Sierra No. 3

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Sierra No. 3
Sierra Railway No. 3. hauling its first train on July 3, 2010, after its overhaul
Type and origin
Power typeSteam
BuilderRogers Locomotive and Machine Works
Serial number4493
Build dateMarch 26, 1891
Rebuild date2007–2010
 • Whyte4-6-0
 • UIC2'C
Gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Leading dia.2 ft 2 in (660 mm)[1]
Driver dia.4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm)
Boiler pressure150 psi (1,000 kPa)
CylindersTwo, outside
Cylinder size17 in × 24 in (432 mm × 610 mm)
Valve gearStephenson
Valve typePiston valves
Performance figures
Tractive effort17,470 lbf (77,710 N)[1]
OperatorsPrescott & Arizona Central Railway
Sierra Railroad
Official nameW.N. Kelly
Retired1932 (revenue service)
1996 (1st excursion service)
Restored1948 (1st restoration)
July 3, 2010 (2nd restoration)
Current ownerRailtown 1897 State Historic Park
DispositionUndergoing FRA inspection and overhaul

Sierra No. 3, often called the "Movie Star locomotive", is a 19th-century steam locomotive owned by the State of California and preserved at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, California.

William L. Withhuhn, the former Transportation History curator at the Smithsonian Institution, described the locomotive's historical and cultural significance:

Sierra Railway No. 3 has appeared in more motion pictures, documentaries, and television productions than any other locomotive. It is undisputedly the image of the archetypal steam locomotive that propelled the USA from the 19th century into the 20th.[2]

Built in 1891, the locomotive returned to operation in July 2010 after a fourteen-year absence from service and a three-year-long overhaul, requiring the replacement of its original boiler. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2023.[3]


Sierra Railway #3 on the P&AC.

No. 3 is a 4-6-0 Ten-Wheeler steam locomotive built by the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works of Paterson, New Jersey. Construction of the locomotive was completed on March 26, 1891, and was given Rogers construction number 4493. It has 17 in × 24 in (43 cm × 61 cm) cylinders, 56-inch (140 cm) driving wheels and weighs 50 short tons (45 t) in working order.[1] It was built for the Prescott & Arizona Central Railway (P&AC) as their locomotive #3 and named W.N. Kelley after the company's treasurer.

The P&AC went bankrupt in 1893 and its chief promoter, Thomas S. Bullock, relocated much of its equipment and hardware to California, including the No. 3. He then entered into a partnership with Prince André Poniatowski and William H. Crocker, and together in 1897 they incorporated the Sierra Railway Company of California to connect Oakdale, California with the mining and timber producing regions of Tuolumne County and Calaveras County.[4]

The locomotive became Sierra No. 3 (dropping the W. N. Kelley name) and played a key role in the construction of the railroad to Jamestown, California in 1897, Sonora, California in 1899 and Tuolumne, California in 1900. It was the primary locomotive pulling freight trains on the railroad until 1906, when the Sierra Railway purchased a new Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-8-0 locomotive. It played a significant role in passenger and freight hauling operations in the Sierra foothills during the early development of Tuolumne County.

Originally built as a coal-fired locomotive, Sierra No. 3 was converted to burn oil sometime between 1900 and 1902.[1]

Sierra No. 3 was involved in several wrecks. In February 1898, a switch mishap killed conductor William G. Bailey.[4] In September 1899, its tender derailed while backing up on a trestle, causing it to collapse.

No. 3's 1918 derailment that destroyed the original wooden cab.

The locomotive turned on its side in 1918 just above Sonora, destroying its original wooden cab, which was replaced with a new Southern Pacific steel cab in February, 1919.[4] Two years later, Sierra No. 3 made her first known Hollywood film appearance, in a silent film The Terror starring Tom Mix.

During the Great Depression, the original Sierra Railway Company of California went into bankruptcy, and was reorganized as the Sierra Railroad Company in 1937.[1] Sierra No. 3 was taken out of service in 1932, and parked on a siding in the Jamestown yard for 15 years.[2] It managed to avoid being scrapped during World War II, and again received attention from Hollywood in 1945, when David O. Selznick, the producer of Duel in the Sun being filmed on the Sierra Railroad, proposed to destroy her in a train wreck scene for the movie. The Sierra Railroad's Master Mechanic Bill Tremewan persuaded railroad management not to consider a notion so "ridiculous", and instead allowed shop crews to restore the locomotive to operation for charter and movie service.[1]

Smokestack prop used in the locomotive explosion scene in Back to the Future Part III.

Inspection of the boiler proved it was in serviceable condition; however, the resulting work required a reduction of the Maximum Allowable Working Pressure from 160 to 150 psi (1.10 to 1.03 MPa). The rebuild was completed in 1948, and the locomotive officially returned to service heading a Pacific Coast Chapter, Railway and Locomotive Historical Society sponsored excursion train on May 30 that year. Over the next half-century, Sierra No. 3 pulled excursion trains and appeared in dozens of films, TV shows, and commercials. Among them were High Noon in 1952, for which Gary Cooper won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and Unforgiven, starring and directed by Clint Eastwood, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1992.

The locomotive was often redecorated for various movie and television appearances, one of its most famous roles being the Hooterville Cannonball from the mid-1960s series Petticoat Junction. False smokestacks were also often installed to alter the appearance of the locomotive.

In 1979, Crocker and Associates announced their intention to sell the railroad to Silverfoot, Inc. based in Chicago, Illinois, but the deal did not include the historic steam era shop facilities in Jamestown.[4] The complex, including Sierra No. 3, was acquired by the State of California as a result of legislation passed in April 1981, and signed by Governor Jerry Brown. The acquisition was completed on September 15, 1982, and since then, the locomotive has been the property of the State of California.[1] In 1991, No. 3 turned 100 years old, and in May, it was moved to Sacramento to take part in "Railfair '91", an event that celebrated the tenth anniversary of the grand opening of the California State Railroad Museum.[5][6]

In 1995, the Federal Railroad Administration issued new safety standards for steam locomotive boilers following the Gettysburg Railroad incident. In order to comply with these revised regulations, Sierra No. 3 was removed from service until a complete evaluation of the locomotive's condition could be made.

21st-century renovation[edit]

Sierra Railway No. 3's original boiler that was replaced during a rebuild, photo taken 2011

Preliminary repairs were completed in 2000–2001 with deferred maintenance funding from the State of California. This included dismantling the locomotive.[7] The project progressed very slowly until 2007, when a major fundraising campaign began. At that time, the budget for the project was estimated at US$600,000, based on the assumption the existing boiler could be saved.

In a fundraising appeal, Clint Eastwood described Sierra No. 3 as "like a treasured old friend."[2] Eastwood had ridden the locomotive early in his career on the TV series Rawhide, and later used the locomotive in his own movie productions Pale Rider and Unforgiven. Eastwood wrote, "Sierra No. 3 resides at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. It is housed in the original roundhouse which is still in use. Together these two assets provide a rare opportunity to experience history just as it was 109 years ago."[2] Funding for the renovation project was provided by the California Cultural and Historical Endowment,[8] the Irving J. Symons Foundation,[9] the Sonora Area Foundation,[9] the California State Parks Foundation,[10] the Teichert Foundation, DuPont and many individual donors.

The rebuild included boring out the cylinders and turning the drive wheel tires on a lathe. [11] When work on the disassembled locomotive resumed, and the boiler was inspected thoroughly by ultrasound testing,[10] it was discovered that a new boiler was necessary. Its old lap seam design made retrofitting it to modern standards too costly,[11] and the risk of the boiler losing its historical integrity was a risk Railtown staff decided not to take. Engineering drawings and other technical assistance needed to build a new boiler were provided by the Strasburg Rail Road in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.[11] The old boiler was shipped to the Chelatchie Boiler Works of Camas, Washington to be used as a reference. Chelatchie fabricated a new welded boiler for the No. 3 at a cost of US$600,000.[11] Following the completion of the new boiler, both boilers were shipped to the historic Southern Pacific shops in Sacramento, California and fitted on the original frame. The locomotive was then moved via truck back to Jamestown, California for final assembly.[12]

The 1920s were selected as the restoration period for the locomotive to represent. The final cost of the restoration was US$1.6 million; the locomotive officially returned to service on July 3, 2010.[13] As of 2023, No. 3 is currently undergoing its Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) 1,472 day inspection and overhaul.

Movie appearances[edit]

Lobby card for 1920 Tom Mix movie The Terror shows Sierra No. 3 in the fourth panel.
Gary Cooper, seen here in High Noon, appeared in four movies with Sierra No. 3.
Clint Eastwood, who appeared in two movies and a TV series with Sierra No. 3, wrote a letter supporting fundraising for the renovation of the locomotive.

Sierra No. 3 has appeared in many movies.[2][7][8][9][10][13][14] According to Movie Railroad Historian Larry Jensen, those which were filmed using Sierra No. 3 include the following:

TV appearances[edit]

Sierra No. 3 has also appeared in many television shows.[2][7][8][9][10][13][14] According to Railtown 1897, these include the following:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Wyatt, Kyle (July 23, 2009). "Detailed History of the Sierra #3". Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Sierra Railway No. 3 "The Movie Star Locomotive" Background Information". Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. Archived from the original on October 23, 2016. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  3. ^ "WEEKLY LIST OF ACTIONS TAKEN ON PROPERTIES: 10/20/2023 THROUGH 10/26/2023". National Park Service. Retrieved 2023-10-28.
  4. ^ a b c d Wyatt, Kyle (February 27, 1991). "A History of Sierra Railway 4-6-0 No. 3" (Microsoft Word document). Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. Retrieved June 8, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ "Trains, August 1991". Trains. Retrieved 2023-03-05.
  6. ^ "Trains, December 1991". Trains. Retrieved 2023-03-05.
  7. ^ a b c Reid, Dixie (January 25, 2007). "Train needs makeover before next Hollywood close-up". Scripps News. Archived from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved June 5, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c "California Cultural and Historic Endowment supports famous Sierra Train restoration". CSL Connection. California State Library. 2004. Archived from the original on March 22, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2011.
  9. ^ a b c d "Chamber Supports Efforts to Restore Sierra Engine No. 3". The Union Democrat. Sonora, California. December 26, 2006. Retrieved June 5, 2011.
  10. ^ a b c d Ashe, Suzanne (December 11, 2006). "Locomotive fund drive on fast track". The Union Democrat. Sonora, California. Retrieved June 5, 2011.
  11. ^ a b c d "Restore Sierra No. 3, the "Movie Star" Steam Locomotive". California State Railroad Museum. 2009. Archived from the original on April 14, 2013. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  12. ^ Hecteman, Kevin W. (2010). Sacramento's Southern Pacific Shops. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 122–124. ISBN 978-0-7385-8052-4.
  13. ^ a b c Holland, John (June 19, 2010). "Back Tracks: Historic steam engine to run again in Jamestown". Modesto Bee. Modesto, California. Archived from the original on March 20, 2012. Retrieved June 5, 2011.
  14. ^ a b "Movies". Sierra DinnerTrain. 2014-11-08. Archived from the original on 2014-11-08. Retrieved 2022-11-16.
  15. ^ Robertson, Donald B. (1998). Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History. Vol. 4, California. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-87004-385-7. OCLC 1052707014 – via Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum.

Further reading[edit]

  • Jenson, Larry (2018). Hollywood's Railroads Volume Two: Sierra Railroad (1st ed.). Cotchetopa Press. ISBN 978-0-692-06472-6.

External links[edit]