Heres the rest of the railyard story |

Heres the rest of the railyard story

Truckee Donner Historical Society photoThe west of the roundhouse in the railyard is shown here.

[Editors note: This is the second part of the history of the railyard property east of Downtown Truckee.]The Town of Truckee and the Holliday Corporation are in the planning process for the redevelopment of the railyard site. By understanding the history of the industrial site and its impact on Truckee, the citizens of Truckee can help plan the future.The Truckee railyards were first used in 1868 with the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Three different roundhouses were built, with the third one being a 24-stall granite structure. Repair shops, woodsheds and other maintenance buildings were in constant use. The granite roundhouse was built in 1882 and torn down in 1955 when the site was converted into a sawmill.The balloon track was built in 1901 to facilitate the turning of snowplow trains. Before that the individual engines and plows had to be run onto the turntable in the roundhouse, and turned around for another run up to Donner Pass. When larger cab forward engines were put into service in 1909, the balloon track was improved and strengthened. Since these locomotives used more water, an additional water supply was acquired on Trout Creek and new water tanks were built at the roundhouse.

In 1905 the railroad started switching its engines to oil fuel. A large oil tank was built east of the roundhouse in 1906. An even larger one was built in 1916. Coal had been both a boon and curse to Truckee. A large coal shed had been built in 1886 to supply passing engines. Before that thousands of cords of four foot wood had been loaded onto locomotives. However, two years later most locomotives were changed back to wood fired boilers. Wood engines used many tens of thousands of cords of Truckee-cut wood that kept the economy of Truckee rolling along.In 1904, a coal fire that started in the Truckee yards burned for four weeks, sending up choking noxious smoke that drifted over town. Oil wasn’t all that great for the Truckee River. Twice about 1910, oil spilled into the river in large enough quantities that it reached Reno both times. Waste oil was dumped into a pit, creating the underground pollution that still is on the site.In 1907, Truckee lost its place as a crew changing point. The addition of double trackage and the larger engines sped up the trains so that crews could make it from Roseville to Sparks in a single 16-hour shift. Many jobs also went out of town with the change, depressing the Truckee economy a little more.

The California agriculture industry relied on the Truckee yards to get its produce fresh to points east. At first icing was done at ice plants at Boca, Prosser Creek, Polaris and Donner Creek. As early as 1877, an ice house was built to store and transfer ice to cooler cars that kept the fruits and vegetables cool. By 1906 a new Pacific Fruit Express icing shed had been built and was icing 10,000 refrigerator cars a year, using 50,000 tons of Truckee basin ice a year. Nearby the former Ellen mill site was transformed into the Trout Creek Ice Company pond and warehouse. By 1920 the icing was shifted to man-made ice stations at Roseville and Sparks.The local cattle and dairy industry also used the railyards for a transfer point. Each spring cows were brought up from the Sacramento Valley and unloaded, then driven to pastures. In the fall the cows were loaded back up and shipped back below. Local butchers such as Joe Marzen shipped in beef cattle from Nevada and processed them at their local slaughterhouse. The stockyards at the railyard were at the east end of the site and were also the site of impromptu rodeos. In the late 1800s the area was used as a shooting range for the Truckee Rifle Club. During the holidays, a turkey and chicken shooting contest was held. At the east end of the site was the Kearney chicken ranch. It supplied the local chicken and egg market for several decades through the mid-1900s.

The freight traffic increased to the point that larger and larger locomotives were needed. In 1911 a new freight station was constructed in the western part of town. Beginning in 1909, the first Mallet compound locomotive was tested on the Donner route. These oil-powered steam monsters were large enough to pull the heavy trains up the steep grades. The smoke of these locomotives was choking the train crews, so Southern Pacific created a cab forward Mallet to solve the problem. The new design Mallets began to work the mountain grade in 1910 and train crews were a lot happier and healthier. The Truckee balloon track was modified to handle the heavier and longer locomotives. A modified articulated cab forward was introduced in 1928. These unusual engines were in use as long as steam power lasted. An engine shed was constructed over the main sidings so that waiting helper engines did not have to sit out in the snowstorms.

Traffic continued to increase and despite no longer being a division point, Truckee still served as an important yard. Helper engines were still needed on the steep grade going west. Maintenance and snow removal crews were still stationed here. However in 1923 the Truckee fire train was reassigned to Andover, on Schallenberger Ridge.The Truckee yards gained additional staff and responsibilities in 1926 when the Southern Pacific leased the Lake Tahoe Railway & Transportation Co. narrow gauge line from Truckee to Tahoe City. Once standard gauging was complete, Truckee based engines kept traffic moving on that branch.By 1939 the roundhouse was being phased out in favor of housing engines at Sparks, Nev. The roof was removed but the turntable was still used. In 1955 the roundhouse was removed, the granite blocks being disbursed around Truckee. Many ended up in gardens and as walkways.As diesels took over the traffic demands for the Southern Pacific, the importance of the Truckee yards diminished. Yet even today the Union Pacific still intends to maintain a presence in Truckees railroad yards.

By 1955, modern technology and advancements in logging trucks allowed for another round of lumber production. Several sawmills sprung up around Truckee. The vacant railyard site and land to the east was the perfect spot for the largest and longest lasting of this second round of industry.The Burney Lumber Company built a large sawmill, hauling logs in from the surrounding mountains that had not been logged in the early railroad based logging operations. Much of this timber was white and red fir which was a secondary lumber species. As the years went by the Douglas Lumber Co, Fibreboard Corporation, Louisiana-Pacific and finally Fibreboard again operated the sawmill. At its close in 1989, the sawmill was capable of milling 45 million board feet a year.The logging and lumber industry in the Sierra has never been a sustainable industry, as the history of the Truckee area shows. The conversion of the abandoned railyard-mill site is the natural progression of the history of the region. The Holliday Corporation and the Town of Truckee understands this process and the need to redevelop this long used site.Gordon Richards is the research historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments, story ideas, guest articles, and history information are always welcome. Please visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society Web site at The e-mail address is You may leave a message at 582-0893.

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