuals – but the engine’s discovery has never been documented. In 2011, a group of individuals set out to locate the locomotive and believed it had been spotted in a sandbar near the Deschutes Road Bridge. A group of divers with metal detectors turned up zero results, however. Some people speculate it remains buried under a sandbar near the bridge, while others purport the river current might have decimated it or washed it further down the river. Still, others speculate it might have already been removed either by construction crews or salvagers—but just never reported. Whatever the case, the legend of the sunken J.G. Kellogg lives on.

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