On December 20, 1920 the Northwestern Pacific Railroad experienced its worse mishap along the lower reaches of the Russian River. After leaving the station in Monte Rio (upper photo) and before crossing the bridge to Duncans Mills (lower photo), engine No. 222 encountered a slide that buried the tracks near Mesa Grande (Villa Grande). No sooner would a steam shovel remove the debris when another load of muck took its place. A large locomotive, which could furnish 200 pounds of steam pressure, made its way up from Tiburon with a hydraulic pump. Even though the engine proceeded at 10 m.p.h., its weight broke fifteen rails along the way.
Upon arriving at the scene, the cleanup endeavor went smoothly until January 9, 1921 when another slide tipped the engine over and partly buried it. The steam shovel went into action again. But a third slide came down and covered the machine along with its operator. Only one of his legs stuck out from the slime. Rescue efforts were unsuccessful. The operator suffocated to death and another lost his hand in the process. It was decided to let the slide sit until spring. In the meantime, passengers would disembark, walk around the work zone and board a second train to resume their trip. Operations continued in the ensuing years peaking in 1923 when the July 4th weekend saw some thirty thousand persons boarding ferry boats from San Francisco’s Embarcadero to the train terminal in Sausalito for the ride to the Russian River.