THE HUMBOLDT BEACON
|Thursday June 14, 1979|
|Business Slow As Usual|
Alton-Pacific Railroad Begins 10th Year
By Willie Knapp
EAST ALTON - It looks like it is going to be another bleak year for 63-year-old Frank Bayliss and his Alton & Pacific Railroad.
The Friday that this reporter visited Bayless, he had only three paying customers for his two-foot wide, narrow gauge steam train ride located on an old mill site on Highway 36 just about a mile off of Highway 101.
Those three paying customers, a mother, father and their daughter from Southern California, were on a vacation along the North Coast, and they came up as far as Alton just to ride the train.
The father used to work for Southern Pacific in the freight division, and he loves trains. After they rode the train, they all gave him a standing ovation.
"It looks like this summer will be off," said Bayliss. "It's not the weather, it's the inflation and the gas situation.
"The best day I ever had was opening day ten years ago on July 4th. I had over 100 customers, mostly my friends."
Bayliss will be observing his tenth anniversary this July 4th of the opening of the railroad he built almost singlehandedly. He had some help from a couple of college-aged railroad buffs from Humboldt State and various old fellows.
For his opening day in 1969, Bayliss advertised on television and in the Times-Standard's Andy Genzoli gave him a write-up in his column.
"It's been kind of a battle ever since, Bayliss said. "When I get more money I'll advertise more. Local people come out, but not thick.
"A lot of local people have told me they are going to come out and ride the train, but if they haven't done it in 10 years, they won't ever do it.
"I'll keep going and working at it, and hope it will get better."
Bayliss has averaged 2,000 customers a year running his ride from Memorial day to Labor Day.
"To make any money at it, I'll have to carry double that each year," said the Alton and Pacific Engineer.
One day, a few years ago, a local television station did a story on his railroad (he thinks it was KIEM's Carol Olson). After the story appeared, he was busy for the next three days, but then business slumped off again.
It's ironic that Bayliss is having a hard time making it with his railroad because when he was a kid during the Depression, he wanted so bad to get a job with the railroads because "they had a highly respected job that paid good money," he said.
"I tried and tried, but they wouldn't take any applications. There were no jobs available," Bayliss replied. "I tried again in the '40s. But I couldn't do it, so I finally went to work in the ship yards."
Bayliss was born and raised in Los Angeles, and found jobs in sheet metal and iron work until he decided to move to Humboldt County in 1957.
"I have always liked trains," he said. "I always had models about the place. These were "O" gauge, which is a little bit bigger than the Lionel trains.
"I worked at it when I was not busy on a job. It was just something to play with. It wasn't until I moved up here that I started to acquire larger stuff.
"I always wanted to work on a railroad and I never could, so I built my own."
And built his own he has. It took Bayliss about three years to build his train ride. First he had to clear away the debris from the mill that had burnt down on the site. Then he started laying track.
"I've chased rails all over the country," he said. He has acquired rails from the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, the old Hammond Lumber Company and the Texaco Oil Company. "Texaco gave me a spur track," Bayliss said. "The ties were no good, but I got the rails.
He then bought a steam engine from a Bay Area man who had brought it over from Germany for use in a park in the Bay Area.
He purchased some wheels from the Westside Lumber Company in Sonora. He narrowed the wheels down to two-feet wide from the normal four feet, eight inches. He then built up, from scratch, an observation car and a combine car.
"I'm building another car. It is longer and will be more deluxe. It will have reclining seats and will be painted Pullman green. It may be out this year, but I still need castings for the back platform," Baylis said.
He patterned his railroad after the narrow gauge operations back in Maine and Massachusetts.
"They hauled lumber, passengers and freight," he noted. They ran two cars plus a freight car. One still runs today at South Carver, Mass., as an amusement ride."
Why the two-foot gauge?
"It's more economical," he said. "They are shorter ties and lighter rails. You can turn tighter corners and you need less gravel and maintenance.
"Everything is smaller and lighter. The two-foot gauge is used for light commercial uses."
Bayliss has the fixings for quite an amusement park.
He moved the mill's office and remodeled it to become the depot. He has built a roundhouse, a turntable and a water tank. He has even started to build an old western town behind the depot, but he still needs a lot of work on it before it will be finished.
As for the future, Bayliss says he will continue to plug along.
"I'll make it better. I'll finish things up and clean up the yard. I'll keep building and make more parking," he said.
Bayliss remains optimistic about the future. It was like he said, "I'll keep going and working at it, and hope it will get better."
"I want to put up a sarsaparilla saloon someday."