Tracking history |

Tracking history

Their backgrounds vary, but four retirees are working together on a passion: re-creating an old locomotive from scratch for the railroad museum in Nevada City.

Although they work three days a week, the men do it out of their love of history and for the camaraderie at the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum.

“It’s just a great group of guys,” said Jerry Hall, 69, who also helped recently complete a three-fourths scale model of the old Chicago Park train station at the museum. The station was a fixture along the famous narrow-gauge line to Colfax, which served the area during the gold mining heydays.

“Getting to know the community and having things all come together is what we get out of it,” said Hall, who used to run the computer center for Santa Clara County.

Team leader Rolf Laessig, 76, was born in Munich, Germany, and came here in 1960 to make satellites during the space race with the Soviets.

“It’s a very simple technology,” said Laessig of the old steam engine. “You just create steam and it drives the piston.”

Laessig and his other team members have machined most of the parts for the locomotive from an old 1910 lathe they found rusting outside of the museum and restored.

“It’s fun,” Laessig said. “Why else do you think we would do it?”

Laessig has raised almost $14,000 for the project but figures he’ll need another $21,000 to complete the replica of the 1885 Porter locomotive in 18 months.

The museum had an original one that was used in a Sacramento brickyard, but the owner reclaimed it. When he found out it would cost at least $100,000 to buy and restore another Porter locomotive, Laessig approached the museum board about building a new one instead.

Since they started last July, the wheels were the only part the men had to buy for the locomotive, and they found them on the Internet.

Team members also include Richard Schilling, 64, a former detective with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office, who loves trains and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty.

“I’m from Chicago, and I used to ride the El (elevated train) all the time,” Schilling said. “If I go into a town with a steam engine, I want to ride it.

“Working with my hands is where the enjoyment comes, and I keep learning. I never knew much about trains until I came here a year ago.”

The fourth team member, Dick Marundee, 79, was a chemical engineer who has been volunteering at the museum for 17 years. He is the shop foreman at the museum and field master when the museum’s pieces are shipped for shows.

“If you want to work in our shop, you have to 70 years old,” Marundee said, “But that’s just a joke. We actually need more volunteers. If you want to stay healthy and active, volunteer here. There’s a lot of satisfaction, and it’s better than watching the idiot tube all day.”


To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail or call 477-4237.

How to volunteer or donate to the rail museum

If you want to help build locomotives and rail cars,or if you want to volunteer at the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, call Ted Baerresen at 274-2965. To find out more about the museum or to donate to help complete its steam locomotive, call 470-0902 or visit its Web site at The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

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