- nevada circle tour
Something for Everybody
circle tour was run by Trains Unlimited in June 2006. There were a
few long days on the bus but the railways visited were well worth
the trip. Our bus driver owned the whole bus company -- he was also
a great train fan on a genuine busman's holiday. Ever raced a fast
freight in a bus? We did!!
For a change of pace, I have added a short story about Train Time In
Tulsa and Ollie's Diner at the end of this page. Scroll on dowm to
see what that was all about.
There was no shortage of standard and narrow gauge venues,
both ancient and modern. In particular, the integration of mainline
Amtrak, suburban rapid transit, streetcars, and cable cars in
San Francisco is a lesson for many younger cities which haven't
figured out that autos are not the solution.
The tour started and ended in Santa Clara, California. I broke this
travelog into four phases, roughly eastbound to Nevada, northbound
in Nevada, westbound back to the coast in California, and finally
southbound along the coast back to Santa Clara. A back and forth
from Stockton to Bakersfield finished the tour.
Well worth the time and effort.
Canyon Railway, Niles Canyon, CA (east of Freemont)
Standard gauge train ride, diesels at both ends of excursion
cars, 70 minute round trip from Niles to Sunol, CA on ex-Western
Pacific / Southern Pacific mainline.
Railroad, Jamestown, CA
gauge, originally a logging and mining railway built in 1897,
Short steam train ride, shop tour, turntable operations.
Railroad Dinner Train, Oakdale, CA
originally a logging and mining railway built in 1897. Sunset
dinner train to Warnerville and return. Unfortunately it was
June and the sun set on the tail of the train, no great photos
from the train windows. Photo from website.
National Park, Yosemite, CA
standard gauge Yosemite Valley Railroad ran to the park from
Merced to Los Banos and Yosemite Valley (1905 to 1946). Good
website but no place to visit.
We visited the park en route
to Carson City, NV. Waterfalls, big trees, and elk using
crosswalk skills are common sights.
YVRR photo from website
This leg of the tour tales us from Yosemite, via Tioga
Pass and Mono Lake, to Carson City, Virginia City, Reno/Sparks,
and on to Donner Pass back into California.
State Railroad Museum, Carson City, NV
Standard gauge steam
train ride and tour of facilities. The grounds and museum are
impeccable, but poor lighting inside the museum doesn't allow good photos.
Most interesting feature is a gallows style turntable and the
beautifully restored locomotives inside.
Virginia and Truckee
Railroad, Virginia City, NV
diesel train ride (2-8-0 steamer was being rebuilt) and tour of
old-west buildings and mining operations. Short ride through 4
tunnels, past several abandoned Comstock silver mines, on the
right of way first cleared in 1868. Virginia City is a tourist
trap of the first kind and has no other purpose today.
Pacific Railroad, Reno / Sparks / Reno Junction, NV
Photo Op at standard
gauge display, Sparks City Park en route to Reno Junction,
Hawley, and Portola.
westbound leg took us from Portola / Feather River Canyon to
Fort Bragg / Willits, CA
Western Pacific Railroad Museum, Portola, CA
After arriving at Portola from the Feather River Canyon, we
toured the amazing museum/shop of the Feather River Rail Society.
This facility does restoration and rental of vintage diesels and
streamliner passenger cars and has a storage area for unrestored
who could see the controls got to run a diesel back and forth -
pretty cool! Snow plows were a necessity in these mountains - a
rotary and a wedge were in good repair.
Wye Bridge, CA en route to Donner Pass, CA
Lots of train watching at Keddie on ex-WP mainline (now UP and
The Donner Pass has quite a reputation as a result of its
super-deep snows, as well as the fabulous tales of hardship,
cannibalism, and death in the winter of 1846. In 1952, the crack
SP passenger train, "The City of San Francisco", was trapped for
several days when 13 feet of snow piled up in Donner Pass.
Rotary plows and a hardy work crew rescued 286 passengers and
crew, unharmed by the ordeal. The SP snowsheds are still visible
on the mountainside.
County Narrow Gauge Museum, Nevada City, CA
This is ex-gold
mining and logging country. One of the prettiest spots on the
trip, the town
is justly proud of its many preserved mansions. The
museum is spotless and a number of antique freight cars grace
the spur track, along with a neat jitney railbus. The NCNG ran
from 1876 to 1942.
The Nevada County Traction Company is a 2 foot gauge line that
links the Museum to the nearby Northern Queen Inn. A little
yellow and green mine diesel pulling converted ore cars runs us
downhill through a switchback to a very scenic setting for
dinner, a streetcar suspended over Gold Run creek and waterfall
- The Trolley Junction Restaurant.
California Western Railroad, Willits, CA
near the coast, we return to Redwood country and
onboard the California Western railbus, better known as the
"Skunk Train" because of the terrible smell from early gasoline
engines. We run from Willits to Northspur for a BBQ supper in
the heart of the redwoods.
diesel train also makes the same trip with a slightly larger
passenger load. The Northspur to Fort Bragg leg of the run was
closed due to weakened bridge, so we ended up back at Willits and
bused to Fort Bragg. The Western California steam train was not
part of the tour but we watched it set out next morning.
This section of the tour took us down the coast, with a
few skips and jumps, to Sacramento, Napa, San Francisco, and
Felton / Santa Rosa. The add-on trip from Stockton to
Bakersfield and return in the 55 year old streamlined dome cars
was an all-inclusive gourmet delight. Bakersfield is, of course,
Town, Sonoma, CA
Following a long bus ride along the winding coastal redwoods
highway, we visited a fantastic 1/8 scale operating ride-on
railway. Scale buildings and bridges, turntable and roundhouse,
plus a tropical garden setting made a great afternoon stop.
Valley Wine Train, Napa, CA
Not much to see, but the food and wine are really good. The 1959
Budd streamline dome cars have been nicely refurbished and the
cling like cloth. Photos from the website.
California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento, CA
Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum fill a
morning, and much more if you can spare the time. The Museum is
spectacular and obviously well financed. The Museum's train ride
along the river front is uninspired, pulled by a standard
gauge 0-6-0 tank engine from an abandoned quarry operation.
is a mainline diesel version run by Sacramento River Trains and is
probably a better bet, but we didn't get a chance to ride on it.
Railroad Museum, Rio Vista, CA
This working museum covers electric interurban freight and
passenger service in western USA. A ride, with lunch included,
on a freight motor pulling two unpowered passenger cars brought
us to Gum Grove and return, past numerous wind turbines.
way of Amtrak from Sansun/Fairfield to Freemont, BART under the
Bay to downtown, and cable car to Fisherman's Wharf, we boarded
a fishing trawler for a ride under the Golden Gate Bridge. It
was rough and cold but quite enjoyable. A crab dinner
followed on stable land. Pogo once said "Terra Firma - the more
firma, the less terra".
Next day, we tried out the PCC
streetcars and "N" and "L" subways. These are equipped with
convertible steps that handle both street level and platform
Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad, Felton, CA
We left San Francisco by CalTrain to Mountain View, then by
Felton to ride the narrow gauge Shay into the redwoods. The shop
tour showed several engines under rebuild and a couple of baby
diesels sat in the sun outside.
Down the Valley, Stockton to Bakersfield, CA
Our final trip was an all-day journey on a Budd Vista-Dome car
tacked on the end of the regular Amtrak passenger train from
Stockton to Bakersfield. On the return trip, we were tacked next
to the northbound diesel, about 30 feet from the airhorn - there
are about 200 level crossings to whistle at, so it was not as
peaceful as the southbound journey.
Three gourmet meals, three
between meal snacks, and all the booze you want were included in
the fare. A few over-indulged but most were still sober upon
The San Joaquin Valley is flat, boring, and green in June (brown
later in the year) but it is the fruit and vegetable basket for much of the USA
and a lot of the rest of the world. During the northbound run, the sun set on 10 days of
trains and good food. as we returned to Stockton and Santa Clara.
Time In Tulsa
is not the first place you would go to see trains. Fiji or Hong
Kong or backwoods California are better, but business took me
there for a week every month or so from 2005 to 2009. The job
was to teach petrophysics to Schlumberger engineers the basiscs
of the science of petrophysics in Tulsa University's Leader
Program. Imagine a classroom of 20 or so students from 20
different countries, all speaking perfect English as their
second or third language. This was the best 8 to 5 contract I
ever had. But what to do with the 6 tp 10 PM time slot? There
was a bar with 300 brands beer, a Spagetti Factoru, the hotel
restaurant, and CSI every night, every channel. Train watching
The BNSF mainline goes right through downtown Tulsa, a block
from the hotel, each train whistling at a sequence of 6 level
crossings. A huge variety of motive power, unit trains, and
switching maneuvers made for interesting post-dinner
BNSF brags that it is the largest single user of diesel fuel in
the USA, most of it used to move coal to power plants. In this
more eco-friendly decade, I'm not sure this is anything BNSF
should be proud of.
Tulsa is also home to Route 66, the famous 1930's "Mother Road"
between Chicago and Los Angeles. And the art-deco office
buildings are a real treat compared to most glass-towered
downtown cores. For model train fans, there is Ollie's, a
classic roadside diner filled with operating Lionel and LGB
trains. The food is 1960's style, heavy on the gravy, but well
worth the 15 minute drive. Special thanks to all the staff at TU
/ CESE who looked after us so well.
Inside Ollie's - model train collection, old time food,
and BNSF tracks out-side the windows - on US Route 66, 15
minutes west of downtown Tulsa.
The bulletproof Tulsa transfer caboose in 2009