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A picture history of “Old Betsy”

Posted by on August 30, 2011

Old Betsy, 2001 (taken by yours truly)

I was actually searching through some of my old pictures earlier today, and I came across a series of pictures I had taken at Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park back in 2001. 

At the time, I had just gotten my first Olympus digital camera with a whopping 3 megapixel capability (and thruth be told, those pictures still hold up pretty well today).  The camera also had a pretty cool ‘on-the-fly’ feature in which one could switch between color, B&W, and sepia tinted photos between shots.

I always had a fondness for the Old West, particularly ghost towns.  I remember as a kid fond trips with my family to Calico and Bodie ghost towns, as well as smaller ones in Independence and others dotted across California.  A main staple at most of these were abandoned railroads.  Ocassionally there may be an errant tie spike laying out in the desert and often abandoned cars (or what was left of them), tracks, and even depots. 

In some of the more ‘touristy’ ghost-towns, the local historical societies would try to salvage or protect what they could, opening small museums or errecting placards with gleaned history.  Places like Calico even made attractions out of them.

As part of Knott’s Berry Farm (Buena Park, CA), they have two small adjacent sections of the park themed and dedicated to the Old West, known as Calico Square and Ghost Town.  These sections were begun to built in the early 1940’s and modeled to resemeble structures built around Prescott, AZ., including an Assayer’s Office, Barbershop, Saloon, Sherriff, and Blacksmith shop amongst others.  Here you’ll find a static display of “Old Betsy” (pictured above), an authentic small Borax mine steam engine that has a great rustic quality about it.  It was the subject of one of my sepia photos, along with other “old west” scenery and subjects I took that day.

I wanted to share that photo with you and as often does, curiosity gets the better of me, and I began a quest to look for other shots and history of “Old Betsy”.  Sadly, information seems a bit sparse and lacking, but I was able to cobble together some information for you. 

The first photo I was able to dig up shows “Old Betsy” as she was originally found near Trona, CA back in the 1930’s.  Trona is part of San Bernadino county and part of the Greater Mojave Desert and is known for its deposits of carbonates, sulfates, borate and other minerals (trivia: parts of Star Trek V and Tim Burton’s ‘Planet of the Apes’ where filmed in the area due to its unique look).  Knott had this forgotten Borax engine transported to his park sometime in the early 1940’s.

Old Betsy, circa 1930, Trona, CA

The next two photo’s show Old Betsy sitting idle in it’s current resting place. The best I can tell, these photo’s were taken at different times in the 1940’s.  Note that one time stamp may indicate 1946, and that both phots show no restoration efforts seem to have been made at the time.  Old Betsy was just a set piece decoration.

Possibly 1946?

 The next set of pictures I dug up appear to be from the 1950’s through the mid 1960’s.  The photo’s don’t have actual dates associated with them, so I’m taking environmental details into account.  Assuming that Knott’s Berry Farm was starting to catch on with the success of Disneyland, Walter Knott dedicated more efforts and finances to expanding his Calico Square.  In a vintage postcard dating to the early 60’s we see Old Betsy as a focal point of this staged picture.  (Note: the weeds and underbrush are still present in the following shot.)

Somtime in the late 1950's or early 1960's

It’s during this time we see some attention being paid to more details and some restoration efforts made to our Borax engine.  A slide dated from 1963 show that the engine has been spruced up a bit with some repairs (Note: the cab and soem rust spots gone) and possibly some new paint:

Old Besty - 1963

 The next two pictures indicate they were taken somewhere in the mid 1960’s, however, only one is actually dated 1965, but I can’t verify how accurate this is, but lets assume its in this time frame.  There appears that some TLC given to the ‘boiler’ as it has a deep dark black color and some new lettering appears as well.

Postcard dated 1965Mid 1960s (?)

 And finally return to my shot at the top of this entry that was taken back in 2001.  Notice a tree has been placed in front of the engine now and the trailing cars are now used as planter boxes.

Like I said, there’s not a whole lot of information that I could find, however, if you know anything you’d like to share as you read this, please feel free to leave me a comment or send me a note and I’ll update accordingly.  Hopefully, in the future I can revisit some of additional train photo’s I took here at the park, including the Calico Mine train ride and the actual C-19 narrow gauge track that circles the park.

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