Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad
Transportation In Nevada County



Becoming California, stories from California Gold Rush History

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 Nevada County.

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 outside world.


NCNGRR after the turn of the century

NCNGRR Timeline

California State Railroad Museum

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum


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