The Western Pacific Railroad Museum

Tucked away in a quiet corner of the sleepy community of Portola is a true gem: The Western Pacific Railroad Museum. Here you will find nearly 100 railroad engines, rolling stock and cabooses from a range of eras that are all part of the story of this unique railroad company. You can take a ride on a train and, if you are willing to make the investment, become an engineer and drive a train yourself.

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Michael Clawson | bigfishcreations.com

The journey begins at the historic Portola Diesel Shop where railroad equipment restoration is actively under way. The entrance sign declares that you will hear noises of machines working and “you may also hear someone drop a tool or smash a finger … these events are sometimes followed by authentic, colorful railroad curses and swearing. We apologize in advance for any breech of decorum.” The sign sets the tone for the museum. This is a hands-on, low-key place that is run by and for railroad lovers. Everyone is encouraged to climb aboard and experience the joy of trains.

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“This is a hands-on, low-key place that is run by and for railroad lovers.
Everyone is encouraged to climb aboard and experience the joy of trains.”

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After perusing the interior, including the gift shop that has railroad memorabilia available for purchase, head outside and wander past the cars on display. Enter the California Zephyr Silver Plate and imagine the luxurious experience of dining in this car or picture yourself packed into the interior of a WWII Troop Sleeper where soldiers slept in bunks from floor to ceiling on their way to the war. Find the “Charles O. Sweetwood” military blood-procurement car, one of the most famous railroad cars in the western United States, for transporting blood that saved the lives of countless soldiers wounded in the Korean War. Gape at the enormous snow plow that rescued the “City of San Francisco” train in 1953.

If looking at trains is not enough, try running one. The Run a Locomotive program will give you the chance to become an engineer, to pull the cord, sound the horn and power the locomotive both forward and in reverse. Proceeds from this program, as well as museum fees, go to support the future restoration and work at the museum. There is a long list of projects museum staffers are busy working on. | (530) 832-4131 or wplives.org

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Tim Hauserman
Tim Hauserman wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail, as well as “Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children” and the children’s book “Gertrude’s Tahoe Adventures in Time.” Most of the year he writes on a variety of topics, but you will find him in the winter teaching cross-country skiing and running the Strider Gliders program at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area. He has lived in Tahoe since he was a wee lad and loves to be outdoors road and mountain biking, hiking, paddleboarding, kayaking and cross-country skiing.