The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum is located in Nevada City, CA, at 5 Kidder Court. Opened in 2003, it is dedicated to preserving local transportation history and artefacts from the narrow gauge railroad era, particularly from the local Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad.
The museum is open from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm Friday to Tuesday from 1st May to 31st October. From 1st November to 30th April it is open Saturday and Sunday, 10.00 am to 4.00 pm. Visitors are offered a docent-led historical tour of the museum, rail yard and restoration shop.
The main gallery houses Nevada County Narrow Gauge #5. Built by Baldwin in 1875, this locomotive started life hauling lumber in Nevada, then passengers and freight for the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad, and finally working as a movie engine at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
There is also a very well stocked gift shop. The rail yard houses a collection of wooden rail cars, some restored, others awaiting restoration, as well as #13, an operational steam locomotive built by museum volunteers.
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The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad was built in Northern California’s Nevada County and Placer County to service local mining and timber operators who wanted access to the Southern Pacific Railroad in Colfax. Headquartered in Grass Valley, CA, the company was incorporated on 4th April 1874. Two years later, the 22½ mile line was completed with two bridges, two tunnels and five trestles. The inaugural train from Colfax to Grass Valley ran on 11th April 1876 and, by 20th May, the first train had reached Nevada City.
In 1908, construction was completed of the Bear River Bridge, then the highest railroad bridge in California. By 1912, there were three mixed trains daily each way between Nevada City and Colfax, with a fourth mixed train daily each way between Grass Valley and Colfax.
With revenues in decline, the NCNGRR was sold to the Dulian Steel Products Co., for scrap in 1942. The last train ran over the line on 29th May.
The railroad was abandoned in 1898 and the equipment put up for sale. John F. Kidder, president of the NCNGRR, bought the “Tahoe” and “Glenbrook” on 30th 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 NCNG #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% more power than NCNG #2 which, until then, had been the railroad’s largest locomotive.
Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad #5, a Mogul type (2-6-0) locomotive, was built as the “Tahoe” for the Carson Tahoe Lumber & Fluming Co., in Carson City, NV, by Burnham, Parry, Williams & Co., an early incarnation of the Baldwin Locomotive Works.
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 8¾ miles each day from Glenbrook to the mill at Spooner Summit and returned with six flatcars of milled lumber each.
#5 continued hauling heavy freight on the railroad for the next twenty-five years, and it was not until the arrival of two heavier Consolidation type
(2-8-0) locomotives, #8 & #9, in 1933, that it was relegated to helper duties.
In 1940, #5 was sold to Frank Lloyd Productions
in Hollywood, CA, to appear in an upcoming
movie. 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.
In February of 1913, the locomotive's boiler was rebuilt at the Union Iron Works in San Francisco.
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.
Originally a wood burner #5 was later converted to burn oil. The engine weighs 46,000 lbs,
40,500 lbs on its 41” drivers.
With 13” x 16” cylinders and Stephenson inside valve gears, it operated at a boiler pressure of 130 psi delivering 7,290 lbs tractive effort.
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.
Clockwise from the top left, #5 as it appeared in the 1942 film The Spoilers, directed by Ray Enright and starring John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich and Randolph Scott.
Next, steaming into a crowded Kansas City in Winchester ’73 (1950) directed by Anthony Mann with James Stewart, Shelley Winters, and Stephen McNally.
Then, in the opening credits of Dawn at Socorro (1954) with Rory Calhoun, Piper Laurie, David Brian and Kathleen Hughes.
In Rails into Laramie (1954) directed by Jesse Hibbs with John Payne, Mari Blanchard, Dan Duryea and Joyce Mackenzie, the locomotive doubled somewhat unsuccessfully (as a 2-6-0) for 4-4-0 Virginia & Truckee #22 in the rail head and depot scenes.
Below left, #5 decked out as the "General Gault" in Shenandoah (1965) directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and starring James Stewart, Doug McClure, Glenn Corbett, Patrick Wayne, and Katharine Ross.
#5 also featured in episodes of the TV
series Alias Smith and Jones (left), Tales from Wells Fargo and The Virginian, amongst others. After 1977, it sat on a back lot at Universal Studios.
#5 last appeared in the 1979 movie version of The Twilight Zone.
The boiler, on display near the museum main building, is all that remains of NCNG #3. It was an American type (4-4-0) locomotive ordered in 1877 from Burnham, Parry, Williams & Co., an early incarnation of the Baldwin Locomotive Works.
#3 was involved in several accidents, which earned it the reputation of being an “unlucky” engine. In 1886, as it pulled into Grass Valley, a switch was set in the wrong position and #3 headed across the turntable and into the engine house, slamming into locomotives #1 & #2.
In 1893, it was derailed double-heading a circus train a mile above Union Hill on a horseshoe curve. Further accidents occurred in 1904 and 1907, and the end came in the early hours of 30th August 1915 when fire broke out at the Grass Valley yards. Four engines were damaged, #3 beyond repair. It then it sat for eleven years providing parts for #1.
In 1926, a mine in Virginia City, NV, bought the boiler for a stationary power plant. It was decommissioned in 1975 and sat for the next twenty-two years beside the Virginia & Truckee shops. Then, in October 1997, the boiler was finally trucked back to Nevada City.
Essentially a form of water-tube boiler, a 350,000 BTU oil fired burner generates sufficient steam in the boiler tubes without needing a pressurised vessel.
It takes about 20 minutes to fire up and the same amount of time to shut down.
In 2009, volunteers completed this fully operational steam locomotive. It is based loosely on a late 19th Century industrial engine, like the H. K. Porter built Cameron & Barkley Ltd engine shown on the Southern Carolina Logging Locomotives page (later Southern Iron and Equipment Co., #106).
Instead of a pressured boiler like most steam engines, steam is produced by a steam generator.
Above, a series of photos inside the shop showing construction of the 15’ long locomotive. It took three years, 10,000 volunteer hours and $34,000 in material to complete.
The 36” gauge 0-4-0 weighs 8,000 lbs. With Baker inside admission valve gear and 5 x 12 cylinders, it delivers 1,300 lbs tractive effort.
When I visited, at the insistence of one of the volunteers, I had the opportunity to sit in the engineer’s seat, take the throttle and steam #13 a short distance up and down the museum yard. What a treat!
The car was tested on Grass Valley streets on 21st October 1901.
The car was donated to the Nevada County Historical Society in 1947 and went on display in the
Firehouse Museum in Nevada City. It is now on permanent display at the museum.