It did just that last month, unveiling a one-of-a-kind handcrafted steam engine model that was built 105 years ago by the once-world-famous Mill Valley and Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway, operator of the so-called "crookedest railroad in the world," which featured more than 8 miles of meandering track on the slopes of Mt. Tam.
The 80-pound, 57-inch-long model of a Shay engine locomotive is one of the types of locomotives that once climbed Mount Tam. It was largely the creation of Mill Valley resident Howard Folker, a conductor, engineer, and machinist for the Railway who completed the model in December 1911, the same month the actual engine was put on display in the Railway’s ticket office in San Francisco’s Palace Hotel. A 1911 newspaper article in the Sausalito News describes how holiday shoppers would crowd around the Market Street window to get a glimpse of the locomotive and its moving parts.
“The Scenic Railway put the village of Mill Valley on the world stage,” said historian and Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway author Fred Runner, who gave a short presentation on the railway and the model at a Dec. 9th event. “Suddenly, Mill Valley was a tourist destination on par with other scenic railways in Colorado (Pikes Peak), New Hampshire (Mount Washington) and Switzerland (Zermatt to the Matterhorn). Mount Tamalpais offered a greater variety of scenery for less money per mile than the others.”
In 1929, after years of popularity, including passengers such as Susan B. Anthony, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, and John Muir, the Scenic Railway ran its last trains, eventually filing for abandonment in 1930. The Railway was scrapped that summer by Chicago’s Hyman-Michaels (now Azcon Metals), and the model was taken to the company’s Midwest headquarters.
The Mill Valley-based nonprofit Friends of Mt Tam arranged for a two-year loan of the model, which was restored by master modeler Phil Mazzano. The model first arrived at the Civic Center Library in San Rafael in April 2016 and moved over to the Mill Valley Library in December. It will be on display through May.
“I want to have it displayed at the railroad museum here in Tiburon,” said Phil Cassou, a railroad historian and head docent at the Tiburon Railroad and Ferry Depot Museum. “I had heard about it, and never seen it. It was great to see. A lot of our visitors here have questions about Mount Tam, so I’ve been trying to school up on it.”
The 411: Through May, the Mill Valley Library's Lucretia Little History Room is showcasing a one- of-a-kind handcrafted steam engine model that was built 105 years ago by the once-world- famous Mill Valley and Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway. The library is located at 375 Throckmorton Avenue. Fred Runner will also give a short talk at 7 p.m. on March 1 as part of the Mill Valley Historical Society’s First Wednesday Program. MORE INFO.