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Building for the future and the past

JACKSONVILLE — A Rogue Community College student will gain design experience, an 1890 locomotive will be sheltered from the elements and the town may gain a resource to help preserve historical structures.

RCC architectural computer-aided drafting student Matt Potts is designing a shelter for the locomotive, situated at Bigham Knoll, as part of course work toward a certificate in the discipline.

“We want it to be historically accurate. That is one of the main goals, which makes it more challenging,” Potts said. The project will use old trusses from an earlier era, so Potts added to the computer system to work with the materials.

Mel and Brooke Ashland, owners of Bigham Knoll, earlier this year purchased the first engine used by the Rogue Valley Railroad Company on the Jacksonville-to-Medford route in 1891, then donated it to the Jacksonville Heritage Society. It sits on tracks in the original right of way at Bigham Knoll.

“It’s got to be protected from the weather. It’s too valuable,” said Larry Smith, a Heritage Society board member. The society is coordinating construction of the shelter.

Design elements come from plans that were used across the country for train sheds and depots at the time the railroad first operated. Preliminary drawings attached to a city application show an open-sided structure with a shed roof typical of railroad buildings from the late 1800s. Work so far has been mostly design drawing without engineering details.

“You don’t want to engineer it twice,” said Potts, 22, from Grants Pass. The work experience is the last piece he needs to complete the certificate.

Besides Potts' design work, students in RCC Construction Technology Department programs may end up building the structure. Next week, project representatives meet with city officials to begin the approval process. A building was approved at the site in 2007, but a certificate of appropriateness will need to be secured.

Brooke Ashland said the project will provide a variety of experiences for RCC construction technology students.

“That they’ll have to be able to put it on paper and also be able to build it and see it and put it on their resumes is a pretty neat thing,” said Ashland. She is hopeful that approval can be expedited and a footing poured in the near future.

Donations of services and materials have already been secured, Smith said. Mike Burrill Jr. donated 80-year-old beams and wood from the family’s lumber mill. Mike Thornton Engineering of Jacksonville will review and certify the plans for structural soundness.

RCC students would be able to participate in construction whenever the project gets started, said Ralph Henderson, chairman of the department. Potts' one-year certificate course requires hands-on experience in building, codes, blueprint reading and computer-assisted design, as well as drafting, he said.

“The industry is very specific. If you are going to turn out someone who is going to draw plans, you want them to be able to build what they are going to draw,” said Henderson.

Ashland said she thinks the shelter project might help efforts to sustain both city and private historical structures in town.

“If this program would be tied in to Jacksonville, that would be a neat thing,” said Ashland. “If just one of these kids gets excited about what goes in to restoration and preservation, that’s a win-win.”

There were few people experienced with preservation when the couple undertook restoration of the 1908 Bigham Knoll schoolhouse in 2007, said Ashland.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com

This historic locomotive will get a protective structure with the help of a Rogue Community College drafting student. Mail Tribune / file photo