The Mysterious Satchel - The Full Story

A Slightly Exaggerated Version

It dawned a bright sunny Saturday here in the San Francisco Bay Area. We need some rain, but it won't fall this day. There was a model train meet in Santa Clara, so I decided to attend. I'd heard rumors for years about a cache of treasure somewhere on the San Francisco peninsula, and I planned to try locating it today after the meet. Putting my best Indiana Jones fedora upon my head, I jumped into my trusty Buick and headed out.

The Santa Clara meet was interesting, with layouts, vendors and clinics available. A map to the treasure was available, though it was labeled as a layout tour map for those not in the know. I was unsure if others might have the special knowledge I had, so I studied the other folks attending for signs of competitors hoping to find the treasure. I saw no one who looked suspicious or a likely competitor in my quest.

After enjoying the meet for a while, I fired up the Buick and started out on the Highway 101 freeway. There were no huge rolling boulders to dodge, just errant motorists weaving in and out of traffic. Heading north along this route, I kept an eye pealed for caravans of Nazis or Russian agents who might want to interrupt my endeavor. Either there were none, or they were well disguised. Just to throw them off, I exited early, into Redwood City, as a diversion. Also a chance to find a place to satisfy my need for nourishment before tracking the treasure, which I felt was nearby.

I then drove up the El Camino Real (The King's Highway) into the burg of San Mateo. The sun was bright in the western sky, making it hard to read the street signs as I followed the map. No one was following. I approached the location indicated on the map. The garage door was open and I could see a layout there. I parked the Buick and walked up to the open door. It was dark inside and the sun was in my eyes. No one else appeared to be there. But, when I arrived I heard a voice from behind the layout greeting me and telling me to advance into the inner sanctum, near the washer/dryer. I went through the side gate and found a large German shepherd dog guarding the entrance to the treasure cave. Uh-oh, I thought, but he looked old and pretty friendly, so I continued my quest. Once past the dog I entered the cave. An older man in an overstuffed chair sat inside, running the trains. He offered me a cookie, which I gratefully accepted. We chatted. I admired his trains and we discussed some history and mutual friends from the past. Finally, I told him I had come seeking the treasure I had been told he possessed. "Ah," he said, "you want the locomotives!"

He asked a blond woman standing nearby to "fetch the valise". She brought it out and set it on the floor. "Here", he said, "take it with my blessing. I've been tripping over it in the attic for years."

I hefted the valise. It was heavy, weighing 19 lbs. or so. Taking a quick look around and seeing no challengers, I picked it up, said my goodbye, carefully went past the dog and carried the valise to the trusty Buick. No one interfered. I drove back to the freeway and headed for home, not knowing what was contained in the valise, except that it was something long sought.

Upon arriving at my home, I dusted off the accumulation of dust and spider webs. The blonde had gotten some of it off, but I needed to ensure no contaminants fell upon the contents of that valise. Once clean, I opened the zipper on the top and pulled the sides apart to view the contents. They appeared to be some form of plastic bags with contents obscured by the plastic. The smell of smoke drifted into my nostrils. I gently lifted the top bag out of the valise, and set it on a table. By the weight, I thought it to be an HO locomotive. I carefully removed the contents to discover it indeed was a fire scorched engine and tender. The fire damage is extensive, and most of the lettering is gone, but the front number boards are still readable. IT IS JOHN ALLEN'S ORIGINAL G&D #27!! And there are many more locomotives inside that valise! 19 lbs. worth to be

Rod Smith (Great Divide Yardmaster, 1963-64)

The Real History of The Satchel

Just how did all those locomotives happen to be in that satchel? Why were they lost for so long? How did they come to light after all these years? Inquiring minds want to know! Here's the story as best I can reconstruct it.

In 1974, John's brother Andrew contacted Model Railroader Magazine (a Kalmbach publication) editor Linn Westcott and asked if he would come to Monterey and see if any of the Gorre & Daphetid, which had burned with the house in January of the previous year, could be salvaged for use or display. Andrew was in the process of clearing John's estate and preparing the house for sale. Andrew knewLinn was an honest and trusted friend of John's as well as an authority on model railroads. Many of John's articles had appeared in the Model Railroader magazine and there was a lot of correspondence between John and Linn.

Linn agreed to come to California and assess the possibilities. By this time, the house had sat vacant and open in its damaged condition and had no doubt been visited by curious folk. Linn contacted my friend, let's call him Bob, who was a well known modeler and active in the Pacific Coast Region of the NMRA. They, along with another fellow, went to Monterey and, as Linn relates in his epilogue printed in Model Railroading With John Allen, tried to salvage some of the remains, to no avail. Bob mentioned after the disastrous collapse of French Gulch, they noticed some of John's locomotives were still there, though badly damaged. Bob says Linn thought they could be salvaged so they carefully extracted them from the surrounding debris and placed them in "the Satchel."

There was a prominent model photographer in the Bay Area, Paul Janssen. Paul was noted for his very realistic pictures of locomotives, especially Southern Pacific scenes. Linn asked Bob to take the satchel to Paul and have the remains photographed for posterity. Linn then flew back to Milwaukee and Bob took the satchel to Paul. As far as Bob knows, Paul did take the pictures and sent them to Linn at Kalmbach. The satchel was returned to Bob. Bob contacted Linn about sending the satchel, which weighed about 19 lbs. and Linn told him to hang onto it for the time being. Linn never asked him about the engines again.

It appears the importance of the satchel and its contents drifted away. Linn retired from Kalmbach and wrote "The Book". The pictures Paul took never were published, nor did the remains, or mention thereof, appear in Linn's book. Bob had nowhere to send the satchel, but was disinclined to throw it out. So, he put it under his layout and after moving it many times finally relegated it to the attic. There he tripped over it a number of times and contemplated disposal several times but knowing they were John Allen's engines, he couldn't bring himself to do so.

I happened to be on a layout tour in 2007 and in conversation the subject of the G&D came up. He surprised me with the tale of this tripping hazard satchel in his attic. I encouraged him to contact a mutual friend who is involved with the NMRA's Howell Day Museum. I didn't hear anything further, so in 2009 I contacted Bob about it again and he floored me with the statement "if you want it, you can have it; it's just in my way." Did I want it? You bet I did. So, I visited as I described somewhat tongue in cheek, and was given the satchel. It has disgorged an amazing 13 locomotives, or parts thereof. I know one added locomotive, #34, exists and is on display in the lobby of Kalmbach Publishing Co in Wisconsin. Perhaps others may be on display in Salinas California. They have some cars and layout parts. Anyone know for sure?

The full gallery of commented satchel pictures may be found at The Satchel Gallery

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