It was difficult for the people of Grass Valley and Nevada City
to receive their mail and goods for their stores from horse drawn
wagons. During the winter sleds pulled by dogs and people on skis
brought in the mail. Congress made a decision to build a railroad
that would tie to the Central Pacific Railroad in nearby Colfax.
The railroad was called narrow gauge because of the width of the
rails. They were a shorter distance apart than the standard gauge
railroad. The steam engines and cars were also smaller than the
larger trains. It was easier for the small trains to travel on
the winding mountain tracks. The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad
was built and run by John Kidder.
John F. Kidder was a civil engineer who had worked on several railroads. He was chief engineer
on the California and Oregon railroad projects and was in charge
of building the Central Pacific Railway west of Truckee, California.
He built the Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad, which was California's
first narrow gauge railroad.
Kidder accepted the position of chief engineer for the construction
of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad (N.C.N.G.R.R.) in 1874.
The proposed route was to run from Nevada City through Grass Valley,
and then to Colfax connecting it to the Central Pacific Railway.
The estimated cost was $410,000. Construction for the route required
two bridges, one over the Bear River and another over Greenhorn
Creek, and excavation of two tunnels.
Many Chinese workers were hired to build the railroad. They graded,
blasted, and laid the railroad track. The railroad was finally
completed in l876. The first train arrived and passengers had
to pay 10 cents a mile to ride between the towns.The railroad
was a terrific success. It carried passengers, machinery, supplies,
and transported millions of dollars in gold bullion.
Some famous passengers such as Ulysses S. Grant, Emma Nevada (Wixon),
Prince Albert, and Theodore Roosevelt rode the train from Colfax
to the Grass Valley and Nevada City area. During its operation
there was never an attempted robbery. The narrow gauge railroad
played a very important role in developing transportation for
The little narrow gauge trains were often late and earned the
nickname of the "Never Come Never Go" (instead of Nevada County
Narrow Gauge) railroad. The train ran safely for many years until
the Sell's and Renfrow Circus came to Grass Valley in 1893. The
train left for Colfax filled with the circus animals and people.
As it rounded a bend the train engines and cars left the rails
and fell down a bank. It was a railroad disaster. The Union Newspaper
reported that several men were killed and some animals were injured.
The animals and injured people were brought back to town to get
medical attention. Remarkably, the engineer and fireman survived
the fatal crash.
Later, John Kidder became ill with diabetes and died suddenly
on April 10, l901. The Union Newspaper reported that "All of Nevada
Country mourned the death of a foremost citizen." Kidder was recognized
as being a great snow fighter and went to the front lines with
his workers to keep the railroad open. He was praised for his
"public spirit, generosity, and loyalty to his employees.." (The
Union Newspaper, April 10, l901) After John Kidder died his wife,
Sara, became the first woman to own and operate a railroad. The
railroad stopped its operation in l943. For many years the Nevada
County Narrow Gauge Railroad connected our community with the