Jacksonville’s Original Steam Engine #1 Sits on It Original Tracks
Jacksonville welcomed home a piece of its history when the Rogue River Valley Railroad (RRVR) Locomotive #1 was brought back to town. This steam engine locomotive was the original engine for the spur railroad from Medford to Jacksonville that ran on a 5-mile long, single rail track starting in 1891.
The rail line was implemented to connect Jacksonville to Medford when the original Oregon & California/ Southern Pacific rail lines were . Today the original rail tracks can be seen running in front of the original Train Depot, now the Visitors’ Information Center next to the Post Office at the corner of C Street and North Oregon and other locations along C Street. There is also interpretive signage at several locations along the tracks.
Engine #1, built in 1890, was the original engine used by the Rogue River Valley Rail Road (RRVRR) that operated various forms of passenger and freight service between Jacksonville and Medford from 1891 until the railroad’s dissolution in 1925. Now, as possibly the only original engine on its original tracks, it represents a significant aspect in western US railroad history.
Mel and Brooke Ashland, owners of the Bigham Knoll Campus, facilitated the purchase of the engine by the Jacksonville Heritage Society, a local preservationist nonprofit organization. The Engine is known as the “Tea Kettle,” and is a classic steam engine locomotive, whose whistle is reminiscent of a spouting kettle.
Most recently, the engine was owned by a private individual and housed in the Fillmore, California Train Park. The train located on the lower field of the Bigham Knoll Campus, below the Historic School House. Those who attended Oregon’s Sesquestennial 150th Celebration in 2010 will recall seeing Engine #1 in the parade and later on displayed at the Bigham Knoll Campus.
In the 1890’s, freight hauled from Jacksonville to Medford included gravel mined from a quarry two miles west of town, along with bricks from a local brickyard and kiln, timber from area forests, and locally-grown crops and livestock. The Tea Kettle also carried the US Mail between towns. Although hopes had been high for it to serve multiple purposes, the little Porter steam engine had been designed to run on flat ground. So the slight 3% incline from Medford to Jacksonville and other factors proved too difficult and costly for it to run the route as hoped. Consequently, Engine #1 was relegated to passenger-only status, pulling a single Pullman passenger car and shared the track with heavier-duty locomotives capable of handling the freight loads.
Like the full-scale passenger service the RRVRR founders envisioned, freight service never fully-developed as hoped-for, either. Several factors contributed to the demise of the RRVRR, not the least of which was the advent of passenger automobiles and commercial trucking operations.
Engine #1 was welcomed home after a most-interesting post-Jacksonville journey. In 1895, the Tea Kettle was sold to the Albany Street Railway, where it was refashioned into a 0-4-2T scale locomotive. In 1905, it changed hands again to Skelly Lumber Company and transformed into a 0-4-0T before being badly burned in a 1911 fire and abandoned. It was then salvaged by J.H. Chambers Company and used until 1946.
Later, it was purchased by Helen O’Conner as a gift to her husband and moved to their private track in Alta Loma, California. At that point, the O’Connor’s had the Tea Kettle rebuilt from original Porter blueprints. For many years after, Engine #1 was used in commercials and movie pictures by Short Line Enterprises.
The Ashland’s are currently in the planning stage for a potential railroad museum to house the steam engine on the Bigham Knoll Campus, located at 2 blocks off Fifth Street where F Street ends in their parking lot. In the mean time please feel free to stop by and see this unique part of Jacksonville’s history.
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