History: Truckee Regional Railroad a ‘labor of love’

Judy DePuy / Special to the Sun
Robert “Bob” Bell is a railroad enthusiast and the treasurer of the Truckee Donner Railroad Society.
Truckee Donner Railroad Society
Railroad Society provides safety education The Railroad Society also provides safety education on railroad safety. Operation Lifesaver is a state-run program and we have certified people to teach any age the importance of railroad safety awareness, especially in urban (or rural) areas where trains commonly occur. Little do people know that Truckee gets 12-30 trains a day with only 2 stopping in Truckee. The 2 stops are for the east and west bound Amtrak trains. All freight trains just blow their horns and keep on going.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Like the model trains you play with at home, Truckee has its own model railroad. Many of the locals have known about this magical place. It really does take the kids and adults to a time where transportation was different.

The creation of the Truckee Regional Railroad has had a long history.

Robert “Bob” Bell is a railroad enthusiast and the treasurer of the Truckee Donner Railroad Society. He had a train on his property that kids would ride and finally it was pointed out that the train was so much fun that it should be running for all kids, of all ages.

In 2013 Bob invited the Sacramento Valley Live Steamers to bring their portable track and riding train for a Truckee Historical event. This one day event had over 290 riders. It was obvious that Truckee, being a historic railroad town, needed something to support the ever growing community.

Bob approached Steve Randall, of the Recs and Parks here in Truckee, and together they saw an opportunity to permanently install the railroad. Fundraising and then construction began and by 2014 the first upper loop was completed at the Truckee Regional Park with seven run days and over 600 riders. By 2015 the summer train had over 2700 riders.

Originally it was a battery powered locomotive with limited capacity. In 2016 Bob purchased and built the current Union Pacific model of a GP35 and increased riding capacity with more side cars.

Then Tom Smith and his brother bought a gorgeous “Forney” Sandy River Steam Train. The steam train is engine scale 3.75 and the track gauge is 7.5 inches. The two trains can run on the same tracks with each other.

Running the steam train is a labor of love. Tom shows up at 7:30 a.m. to prep the locomotive for an 11 a.m. run. The details are numerous and fun for those who love mechanics and old systems should contact us. The Truckee Regional Park steam train is not only a scaled down replica of our past but a reminder of how we opened the west.

The Truckee Regional Park trains leave the Truckee Regional Train Depot and weave through the regional park, past the children’s playground, out towards the community garden, through a snow shed, pass crossing arms and finally stopping back at the train depot. The run is currently about 1500 feet with plans to be expanded.

To date the Truckee River Railroad has provided over 35,000 rides, constructed an engine house and workshop, trestle to the engine house (thanks to the Noon Rotary Club), a station structure built and designed by Mountain Forge (with the help from CATT), a replica snowshed (again with the help of CATT), solar charging stations, grade crossing arms, cab storage sheds, and replica railroad structures along the route.

The Railroad team has been busy with Holiday runs with a temporary loop at Palisades Tahoe (aka Squaw) and having a Santa run this past Christmas. Santa was not able to show up anywhere in Truckee this past year and the Truckee Donner Railroad Society figured out how to make it safe for the kids and Santa. The 3 hour Christmas train run had over 600 riders.

The train will continue running on the following dates for the 2022 summer from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 30, Aug. 6 and 20, Sept. 3 and 24 and Oct. 8 and 20th

It is people like Nelson Van Gundy, Jerry Blackwill, Tom Smith and Ed Larson and the other members of the Truckee Donner Railroad Society that make these things real. There is no charge but donations are whole-heartedly accepted since we are a nonprofit.

So whether you want to ride, watch or volunteer come out for a fun time. These trains are an important part of how our town has survived and teaches not only visitors but also the children of Truckee on what a wonderful, historical town we live in.

Judy DePuy is someone who wants to give back to the community. She resides with her wonderful husband, Dave, and their dog, Morticia. She helps the Truckee-Donner Historical Society, Donner Summit Historical Society and is on the board for the Museum of Truckee History and the Truckee Donner Railroad Society.

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