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  • Old steam engine connects brothers, grandfather

    Brothers get a chance to visit the steam engine their grandfather conducted in the area more than a century ago
  • JACKSONVILLE — Two brothers got their first look Thursday at a steam engine on which their grandfather was a conductor in 1893 — at age 13 — for runs between the town and Medford.
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  • JACKSONVILLE — Two brothers got their first look Thursday at a steam engine on which their grandfather was a conductor in 1893 — at age 13 — for runs between the town and Medford.
    "I'm very excited. It's a beautiful little engine for 123 years old. It's been kept up very well," said Richard Talbot, 64, who climbed aboard the H.K. Potter Company locomotive No. 1236 at Bigham Knoll with his brother, John, 69.
    Their grandfather, John C. Barnum, gained notoriety at the time as possibly the youngest conductor in the world. He was featured in newspaper articles, and a photo of him in a conductor's uniform was published in the Portland Railway and Marine Gazette.
    Bigham Knoll owners Mel and Brooke Ashland purchased the engine, the first used when the line started in 1891, earlier this year and had it placed on tracks in the original railroad right of way on June 14. The Ashlands greeted the brothers and were eager to learn more about their grandfather's involvement with railroad operations.
    John C.'s father, William, was an engineer on the line, and ended up owning and running it for many years under the name Rogue River Valley Railroad. He was leasing the railroad at the time John C. was the conductor.
    John C. worked in multiple roles for the railroad. He later moved to the Bay Area but retained his interest in trains. The boys grew up in Oakland, while their grandfather lived in Berkeley.
    "Any time there was a steam-engine trip, he was sure to grab it," said John. At the time, steam excursions were becoming rare as diesel engines took over. One trip on a stream train with his grandfather took them from the Bay Area to Truckee, near the Nevada border, said John. That one had open cars, he said.
    Richard recalled a ride on an electrified train that ran from Oakland to Chico. But the special run probably went only as far as Suisun Bay, he said.
    Richard is the historian and railroad buff of the pair. He brought along a large album filled with photos and documents related to the railroad and his grandfather.
    One photo shows him in 1955 with his grandfather outside a coach car on a trip they took to Klamath Falls.
    Among the artifacts is a 1912 ticket book for the railroad that has a timetable on the back. It lists departures from Medford and Jacksonville and also from Perrydale, a stop in west Medford.
    The album also has bills of lading and an unused railroad company note pad. There's a photo of John C. in the railroad company's office, likely in the downtown depot building, taken in 1913. A model locomotive that John C. built is displayed on a shelf above his head in the picture.
    John recalled his grandfather had the model stored in a building in Klamath Falls, but it was stolen.
    John C. became a draftsman, then a self-taught mechanical engineer who did design work on cables for the Bay Bridge.
    "He used to joke that if it came down, it was his fault," Richard recalled his mother saying.
    John and Richard came to Southern Oregon from El Sobrante, Calif., to complete transfer of the Barnum Building at 315 E. Main St., Medford, from a family trust into family ownership. The brothers have been in contact with Medford historian Ben Truwe, who arranged the engine visit, about the building and the railroad for a year.
    Looking at the engine, Richard said he wished he had some artifacts such as marker lights from the family's rail line.
    "I do have stuff from other railroads, but not from this one," he said.
    Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.
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