By Lynna Walker
The last two weekends of March 2023 at Laws Railroad Museum were the quintessential definition of the “tipping point” concept. Visitors from across the nation rode the last few thousand feet of the original Carson and Colorado Railroad narrow gauge track in the Laws Railroad Museum & Historical Site in vintage caboose #401, behind the vintage 1911 Carson and Colorado/Southern Pacific Baldwin steam engine #18.
Few of these passengers had ever heard of Anna Kelly or Myron Alexander. Anna in 1954, and Myron, in 1996 were two Independence residents who likely never met. But each tipped the scales of local history to make the 2023 Slim Princess Sisters in History 140th Anniversary event possible at Laws Railroad Museum. The Laws #9 Slim Princess Baldwin Locomotive, built in 1909, no longer runs, and is a static display at the museum. Anna Kelly, a young woman in Independence, came from a railroad family. She was keenly aware that with dieselization of the Southern Pacific, the #18 Baldwin locomotive—the one that from 1926 to 1954 ran on Southern Pacific track through the Owens Valley---had been ceremoniously retired. She was also probably aware that it was likely doomed to the indignity of Hollywood career, the fate of many vintage locomotives of the era. Mines had played out, the trucking industry loomed large and railroads were rapidly being abandoned, with rails and locomotives scrapped, ceremoniously or not, or sold to Hollywood. In an act of pure faith, Anna contact- ed the president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, promised the #18 a bet- ter future than Disney might offer, and asked that it be donated to the town of Independence.
Albert Schweitzer once said that while nothing one does may matter, it is very important to do it anyway. But sometimes it does matter, Anna’s request was granted, and the #18 was moved to Dehy Park in Independence, along Hwy 395. Tipping point. That’s the short version. Forty years passed before the next tipping point occurred.
In 1996 Independence resident Myron Alexander, saddened by the deteriorated states of the Slim Princess #18, asked permission to spruce up the princess. Permission (but no funding) granted, Myron wandered into Dave’s’ Auto Parts in Lone Pine, looking for parts, advice, and information. Tipping Point.
In the words of the Dalai Lama, “Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room”. Within four years from the encounter between Dave Mull and Myron Alexander, the non-profit group The Carson and Colorado Railway was born, and seventeen years later, Slim Princess #18 was fully operable. In 2018 and again in 2021 the #18 was leased to the Silverton Durango narrow gauge, to train engineers in use of the oil fueled boiler system.
March 2023: --before going off rail for Federal Railroad Administration inspections, the #18 gave visitors from across the country the opportunity to ride vintage track in a vintage caboose (Laws RRM #401) behind a vintage (1911) steam locomotive. Thanks Anna, Myron, the CC Railway volunteer crew, the Laws RR Museum Train crew, and the many Special Event volunteers who worked tirelessly to make this 140th anniversary of the Carson and Colorado Railroad story a celebration. So many obstacles were overcome, and so much endurance was required.
Maya Angelou once said “You can’t go through life with two catchers’ mitts. You need one hand free to throw something back”. So many tipping points, so much thrown back, came together to make a joyous celebration for so many railfans.
Thanks to all, volunteers and railfans, past, present and future, for pre- serving and appreciating history