New book chronicles Placer County railroads

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If there ever was a ready made subject with plenty of historical twists and turns and a devoted audience, it would be hard to top the fervent interest in railroads.
So it’s surprising that Placer County’s rich history hasn’t been given a detailed look in print, gathering together images and scholarly text. Until now, that is.
That void will be filled with the imminent publication by Arcadia Publishing of “Railroads of Placer County.”
The new paperback, 128 pages long and costing $21.99, has a publication date of Jan. 15 — too late for this Christmas but a nice little read during a chilly winter night as the omnipresent Union Pacific horn wails in the distance as another train passes through Auburn. Call it your January bonus.
The book is a partnership of Arthur Sommers and Roger Staab, who both have deep roots in the community that allow them to delve into the past with the keen eyes of in-the-know locals.
Sommers, a 1968 Placer High School graduate who combs eBay for historical images that make up his extensive postcard and historical photo collection, is also co-author of similar imagecentric books on Auburn and Placer County under the same Arcadia Publishing imprint. 
Sommers now lives in Oregon after many years in the Auburn area following an Air Force military and civilian career. 
Staab, an engineer by training and a Colfax resident, is editor of the Placer-Sierra Railroad Heritage Society’s monthly newsletter.
Though relatively small geographically, Placer County looms larger in terms of railroading history.
“Railroads of Placer County” covers 14 different railroads that either continue to run or have fallen by the historical wayside.
While the Central Pacific-Southern Pacific-Union Pacific artery of steel is an omnipresent part of Placer and gets its due in the book, some of the lesser-known rail lines provide some of the most interesting reading and photos.
Nevada City-Colfax link
The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of those lost railroads that Sommers and Staab provide a closer look at a 20-mile rail route between Nevada City and Colfax that started passenger and freight service in 1876. During its heyday, there were excursion trains and moonlight runs to a dance pavilion near Chicago Park. 
With bus service becoming more viable by the 1920s, the railroad was still able to limp along until World War II, when its tracks were torn up and sold for scrap.
The Mountain Quarries Railroad, closer to Auburn at the American River confluence, also gets some serious attention in “Railroads of Placer County.”
The seven-mile long railroad didn’t carry passengers. Instead it provided a means to ship limestone mined in the canyon up to the Southern Pacific link. Mining started in 1909 and the rail link opened in 1912. The Mountain Quarries Railroad would continue to operate until limestone mining was scaled back in 1941. Like the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad, it too would have its rails torn up for war uses. 
The Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge had its own claim to fame when it was constructed. According to accounts, at 170 feet, it was the longest reinforced concrete railroad bridge in the world. For more information, go to
Not to be outdone
The recent ratings information in Media Life on KCRA 3’s dominance in news during the November sweeps spurred a response from CBS 13, the scrappy competitor for Sacramento region TV eyeballs. According to Jay Howell, station general manager, November’s television ratings period was a positive one for CBS 13.
A key for CBS 13 is growing its audience by 23 percent in the “adults 25-54” demographic from a year earlier.
The station delivered a 1.6 rating in adults 25-54, which not only put it on top in the 10 p.m. news slot Monday through Friday, but also bested all local late evening newscasts in the same demographic, Howell said.
When, you’re chasing an NBC juggernaut, you’re going to be trying harder.
“The persistence of our news team has paid off,” News Director Tom Bell said. Bell cited wildlife recovery and housing crisis recovery as instances where news coverage resonated with viewers.
CBS is also riding a wave of increasing late-night viewership looking for politically edgy viewpoints rather than sketch comedy. It’s part of a national trend. CBS 13’s telecasts of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” have seen a year-over-year 22 percent increase in viewership.
Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.