By Eric Berger
A little tank engine that gained regional fame as a restaurant display is steaming on the Skunk Line through the final weeks of summer. Fresh from an appearance at the Great Western Steam Up in Carson City, “The Chiggen” is currently pulling The Skunk Train weekends on California Western, much to the delight of its owner, Skunk Train General Manager Efstathios (Stathi) Pappas.
Built in 1909 by H.K. Porter as Santa Cruz Portland Cement 2, the 0-4-0T also worked for Bechtel Kaiser Rock in Oroville before its initial retirement. In 1967, the Porter began more than three decades sitting beneath a towering sign advertising the Chicken Kitchen and other features at a Highway 99 attraction near Stockton known as Pollardville. At one point it bore the number 4449 scrawled on its cab in a humorous nod to the famed Southern Pacific 4-8-4.
Pappas purchased the engine in 2006 as the owners were preparing to permanently close the attraction the following year. It became a side project during his tenure as Chief Mechanical Officer at Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad. With the aid of just a few volunteers, Pappas completed the restoration of the engine to operating condition in late 2013.
The engine began a 15-year lease to the Placerville & Sacramento Valley in December 2019, but restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic delayed its maiden run there until February 2022. Following its journey to the Nevada State Railroad Museum, Pappas arranged for a month-long visit to the Skunk Line.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to chug along the Skunk Train’s tracks, along the Pudding Creek Estuary and under a canopy of redwoods, taking in the sights and sounds of nature as you are transported back in time on this vintage locomotive,” said a railroad spokesman.
The engine is pulling multiple trains each Saturday and Sunday through September 11, and private charters are available. For more information visit skunktrain.com/days-of-steam/ online or call 707.964.6371.