Rails, Tales, Trails

A step-by-step guide to secret locations, fascinating people, and historic towns of the old Central Pacific Railroad from Sacramento to Reno

Bill George Nimbus Films 96 pages

You should get this book.  You will enjoy the reading and then you will enjoy exploring what you’ve read about.

This book follows on the heels of Bill George’s video, “Hidden Wonder of the World, The Transcontinental Railroad from Sacramento to Donner Summit.”  That video was featured on PBS and is available for purchase from Nimbus Films (see below). 

The first transcontinental railroad’s western terminus was Sacramento.  Bill George has been exploring “construction sites of the great Central Pacific Railroad…from Sacramento to Donner Summit” and his new book acts as a guide to sites in the video including directions for visiting.   Mr. George is clearly in love with the railroad and brings his passion to the book in the places, stories, characters, and brief information about which he writes. 

Sacramento is the book’s first stop where Mr. George describes everything railroad related listing, among other things, the Railroad Museum, the Capitol, the historic train depot, Old Sacramento, the Judah Monument, Crocker Art Museum, and Sutter’s Fort.  Using this guide a tourist could be kept busy for a week in Sacramento, but there is the rest of the route to explore, all the way to Reno.

On the way Mr. George explores every site having to do with the railroad: Roseville railroad yard, the railroad’s first roundhouse in Rocklin, Auburn, Bloomer Cut, Bayley House, Colfax, Clipper Gap, Secret Town, Gold Run, Dutch Flat, and Giant Gap.  Mr. George explains what there is to find at each spot, its significance, how  to get there, any monuments nearby, and the history.

Along the way sidebars called “Rail Tales” make what’s interesting even more so, telling little stories having to do with the railroad.  The reader learns about fruit packing, interesting characters like Schuyler Colfax and Alfred A. Hart, and places like Red Mountain.   There are stories about how the Sierra ended up starting at Sacramento, how the Sierra came to be named, missing gold, Chinese workers, and a hotel built in the wrong place.  George even mentions Mark Twain traveling over the Sierra in 1868.

One story, which is widespread, has to do with the Chinese  workers who are supposed have worked hung from baskets at Cape Horn.  Mr. George gives his opinion and analysis.   All together it’s a great listing of field trips for history and rail aficionados.  

Since this  review is by the Donner Summit Historical Society, the reader would like to know what’s listed about Donner Summit.  There is plenty listed: Cisco, the tunnels of Donner Summit, Soda Springs, Rainbow Lodge, Summit Valley,  and Royal Gorge.    The Donner Summit Historical Society is even pictured on page 78 with directions.    Good for Donner Summit, Mr. George suggests that travelers use Old Highway 40 instead of the Interstate in their travels.  That is really good advice.

After the Summit the trip continues to Reno and Sparks: Donner Lake, Truckee, Boca, and Floriston.

Parenthetically Mr. George argues against revisionists who say the government involvement in the railroad’s building by giving subsidies was excessive.  Mr. George disagrees.  The building of the railroad was hugely expensive.  For the Central Pacific going east from Sacramento, all materials had to be hauled by ship around the Horn to California.  Only with the help of the government could it get built. Once built the nation had a tremendous return on the investment.  The proof is that in the end, the railroad worked. It opened up the empty center of the country, made government land more valuable, provided jobs and opportunity, and connected the country.

Nimbus Films
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