The Slim Princess prior to restoration. Image courtesy Inyo County
Saturday Sept. 24 marked the 100th birthday of an Inyo County historical treasure, the “Slim Princess,” or Pacific Narrow Gauge Locomotive No. 18. This year a team led by non-profit Carson & Colorado Railway Vice President Randy Babcock began to disassemble the locomotive as part of an effort to restore the tender, cab, and other parts, including the boiler, that have gone without maintenance since the Slim Princess saw its last service in 1954. A good deal of work was performed on the locomotive from 1996 to 2000, however, no major work has been performed since 2001.
This year Carson & Colorado threw a 100 year celebratory BBQ in Dehy Park to raise money for the effort. Dehy Park is the current home of the Slim Princess, which sits inside a protective tent until the restoration is complete and the locomotive can be moved to a more permanent and protected home. Considering the tent alone cost $8,200, according to Babcock, the restoration effort needs all the funding it can get. But Babcock reported at Monday’s Inyo County Board of Supervisors Meeting that Carson & Colorado had received approximately $35,000 in donations this past year; “We’ve been extremely successful in fundraising and the support has been great,” he said. He also announced a recent grant award from the Narrow Gauge Preservation Foundation that promises to match up to $20,000 donated dollars starting October of this year. Grants and private donations will go a long way toward what Babcock projects will ultimately be a $200,000 project.
Babcock also noted some of the past year’s non-monetary donations, like services from Miller’s Towing and Bishop Welding. He gave special praise to the more than 40 different members actively participating in more than 1,000 hours of on-site restoration. Some volunteers came from as far as Washington State, Babcock said.
Carson & Colorado’s 2012 goals include completing the tender by Jan/Feb, beginning actual work on the boiler, completing the cab rebuild and the rebuild of all appliances and smaller parts, and continuing to fundraise, with one additional event proposed.
As for what the Board of Supervisors could do to help in the meantime, Babcock suggested they “consider formulating a plan for where we are going to keep this engine” when the restoration is finished. “Keeping it simple and keeping the burden on the county and on us is the way to do it,” he said. Therefore “the museum is probably the logical place for it to live.”
The Board had nothing but positive comments for the Slim Princess restoration team: “You guys are awesome,” said District 2 Supervisor Susan Cash. “You’re the one group that we never doubt will have made progress,” added District 1 Supervisor Linda Arcularius.
Restoration volunteer Bob Kragel was also on hand to praise the team, and as a resident of Albuquerque, NM, to point out one of the side benefits of the restoration project. “We from outside of the community are bringing out money to the local businesses,” he reported. “We’re spending our money at your gas stations and restaurants every time we come here.”
Babcock’s ultimate hope: that the Slim Princess, once restored and mobile, will be an “ambassador for the county” for years to come.