The City of Oroville spent thousands of dollars on new public art in 2021 in an effort to draw more visitors to its historic downtown. It has resulted in the creation of the county’s largest mural, an effort to preserve the city’s historic railroad history. The Oroville Arts Commission dedicated four works of art made by regional artists on Saturday. The commission invested around $70,000 in the projects in May 2021.
Visually, the Lincoln and Bird Streets crossroads is dominated by the element that is the loudest. It is the largest mural in Butte County, Oroville Railyard Mural, and it shows the roundhouse that originally served locomotives that had lived in Oroville for more than a century. The 146-foot wide and 18 to 25-foot tall work of art was constructed by Oroville artists Ted Hanson and Frank Wilson after more than a year of planning and execution.
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The wall was examined. What might be painted on this? Three architectural components make it up. It has these columns protruding out,” explains Wilson as he and Hanson stood in front of the mural on a Saturday morning. We were both 72 at the time. Physical exhaustion was experienced.
Five alcoves, each housing a locomotive of a significant railroad that previously served Oroville, are divided by concrete columns painted to resemble weathered wood. Only two of these actual trains are still on display, and those that are are dispersed among several museums outside the county.
In order to accurately reflect historical truth onto the downtown wall, the painting, which the team refers to as a “work of love,” required more than six months of research into each individual train. After numerous excursions to distant museums, discussions with experts on locomotive history, and hours spent poring over photographs and books, the necessity of a “train mural” in this city became apparent.
“A centre is Oroville. It pumped water all the way to Chico, Red Bluff, and Redding. To reach the coastal range, it travelled west through Gridley. It travelled to Portola. It served as a bridge connecting the mountain settlement and the valley. According to Wilson, there were spurs that extended all the way to Reno and from Reno to Salt Lake City, Utah, and Los Angeles. In the entire state of California, only two other communities had that distinction. There were five locomotive firms in Sacramento and Los Angeles as well.
“Nobody wants to stand on the railroad tracks while a train approaches and shoot pictures of them, Hanson continues. Many of the images in the museum’s history books were taken from the side and at a three-quarter angle. So the challenge was attempting to gain a frontal view so that we could execute this.” They claim that public pressure was another factor that led to a great piece.
“The number of train enthusiasts in Oroville surprised me, adds Hanson. Many residents of this area were raised with steam trains and the Zephyr, so they came to see us. After I painted the nuts and bolts on the train, they would park and watch us every day, and I would see guys come right up to the mural while they were literally pointing (and counting) while they did so.”
The mural’s creators claim they are most proud of the long-lasting legacy it leaves about the city’s history, which those merely strolling through downtown will have the opportunity to learn about for the foreseeable future. This was achieved despite the rain, heat, smoke, and winds they worked through, sometimes raised 25 feet in the air.
“Many people remarked, “You guys are doing a terrific job on the train; are you going to paint over all that old wood too?” Ted would then remark, “That’s concrete,” to them. We painted that to appear to be aged wood. And that’s when I knew we had accomplished our goal, adds Wilson. 1770 Bird St. is where the mural is located. To the left of the painting, there is a “steam locomotive legend” that provides details on each locomotive’s relationship with Oroville.