Sierra Railway #3 began life at the Rogers Locomotive & Machine Works in Paterson, New Jersey as #4493. Rogers finished constructing the locomotive on March 26, 1891 for the Prescott & Arizona Central Railway where it received the #3 designation.
“Because it’s been in so many productions, it’s a quintessential movie locomotive made to look like a wood burner, even though it’s not,” says DeLacy. “It’s everyone’s vision of a locomotive from the wild west era, especially with the headlight and the funnel. It’s a 4-6-0, a classic ten wheeler. The drivers are 56” with cylinders 17”x24”. The locomotive weighs 100,000 pounds and runs a boiler pressure of 160.
“The Sierra Railway #3 is the oldest of its kind in existence today. Of nearly 6,200 engines produced by Rogers Locomotive & Machine Works from 1837 to 1913, only 14 survive. Of those, only 4 are operational.
“The Sierra Railway #3 first worked in Arizona as the W.N. Kelley. Kelley was the Mayor of Prescott, Arizona and an associate of Thomas S. Bullock, the founder of the Prescott & Arizona Central in 1885,” explains DeLacy. “The Santa Fe Railroad essentially put the Prescott & Arizona Central out of business. After Prescott & Arizona Central suffered bankruptcy in 1893, its owner, Thomas S. Bullock, settled in California with a significant part of his railroad inventory. #3 was part of it.
“Bullock did not let the bankruptcy deter him, however. He settled in San Francisco, found investors, and created a new railroad company in 1897 with Prince André Poniatowski: Sierra Railway Company of California. William H. Crocker, a banker, put up the money for Bullock’s venture. Bullock kept the locomotive’s numerical designation.”
As the 19th century began to yield to the 20th century, Sierra Railway #3 offered value for Bullock’s new railroad venture. Bullock needed trains as he pursued a railroad manifest destiny in California by expanding his line to Jamestown, Sonora, and Tuolumne. “The Sierra Railway #3 has been here since 1897. It was used in the construction of that line connected Oakdale to Jamestown,” states DeLacy.
But history repeated itself. In 1932, the Sierra Railway fell into bankruptcy. Five years later, it reorganized as the Sierra Railroad Company, though #3 did not see action. Taken out of service, it laid dormant for 14 years till being noticed by film producer David O. Selznick, who wanted to destroy the locomotive for a scene being shot on the Sierra Railway for his movie Duel in the Sun. Cooler heads prevailed.
Rather than offer the locomotive for destruction, the Sierra executives authorized a restoration with the goal of returning Sierra #3 to service. That goal was reached in May 1948.
And so began a second career for Sierra #3 in front of the cameras.
“As a popular culture icon, the Sierra Railway #3 is the definitive locomotive style of the American West,” states DeLacy. “Its history in Hollywood dates back to the silent film era. Recently, my son played the video game Red Dead Redemption and I noticed a locomotive looking strikingly like Sierra Railway #3. Indeed, it was the model for the game’s designers. If that isn’t popular culture, then I don’t know what is!”
Jensen says that the first confirmed use of Sierra Railway #3 in a film is The Terror, a 1920 Western genre film starring Tom Mix.
CBS used Sierra Railway #3 for the pilot of The Wild Wild West, a 1960s spy show capitalizing on the popularity of James Bond. Starring Robert Conrad as James West and Ross Martin as Artemus Gordon, The Wild Wild West was set during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant (1876-1884).