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A trip north to the Nevada County Narrow Gauge and Transportation Museum 11/29/2014

by Chris Guenzler

Chris Parker and I had never been to the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Museum, the Western Railway Museum or the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad so we decided to do all three of them in one trip. I booked a rental car and picked it up the day before.

I arose at 4:30 AM, showered and shaved then had breakfast before loading the rental car, a Volkswagen Jetta, and drove north on Interstate 5 to Los Angeles, taking only four Metallica songs from "Death Magnetic" to get there. I pulled into Denny's and waited for Chris Parker to arrive then loaded his baggage before he parked at Union Station and I picked him up there. With little traffic after a CHP traffic break, the first one I had witnessed, we headed over Tejon Pass into the San Joaquin Valley. A stop was made for some coffee for Chris and we headed up Interstate 5 to CA 43, which we took north to the BNSF mainline. North of Wasco, we found our first train of the day.

BNSF 7100 West north of Wasco. We continued north to Hanford for a McDonald's breakfast of hot cakes and sausage then drove to the big curve just north of Shirley, but soon learned Amtrak San Joaquin 702 was running late. Driving north to Fresno, a call to Winston found the train and San Joaquin 712 stopped near Turlock. He kept me informed while we went into Fresno in search of the two wig wag signals I still needed pictures of.

At Hamilton Street and Anna Street, we found the first one and could see the other one a block west.

At Cherry Street was number 2 plus two surprises.

San Joaquin Valley Railroad PR30B 3000 built by Progress Rail in 2012 was the first one.

The San Joaquin Valley Railroad emblem. Now the next surprise.

H.P. 99 Fresno Trolley Cars/Standard Diner (1912/1925). This diner is constructed from the only known surviving streetcars from the Fresno Traction Company. In 1935 a surplus trolley was hauled to this location, and the following year was remodeled as a cafe. It is unclear whether the second trolley was moved to the lot at the same time or at a later date. Originally known as the Standard Diner, it was renamed "Trolley Car Carole's" in 1968.

More views of the trolley cars.

One last view of the Cherry Street wig wag. From here we drove over to near the Amtrak station and parked just south of it. The two-hour late San Joaquin 702 arrived into Fresno.

San Joaquin 702 heads south to Bakersfield, which was followed by low-level San Joaquin 712.

From the south came San Joaquin 701 and it would sit until San Joaquin 712 had completed its station work.

San Joaquin 712 left for Bakersfield.

San Joaquin 701 finally arrived at Fresno. We then left here and drove north to the BNSF mainline north of Madera.

BNSF Citirail 1434 East east of Le Grand.

Amtrak San Joaquin 714 east of Le Grand.

BNSF 4774 West east of Merced.

BNSF 4026 East north of Atwater. From here we drove to Riverbank.

Amtrak San Joaquin 716 at Riverbank. We continued north.

BNSF 768 at Escalon. We proceeded to Linden to see what was left of the Stockton Terminal & Eastern Railroad there then drove to Stockton where I stopped at KFC for dinner then checked into the Clarion Inn for the night and worked on the story then relaxed for the rest of the evening.

11/29/2014 After a free breakfast at the Clarion Inn, the two of us headed north to Roseville where we used our umbrellas to try to stay dry.

The rotary snow plows are ready for service when needed.

The flangers await their call to duty.

The Amtrak station in Roseville, a replica building.

Southern Pacific 4-6-0 2252 built by Alco Cooke Locomotive Works in 1897 and donated to the City of Roseville in 1957.

Southern Pacific rotary snowplough maintenance-of-way 7221 built by Alco Cooke in 1922 as Southern Pacific 717. It was later renumbered 708 and then 7221. Built as an oil burner, it was converted to electric power.

From here we drove through the rain to Nevada City and our first major stop of the day.

Nevada County Narrow Gauge and Transportation Museum

I pulled into the museum's parking lot and the rain stopped. Would we get lucky while we are here?

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad History

The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad began operations in 1876 to provide reliable year-round transportation to the rich mining districts of western Nevada County, California. The original twenty-two-and-a-half mile route began in Nevada City, travelled to the railroad's headquarters in Grass Valley, and then on to Colfax for connections to the Central Pacific.

During sixty-six years of colorful operation, it hauled out more than two hundred million dollars worth of gold while bringing in mining machinery, lumber, petroleum products and all of the essentials necessary to maintain the thriving county. Thousands rode its first class passenger trains, mixed trains and the occasional special excursions.

Affectionately known as the "Never Come, Never Go", the railroad's reliable service, combined with the prosperity of the mines, helped Nevada County avoid hard times during the Great Depression of the 1930's. The narrow gauge route boasted the highest railroad bridge in California for its time (the 1908 Bear River Bridge), and was the first railroad in the United States. to have a woman president (Sarah Kidder, 1901-1913).

The outbreak of World War II led to the closure of the gold mines and, with its major customers gone, the railroad was scrapped in 1942.

The main museum building.

The sign above the door.

In the main hall is Nevada County Narrow Gauge 2-8-0 5, nee Carson Tahoe Lumber and Fluming Company 5, built by Baldwin in 1875. The locomotive was one of a pair delivered to the railroad in 1875, the other being the "Glenbrook", and the so-called "Tahoe Twins" travelled the eight-and-three-quarter miles each day from Glenbrook to the mill at Spooner Summit and returned with six flatcars of milled lumber each.

The railroad was abandoned in 1898 and the equipment put up for sale. John F. Kidder, president of the railway, bought the "Tahoe" and "Glenbrook" in June 1899, along with eight flat cars, four tank cars and an 0-6-0 Porter-Bell locomotive from the Lake Tahoe Railway, which became Nevada County Narrow Gauge 4. 5 was shipped to Colfax on a Southern Pacific flat car and went straight into service hauling freight trains. It had more weight on its drivers and 25 percent more power than steam engine 2 which, until then, had been the railroad's largest locomotive.

In 1915, a fire at the Grass Valley depot burned both engine houses and the machine shop. Inside the building, 3 burned beyond repair and 6 was heavily damaged. 5 and 2 had been sitting outside and only their cabs and running boards were burned off. For several weeks, 5 worked without a cab and the engine crew had to hang onto a specially-built railing when taking curves. However, 5 was soon fitted with a replacement steel cab.

5 continued hauling heavy freight on the railroad for the next twenty-five years, and it was not until the arrival of two heavier 2-8-0 locomotives, 8 and 9 in 1933, that it was relegated to helper duties. In 1940, 5 was sold to Frank Lloyd Productions in Hollywood, California, to appear in an upcoming film. Before being shipped out to Hollywood by flatcar, the locomotive was rebuilt, including replacing tires on the wheels and installing an all-steel cab and running boards from recently scrapped NCNG 7. The locomotive then spent the next thirty-nine years appearing in various films and television programmes.

In 1983, the "Friends of the Narrow Gauge" was formed by officers of the Nevada Historical Society. The group's acquisition officer and vice chairman, John Christensen, started writing to Universal Studios to negotiate a loan of 5 and six other pieces of equipment. An initial loan was agreed in 1985, which was replaced with a 75 year lease in 1996.

Views around the main hall. Now we would be given a tour of the equipment this group has collected.

Denver & Rio Grande Western stock car 5672 built by American Car and Foundry in 1904.

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad hopper 146, ex. West Side Lumber Company 146, exx. Sierra Railroad 146, nee Great Northern 85301 built by Pressed Steel Car in the 1900's.

Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Company box car 4 built by the J. Hammond Car Company in 1903.

Union Oil Company tank car 187 built by Central Iron Works in 1888. From 1906 to 1934, it was owned by Union Oil Company and operated on Pacific Coast Railway flat No. 915.

Argent Lumber 2-6-2 5 built by Lima Locomotive Works in 1910 as Williamson and Brown Log and Lumber Company 3 in Cerro Gordo, North Carolina. It was then sold to Butters Lumber Compay as their 6 in Hub, North Carolina. In 1920, it was sold via re-sale company Southern Iron & Equipment Company to Garysburg Manufacturing Company in Hardeeville, South Carolina. Garysburg Manufacturing was owned by the McNeal family, who also co-founded Argent Lumber Company. They later numbered her 5. She was known as number 5 until her retirement in 1957, and the engine was never operated again.

In 1960, Argent 5 was sold to Stone Machine Company in Daisy, Tennessee, then seven years later, it was sold to eorge Roose and moved to the Cedar Point and Lake Erie tourist railroad in Sandusky, Ohio. They never used the locomotive in service, however they did keep the tender and used it for many years until it was dismantled in the late 1980's). In 1986, it was sold to Ken Carlson of Cottage Grove, Oregon, who had the engine moved and stored at Kirtland's Silverbend, a Christmas tree farm and attraction near Clarksburg, California.

In 1989, the locomotive was sold to Roy Ramey who started restoration of the locomotive in Nevada City, but there were important parts missing. The Ramey family became creative and tried to track down the original missing parts. They found a Hancock Inspiratory injector in New Mexico and when they cleaned up the dirt and grime they found it stamped "Argent Lumber Company. The Ramey's finished restoring the locomotive in 1992 and operated it at the Northern Queen Inn in Nevada City, California for just a few years. From 2013 to 2022, it was on loan to the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Museum. In May 2022, it was moved to the Society for the Preservation of Carter Resources in Ardenwood.

West Side Lumber caboose 4 built by the company in 1940. In 1986, it was sold to Glen Tyra of Tuolumne, California, then to Bev Cola of Placerville in 1994 and in 2011, to John Christensen before coming to the museum for restoration.

West Side Lumber parts car built by the railroad in 1940.

West Side Lumber utility flat car 265 built by the company in the 1930's. It was converted to a covered excursion car for the West Side and Cherry Valley Railroad in 1972 then re-converted back to a flat car around 1978.

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad tank car 4 built by West Side Lumber in the 1920's on a standard flat car, constructed from a mill stationary boiler and used to carry kerosene to the logging camps. In 1985, it was purchased by Glen Tyra then sold to Beverly Cola 1994 before being acquired by John Christensen in 2011 and donated to the museum.

Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad 42 seat coach 56 built by St. Charles Car Company in 1897. In 1915, it was sold to Nevada-California-Oregon Railway and retired in 1928. A year later, it was used as a cafe in Aden, California then in 1970, used as a party room for a miniature golf course in Chico before being acquired by Nevada County Historical Society in 1984. It was re-sided and painted in 2008, then damaged by a falling tree in 2012. It is currently stored, awaiting restoration.

Swayne Lumber Company caboose 1 built by West Side Lumber in 1917 for Swayne Lumber Company in Oroville then sold to West Side Lumber in 1940. It was restored in 2012.

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad box car 142, ex. Nevada County Historical Society 1986, exx. Universal Studios, exxx. Southern Pacific 1928, exxxx. Southern Pacific 26, exxxxx. Nevada-California-Oregon 507, nee Florence and Cripple Creek 507, built by American Car and Foundry in 1889. After being acquired by the museum in 1996, it was fully rebuilt and re-numbered Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad 142.

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad replica caboose 1 built by the railroad in 1986; the original was built in 1937 at the railway's Grass Valley shop by Master Mechanic John Nolan. It was scrapped in 1942 after the railway's closure. In 1986, this replica was built by John Christensen from original photographs and drawings by Herman Darr who acquired the dimensions from John Nolan. It was donated to the museum in 2001.


Narrow gauge wheel sets.

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad pump hand car.

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad 0-4-0 13 built in July 2009. This is a forced draft steam generator engine and is based loosely on a late 19th Century industrial engine.

West Side & Cherry Valley Rail Bus 12 built in 1970, named for Sarah Kidder, president of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad from 1901 to 1913. It was built in the 1970's as Westside & Cherry Valley Railway 9. The rail bus soon ended its career in a collision with a parked Shay locomotive. The museum purchased the wreck in 1986 for $200. The bus sat untouched for the next nineteen years and then the remains were moved to the restoration shop in 2004. Sierra winters had deteriorated the vehicle to the point that only the chassis, differential and wheels were salvageable. It has been rebuilt twice since.

Engine house scene.

Westside Lumber Company 8 ton switcher 1 built by Plymouth in 1927. It was sold to Garfield & Company in San Francisco then to Frank B. Marks in Newman, California in 1928. It was later sold to Pickering Lumber Company for West Side Lumber Company then to West Side and Cherry Valley Railroad in 1968. In 2011, it was donated to the Nevada County Historical Societyand restored in 2012.

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Locomotive FLB 10 built by Plymouth in 1943 for Sunflower Ordinance Works in DeSoto, Kansas. It later became Apache Powder Company 8 in Benson (St. David), Arizona then was acquired by the Nevada County Historical Society in 1986.

Locomotive frame.

Pickering Lumber Company hand cart, originally a standard-gauge four-wheel cart located and purchased by John Christensen at Tuolumne in 1986 and donated to the Nevada County Historical Society. It was rebuilt in 2003 as narrow gauge hand cart and numbered 10A.

The Museum building.

West Side and Cherry Valley Railbus 12 pulled out of the engine house.

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad flat car 255, nee Southern Pacific narrow gauge flat car 472 built by the railroad in 1917. It was sold to Universal Studios in 1955, located by John Christensen in 1984 and acquired by the Nevada County Historical Society in 1986. Restoration started in 1996 and was completed in 2011.

Narrow gauge switch stand.

Westside Lumber Company 1 next came out of the engine house. I asked for a ride on the railbus and they said "Yes". I got Chris Parker's attention and he joined me.

We rode West Side and Cherry Valley Railbus 12 back into the engine house.

Museum scenes.

The plaque in front of the museum. We thanked our hosts and I went out front to call Let's Talk Trains, the Internet Radio Show. We drove from here through the rain and some bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 80 west of Sacramento to Dixon, then down on CA 133 to CA 12 to our second major stop of the day.