The Lake Tahoe Railway

The Lake Tahoe Railway connected Tahoe City and Lake Tahoe with the Central Pacific Railroad at Truckee, CA, about 14 miles north. The tracks ended on the west side of the lake in Tahoe City. (Right of way)

LTR 1 at Truckee, CA. Image: Pacific Coast Narrow Gauge

Operations began in 1875 as a narrow gauge railway, with the line reaching its full extent by 1900, and was used to transport logs and other materials from the forests surrounding Lake Tahoe to the Southern Pacific's main line. 

Image: Truckee-Donner Historical Society

Southern Pacific began leasing the line in 1925, and converted it to standard gauge a year later. Under SP ownership, the line was known as the Lake Tahoe Branch.

Section of Railroad Track near Lake Tahoe, c.1910. Image via Pacific Coast Narrow Gauge.

Becoming the owners outright in 1933, SP would abandon the line ten years later.

Today, train tracks extend into Lake Tahoe, however these were likely used for boat launches into the lake, and were not part of the former railroad to Truckee. These tracks blew up in popularity after being shared online numerous times, but in reality tracks that aid in boat launches are quite common.

Image: Train Tracks Going Into Lake Tahoe. (ActiveNorCal)

The former right of way of the actual railroad line is now the Truckee River Bike Trail, paralleling the river and part of present-day CA-89.

A great historical write up of this line comes from Phillip I. Earl, curator at the Nevada Historical Society. The following excerpt comes from him:

"On Nov. 10, 1943, the Interstate Commerce Commission approved an order authorizing the abandonment of the 15-mile Southern Pacific Railroad branch line between Truckee and Tahoe City on the north shore of Lake Tahoe in California. The line had been in use from 1900 until 1941. The engines and rolling stock were reassigned for use on other lines, and the tracks were torn up and sold for scrap in the spring of 1944. The state of California subsequently acquired the right-of-way, relocating a previous mountain road and constructing the current State Route 89 after World War II.

This railroad had its origins as the Lake Tahoe Railroad, an 8.75-mile, narrow-gauge line that ran from the lumber mills at Glenbrook to the head of the flume at Spooner Summit to the northeast. Built by Darius O. Mills and Henry M. Yerington of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad and banker Duane L. Bliss, the little line began operations Aug. 23, 1875, making an average of six lumber runs a day until the end of the cutting season in November 1898. The mines of the Comstock Lode -- the primary market for Lake Tahoe Basin timber -- were nearly all closed down by the time and the lands had been stripped of trees.

Two of the narrow-gauge engines, the Tahoe and Engine No. 4, were sold to the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad in Grass Valley, Calif., that year and the engine Glenbrook and the remainder of the line's rolling stock were purchased by Bliss for a new narrow-gauge line, The Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Co., which was to run from Tahoe City to Truckee.

A line from the Southern Pacific railhead at Truckee had been projected in 1879 and two preliminary surveys were carried out. Tourism, however, was not the business it was to become by the turn of the century, so construction was put off for another 20 years. Bliss' construction crew began work in April 1899 and the railroad formally opened May 1, 1900.

Bliss already owned a fleet of lake steamers, several wharves and a machine shop. The new enterprise was a tourist venture from the outset, but lumbering operations in Ward Valley, Squaw Valley and on several tracts of land belonging to the Truckee Lumber Co. were important elements in the company's business for many years. Recreational activities at the lake were heavily advertised in Reno and San Francisco and as many as four excursions a day were conducted. The Glenbrook and other engines ran out on the Tahoe Tavern pier, where passengers could debark and board a waiting ship for a cruise around the lake.

The advent of the automobile and the improvement of access roads into and around the Lake Tahoe Basin began cutting into the tourist trade in the early 1920s, and the Bliss family sold the line to the Southern Pacific Oct. 16, 1925. Company officials immediately set about converting the line to standard gauge and disposing of the old narrow-gauge engines. The Bliss family kept the Glenbrook, placing it in storage at Tahoe City, and the other engines were shipped to shops in Sacramento, Calif., and scrapped.

D.M. Linnard of Linnard Hotels Inc. bought Tahoe Tavern and several adjoining properties in 1926 and began promoting the north shore of the lake as a year-round vacation spot. On June 19, 1926, Southern Pacific officials opened the new standard-gauge line with a gala celebration and the driving of two spikes -- one gold, one silver -- at the water's edge. Work had begun on beach facilities, cabins, restaurants, toboggan slides and an indoor ice rink, but the encroachment of the automobile continued to impact tourist traffic. The weather also was a factor as railroad officials discovered the standard-gauge locomotives encountered the same problems as those faced by the old narrow-gauge engines in negotiating the snowdrifts that piled up between Tahoe City and Truckee.

In September 1936, the Glenbrook was sold to the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad to be scrapped for parts to keep the Tahoe running. The engine was not taken apart, however, and was almost completely intact when William Bliss bought the Glenbrook back in 1943 and presented it to the Nevada State Museum in Carson City, where it was placed on outdoor exhibition until moved to the Nevada State Railroad Museum in 1983. The engine is undergoing a complete restoration and will again be exhibited someday.

The Glenbrook's sister, the Tahoe, was sold to Universal Pictures where it did yeoman service in many motion picture productions. The Tahoe is on exhibition in Nevada City."

Thanks as always for reading!


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