NCNGRR Engine No.5, an 1875 Baldwin 2-6-0 mogul, first saw duty for the Carson Tahoe Lumber & Fluming Company in Carson City, Nevada. The 26-ton locomotive, named "Tahoe", was one of a pair, her "sister" being the "Glenbrook". The "Tahoe Twins" traveled daily to the mill at Spooner Summit and each returned with six-flatcar trains of milled lumber.
The logging railroad was abandoned in 1898 and the equipment put up for sale. John F. Kidder, president of the NCNGRR, purchased the “Tahoe” on June 30, 1899. Included in the purchase were eight flat cars and four tank cars. Kidder also acquired a 0-6-0 Porter-Bell locomotive from the Lake Tahoe Railway, which became NCNGRR No. 4.
Engine No.5 arrived from Nevada on a Southern Pacific flat car and was unloaded at Colfax, California. As a wood burner with a recently rebuilt boiler, little was required to put it into immediate service and it quickly went to work pulling freight trains. No.5 had more weight on her drivers, and 25% more power than NCNG No.2, which until No.5's arrival, was the railroad's largest locomotive.
In February of 1913, Engine No.5's boiler was rebuilt at the Union Iron Works in San Francisco. Newly refitted, she continued her most favored status on the NCNGRR.
A disaster struck on August 30, 1915, that nearly brought the railroad to a halt. An early morning fire at the Grass Valley depot burned both engine houses and the machine shop. Parked inside the building, Engine No.3 burned beyond repair and No.6 was heavily damaged.
Engines No. 5 and No. 2 had luckily been sitting outside the machine shop and had only their cabs and running boards burned off. The fire destroyed the tenders of all four locomotives. The fire burned away the wooden decking and sills as well as warping the steel sides of the water and oil tanks. (Evidence of the fire is visible today in the wavy pattern of the sheet metal on the sides of No.5's tender.)
According to Johnny Nolan, the NCNG master mechanic, "the whole shop force worked around the clock to restore No. 5 to service without a cab. In less than two days they had the engine running!" For several weeks engine No. 5 pulled trains without the benefit of a cab and the engine crew had to hang onto a specially built railing when going into curves. Engine No.5 was soon fitted with a Baldwin replacement cab that was taller than the original.
In 1940, No. 5 nearly burned again when a tank car full of asphalt caught fire after a blowtorch was used to it to speed up the heating process. The depot building and the Kidder Mansion were not as lucky and suffered extensive damage.
It was during this period that two larger locomotives, No.8 and No.9, pulled the heavy freight trains and No.5 was relegated to helper duty.
Down in Hollywood, Frank Lloyd Productions was shopping around for a narrow gauge locomotive to use for an upcoming movie. Bob Paine, the NCNG train master, went down to Hollywood and closed the deal that would make the aging No. 5 a star brighter than the one on her Baldwin spot plate. No.5 was again rebuilt, including replacing tires on the wheels, and the installation of an all steel cab and running boards from the recently scrapped No 7. The engine was loaded on a truck and then transferred to a flat car at Colfax for the trip to Hollywood and her new career in motion pictures.
Engine No.5 appeared in the opening scene of the 1942 release of "The Spoilers" starring John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, and Randolph Scott. With its whistle blowing and bell ringing, it moved onto the screen evoking a romantic vision of steam trains during Alaska's Gold Rush. The engine went on to appear in many motion pictures, TV movies, and TV episodes.
After 1977, Engine No. 5 sat somewhat forgotten beside the train station set on the Denver Street back lot of Universal Studios. The locomotive and one stock car were used in one more bit spot in "Twilight Zone-The Movie" in 1979.
In August of 1983 the Nevada County Historical Society's president, Madelyn Helling, and director, Cliff Sommerstomm, formed the “Friends of the Narrow Gauge”. A group member, John Christensen wrote, “As the group's acquisition officer and vice chairman I set out looking for narrow gauge artifacts and equipment... By 1984, I had set my sights on old NCNG No. 5 and started writing to Universal Studios. By early 1985, I was able to open a dialogue with Universal Studios and along with other officers of NCHS and the Transportation Museum Division was able to negotiate a museum loan of Engine No. 5 and six other pieces of equipment.”
On May 10, 1985, Engine No. 5 returned to Nevada County and is now on exhibit at the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum in Nevada City, California.
1. "Nevada County Narrow Gauge by Gerald M. Best.
2. Universal Studios.
3. "In Search of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge" by John Christensen.
4. "The Studios Trains" (author unknown)
5. "A Tale of Two Cities and a Train by Juanita Kennedy Browne.