The Tiburon Engine That Went Off Track


IT WAS A Monday, June 30th, in the unlucky year of 1913, while switching tracks on a wharf in the rail yards of Tiburon, that Northwestern Pacific Railroad’s Engine No. 112 suddenly dropped into 25 feet of water. The locomotive’s engineer, James Selvage, and firefighter Harry Sikes were trapped in the cab for 50 seconds before scrambling to safety. The wharf, pilings and all, was only six months old.

So how could this happen? “Shipworms, they’re like waterborne termites — in Spanish they’re called toredos — had weakened the pilings in record time,” says Phil Cassou, head docent at the Railroad and Ferry Depot Museum in Tiburon. “It’s one of the best stories we tell here at the museum.” The nearly 70-ton engine, which had been in service only five years, was hoisted out of the salt water, dried off, repaired and put back to work within a week. After that, according to Cassou, the oil-burning steam locomotive’s career not only continued, but flourished. For nearly 40 more years, Engine No. 112 reliably transported passengers and freight throughout Marin and Sonoma counties and often went as far north as Eureka. In 1952, it was retired and restored, first by the NWPR in Tiburon and then in 1962, after being barged across the bay, at Bethlehem Steel’s shipyard in San Francisco.

After all this — decked out in a striking two-tone green coat of paint, with a silver smoke box, a mustard-yellow boiler jacket and a red cab roof — Engine No. 112 was a star attraction at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento for many years. Now it is believed to be parked in storage there.


This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Train Overboard”.