Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum – Nevada City, California - Atlas Obscura

Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum

"You don't need a rocket scientist to build a steam engine, but we've got one." -Museum docent on the credentials of a restoration volunteer. 


There are few subjects that enjoy the level of dedication and fanatical devotion that the railways and their iron giants do.

Advocates and aficionados of the history of American railroad put a tremendous amount of hours and elbow grease into restoration and preservation. Keeping the romance of locomotives alive, the Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum (named for the Northern California’s Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad affectionately known as the “Never Come, Never Go” due to its lack of punctuality) is no different. This small museum has a docent-led tour that includes a walk through the rail yard and a unique peek into the restoration shop, where busy volunteers maintain and restore the museum’s treasures. 

Nevada County was the epicenter of California’s Gold Rush, and the Northern California’s Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad (NCNGRR) was an integral part of its success. Incorporated on April 4, 1874, within two years the passenger and commercial lines had considerably lessened the gap between the isolated mountain towns rich with resources and their fellow, less desolate communities.

John Kidder, the engineer responsible for the construction of the line, built a very lavish scroll-saw home in Grass Valley behind the depot christened Kidder Mansion where, as pillars of the community, he and his wife Sarah threw opulent parties and entertained visiting celebrities and dignitaries. When John succumbed to diabetes in 1901, Sarah stepped into his role as President of the NNGRR, becoming the first female railroad president in history. 

Along with engines in various stages of repair and bits and pieces of the Kidder’s lives, the museum features the Jeffrey Steam Car, said to be the first automobile manufactured in California, artifacts and photos from Kidder Mansion, and a display honoring local hero Lyman Gilmore, an aviation pioneer who claimed to have succeeded at powered flight before the Wright Brothers. The gift shop is overflowing with local history books and memorabilia from this vibrant area that hosted the two richest gold mines in California, North Star Mine and Empire Mine, and features highlights of the illustrious film career of #5, a retired NCNGRR engine often out on loan to Universal Studios.

Know Before You Go

1.) Driving North on Highway 49 from Grass Valley, exit Gold Flat Road and turn right.

2.) Make an immediate left onto Hollow Way

3.) Make the next right onto Bost Ave.

4.)Follow Bost Avenue over a small hill and turn left into Kidder Court.

1.) Driving South on Highway 49 from Nevada City, exit Gold Flat Road and turn left over the freeway.

2.) Turn left onto Hollow Way

3.) Make the next right onto Bost Ave.

4.) Follow Bost Avenue over a small hill and turn left into Kidder Court.

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