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The Jamestown Roundhouse

There are very few roundhouses that still exist in the United States. There is one that still is intact and houses three of Sierra Railroads original steam locomotives.

These structures were built around a turntable and contained stalls where the steam locomotives where kept and served. Most where they obsolete on the age of diesel locomotives but Hollywood saved the Jamestown Roundhouse.

The roundhouse was first built in 1900 but burned down in October of 1910. It was rebuilt right after the fire and then enlarged in 1922 to have a total of six stalls. In 1922 a new turntable was built.

I’m the heyday of westerns, Hollywood needed steam locomotives, vintage rolling stock, and landscapes untouched by the 20th century. Sierra Railroads had all three in spades!

So I found a seat on some railroad ties and started to sketch the red roundhouse at Jamestown.

The Screen Queen, No. 3 in her stall at the roundhouse being repaired back to working order. To her left is Sierra 28, which is also being maintenanced .

The roundhouse itself was used in a few films. There have been three Oscar nominated films filmed on the Sierra: High Noon (1952), Bound for Glory (1976), and Unforgiven (1992).

Bound for Glory was a biopic about Woody Guthrie directed by Hal Ashby and the roundhouse was in a brief shot with Sierra No. 3 on the turntable. Above is a still from Bound For Glory. There a few things to point out about this still: to the right you can just make out the top of a yellow locomotive. This a switcher that is used to move locomotives and rolling stock around the turntable and yard. I believe it is switcher No.1638, (which is featured in the featured sketch), which would not be period with the time of the film. Also just to the left of No. 3’s exhaust is a building with white siding. This is the 1913 passenger depot that burned down two years after Bound for Glory was released. The roundhouse looks very much the same as the day filming took place here in 1975.

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The Sierra Railroad: The Movie Railroad

So many films have been filmed on the Sierra Railroad that it is known as the “Movie Railroad”.

The railroad originated as a branch line connecting the Central Valley, where the mainline is located, to the Gold Country to the east. The construction of the railroad started in 1897 at the Southern Pacific Depot at the town of Oakdale. Seven months later the line reached Jamestown, 41 miles away. In 1899, the line was extended to Sonora, the county seat, and by the turn of the century, the line ran further east to Tuolumne.

The former Southern Pacific Depot at Oakdale. This is where the railroad started. The building now houses the Cowboy Museum.

The town of Jamestown was where the Sierra Railroad established its headquarters and it’s maintenance shops. This part of the railroad now exists and is preserved as Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. The roundhouse still stands and it houses three historic steam locomotives that still are operable today. The star of the roundhouse is Sierra No. 3, a 2-6-0 Mogul type locomotive that is considered to be the most photographed locomotive in the world. She was built in 1891 in Patterson, New Jersey. This locomotive has a look that appealed to Hollywood and heyday of westerns. No. 3 appeared in over 100 films and television shows over the years including My Little Chickadee, High Noon, Bound For Glory, Little House on the Prairie, Petticoat Junction, Back to the Future III, and Unforgiven.

Three movie stars in their stalls at the Jamestown roundhouse. Number 28 and 34 where featured in Hal Ashby’s film Bound For Glory. No. 28 is the only steam locomotive in service and now heads the seasonal “Polar Express”. The sound of the Polar Express in the movie of the same name where recorded from Sierra No. 28.

The Sierra Railroad and No. 3 have appeared in three movies that where nominated for Best Picture: High Noon (1952), Bound For Glory (1976), and Unforgiven (1992). Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven won Best Picture, Best Director (Eastwood), Best Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman), and Best Editing (Joel Cox).

A sketch of Sierra No. 3 from July 30, 2015.
On my visit to the Jamestown Roundhouse, No. 3, the Screen Queen was in the process of of having her boiler repaired and was in a few pieces.
The Sierra Railroad shops and yard in Oakdale. The yard was used as a filming location for Hal Ashby’s biopic of Woody Guthrie, Bound For Glory. The railroad is still in operation today a runs a few freight trains per week.