JACKSONVILLE, Ore.– For the first time in more than a hundred years the brass bell on an 1891 Porter steam locomotive is ringing in Jacksonville. The little engine, called by some “the Teapot”, and others the “Peanut Roaster”, was the first engine on the Medford and Jacksonville Railroad… later known as the Rogue River Valley Railway. The line was built after the California and Oregon Railroad bypassed Jacksonville in a race to complete its line to the California border.
Jacksonville historian Larry Smith says, “Jacksonville merchants were all excited. They were gonna get revived here! They were gonna start having business. People were moving in to Medford! There’s this giant sound you heard. It was the uh, O & C sucking everybody out of here and they moved to Medford, and the town’s population dropped to just a couple hundred people!”
But the opening of the line in 1891 came with its problems. One of them was the little engine that kind of reminds you of the famous “little engine that could”. Although it was brand new from the Porter factory, it was not big enough for the work it was called upon to do.
Tony Johnson of the Railway Historical Society notes that, “they soon found out that uh, just going between Medford and Jacksonville it couldn’t pull much more than one loaded coach. And uh, if they had any freight business in mind, which they did, it wasn’t gonna be adequate. So, basically by ’95 they bought a second hand locomotive, and — which was larger– and this one was on standby service.”
Smith observed that, “one, it was called the ‘peanut roaster”, because it just didn’t put out enough steam to do other than just roast peanuts! The other story is that it’s called the ‘tea kettle’, because all it was good for was brewing tea!” Or that it’s steam whistle sounded like a tea pot sounding off. Within ten years it was sold to a lumber company and went through several owners before being restored and brought back to Jacksonville in June.
Larry Smith recalls that, “the first time the train showed up here in January of 1891 the town was so excited. The little whistle was uh, going. They gathered around it and they all jumped on and paid their fare. Went roaring back into Medford. But there was no return trip, that day! And so all these people are onboard the car, had to walk back to Jacksonville!”
The little railroad was designed to connect the county seat to the county’s largest town of Medford and the main railroad line of the Southern Pacific. But when world war one came along it performed another service. “The railroad was the school bus and it would uh, take the kids into– and it went right past where Medford high is, and they’d go to school– which is now where the courthouse sits, says Larry Smith. They’d get off there, and the kids all the way from Westside school would walk over here and pick up the train and take it into Medford.” For only 5 cents a ride. Smith recall that at other times kids at the Jacksonville school, where the train passed by, liked to play tricks on the train crew.
He says, “in the morning they’d put lard and axle grease on there and then the train came through, of course, and it would start spinning and uh, the conductor then realized real fast that he had to carry a bucket of sand with him so when the train was spinning out he’d jump off, walk in front of it and would uh, sand the track.” And the kids would watch the show from the school nearby.
One claim to fame was when the owner of the line, W.W. Barnum put his 13 year old son, John, on the payroll as conductor. At the time he was said to be the youngest railroad conductor in the nation.
Another story was that when Barnum tried to claim a free ride on the Pennsylvania Railroad, as was customary in the industry then, Pennsylvania authorities turned him down when they found out the Rogue River Valley Railroad was only five miles long. Barnum replied that, “your railroad may be a lot longer, but ours is just as wide!” After that, he got his free pass.
he morning they’d put lard and axle grease on there and then the train, ‘woo-woo’, came through of course and it would start spinning and uh, the conductor then realized real fast that he had to carry a bucket of sand with him so when the train was spinning out he’d jump off, walk in front of it and would uh, sand the track.”
AND THE KIDS WOULD WATCH THE SHOW FROM THE SCHOOL NEARBY.
ONE CLAIM TO FAME WAS WHEN THE OWNER OF THE LINE, W.S. BARNUM, PUT HIS 13 YEAR OLD SON JOHN ON THE PAYROLL AS CONDUCTOR.
AT THE TIME HE WAS SAID TO BE THE YOUNGEST RAILROAD CONDUCTOR IN THE NATION.
ANOTHER STORY WAS THAT WHEN MR. BARNUM TRIED TO CLAIM A FREE RIDE ON THE PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD, AS WAS CUSTOMARY IN THE INDUSTRY THEN, PENNSYLVANIA AUTHORITIES TURNED HIM DOWN WHEN THEY FOUND OUT THE ROGUE RIVER VALLEY RAILROAD WAS ONLY FIVE MILES LONG. BARNUM REPLIED THAT, “YOUR RAILROAD MY BE A LOT LONGER, BUT OURS IS JUST AS WIDE!”
HE APPARANTLY GOT HIS FREE PASS.