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William "Billy" Jones (1884-1968), a seasoned veteran of the steam era who established the Wildcat Railroad in Los Gatos, California, was born the son of a teamster in the town of Ben Lomond, California, USA.

Jones found employment as an engine wiper at the tender age of 13 with the narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad at Boulder Creek, California. At 17, Jones was promoted to fireman, and later became an engineer. The South Pacific Coast Railroad, which had been acquired by the Southern Pacific Railroad, was converted to a standard gauge road by 1909. Jones was among the first to work the first standard-gauge portions of the line out of San Jose, ultimately advancing to the Coast Daylight (SP) run between San Francisco and San Luis Obispo. After World War II, he was in charge of the reassembly of the preserved locomotive Gov. Stanford for Stanford University; the locomotive is currently on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.[1]

Jones married Geraldine McGrady, the schoolteacher at Wright's Station, located south of Los Gatos, CA. After settling down in Los Gatos on a 9-acre (36,000 m2) prune orchard known as "The Ranch", the Jones family grew to include two sons, Robert and Neal, and two daughters, Betty and Geraldine. The Ranch was located at the corner of Daves Avenue and the Santa Clara-Los Gatos Road (today's Winchester Boulevard).

The "Wildcat Railroad"

On the docks of San Francisco in 1939, Jones discovered a steam locomotive built in 1905 and designed to run on the Venice Railway in Venice Beach, California. He bought the little engine for $100 and got it running again on a railroad he and his railroad buddies constructed on the ranch, dubbed the "Wildcat Railroad". Sons Robert and Neal were victims of World War II, and Jones operated his "Wildcat Railroad" for the neighborhood children, every Sunday until his death in 1968, in memory of his two lost sons. The railroad attracted people from across the valley and beyond, including Walt Disney, who considered purchasing some of Jones' collection of miniature railway equipment. The two became friends, and Jones was behind the throttle of Disney's narrow-gauge locomotives on opening weekend at Disneyland in 1955.

Jones retired from the Southern Pacific Company in 1949. In January 1959, it is said Jones ceremoniously ran the last train out of Los Gatos before the rails were taken up throughout the town.

Jones died of leukemia in 1968 at the age of 83, and his "Wildcat Railroad" was purchased by local residents who formed a non-profit organization to relocate and operate it at nearby Oak Meadow and Vasona Parks. The railroad, among the most popular attractions in Los Gatos, continues operation today.

References

  1. ^ Diebert, Timothy S. and Strapac, Joseph A. (1987). Southern Pacific Company Steam Locomotive Conpendium. Shade Tree Books. ISBN 0-930742-12-5.  

2.^ Kelley, Edward and Conaway, Peggy (2006). Images of Rail: Railroads of Los Gatos. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-4661-5

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