The BJWRR has been in operation at Oak Meadow Park and Vasona Park in Los Gatos, California (50 miles south of San Francisco in Silicon Valley) since 1970. In 2012 the railroad attracted over 100,000 riders. Steam engine #5 is shown on the turntable at its July 28, 2013 inaugural run.
The BJWRR Fantasy of Lights Holiday Train runs 6:00 to 9:00 PM Thursday - Sunday evenings, December 5 to 29, weather permitting. Open for a bonus night on Wednesday the 18th, closed on December 24 and 25. Please note that not all of Vasona lights may be viewed from the train. Suggested route to avoid traffic: Los Gatos Blvd. to Blossom Hill Road. "Over the highway and through the light, The Holiday Train will be on the right!"
Billy Jones' 108 year old steam engine #2 is ready to depart Oak Meadow Station. Steam operation starts in April and runs through October most weekends. The two diesel engines run on summer weekdays and weekends November through March.
Venice Miniature Railway's engine #2 is pulling a train loaded with passengers at its turn around point south of Santa Monica in about 1915. Billy Jones purchased the engine in 1939, just hours away from being loaded as scrap metal on a ship bound for Japan. Many volunteer hours have been involved restoring it. Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad CEO Peter Panacy has written a fascinating history of the Venice Miniature Railway and the migration of engine #2 to Los Gatos. His report is here.
The BJWRR is known world wide - its story appearing in many magazines and newspapers. A record company recorded the sounds of "Old Number 2" and a song "The Ballad of Billy Jones" was written and sung by young people of Los Gatos. Most important, however, is the joy that this railroad continues to give to the young and young at heart who enjoy the thrill of riding behind a real steam locomotive.
Diesel engine 3502 arrived in 2006 and is one of two backups for steam engine #2. It is the primary locomotive on weekends November through April and on weekdays during the summer months.
Diesel engine 2502 was put into service in 1992, a gift from Albert Smith, then owner of Orchard Supply Hardware and a big fan of the BJWRR. The locomotive was completely refurbished in 2007.
The W.E. "Bill" Mason Carousel is next to the railroad station and has extended hours (see the schedule below). The carousel celebrated its 100th birthday on July 10, 2010. It represents a ten year restoration project and is one of the few historical carousels in California. The carousel and its building near the train station have become a local landmark in Los Gatos since its opening in 1990, delighting every one who rides it.
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Fare is $2.00; under 2 is free with a paying adult. The train is wheelchair accessible and the disabled ride free. Group purchases of 50 tickets or more are $1.50 each and can be split up in any way (i.e. 25 on the train, 25 on the carousel). Group ticket sales are non-refundable. All times are weather permitting.
March 15 through June 14
June 15 through Labor Day (approximate dates - school summer
Day after Labor Day through October 31
November 1 through March 14
From southbound freeway 17 in Los Gatos, take the Lark Avenue
exit and turn right at the signal. Turn left onto University,
continue past the park and turn left on Blossom Hill. Oak Meadow
Park's parking lot entrance is the first driveway to the left.
If the lot is full, or to avoid paying the $6.00 non-resident
(Los Gatos or Monte Sereno) parking fee, park on University Avenue
before Blossom Hill and walk into the park for free.
For 71 of his 83 years, Billy Jones was a railroad man. He was 13 when he started as a "roustabout" for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. Fifty of those 71 years were spent on the SP while the remainder dealt with a love project for children of the Santa Clara Valley and his hobby. On his ranch at the corner of Daves Avenue and Winchester Blvd. in Los Gatos, Billy constructed the Wildcat Railroad as the result of a rare purchase the old "Number 2", a prairie type locomotive from the Venice Miniature Railway, Venice, California. Jones began construction of his own railroad in 1941. In 1943 the first round trip was made in his orchard and for the next 25 years, children of all ages in the Santa Clara Valley enjoyed the thrill of riding behind a real steam engine.
After Billy's death in 1968 many of his friends, both adults and children, petitioned the Los Gatos Town Council to save the railroad. A group of businessmen formed a non-profit corporation to purchase the railroad from the Jones estate and relocate it in a corner of Oak Meadow Park and a portion of Vasona Park in Los Gatos. The corporation managed to raise the money needed for the purchase of the equipment through fund raising activities by many interested friends, service clubs, youth groups, fraternal and religious organizations.
An all-volunteer construction project started early in 1969 with the transferring of equipment from the Jones ranch to the park complex. Prior to the "big move" an engine house and car barn facility in the park had been completed to house the equipment. Track laying had gotten underway at the same time. On July 26, 1970 a golden spike was driven into a Laurelwood tie and the new Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad began operations.
The "2 Spot" arrived at Oak Meadow in 1969. After 25 years of operation in the Billy Jones' orchard and 21 years running on the Venice Miniature Railway, Venice, California, the little engine was in need of a complete rebuild. This was accomplished through countless hours of hard work by many volunteers. Machine shops, foundries, steel fabricators, sheet metal shops and other small businesses all provided facilities, skilled hands and almost lost arts to speed the locomotive's overhaul.
The only complaint the railroad ever received was that the ride wasn't long enough! With the opening of the 1972 season that problem was resolved with an additional 2/3 mile extension which includes a scenic view of Vasona Park, a long working grade and a 40 foot curved wooden trestle.
BJWRR "Number 2" was built by Johnson Machine Works of Los Angeles in 1905 for the Venice Miniature Railway as the VMR Number 2. Designed by John J. Coit, a Southern Pacific civil engineer, the 2-6-2 prairie type locomotive weighed approximately four tons and was constructed to a 1/3 scale running on an 18 inch gauge track. The "prairie" design was the most efficient design for a freight locomotive of that era and utilized a new type of outside valve gear known as the Walschaerts type.
Painted in the unmistakable Southern Pacific "Black Widow" color scheme of black, orange, red and silver, the "2502" has an interesting history. The Wildcat Railroad purchased this custom-built diesel locomotive from a manufacturer of miniature locomotives in Chicago. "Number 2502" took its place on the motive power roster in the summer of 1992 to relieve the Number 2 when the steamer is down for repair. After the arrival of the "3502" diesel in 2006, the "2502" was overhauled and returned to service as a backup locomotive.
Four passenger cars, two flat cars, one box car, and one caboose were purchased from the Billy Jones estate. The freight cars and the passenger cars first saw service during the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco on the Overfair R.R. The tops were removed because of the high platforms at the Oak Meadow station. Since 1971 all of the original cars have been retired. Four new cars and one handicapped car capable of handling wheel chairs have been built in the railroad's own shops at Oak Meadow by volunteers. The new cars weigh approximately 2,000 pounds each and have the same seating capacity (24 maximum) as the original cars.
Adding to the railroad's operations are its structures. Both the station and the engine house were designed by a local architectural firm and most of the construction was accomplished by volunteer labor. Individuals and building materials firms donated a majority of the materials.
The water tank, a necessity when operating a steam railroad, was designed and built by volunteers, as were the steam blowdown deflector unit and the turntable.
The two bridges are unique. The span over Los Gatos Creek is a Southern Pacific 89 foot piggy back flat car that had been salvaged from a train wreck. The 40 foot curved trestle on the mainline at Summit was designed and constructed by volunteers. Both bridges add a scenic and thrilling touch to a ride on the BJWRR.
Special runs other than during the normal schedule must be approved by the Board of Directors. During Spring, Fall and Winter schedules, group rates and special runs will be considered by the Board of Directors. Organizations wishing to use the train should address their request to the Board of Directors, Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad, P.O. Box 234, Los Gatos, CA 95031. The request should list the name and purpose of the organization, day and dates they desire and estimated number of participants. The Board currently meets the second Friday of each month, therefore requests should be received far enough in advance to assure proper attention by the Board of Directors.
The William E. "Bill" Mason Carousel represents a ten year restoration project. It is one of the few historical carousels in California. The carousel and its building near the train station have become a local landmark in Los Gatos since its opening in 1990, delighting every one who rides it.
In 1980 the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad Corporation purchased a "merry-go-round" that had been stored in a San Francisco Peninsula warehouse since being retired in 1967.
Originally manufactured for use at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco, the "roundabout" was built in England and shipped around the Horn before the Panama Canal opened. After the Exposition closed, it became part of a traveling circus until sold to a Foley & Burke Show in the 1930s.
Although a roundabout manufacturer named Savage is credited with producing the original carousel, when his own inventory of carousel horses became low, some of the horses were built for him by G. & J. Lines. The horses on the outside row were first thought to have been made in Germany, but later it was discovered that a Frenchman named Bajol, who carved carousel figures from 1870 to 1914, had produced them.
Further replacement horses were built by C.W. Parker, Dare, and Armitage-Herschel. After the BJWRR acquired the carousel, a team of volunteers guided by Charles Dewey, restored and rebuilt most of the horses, as well as producing a fiberglass-resin replica horse.
The original carousel was hung from the top of a tall steel center pole that was hoisted upright by many workers and a circus elephant. The many hours spent on assembly and disassembly encouraged the owners to convert the machinery to a hinged post mounted on a CMC circus wagon, which is how it is installed today.
Housed in its own building which was designed and built mostly by volunteers, the carousel is enhanced by a replicated Wurlitzer organ, which adds to the feeling of authenticity and nostalgia. Many beautiful and colorful paintings, done especially for this project by local artists, have helped transform the "round-about" into a carousel to be enjoyed by young and old alike.
The Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad Corporation is a Non-Profit 501 (c) (3) Corporation. Living Trusts and Memorial Giving opportunities may be arranged through the manager at (408) 395-7433.
e-mail the BJWRR manager (not linked to avoid "spambots" that automatically scan websites for junk e-mail addresses-remove the spaces) bjwrr @ verizon. net
e-mail the webmaster (not linked to avoid "spambots" that automatically scan websites for junk e-mail addresses-remove the spaces) webmaster @ bjwrr .org.