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May 2, 2013
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Nevada County railroad museum celebrates 10th anniversary


The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum will put anyone interested in transportation history on track to a fun and interesting time with the celebration of its 10th anniversary Saturday.

Visitors can expect free refreshments, live music, railbus rides and docent-led tours of the museum, rail yard and restoration shop.

A steam engine-powered car built by Richard Jeffery in 1901, the museum’s 1875 Baldwin, featured in more than 30 Hollywood movies, and the first car ever built in Nevada County will also be displayed.

The event organizers hope to promote the rich history and significance of the railroad.

“The railroad was the lifeline of the county during the years before there were cars and buses,” said Madelyn Helling, who was president of the museum-founding historical society in 1983. “The present is based on the past, and history is certainly vitally important and a major draw of people to Nevada County.”

Part of that history includes the gold rush when the trains moved 300 million pounds of gold, Helling said.

“Our gold rush history is the main draw of tourists, and we in our way also contribute to bringing people here to enjoy the county and help the economy,” she said.

The Narrow Gauge Railroad also had the first female railroad president, Sarah Kidder, as its leader from 1901 to 1913, Helling said.

The museum focuses not only on rail transportation but air travel as well and has a display of local airman Lyman Gilmore’s 1908 passenger plane that never flew but pioneered the way for aircraft carriage of multiple passengers, Helling said.

“We have a picture of Lyman Gilmore and his brother on film in front of that plane. and we also have the oldest car in California, so we represent transportation, not just the railroad,” she said.

Not only does the museum have its classic displays but new and improved exhibits as well, said curator Brian Blair.

“Each year, we add more locomotives and train cars,” he said. “It’s a great place for families to come, especially in the summer.”

Part of the museum’s significance is to educate children in the ways of the past so they are be able to appreciate the present, Blair said.

“I think it’s important for kids to know their history and that things weren’t always the way they are today,” he said. “It’s important to know in the 19th century, we didn’t have TV and radio, there weren’t a lot of movies, and entertainment was different, and the railroad was part of that.”

During the height of the railroad, hundreds of people would watch and host large picnics, Blair said, adding, “It was a different era.”

The museum also emphasizes the change in technology over time, he said, particularly the movement from horsepower to steam power. Because the tracks are narrow gauge, or closer together, the equipment is smaller and allows the museum to fit more items, Blair said.

“Our equipment is smaller, and we can do more,” he said. “We have cars people can go in. Everybody’s fascinated by trains, and it’s nice that we can get people close to that action.”

The museum is run exclusively by volunteers, who donate 15,000 hours collectively per year, Blair said, adding that some of these volunteers work in the restoration shop, where cars are rebuilt in the design and techniques used to build the original cars.

“When the railroad was sold, everything was scrapped,” he said. “We have a couple pieces original to the railroad, but we do like to give the experience of a working shop and be around the equipment.”

The anniversary event will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

“We just want people to come and enjoy the museum and hope that people who haven’t visited will want to drop by,” Helling said. “It’s free of cost, and we also have a wonderful gift shop.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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The Union Updated May 3, 2013 02:56AM Published May 6, 2013 05:06PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.