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Barry Schrader


I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.


If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Niles Canyon Railway still chugging along

By Barry Schrader.................................April 28, 2005

Railroad buffs and people who remember the glory days of riding the rails still have a chance to take a nostalgic trip down memory lane on a scenic nine-mile stretch of tracks through the Niles Canyon.
Even though I never "jumped a freight" for a joy ride I have fond memories of trains as a child. My Christmas gift at age nine was a Lionel train set. When we lived in the small Illinois village of Waterman about three blocks from the tracks we could hear the whistles and occasionally be visited by a hobo who had hopped off the freight looking for a handout, which my mother always supplied.
Later in life our sons got HO gauge trains and just last holiday season I dug out their old trains, bought some new track to make a circle around the Christmas tree, and now we have a new tradition. And of course I never miss a visit to the Model Railroad exhibit at the Alameda County Fair each summer.
Then come May 7 I will be one of the passengers on the annual Wine Train that wends its way through the Niles Canyon from Sunol to Fremont and back. It will not only be a chance to mix with 300 or so friends aboard the old train, but also to enjoy the plush green scenery along the isolated route, see the wildflowers, hear the clickety-clack of the wheels on the tracks, taste several valley wineries' offerings, and hear some live music.
Wanting to learn more about the Niles railroad, I talked with the curator of the restored railroad project Alan Frank who is a walking encyclopedia on local railroads. He explained that the tracks were first laid partway through the Niles Canyon (canyon and town named after a prominent judge and railroad attorney Addison C. Niles) in 1866 by the Western Pacific. Three years later the railroad was acquired by Central Pacific and the line was completed all the way through there and Livermore's Pass (later named the Altamont) in September 1869. For historical perspective know that the golden spike had been driven at Promontory Point, Utah, just four months earlier and this was a part of the transcontinental railroad. And on the local scene William Mendenhall had donated land for the railroad to go through his newly-plotted town of Livermore.
Jumping ahead a century--the railroad stopped running trains on the Niles stretch in 1984 and the tracks were torn up and the land deeded to Alameda County. But then the Pacific Locomotive Association came along in 1987 and got permission to lay new track and re-open the canyon railway for their restored trains. They now have 17 cars, three steam engines and five diesel locomotives in their train yard two miles west of Sunol at a place called Brightside, once a bustling stop on the line that even boasted a hotel for weary travelers.
Frank is a curator without a museum at present, but plans are unfolding to turn a former postal and baggage car into a museum on wheels. If you have any railroad memorabilia to offer, send him an email at frank.a@comcast.net or call him at (925) 443-8755.
So I may see you on board come May 7. This is a fundraiser for Rotary scholarships and tickets can be obtained at the Travel Bug in Livermore or by calling Debbie Peck at (925) 447-4300. For more about other Niles Canyon Railway trips offered throughout the year you can go to their website at www.ncry.org.
As an aside, back in 1974 Dudley Cantua of Livermore bought a keg of railroad spikes, which we used to start the fundraising to save the Livermore SP Depot. We hung the spikes on his clothesline, sprayed them gold, then had "Save Our Depot" stenciled on them. Both Dudley and I (with our wives) now reside at Heritage Estates where we can reminisce about that "gold spike campaign" and watch the trains on the Union Pacific (formerly Western Pacific) tracks that run behind our apartment complex.

* * *

So the question for this week is: How long is each piece of track and how many spikes does it take to secure the rail to the trackbed?

The columnist can be reached via email at :


or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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