Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Western Pacific Railroad Museum

Today, Lisa and I finally got to go see the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, California. I've known of this museum for years, but never visited it before, and even after moving to Fernley I kept thinking it was a lot farther away than it really is. In fact, it's only 80 miles from Fernley, so it made for a fine day trip.

First WP Diesel

This locomotive (Western Pacific's first-ever diesel) was among those in the collection we'd be seeing today, but first we had to get there.

We got away from home decently early, went to Reno, had breakfast at the Atlantis, and drove up US-395 to Hallelujah Junction, where CA-70 heads west and south ultimately to Sacramento through Marysville.

Reno Junction

Shortly after it begins its journey west, CA-70 arches over the overgrown track of the former Western Pacific Railroad Reno Branch. In this photo, the Reno Branch heads off to the right, branching from the former WP mainline that runs from upper left to lower left. When Western Pacific and Southern Pacific were separate railroads, WP served industries in the Reno area through this 33-mile branch to Reno. Now that both WP and SP are part of Union Pacific, UP serves those industries on the Reno Branch from the south end in Reno, and the north end here is out of service. Although the track appears to still connect, the line is overgrown and does not look to have seen a train in years.

The ex-WP line curving to the lower left heads through a tunnel at Beckwourth Pass, the lowest mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada, (much lower than the ex-SP, ex-Central Pacific, original transcontinental railroad Donner Pass route), and the justification for building the Western Pacific in the first place. They built the WP to a grade not exceeding 1% (1 foot rise per 100 feet run maximum grade), even when it meant looping the railroad over itself at Williams Loop (which we have yet to visit).

Museum Shop

At Portola, the WP built a large shop at its extensive yard facility here. After Union Pacific merged the WP, UP abandoned the shops here, including the balloon track used to turn trains instead of a turntable, and the Western Pacific Historical Society established a museum here to preserve the history of the WP. As it happens, this shop (still used to work on locomotives including the steam locomotive being worked on in the distance) has now been in preservation longer than it was in operation for the WP.

To the left is a former Union Pacific office car originally used by the president of the railroad when he traveled around the system. You can see interior photos of this car in the Flickr Album I created of our museum visit.

Shouldn't Paint So Fast

Rather than just spending the $24 for two adult admissions plus train rides, we jumped in and bought a family membership ($80, includes admission and train rides for a year, plus discounts on museum merchandise). We then boarded the museum trains, which today consisted of several cabooses hauled by this former Southern Pacific railroad locomotive. GP9 Number 2873 was one of a series of SP locomotives to wear the ill-fated "Kodachrome" paint scheme (so named due to the colors' resemblance to the packaging of Kodak film). In the 1980s, Southern Pacific and Santa Fe began to work toward a merger. One of the elements of the merger was to start painting their two roads' locomotives in a common paint scheme, with the Southern Pacific locomotives painted S P _ _ and the Santa Fe locomotives painted _ _ S F, so that when the merger went through, the other two letters of the planned Southern Pacific Santa Fe Railroad could simply be painted in. Ultimately, however, the Interstate Commerce Commission (which regulated railroad mergers at the time) rejected the merger. The two roads, which had by then been purchased by a common holding company, had to split back up. Some wags dubbed this the "Shouldn't Paint So Fast" scheme.

Caboose Cupola

We boarded one of the cabooses and climbed into the cupola. This was the trailing car of the train, with this view backwards from our perch high above the tracks.

Top of the Train

travelswithkuma and Lisa also had a good view. The train makes a loop around the balloon track, then backs into the platform. This reverses the order of the cars every time it goes around the loop, and they then have to decouple the locomotive and run it around the loop the other way to get it back to the front of the train for the next trip.

WPRR Back Lot

After the train ride, Lisa and I explored the museum in different ways. I poked through the business car and wandered around the back lot looking at all of the various pieces of equipment.

Loco & Plow

Among the many pieces of rail equipment on display were this small locomotive and a snowplow.

Rotary Plow

They also roster WP's only rotary snowplow, which was rarely needed on the main line (that was part of the point of building over the lower-altitude pass), but sometimes was used to clear the "high line" (the branch north from Keddie to meet the Northern Pacific, now part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe).

Zephyr Dining Car

Lisa struck up a conversation with one of the museum volunteers, and I later found her with him in the dining car of the California Zephyr. The eventual goal of the museum is to re-create a complete set of one of the most famous long-distance trains. Today's Amtrak train by the same name does not cover the exact same route, and in particular it does not go through the Feather River Canyon. (No regularly scheduled passenger trains do so; only occasional excursions and diverted Amtrak CZ trains. There's a trip through the Canyon next month. If we hadn't gone to Worldcon, we might have been able to to make the trip; however, the three-day CZ trip would probably have cost more than our Spokane trip, and we couldn't afford to do both.)

Lisa hit it off with the museum volunteers and got a number of behind-the-scenes views already, as she showed that she's not a "foamer," but someone who actually knows what she's talking about. If we wanted to get more involved, museum members who volunteer to work at the museum can stay in the "bunkhouse," which is actually a couple of pieces of converted rail equipment.

Crew Quarters

All of the California Zephyr equipment had "Silver" in their names ("Silver Antelope," "Silver Banquet," "Silver Palm," etc.). I was amused to see that the crew cars have been stenciled with their own "Silver" names.

WPRR Museum Train

I shot this video (click through to view it) of the museum train coming around the balloon track and backing into the platform.

WPRR Museum Train

Lisa and I decided to ride the train around the loop again. This time, the red "transfer caboose" (with large end platforms; visible as the last car before the locomotive in the video above) was on the tail, and we rode here to get the experience of riding a bay-window caboose instead of a cupola one.

WPRR Museum Train

After the train made the loop, but before it started backing up, I popped out onto the rear platform and shot this video (again, click through to view it) of the train backing into the platform. I panned past ex-UP DDAX40 "Centennial" locomotive 6946, spliced between two active UP locomotives temporarily stored on museum tracks. (The museum is adjacent to the now-UP mainline and still has a connection. UP has an agreement with the museum to use their tracks for storage of equipment occasionally.)

We had a good day out at the museum, but it's a good thing we bought a membership, because there's still plenty to explore, and we will be coming back.

Stead Airport

Lisa drove us back to Reno. On a whim, we diverted over to Stead airport, home of the National Championship Air Races (coming up shortly).

Stead Airport

There's some pretty interesting equipment visible here as well.

Stead Airport

We of course stayed outside the security fence.

Stead Airport

There are more aircraft photos in the Flickr Album I created for airplanes and airports.

We combined planes, trains, and automobiles by driving around the industrial parks near Stead airport tracing the various industrial railroad tracks that were part of the justification for the Reno Branch in the first place. There is still a lot of industry here, some of which is making extensive use of rail transport.

After our day of sightseeing in our backyard, we made a stop at Winco in Sparks for some groceries, then headed home. It was a long day, but an entertaining one.
Tags: planes, reno, trains, union pacific, western pacific

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