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Portola RR Days 2008

Portola Railroad Days

Part 2, August 24, 2008

Story and photographs by Richard Elgenson
RailNews Network Writer

The day started early in Sparks Nevada.  Being on the 7th floor of a highrise hotel building above an active railroad yard helped me wake up early.  The first order of business this day was an orientation walk to find a brewpub that I was interested in visiting.  It happened to be in the same neighborhood as this display of Southern Pacific Railroad equipment and buildings.  The planned day trip with Trains Unlimited, Tours was to be a luxury motor coach road trip to the 2008 Portola Railroad Days event held in Portola California.  This 3 day community wide event shows off some of what makes small communities worth visiting.  A week before the trip I received a heavy press kit with visitors guides and maps for Plumas County and included communities.  Somehow, my envelope included Western Pacific Railroad California Zephyr timetables and a route guide which would be valuable in understanding the railroad route from Winneumcca Nevada to Portola and down through the Feather River Canyon to Oroville later in the weekend.

First, let's check out the Sparks historical equipment which is located at Interstate 80 and Pyramid Way.
The station is a /4 size replica of the former Wadsworth Nevada Central Pacific Railroad station which was moved to Sparks in 1904.  For other photos of this display, click here.
The rail line has used for railcar storage. This 29 mile former Western Pacific branch line connects Reno/Sparks to Reno Junction, seen below.
It is a 51 mile drive from Sparks to Portola via Highway 395 and Highway 70.
Above right and both sides below, Reno Junction.  The track comes up the Feather River Canyon, throught Portola, this spot and up to Winnemucca Nevada and on to Utah.  The #5 Calfiornia Zephyr for August 24, 2008 featured 3 former CZ railcars, two of which are domes.  The Reno Junction Wye is out of service and disconnected.  Grownover rails still curve around on the abandoned wye track.
Our busses stopped one mile east of Portola at a rest stop for a quick meeting with Chris and Debbie Skow, residents of Portola and operators of Trains Unlimited, Tours. 

Portola is a community located in picturesque eastern Plumas County (total population 23,000) in Northern California with a permanent population of 2249.  It sits roughly between the CA Highway 99 corridor (central CA) and the Nevada state line about 60 miles north of Lake Tahoe and 150 miles south of the Oregon border.   Plumas County occupies 2,554 square miles (about the size of the state of Delaware) with low population density of about 8 persons per square mile.  The only incorporated city is Portola with the county seat in Quincy, an unincorporated town to the west.  This county includes Lake Almanor in the northwest quadrant to Portola and surrounding communities in the southeast quadrant.

Plumas County gets name from Spanish Rio de las Plumas.  The area economy used to be resource based with
mining and farming, but has been diversified into tourism and service based economy.  Among the areas biggest employers are the U.S. Forest Service followed by the county government, schools and healthcare.

Interestlingly, Portola is named after the explorer Gaspar de Portola.  The daughter of a railroad employee had been in San Francisco participating in a parade honoring Gaspar de Portola and the town got named in his honor.  The town had many names before that.   Portola is due to celebrate its centennial in 2009.  Portola started out as a logging town with local railroads and the Western Pacific Railroad built through in the early 1900's.  A location on the WP, called the Keddie Wye was named for the land surveyor Arthur Keddie and spans Spanish Creek on converging trestle bridges.  The WP was the last railroad completed into California as well as the first railroad to completely dieselize.  This place is widely known as a railroad town with the Western Pacific Railroad Museum, one of the nation's best railroad museums which is a great destination for families with kids.  I made my first visit many years ago to run a locomotive.  Every railfan wants to do that!  You can still run a locomotive at the WPRR Museum.  The museum is located on the grounds of the old Western Pacific railroad machine shop.  There are many tracks full of historic railroad equipment.  Museum members come from some distance away to work on the museum equipmentThe museum has a gift store with all types of rail paraphernalia. 

Just in case you didn't know where you were, here is a map found along Main Street in Portola, also known as Highway 70. 

Portola was throwing a weekend long party.  The parade took place on Commercial Street in town, while "Main Street" is on Highway70 through town on the other side of the Feather River
Boothes lined the north side of Commercial Street while many of the spectators lined the south side in some shade provided by the buildings.
Before and after the parade the street was busy with pedestrian traffic.

In the Portola area, water sports are a big deal.  In addition to local lakes, stream fishing is good on the Milddle Fork of the Feather River, as well as the tributaries.  The headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Feather River are in the Portola area.  The Middle Fork is quiet for kayaking with  faster water down the canyon. 

There are many championship golf courses throughout the area, including the Grizzly Ranch private golf course in Portola.   Nearby, Graeagle is known as golf course mecca with at least 6 courses. Graeagle, 10 miles away close to Portola, has one of the smallest state parks, Plumas Eureka State Park  The park, sitting at the base of Eureka Peak, is very unique featuring a bunkhouse used by miners and an annual living history day.  A unique event is the annual Historic Longboard Revival Series ski races staged on the third Sundays of January, February and March, depending on snow.  The participants, dressed in period costumes use 11 to 13 foot skiis reaching 40-50 mph.  This a recreation by the ski club at the site of the first recorded downhill ski races took place in all of north America.  The participants use period costume too.  There is also music and food at this event which takes place at Plumas Eureka State Park.  Just south of  Plumas Eureka State Park is the Lakes Basin Recreation Area.  Even though it is not in Plumas County, it is a great destination spot if you love alpine lakes tucked up against the Sierra Buttes which reach 8591' elevation.  There is a resort at Sardine Lakes which is so popular, it takes several years to get reservations.  Both Portola and the Graeagle are popular as locations to own a vacation home.  The same is true for the Chester/Lake Almanor area.

Portola Railroad Days continued

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