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Quest for a lost turntable

Galt resident wants historic railyard’s centerpiece to be uncovered and preserved for future generations

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Posted: Saturday, September 8, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:55 am, Sat Sep 8, 2012.

Been to downtown Folsom? If so, you’ve probably seen the city’s fancy train turntable.

Galt resident Al Baldwin believes that city has one, too, and that it needs to be saved before officials seal it forever with asphalt. The site at the end of B Street is set to become a parking lot as the Old Town area is redeveloped.

Problem is, the city can’t find the turntable.

“There is a circle over the top where grass has a hard time growing. I think it’s there,” Baldwin said, adding that he believes it sits among weeds maintained by the railroad in its right of way. “The city was going to put a parking lot on that area until I showed them the original map of the area.”

Turntables, also known as turnplates, were used as platforms for railroad engines that needed to be turned around in order to head in the other direction.

The earliest designs were more like plates on the ground that required several men to push them, according to the Folsom Railroad Museum.

The A-frame models, like the historic one located in downtown Folsom with its large uprights, were so perfectly balanced that a single person could turn an engine — which was an accomplishment considering the engine weighed nearly 70,000 pounds.

The turntable is the centerpiece of Folsom’s historical downtown. Nearby are the Chamber of Commerce offices, an indoor museum and an outdoor exhibit dedicated to the area’s miners, complete with historical equipment. The area hosts regular weekend concerts.

But it is the rust-colored replica turntable that can be seen from blocks away, its frame stretching high into the sky. An attractive black chain separates visitors from a pit and working platform that will soon turn a real train engine or car, according to Judy Becerril, historical board treasurer.

Original railroad tracks lead from the turntable to a former rail line allowing an engine or train car to be pushed onto a bridge where the platform can be turned with the help of small ball-bearings underneath.

Over time, five turntables have been used to turn locomotives around the Folsom railyard. The first was built in 1856 with replacements in 1867, 1882, 1891 and 1910. Three years later, the final turntable was replaced by a wye, a similar but much longer system that turned entire passenger trains around.

In 1997, the replica of the 1867 turntable was erected at the former site found buried a block away from the historical Sutter Street shopping district. They were originally used to turn trains arriving in Folsom back to Sacramento.

Baldwin would like to see Galt create a site similar to Folsom’s with hopes of drawing visitors. “If it’s there, we could even get a caboose on it that will help the whole Old Town become a better place to go,” he said.

City officials have discussed the idea with Baldwin, but City Manager Jason Behrmann said it is hard to know for certain whether the turntable in question ever existed in Galt. Even some of the people that have lived in Galt for 80-plus years have only heard rumors, he added.

“We haven’t found anything yet,” Behrmann said.

There is apparently one old map that seems to show something at the end of B Street, according to Behrmann.

The city has asked its consultant to look into the possibility that the turntable is still there before construction continues in the area, according to former interim Public Works Director Richard Prima, who also met with Baldwin.

“We need to check it out because if it’s really there ... we want to decide what to do with it,” Prima said.

It’s no secret that Galt, like most Central Valley cities, was born along the railroad tracks.

According to a historic paper written by Michael Greer and published in 1991, Southern Pacific installed a 56-foot wooden turntable located approximately midway between the north side of B and 4th streets and the main line in 1912.

The turntable was used to turn steam locomotives as they moved onto this branch line. A wye was in place in Ione to turn trains to head back to Galt, as early on several passenger trains ran between the towns daily. Among their passengers were California Youth Authority’s Preston School of Industry students, according to Greer.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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