These 13 Rare Photos Show Northern California’s Railroad History Like Never Before
When California first gained statehood in 1850, it was largely isolated from the rest of the country. The transcontinental railroad was a game changer in Northern California. The trains and the cross country communication that they represented contributed to our social, political, and economic development. Here are a few iconic images of important historical railroad developments.
1. The first terminus, or end of the line location, of the Transcontinental Railroad was located in Alameda. Here's a photo taken there in 1869.
2. This photo was an actual postcard from 1910. It's pretty enticing, isn't it?
3. Railroads were among the first to promote California tourism as early as the 1870s, both as a means to increase ticket sales and to create new markets for the freight hauling business in the areas they served.
4. Not only did trains bring settlers and travelers out west, but they also sent fruits and produce from Northern California back east. This is a photo of a train in Sacramento that was chartered by W. R. Strong & Co. and Edwin T. Earl, fruit packers and shippers.
5. The early 20th century was the heyday of the locomotive. Here's an image of J.D. Spreckels driving the "golden spike" on a California Railway on November 15, 1919.
6. Here's a photo of the former Southern Pacific Lines No. 2353, a 4-6-0 oil burning steam locomotive built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1912. The restored unit was photographed on March 7, 1999 in operation at the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum in Campo, California over the original San Diego & Arizona Railway mainline, powering on of the museum's period demonstration trains.
7. One of the most popular restored trains is the Skunk Train in Mendocino. It began service when the railroad switched from its traditional gas powered 'Skunk Train' rail cars back to an earlier steam locomotive train for the tourist season beginning in 1965. The Super Skunk stopped running regularly in 2001 and became a train for special events only in 2006.
8. Regular service of the Skunk Train ceased in 2001, but it's a popular tourist activity to ride this restored train today.
9. The Skunk Train was once part of the California Western Railroad line.
10. Sacramento was a major hub for the rail lines, as well. The California State Railroad Museum is an amazing trove of information and located in the state's capital.
11. The trains also have a fascinating history of traveling through the majestic and steep Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. This is a photo of the Union Pacific Railroad passing over a trestle and into a snow shed in the mountains, California, ca.1909. Utility poles run almost parallel to the tracks at a distance to the right. The dry rocky mountain slope is sparsely dotted with boulders, shrubs and trees.
12. The 1960s saw a great surge in train travel. This promotional shot of a double compartment in day mode on the California Zephyr is from 1960. Compartments could be joined together by removing the panel separating them.
13. Here's another marketing photo from that era of a roomette bed on the California Zephyr.
It’s amazing to see so much of Northern California’s history in these photos. For more train related articles about Northern California, take a look at
5 Incredible Northern California Day Trips You Can Take By Train.