'Ghost train' haunting historic Placer County bridge

Rail engine visits Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge through Friday
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - It’s an object of awe, fascination and wonder. Drivers were slowing on Highway 49 near the American River confluence to get a closer look. Runners and walkers’ jaws dropped as they approached. “Wow” was a word that was being heard often. A ‘ghost train,’ of sorts, had magically materialized Friday on the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge. Out in the middle of the 100-year-old span. No tracks in sight. As more and more people converged in the area on and around the 100-year-old bridge, Parks Sector Superintendent Mike Lynch could only look on in amazement and muse over the number of photos that will commemorate the spectral sighting over the next week. Lynch, with the aid of volunteers and the expertise of Robinson Sand & Gravel employees, trucked the all-too-real Engine 202 to the bridge on Friday morning in a flatbed and then babied it into place. Through next Friday, guarded by Boy Scouts and others through the night, it will sit on the bridge in commemoration of Mountain Quarries’ 100th birthday. “Engine 202 was built in 1913 and came over the bridge to work in the quarry,” Lynch said. “When the quarry closed in 1941, it came back out and was sold.” This week’s visit is the third time Engine 202 will have been on the bridge but because of its links to the quarry at Cool – where it shunted cars around the yard – it was fitting to bring it back, Lynch said. Photographers of trains, bridges and the canyon’s natural scenic beauty during early fall will be clamoring for classic shots until next Friday, when Engine 202 is moved for a weekend to Colfax for that city’s Railroad Days, Oct. 6-7. After that, it will be on loan from its Clarksburg owner for an indefinite period and housed at the Auburn State Recreation District headquarters off Highway 49. While sunset and sunrise photo ops will draw shutterbugs throughout the week, Lynch said opportunities will also be in the offing after dark. Plans are to mount a couple of solar-powered lights on the bridge to illuminate Engine 202 for at least a couple of hours each night. Adding to the atmosphere, a full moon will be in the night sky. Auburn’s Rueben Miller said he wanted to see the engine Friday and would be back with a camera. “I thought ‘Holy smokes, it’s wonderful they would do this,’” Miller said. “And for taking pictures, it’s really close to a full moon.” The 30,000-pound engine was one of the six Mountain Quarries Company used but the only one to not be scrapped. During its time at the mine, it served as a ‘yard goat’ to move cars around the mining area to be loaded for the trip up the canyon to Auburn. Its presence is the latest in a string of celebratory events at the bridge, including a photo opportunity two weeks ago that brought 70 vehicles for a drive over the span. The procession included motorcycles, restored cars, family cars and even a whitewater rafting bus that was passing by and decided to have a group photo on the bridge. A second photo shoot for vehicles at the bridge will take place Oct. 20, ending a year of celebrations that kicked into high gear after the March 23 official 100th birthday of the bridge.