Sunday, April 19, 2009

Heritage: Remembering Godfrey Humann

Godfrey Humann, then 93, operated his South Shasta Lines model railroad near Gerber, California on 30-April-2006

TORONTO, ONTARIO - As a youth, I was a regular reader of "Model Railroader" magazine, the only railroad magazine of any description carried at my local Bellevue Public Library. Most readers of that magazine become entranced by a particular featured layout. In my case, it was the South Shasta Lines, an O-scale model of the Southern Pacific's Shasta Division between Gerber and Dunsmuir, California, modeled by a man named Godfrey Humann who lived near Gerber.

Humann died last Wednesday at the age of 96; his obituary just ran in the Red Bluff Daily News. The South Shasta Lines continued to operate with open houses in even numbered years right through to his death. I only was able to see the layout once, at the tail end of a business trip to Nevada in 2006, but I was one of the 91,000 people that had the privilege of watching it operate.

The real engine house at Gerber, California did not survive into the diesel era, but Humann's model lived on, as in this model scene captured on 30-April-2006

Humann had migrated to California to farm, but in 1950 he also started his model railroad. The South Shasta Lines was soon shown to visitors, and it became internationally known for its detailed depiction of the Southern Pacific in the steam era. While features that survived on the modern railroad, such as a double-deck bridge shared with Highway 99 (now I-5) over an arm of Shasta Lake, the bridge over the highway at the south end of Red Bluff, and depot at Redding, were readily identifiable, Humann's depiction of long-gone locations like the Gerber engine house and the original Dunsmuir station became the historical record of the line.

The South Shasta Lines' premier "Blue Bonnet" passenger train met a freight led by a "Challenger" steam locomotive on 30-April-2006

Yet, the South Shasta Lines was about more than preserving history as remembered by Humann. Anyone who visited the model railroad knew that Humann greatly enjoyed operating his railroad and talking about all aspects of it with visitors. He was clearly having fun every minute of it. The fact that he chose to name it the South Shasta Lines and run rolling stock with that road name, rather than Southern Pacific, emphasized that it was about fun. While much of the South Shasta equipment was based on Southern Pacific prototypes, the Southern Pacific never ran a "Blue Bonnet" passenger train on the line, nor did they run "Challenger" locomotives. Nobody was amazed more than Humann when the Union Pacific, which now owns the line, ran its "Challenger" over it in 2005--he was still talking about that during my visit in 2006.

One of the famous aspects of the South Shasta Lines in its later years was a DVD that showed Humann sitting in the cab of his model "Challenger," which underscored the detail of his 1/48th of full size models. When asked about the video, Humann would just smile proudly and say, "It's a secret how we did that. I won't tell."

A 1912 Russell steam tractor, purchased from its original owner in Portland, Oregon, was seen at the Humann farm near Gerber, California on 30-April-2006

It wasn't a coincidence that the South Shasta Lines never entered the diesel era. Humann loved steam, and not just steam railroads. In odd-numbered years, he traditionally operated his steam tractors and ran threshing contests at his farm instead of operating the model railroad. These events were nearly as popular as the miniature trains.

While I only met Humann once, he left quite an impression. He was a man that knew how to preserve pieces of history, and have fun doing it. He may be gone, but he can still be a role model for those trying to do the same thing.

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