Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum


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[August, 2003]

114 Original Digital Photographs
& Six Annotated Maps
Six Galleries

by Bruce C. Cooper

with comparison historic period views

In August, 2003, I headed west from Pennsylvania to Northern California and, at the invitation of the noted Pacific railroad collector and history buff, G.J. "Chris" Graves, of NewCastle, Alta Cal'a, journeyed up to the Sierra Nevada mountains to visit and photograph many of the key 19th century engineering marvels along the original grade of the Central Pacific Railroad which had been designed by and built under the supervision of my great great grandfather, Lewis Metzler Clement, the CPRR's First Assistant Chief Engineer (and later also Superintendent of Track) from 1863 to 1881.

On Sunday, August 3rd, Mark Guyer, a good friend and fellow transportation and California history enthusiast whom I was visiting in the Bay Area, and I joined Chris and his wife, Carol, at their NewCastle home for a spectacular dinner (thanks Carol!) and a delightful and informative evening of discussing CPRR history with Chris, Carol, and their other guests that evening, Charles "Chuck" Sweet (another premier Pacific railroad history buff and collector from Utah who is also the Fireman on the "Jupiter" at the Golden Spike National Historic Site), Hoover Institution Research Fellow and Leland Stanford biographer Dr. Norman Tutorow, and Norm's wife, Evie.

At the crack of dawn the following morning, Chris, Chuck, Mark and I set off for an adventurous ten stop, twelve hour day "on the hill" visiting, among other places, NewCastle, Bloomer Cut, Auburn, Colfax, Cape Horn, Burnt Flat, Alta, Dutch Flat, Cisco, Red Mountain (Signal Peak), and the Summit Tunnel at Donner Pass.  Many of these remote locations along the grade were only accessible by way of Chris' sturdy 4-wheel drive pickup truck which he drove skillfully over steep mountain "roads."  Mark and I thus spent a good bit of the day viewing the remarkable Sierra countryside looking backwards while bouncing about in the back of the truck which we shared with a large, well stocked cooler (an absolute necessity, by the way) and various pieces of equipment for one exciting ride after another – especially up Red Mountain to Signal Peak!  (Neither of us would have missed a second of this, however!)

The six galleries of images linked below contain 114 of the nearly 500 digital photographs taken that day as well as both USGS topographical maps and USGS Digitized and Ortho-rectified Aerial images annotated to help orient the viewer as to where along the grade the views were taken.  A seventh gallery links to 84 original construction views of Newcastle, Bloomer Cut, Cape Horn, Cisco, and Donner Summit made between 1864 and 1869 so that you can see how the grade looked then.  (For additional information about the history of any of the locations in the pictures in these galleries simply enter the name or term you wish to learn more about in the "search" box at the top of this or any of the gallery pages and click the search button.  Viewers can also find many hundreds of additional period images of the grade by visiting the other collections of photographs linked through the Museum's "Exhibits" page.)

Without the great generosity of time, effort, and advice of Chris Graves to make this trip of a lifetime possible for me, the creation of these images would never have been possible. I humbly offer Chris my thanks and eternal gratitude for making this dream come true for me.  –BCC

Sierra Galleries:
Newcastle Tunnel
Newcastle, Auburn, Bloomer Cut, & Colfax
The Tunnels at Cisco
[MP 180]
The Summit Tunnels, Snowsheds, Chinese Walls, & Wagon Roads at Donner Pass

NOTE:  For an interesting first hand account of traveling over the Sierra grade from Roseville to Sparks (NV) and back on board an SP freight train see David C. Crammer's 1997 article entitled "Roseville to Sparks and Back on the Southern Pacific" which originally appeared in Rail Classics.

Bruce C. Cooper  ©2003

Donner Summit Panoramas, 2006

Click on the images below to view 360º interactive "QTVR" panoramas of Donner Summit. (Requires Quicktime)

Donner Summit Panorama, 2006

Donner Summit Panorama, 2006


Cape Horn Panorama, 2006

Click on the image below to view 360º interactive "QTVR" panorama of Cape Horn. (Requires Quicktime)

Donner Summit Panorama, 2006


Images courtesy of:

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