It was the end of the line … |

It was the end of the line …

The Associated PressAt the Narrow Gauge Centennial May 22, 1976, the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce honored the last seven employees of the railroad at a Centennial Salute at the Nevada Theatre. Pictured are (from left) Jim Emmons, not a former employee but the builder of the model of locomotive No. 1, the Grass Valley; Ernie Hampton; Rose Geronimi; Sadie Angiolini; Tac Angiolini; Bob Paine; Harlan Torbert and John Tremewan. The "Chicago Park" sign (pictured) is in the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
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Last time, after the fall of the trestle, we said that was the end of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad. Technically that statement was correct, but there were still a few structures remaining in 1963 that had served the railroad. Today, only the Terminal Building built in 1940 as a freight and truck facility remains. It is not included in this story but will be discussed in a later feature. I’ll note the others, but first – after my last story, I received a letter from Bill Vogt, who lives in Penn Valley and was the Cat skinner on that fateful day. The letter throws very interesting additional light on the “Little Trestle That Wouldn’t Fall Down!” Here’s part of Bill’s letter:

“I enjoyed … your article … It brought back memories … I was operating the Cat that was trying to pull (the trestle) down. Previous to the blasting, I was told not to pull too hard before the blast because they didn’t want the trestle down before time. It was quite a shock when it didn’t fall … Next day, I returned to the job and after some (unsuccessful) tries, the trestle went down. There was only one bulldozer involved in the whole operation … I was left with the job of pulling it apart after the burners cut it (up). I was working for Robinson Timber (which) was logging … (at what would be) the waterline (of Rollins Lake).”

Thanks Bill for that additional insight into our railroad’s history.

The Nevada City depot was used until 1942, when service was discontinued. It stood vacant for more than 20 years; at one time it housed a young boy’s model railroad layout, and at other times it gave shelter to the homeless, sometimes without the owner’s knowledge. Then it, too, fell to the wreckers, another victim of progress. This time, the Golden Center Freeway was the culprit.

The old depot was demolished in 1963. Just prior to its scheduled demise, a historical-minded young man received permission from the building’s owners at the time – J. Paul Bergemann, local mortician, and Edwin Furano, Nevada City businessman – to remove the “Nevada City” station identification sign from the front of the building. That sign was eventually given to the Nevada County Historical Society for display in its Nevada City Firehouse No. 1 Museum.

The sign is truly the last vestige of the railroad and is now displayed in the new Narrow Gauge museum scheduled to open at 5 Kidder Court, Nevada City, on Sept. 21.

The Kidder Mansion stood proudly at the corner of Bennett and Kidder streets near the Grass Valley depot. From its construction in the mid-1880s until it was (some say unnecessarily) torn down in 1981, it was a Grass Valley landmark, show place and during the Kidder days, the town’s social center.

It was described as “a scroll-saw mansion … (of) rich interiors, paneled in rare polished woods brought from around the world … (there were) two Steinway grands, and the gardens (were) landscaped with every plant and fruit tree that would thrive in the Sierra climate.” It was a two-story structure of wood construction.

John Kidder had been elected president of the railroad in 1884 and felt that a residence fitting his position was needed. The Coleman brothers – John and Edward – had sold their majority share to Kidder, who was then superintendent. He, of course, voted himself into the presidency.

The brothers owned the Idaho Quartz Mining Co. and were concerned that a large judgment against the railroad could wipe them out financially. They were alarmed at recent court decisions bearing on stockholders’ liability in accident cases.

They later sold the Idaho, which they thought had played out, to the Maryland Mine interests and moved to San Francisco, where each enjoyed success in many and varied business ventures.

The old machine shop building, sheathed with corrugated steel panels, stood a short distance east of the mansion. In 1975, a group was formed to establish the Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum in the old building. They sold “Charter Member-Restoration Committee” badges to raise funds, but were unsuccessful in creating enough interest to get the project off the ground. The building was torn down in 1982; it no longer served any purpose!

The ball really got rolling on May 10, 1985, when old engine No. 5 returned home to Nevada City on a Robinson Timber lowboy. The Transportation Division of the Nevada County Historical Society took the lead in a new “museum effort,” which is now realized with the help of Nevada City and myriad others. The engine will be the center piece on tracks laid in the exhibit hall of the new museum.

Bob Wyckoff is a retired newspaper editor, an author of local history, a lifetime student of California history and a longtime resident of Nevada County. You can write him at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

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