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Nevada County Narrow-Gauge Railroad

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       Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad locomotive #8 (with whaleback tender) parked at Grass Valley Depot and in front of the Kidder Mansion, in the 1930s        short history & bios

route & stations

equipment rosters

reading material

films & other media

image gallery


The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Company incorporated on April 4, 1874, and was headquartered in Grass Valley, California. Passenger and commercial rail services began in 1876 and continued until 1942. The 22.53-mile (36.26 km) line ran northward from Colfax and across the Bear River to Grass Valley and Nevada City, serving farmers and ranchers and lumber operations and gold mines. The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad was the only railroad in the West that was never robbed, even though it transported $200M in gold from the hardrock mines.

       The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad was chartered in March 1874; Congress granted the N.C.N.G. permission to build across public lands. The 22½-mile Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad was constructed in a record fifteen months by New York civil engineer John Flint Kidder [1830-1901]. (One internet tally states that the N.C.N.G.R.R. mainline was 22.41 miles (36km) of track, plus 4.12 miles (6.63km) in spurs and sidings.) Kidder was offered the job of superintendent, and became president of the company in 1884.
       When John Kidder died in 1901, his widow took over daily operation of the railroad, becoming the first female railroad president in the world. She converted the locomotives to oil fuel and oversaw construction of a cutoff that included a 172-foot-high steel bridge across the Bear River, a project that cost $132,285. Sarah Kidder sold her interest in the N.C.N.G.R.R. in 1913 and retired to San Francisco.
       In 1926, a local group led by Earl Taylor purchased the N.C.N.G. railroad for one dollar. Due to dwindling traffic, passenger service was suspended in 1938. The Grass Valley Depot and the Kidder Mansion suffered extensive fire damage in 1940. With the outbreak of World War II, the the rail line was sold as scrap for $251,000; the locomotives were either scrapped or sold to other narrow-gauge railroads. The last train ran over the N.C.N.G. on 29 May 1942.

       Of the many N.C.N.G. stories reported in Gerald Best's 1965 book and elsewhere, several are quite special.

  • The only way for a circus to get to Grass Valley or Nevada City was by transferring at Colfax from the standard-gauge circus train to the much-smaller rolling stock of the narrow-gauge. In September 1893, the Sells-Renfrow Circus came to the Twin Cities. At one point, as the tiny train crept around a horseshoe curve, the elephants (or horses) decided to rest against the side of their boxcar. They picked the wrong side and the boxcar tipped over, pulling most of the train with it. Two people died; it took two weeks to repair the two overturned locomotives. After that, circuses set up in Colfax.  •  photograph (in a new window)  •  9/2010 newspaper article

  • When the N.C.N.G.'s 100-foot-high wooden Bear River Trestle burned down in 18??, the story goes that within a few hours John Kidder sent telegrams placing rush orders specifying exactly the wood and iron needed for a replacement, and that reconstruction work began the next day.

  • At one time, the N.C.N.G. railroad was notable for having the tallest railroad bridge in California, the Bear River Bridge, built of steel in 1908 by Sarah Kidder. When the line was scrapped at the beginning of World War II, the Bear River Bridge was left standing. By the 1960s, Eisenhower's Interstate Highway Program reached Nevada County, and the best highway route to Grass Valley and Nevada City naturally followed the rail route surveyed by John Kidder. The Bear River Bridge would be replaced by the new highway, so the bridge was blown up {see short video} – but it did not fall and had to be pulled over with steel cables and Caterpillar tractors!
  • John Flint Kidder [1830-1901]
    Kidder married Sarah A. Clark of Ohio in 1874. He and his bride built a 3-story mansion on the edge of the Grass Valley railyard in 1875;
    they lived there until his death of diabetes in 1901.

    Sarah A. Kidder [??-19??]
    Sarah Kidder sold her interests in the railroad in 1913 and retired to San Francisco.

    Johnny Nolan [??-19??] the N.C.N.G. master mechanic, circa 1940

    Bob Paine [??-19??] the N.C.N.G. train master, circa 1940

    modern herald for the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum
    N.C.N.G. Railroad Route and Stations

    The official N.C.N.G. stations or water stops were (moving northward): Colfax and Oilville in Placer County. The original line ran on the east side of the Bear River to Long Ravine and for several miles to You Bet, then crossed on the wooden Bear River Trestle and wound south to Shebleys and then west before reaching Colemans. The 1908 realignment crossed the Bear River sooner (and higher) on a steel bridge, then wound northward to Chicago Park Depot and Colemans. The original route then proceeded north and west to Blatton, Buena Vista, Peardale, Union Hill, Grass Valley, Glenbrook, Town Talk Tunnel, Gold Flat, and Nevada City.

    State Highway 174 – the 'Colfax Highway' – follows the same route: from Colfax to Shady Glen, across the Bear River and northward to Chicago Park,
    Peardale, Kress Summit, Union Hill, and Grass Valley. A 6-mile freeway portion of State Highway 49 (partly merging with State Highway 20)
    runs from south of Grass Valley to north of Nevada City.


    Colfax, California
    144 miles from San Francisco, 54 miles from Sacramento; interchange with the standard-gauge Central Pacific, later with the Southern Pacific.
    ad/banner for Colfax Railroad Days 2014

    transfer point where the N.C.N.G. filled up their tank cars

    Long Ravine

    You Bet
    the Goodwin Drift Gravel Mine

    100-foot-tall wooden Bear River Trestle [built 1876]
    photograph of N.C.N.G. mixed train atop the wooden Bear River Trestle in 1886


    172-foot-tall steel Bear River Bridge [1908-1962]
    official photograph of N.C.N.G. mixed train atop the new Bear River Bridge in 1908

    Chicago Park, California

    Colemans, California

    Buena Vista, California

    Blatton, California

    Peardale, California

    Kress Summit

    Union Hill, California
    Maltman & Thomson Sulphurent Works

    Grass Valley, California

    Glenbrook, California

    Town Talk Tunnel

    Gold Flat

    Nevada City, California

    Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum [est. 1983] in Nevada City
    official museum website • entry at Wikipedia
    original 1875 narrow-gauge Baldwin 2-6-0 steam locomotive #5 'Tahoe' is in regular use at N.C.N.G.R.R. Museum
    1927 narrow-gauge Plymouth ex-WSLC 8-ton gas-powered 0-4-0 locomotive #1
    1943 narrow-gauge Plymouth ex-Kansas, Arizona 5-ton gas-powered 0-4-0 locomotive #10
    2006 narrow-gauge homebuilt railcar #12 'Sarah Kidder' is in regular use at N.C.N.G.R.R. Museum
    2009 narrow-gauge homebuilt 0-4-0T steam locomotive #13 is in regular use at N.C.N.G.R.R. Museum

    N.C.N.G. Railroad Locomotive Roster

    1875 ng Baldwin 4-4-0#1 'Grass Valley'purchased new; in service 1875–1933retired in 1933; scrapped in 1936
    click here for photograph circa 1930 (in a new window) - watermark by This Is Nevada County
    1875 ng Baldwin 2-6-0#2 'Nevada'purchased new; in service 1875–1933retired & scrapped in 1933
    1877 ng Baldwin 4-4-0#3purchased new; in service 1877–1915destroyed by building fire; scrapped in 1926; used as staitonary boiler in Virginia City 1926-1975; boiler returned in 1997
    1875 ng Porter-Bell 0-6-0#4 'Santa Cruz'ex-Carson Tahoe Lumber & Fluming Company; in service 1899–1916scrapped in 1916
    1875 ng Baldwin 2-6-0#5 'Tahoe'ex-Carson Tahoe Lumber & Fluming Company; in service 1899–1940; sold to Hollywood for movies; leased from Universal Studios in 1985click here for 1930s photograph (in a new window)
    in regular use at NCNGRR Museum
    1883 ng New York Works 2-6-0#6in service 1915–1926scrapped in 1926
    1881 ng Baldwin 4-4-0#7ex-S.P.N.G. #4 'Churchill'; in service 1929–1934scrapped in 1937; tender used on #8; cab & parts used on #5 circa 1940  click here for 1933 photograph (in a new window)
    1882 ng Baldwin 2-8-0#8ex-Denver & Rio Grande RR #283; in service 1933–1942sold in 1942 to Dulien Steel Products, then to Portland Cement/U.S. Gypsum; retired & scrapped in 1948
    click here for photograph (in a new window) of N.C.N.G.R.R. locomotive #8 at Grass Valley
    1914 ng Baldwin 2-8-0#9ex-Nevada California Oregon Rwy #14; S.P.N.G. #1 1928-1933; N.C.N.G. service 1933–1942sold to U.S. Navy, used in Hawaii 1942-1945; fate unknown
    click here for photograph (in a new window) of N.C.N.G.R.R. locomotive #9 on the turntable at Oilville
    19?? ng Plymouth gas-powered 0-4-0#10in service only Jan-June 1936wrecked in 1936; scrapped later
    19?? ng Whitcomb gas-powered 0-4-0#11ex-Bates & Rogers Construction; in service 1936–1942sold in 1942 to Dulien Steel Products; fate unknown
    1875 ng Baldwin 2-6-0'Glenbrook'in service around Lake Tahoe 1875-1926; purchased in 1937 for parts for #5; never usedreturned to Carson City in 1942; being restored at N.S.R.M.  click here for Lake Tahoe photograph (in a new window)
    1896 std-gauge 2-truck Heislerno numberin service 1913-1914sold in 1914 to Willamette Valley Lumber Co.; scrapped in 1930
    1910 std-gauge 2-truck Climaxno numberin service 1913-1923sold in 1923 to Grant-Friant Rock & Gravel Co.; fate after 1930s unknown

    N.C.N.G. Railroad Rolling Stock Roster

    coach 7, ex-SP 13, ex-SPC 22

    caboose #1 (NCNG's only caboose)

    box car 4, 24 ft
    box car 50, 26 ft
    box car 100, 30 ft as rebuilt
    box car #126
    box car #138, ex-F&CC, NCO
    box car #142 is on stationary display at N.C.N.G.R.R. Museum  click here for photograph (in a new window)
    flatcar 21, 25 ft
    flatcars 87 & 109 ex-PVC
    flatcars 151, 167, 401, ex-NCO
    flatcar 413, 28 ft, ex-SP
    flatcar 421, 30 ft, ex-SP
    gondola 15, 25 ft
    gondolas 105 & 111
    Shell Oil tank A-10, ex-NCO
    tank car 143, 28 ft
    tank Car 1002, 30 ft
    rotary snowplow, ex-Swayne Lumber Co.
    'bucker' snowplow

    Reading Material

    Nevada County Narrow Gauge book by Gerald M. Best  
    "Nevada County Narrow Gauge" [1965]
    by Gerald M. Best

    Heimburger House 11x8½ hardcover [10/98] for $41.95
    Howell-North Books hardcover [1/65] out of print/used
    Never Come, Never Go N.C.N.G.R.R. book by Robert M. Wyckoff  "Never Come, Never Go: The Story of Nevada County's
    Narrow-Gauge Railroad" [1986]
    by Robert M. Wyckoff

    Nevada County Historical Society pb [1/86] out of print/used
    Two Cities and A Train book by Juanita Kennedy Browne  "A Tale of Two Cities and A Train: The Nevada County Narrow
    Gauge Railroad, Nevada County, California, 1874-1942" [1987]
    by Juanita Kennedy Browne

    Nevada County Historical Society pb [10/90] out of print/used
    Nevada County Historical Society hardcover [2/87] out of print/used

    Films & TV, Other Media

    short b&w clips of the demolition of N.C.N.G.'s famous Bear River Bridge, circa 1960s [1:50] at YouTube

    "Lived, Loved, Lost: The N.C.N.G.R.R." student film by Adorian Deck & Kelley Miller
    watch 3/2010 video short [6:00] at YouTube

    difficult to believe that these two short videos were filmed on an HO-scale model layout in Grass Valley
    watch 9/2011 "N.C.N.G. consist at Hills Flat, circa 1935" video [1:09] at YouTube
    watch 9/2011 "N.C.N.G. consist at Grass Valley, circa 1935" video [1:07] at YouTube

    two short videos featuring the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum
    watch 8/2011 public TV segment [5:41] at YouTube
    watch 7/2013 'Gold Country Nuggets' TV segment [2:24] at YouTube

    Image Gallery

    public timetable for the N.C.N.G. Railroad in 1908            busy day at the Grass Valley railroad depot, circa 1930s            color photograph at the N.C.N.G. Railroad Museum in 1994 - N.C.N.G. locomotive #5 steaming past caboose #1

    N.C.N.G. Railroad Links
    Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum [est. 1983] in Nevada City
    N.C.N.G.R.R. Museum entry at Wikipedia
    Nevada County Narrow Gauge Project {On3 display} in Grass Valley, California
    N.C.N.G.R.R. HO-scale model layout
    Foothill Model Works N.C.N.G.R.R. references
    Online Archive of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad

    American Railroads Pages at Spirit of America Bookstore
    Railroad Film Festival Pages at Spirit of America Bookstore
    'Railroads in Fiction' Pages at Spirit of America Bookstore
    'Non-Fiction Books About Railroads' Pages at Spirit of America Bookstore

    here on the Nevada County Narrow-Gauge Railroad [1876-1942] Page

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