History of the Nevada County Narrow Gage Railroad

This post was written by jd on September 7, 2010
Posted Under: History of Nevada County,Nevada County Information

Nevada County Narrow Gage Museum, Grass Valley, CA

The need for rail service in the semi-mountainous and wooded area of Grass Valley and Nevada City was precipitated by mining operations subsequent to the California Gold Rush. In addition, timber operators wanted to make their land accessible to the Southern Pacific Company in Colfax. On March 20, 1874, the California legislature and Governor Newton Booth approved the right to build and operate a narrow gauge railroad from Colfax, through Grass Valley, to Nevada City. On June 20, an Act of Congress granted the railroad right of way through public lands.

J. H. Bates estimated that construction and equipment would total $411,132. Only one bid came in and it was for $500,000, signed by M. F. Beatty; he received a lump sum of $500,000. Construction began January 1875. Knox were subcontracted for earthwork. John Flint Kidder was the chief engineer. Within two months, 600 men were employed in the railroad’s construction.

Construction included two bridges, two tunnels, and five trestles. After leaving the Colfax depot, the road headed north, parallel with the Central Pacific Railroad, then crossed Bear River, and into Nevada County. One of the first stations was at the town of You Bet which serviced the Goodwin Drift Gravel Mine. The road proceeded into Chicago Park, a fruit and grape growers colony, and then continued into Grass Valley. All cars and locomotives had Westinghouse railway brakes, and cars used for passenger service had Miller Platform couplers. As the first contractor, Beatty, was unable to complete the project, a second, J. K. Bynre, was brought in; construction was completed in the spring of 1876. The inaugural train, from Colfax to Grass Valley, ran on April 11 and by May 20, the first train reached Nevada City.

The company’s first President was John C. Coleman, president of the North Star Mine. Kidder, the builder, decided to settle down in Grass Valley, becoming the General Superintendent, and in 1884, became the second president. Upon his death in 1901, Kidder’s widow, Sarah, took over, becoming the first female railroad president in the world.

In September 1907, a 3.56 mi (5.73 km) “cut-off”, at a cost of $132,285 was built, bettering the grade. The following year, construction was completed on the Bear River Bridge. By 1912, the NCNGRR was running three mixed trains daily, each way, between Nevada City and Colfax, while a fourth mixed train ran daily, each way, between Grass Valley and Colfax. Sarah Kidder sold her interests in 1913 and retired to San Francisco.

In 1926, Earl Taylor and his associates purchased the railroad for $1. With the outbreak of World War II, they sold it in 1942 for $251,000 to Dulian Steel Products Company and the last train to run over the line was on May 29.

Each combination coach had a small iron safe in the baggage compartment. Though $200,000,000 in gold was hauled out of Nevada County by the NCNGRR during its operation, there was never an attempted robbery.

Resources for further information:

Nevada County Narrow Gage Museum

Approximate location map of the museum on Kidder Court, map is a little off of exact location. But this will get you there.

View Larger Map

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