Paul Matson: Narrow Gauge and Transportation Museum rocks |

Paul Matson: Narrow Gauge and Transportation Museum rocks

Paul Matson, granddaughter Josie and Madelyn Helling take a break from the Christmas Party at the Railroad Museum.
Submitted photo

My interest was renewed and perked last December when attending the Railroad Museum’s Christmas party with my granddaughter.

The place looked great and was full of holiday spirit and revelers. Santa was there, as was Museum Secretary Madelyn Helling. The gift shop had something for all ages and all pocketbooks. There were complimentary homemade cookies and punch, plus a ride on the rail bus.

I was reminded that this museum is about a lot more than trains; it’s also about other types of transportation. One great example is a 1901 Jeffrey steam automobile, Nevada County’s oldest car. Another is a three-minute film about Lyman Gilmore, an aviation pioneer, inventor of landing gear, flying out of Gilmore Field, the site of today’s Lyman Gilmore School.

Soon they’ll be restoring the beer wagon (sponsored by the ol’ Republic Brewery) and then the stage coach presently housed at the Isabel Hefelfinger Wagon Shed in Pioneer Park. The late, great civic leader Isabel Hefelfinger (1899-1991) dragged the money out of the Historical Society and the City Council to build the shed. It also houses a logging wagon, a fire department hose cart and wagon, a sleigh and a carriage. All are slated for restoration by our Nevada County Railroad and Transportation Division.

Ken Matthias is the manager of rail bus operations, one of its drivers and ticket designer. (It is worth noting that everyone working at the museum is a volunteer.) The restored bus has been running since May 2016 on its 1 1/2-mile round trip to and from the Northern Queen Inn, totaling 700 round trips and more than 10,000 riders to date. In 1977, the rail bus was created and constructed from a 1930s Ford school bus by the West Side & Cherry Valley Railroad’s owner Glen Bell, in Tuolumne. The bus was purchased in 2013 and donated to the museum by Museum Director John Christensen. Both the rail bus ride and museum admission are free. Rail bus rides resume this year on April 27.

The museum’s center piece and crown jewel is Engine #5. Original to the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad, it also served us well in Hollywood movies, and is now back home in Nevada County, where it belongs.

Its new boiler was built for Engine #5’s twin sister Glenbrook, located at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City. That boiler, built in 1981 was never used. After 31 years of quiet inquiries by John Christensen, he negotiated a trade of the boiler for materials needed by Nevada museum. Currently all the hardware is being removed from the old boiler, and once removed the running gear will be inspected. The oil tank is also being removed since the engine is being converted back to a wood-fired locomotive. Then the tender water tank is heading off to Nevada City’s Sierra Metal Fabricators to have a new internal water tank constructed (cost $16,000) to make it serviceable once again. The original tender shell was damaged by the two different fires. The new internal tank will help preserve the original shell in its present form for the sake of historical authenticity. Once the engine’s restoration is completed, it will be inspected and licensed by the Cal Osha Boiler Division for operation.

And then there is the project at Clamper’s Square, the tiny triangle of land between the freeway off ramp, Sacramento Street and Railroad Avenue. This was a part of the property where the Nevada City Depot was located, prior to the freeway’s construction in 1964. Today there is a commemorative plaque and two sequoias marking the spot. Approved by the city is a 10-foot wide kiosk, which will be built off site and moved to the location of the original depot. It will feature rotating photo displays and information relative to the Narrow Gauge. Museum volunteers Ken Matthias and Gary Hawkins will build the kiosk.

Additionally, 200 feet of track will be laid along the freeway side of Railroad Avenue, running from Clamper’s Square toward the Northern Queen Inn. This is the original alignment of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad track. A sidewalk will be built between the track and the cyclone fence. A crosswalk will be added at the end new track to ensure improved pedestrian safety when crossing Railroad Avenue.

John Christensen, ever on the prowl for new equipment, has secured a West Side Lumber Company snow plow, donated by the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. It will be displayed on the new section of track for one and all to enjoy.

As I mentioned at the outset, the Christmas Party was a fine reminder of how much is happening at the Nevada County Narrow Gauge and Transportation Museum. If you think it might be a good fit for you, they are always looking for sponsors for wagon and train restoration as well as adding to their staff of highly dedicated volunteers. To learn more, give them a ring at 470-0902 or visit To enjoy the museum during their winter hours, drop by 5 Kidder Court in Nevada City between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Paul Matson, who lives in Nevada City, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His opinion is his own and does not reflect the viewpoint of The Union or its editorial board. Write to him at

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User