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  • On the trail of the area’s old trains

    Man’s lifelong passion results in a new book

    Karen Newell Young

    Nevada City Advocate


    Andrew Brandon has heard train whistles blowing for most of his life. As a child, he lived across the street from a rail yard and watching trains with his mother fostered a lifelong passion for the rails.

    He dedicated a recent book about Nevada County railroads to his father, who until his death four years ago inspired his son’s hobby by taking him to railroad shows and other events that captured old-fashioned trains and tracks.

    “As I got older, my dad kept up with my interest,” Brandon said. “One of the books he gave me when I was about 4 years old was about the narrow gauge rail- roads of the West.” He still has those books. 

    “My dad played a very important role in maintaining my interest in the hobby.” 

    He was only 10 years old when he joined a railroad history club in Northern California. He met the former restoration manager of the current Nevada Country Narrow Gauge Railroad, who needed “able-bodied people to help build track and recreate what became the museum on 5 Kidder Court in Nevada City. Brandon has volunteered for the Nevada City railroad museum since the building was dedicated in 2001.

    “I have always been a fan of local history, but I enjoy the restoration and museum work as well,” said Brandon, who has just written a book to be released April 9 about local railroads. “Railroads of Nevada County” covers the beginning of the Central Pacific Railroad, which established a construction camp, now known as Truckee, after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

    “Railroads of Nevada County” tracks the history from the beginning of early trains that served the expanding populations and industries of the Gold Rush-era boomtowns of Nevada City and Grass Valley. 

    As the Gold Rush fueled other industries, including lumber, construction, transportation and commerce, the importance of trains became ever more prominent.

    Brandon has studied the history of railroads and volunteered at the NCNGRR since he was a teenager

    “I frequently go to state archives researching railroads of the West,” Brandon said. He has met countless experts in early railroad history.

    Brandon has lived in Nevada County for 10 years. He works in information technology for Telestream and moved here from Auburn. As a member of the Nevada County Historical Society, he is also an archivist and head of volunteers for NCNGRR.

    One of the challenges in researching railroad history is the dearth of historical documents.

    “Trains were an important lifeline of transportation,” Brandon said. “Unfortunately, there were not a lot of public documents at the time. I do a lot of work from online resources and the old-fashioned methods, reading old newspapers.”

    He added that the bulk of his photos come from his own archive at home. He serves on the Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge Historical Society and in 2009 he helped launch a website dedicated to researching narrow-gauge railroads around the Pacific Rim.


    “Railroads of Nevada County is dedicated to my father, Richard Brandon, who helped stoke my love of railroads from a young age. His encouragement and patience for my hobby fostered a lifelong love affair for the railroads in our area.”

    Andrew Brandon

    All Aboard!

    Andrew Brandon and two other authors—Art Sommers and Roger Staab” who wrote “Railroads of Placer County—will speak from noon to 2 p.m Saturday, April 21, at the NCNGRR. The three authors will discuss their work, share history covered in their books, and answer questions from those in attendance. Books will be available for purchase and the authors will be happy so sign copies. Refreshments will be served and docent-led tours of the museum will be available.

    About the photo:  Richard Brandon, top, author of “Railroads of Nevada County,” published this month by Arcadia Publishing