Rich Moreno: California museum offers lots of historic Nevada rolling stock
January 23, 2019
The best place to view outstanding examples of Nevada railroad rolling stock — besides the excellent Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City — is the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
The museum, located in the historic Old Sacramento district, is a shrine to western railroading. It contains dozens of exhibits, many spotlighting restored locomotives and cars, including several Virginia & Truckee Railroad engines and equipment and cars from other Nevada railroads.
For example, one of the museum's best exhibits features the shiny "Genoa," also known as V&T locomotive No. 12, which was built in 1873. In the display, the engine is poised on an 1884 iron truss bridge and is pulling V&T combination car No. 16.
Adjacent is the marvelous 1876 North Pacific Coast Railroad locomotive No. 12, the "Sonoma," which was later sold to the Nevada Central Railway. For nearly 60 years, this engine pulled trains between Austin and Battle Mountain.
It is displayed pulling a Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad combination car and a Nevada Central Railroad passenger car named "the Silver State."
Another display shows off the dazzling "Empire," also known as V&T locomotive No. 13. Built in 1873, this piece of Nevada train history is offered in a mirrored enclosure that shows it in all of its brass, metal and wood splendor.
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The last of the V&T locomotives can be found in the museum's adjunct building (the restored Central Pacific Freight Depot just outside of the main museum). There, you can find V&T locomotive No. 21, the J. W. Bowker (named for a V&T master mechanic), which was built in 1875.
Other Nevada-related items in the museum include Nevada Central Railway Coach No. 3 (Silver State), which is a narrow-gauge railroad car built in 1881 in Battle Mountain. According to the museum, it was the only passenger car built by the Nevada Central Railway, which operated between Austin and Battle Mountain.
The museum is also home of the opulent Georgia Northern Railroad Private Car No. 100, "The Gold Coast," which was owned by authors Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg.
When the two settled in Virginia City in the 1950s and operated the legendary Territorial Enterprise newspaper, the car was frequently stored in Carson City.
The museum, of course, does offer its share of noteworthy California railroad equipment. For example, you can find Central Pacific Railroad (CP) locomotive No. 1, the "Gov. Stanford."
This piece of rail history was the CP's first engine and was constructed in Sacramento. After several years of service, former California Gov. Leland Stanford's widow rescued it from the junkyard in 1899. It is displayed in an elaborate Sierra scene.
Another beautiful locomotive in the collection is Southern Pacific Railroad's Locomotive No. 1, the "C.P. Huntington" (built in 1863). This gray and red engine was originally used by the Central Pacific (as No. 3), then transferred to the affiliated Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) in 1871.
More modern equipment in the museum includes the massive SP locomotive No. 4294, built in 1944. Weighing more than 1 million pounds, it was the last steam locomotive purchased by the SP and is the only "cab-forward engine" in existence (256 were made at the time).
Its unique backward-appearing construction was designed specifically to handle the Sierra Nevada range's difficult summits.
The museum's giant Santa Fe Railroad locomotive No. 1010 is significant because it was the engine that Walter "Death Valley Scotty" Scott (of Scotty's Castle fame) used to set a high-speed train record in 1905 (going from Los Angeles to Chicago).
In addition to the static displays, the railroad museum offers train excursions along the Sacramento River on weekends between April and September. The six-mile journey is a real scenic treat as you travel for 45 minutes along the river's edge.
Next door to the museum is a fine railroad-themed gift shop with everything from videos to books to "Thomas the Tank Engine" toys, and the Railroad Museum Library, a treasure trove of historic information for hardcore rail buffs.
The railroad museum is located at 125 I St. in Old Sacramento. It is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Museum admission is $12 for adults, $6 for children 6 to 17 and free for those 5 and younger. For information, go to http://www.californiarailroad.museum.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.