History: Diamonds in the rough | SierraSun.com

History: Diamonds in the rough

Sometimes you just get lucky. The Truckee-Donner Historical Society is very fortunate to have been the recipient of an absolute treasure trove of 63 new books, many now out of print, over 300 maps, documents, reports, photographs, and aerial imagery from Thomas Macaulay, the “Reno Iceman.” 

Although he passed away in 2020, he bequeathed his extensive historical collection to the Society and the Society is now discovering its gems.

Thomas Roderic Macaulay was a veteran of the U.S. Navy during WWII, an outdoorsman, hunter, and an Eagle Scout and leader of Boy Scouts. Additionally he was an iron worker, glazier, engineer of 20 years at Sierra Pacific Power Company, home builder, and knowledgeable historian and researcher. Tom graduated from the University of Nevada, earning B.S. degrees in Electrical and Civil Engineering and a Masters in Civil Engineering. Tom was a major contributor to the iconic 1981 book about Truckee, Fire & Ice.

Carrying on the family tradition in the ice harvesting business, Tom’s grandfather (McCauley) was an ice harvester and helped start the Summit Ice Company (1882-1920) at Castle Creek on Donner Summit. Summit Ice soon moved to Prosser Creek because it was colder and had less snow. Later he opened the Tahoe Ice Company whose foundations are visible from the Legacy Trail between Glenshire and Truckee.

The “Reno Iceman” has helped the TDHS to better understand the ice industry, its tools, workers, and processes. Tom’s personal photographic library, knowledge of the ice industry and ice harvesting operations, and the Truckee River Canyon were unequalled. The TDHS has spent countless hours and is still in the process of sorting out his books, historical records, images, and map collection.

TDHS found over 300 maps in Tom’s materials which were haphazardly stored in moving boxes. Most of the maps concentrate on the Truckee River Canyon in Nevada County and the ice industry. The maps cover the area from Soda Springs to Reno with particular emphasis on Truckee, Martis Creek, Boca, Floriston, Farad, and Verdi.

Additionally, Tom had at least twenty aerial images in his collection spanning from the 1940s to the 1970s. He also assembled composites of aerial images and using US Geological Survey maps, he identified many of the mountains, peaks, rivers, valleys, creeks, reservoirs, towns, dams, camps, and CPRR stations on the aerial images. His insights are priceless.  He also obtained hundreds of maps which identified real estate ownership and right of way grants, most in the early 1900s. 

Here are just a few of the ‘diamonds’ TDHS has recently identified:

— Historic Truckee Map noting 208 mile marker from San Francisco. In 1925 the railroad was straightened and tunnels 6-12 were bypassed. Today’s mile marker is 206.

— Map showing Eder and Donner Railroad stations which are no longer there.

— 1901 Truckee Waggoner survey map showing “formerly ChinaTown” and a Pythian Temple building across from the Roadmaster’s House (near Jax at the Tracks).

— Truckee 1924 map which shows “Main Street” (aka Front Street and Donner Pass Road) with Auto Court and Motel.

One of the most important finds was the Schedule of Property showing the July 1, 1862 Act of Congress U.S. Government land grant to the Central Pacific Railroad. The TDHS had heard of this for many years but this was the first time it was seen formalized in writing on map after map of the CPRR line.

Although the TDHS had known the general location of the old Truckee airport, another ‘find’ was a 1955 USGS Truckee Quadrangle map confirming that the airport was in the shape of an “L.”  The Tahoe Truckee Airport has a photograph that even shows airplanes parked on one of the “runways.”

Prosser Creek Ice Pond.
Courtesy of Truckee-Donner Historical Society

And most unexpectedly, and the true ‘diamond,’ is an original 1942 map by the Division of Forest Survey identifying the location of mills then still existing, closed, and flumes in the Truckee River basin. TDHS has been looking for this map of the Lumbering History of the Truckee River Basin 1856-1936 report for years. 

While the maps are not yet digitized, the TDHS has spent countless volunteer hours collating and indexing salient points on the maps so that they can be searched by topic, issuer, date (most of them are undated, but many are from the early 1900s), property owner or salient geological formation. For example, TDHS has never seen an official drawing that had the Eder train station marked on it, although Google maps mark it. Only a few early maps have even shown Eder.

If you want to take a peek at some of these historical maps, the TDHS has them in the Joseph Research Library Cabin in Meadow Park for review on most Thursdays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If you are looking for something in particular, or just want to browse some of these historic maps which go back to the late 1800s, stop on in. And if you’re looking for reference to a specific place like Eder, Goulden Station, Truckee’s rail line “balloon track,” Steamboat Dam, T.C. Wohlbruck’s “canteen,” the “old airport” or airway beacons, and so much more, then these maps are most likely to help answer your questions.

The TDHS is very fortunate indeed to have been the recipient of so many diamonds in the rough. The plan is to continue carving out volunteer time to dive in indexing and cataloging all the hundreds of reports, documents, and images. If this sounds like something that would interest you and you would like to assist in the process while learning more about Truckee’s history, contact info@truckeehistory.org

Heidi Sproat lives part time in Truckee. She is the Truckee-Donner Historical Society’s current webmaster for truckeehistory.org and manages the Image Collection currently available for viewing on the Society’s website at images.truckeehistory.org.

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