Union Democrat staff

Rain or shine, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park's Sierra No. 3 will visit Sonora on Saturday, a thank you to the community for helping to keep Railtown rolling and to show off the restored locomotive. It will be stopped from 5 to 8 p.m. at South Washington Street and Hospital Road.

Visitors will be able to climb aboard and visit with Santa. Hot chocolate, carolers and lots of holiday lights will be part of the free event. Parking is available in the former Tuolumne General Hospital parking lot.

Sierra No. 3's last visit to Sonora occurred on Dec. 31, 1992, when it and another locomotive pulled a New Year's Eve passenger train from Jamestown to Standard. Unfortunately, because of wet tracks, the train didn't make it beyond Old Wards Ferry Road.

The Sierra No. 3 became known as the movie star locomotive after starring in nearly 200 movies and television productions along with world-famous actors in Tuolumne County, beginning in the early 1900s.

Among its many movie appearances was in "The Virginian," with Gary Cooper in 1929, the very first sound movie filmed outside a Hollywood soundstage. During The Great Depression, the Sierra No. 3 was sidelined while the Sierra Railway went through bankruptcy and reorganization.

It was taken out of retirement in 1946 to star in the Hollywood film, "Duel in the Sun," and appeared in dozens of movies and television shows before being taken out of service again and undergoing a three-year, $1.63 million restoration project, paid for by railroad enthusiasts, including the California Cultural and Historical Endowment, Sonora Area Foundation/Irving Symons of Tuolumne County, California State Parks Foundation and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

It has been online again since 2010.

No. 3 was built by the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works of Paterson, N.J., in 1891. It was one of the original locomotives owned by the Sierra Railway when the line was built in 1897. During its early years, it served as a freight locomotive.

Bringing No. 3 to Sonora is a joint effort of the Sonora and Twain Harte Rotary clubs, Kiwanis Club of Sonora, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, the Sierra Northern Railway, the California State Railroad Museum Foundation, J.S. West, Sierra Pacific Industries and Hess Crane Service.

It is meant as a thank you to the people of Tuolumne County for helping to keep Railtown open. Members of the community donated thousands of dollars in 2012 to support the park, which was threatened with closure this year for the third time in 10 years as a result of state budget cuts.