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Norman Holmes, an engineer with the Western Pacific Railroad, founded the organization that grew to become this museum as the Feather River Rail Society on his property in Portola, California in the 1970s. The organization offered a way to preserve the history of the railroad in this region with the support of the Union Pacific who donated a locomotive. The Western Pacific Railroad was founded in 1906 and was completed in 1909. The company had nearly 2,000 miles of track at its larger, but a merger in October 1982 meant that the Western Pacific Railroad was no longer an independent company. Holmes was later able to lease Western Pacific's vacant diesel facility and created the Portola Railroad Museum, now known as the Western Pacific Railroad Museum. The museum has over 100 pieces of equipment today and even allows visitors to become a conductor for a day.


  • Photograph of a locomotive from the Western Pacific Railroad Museum.
  • Image of the logos of the Western Pacific Railroad Museum and the Feather River Rail Society.

The Western Pacific Railroad was founded in 1906, and the railroad was completed in 1909. It was originally named the Western Pacific Railway Company until it was renamed the Western Pacific Railroad Company on June 6, 1916. The rail line went from San Francisco Bay to Salt Lake City, Utah. it also went north-south from Feather River Canyon to the Oregon line. In total, the rail line had nearly 2,000 miles of track. However, after a merger in October 1982, the Western Pacific Railroad Company was no longer a company. Rising fuel prices, cost of labor, and higher interest rates meant that the company was no longer as profitable as it once was.

The Western Pacific Railroad faced much larger railroad competition, like the Southern Pacific, Santa Fe, and the Union Pacific. Despite this, its employees were so dedicated to the railroad that the Western Pacific Railroad marketing team nicknamed them the "Willing People" in the 1960s. Today, volunteers of the "Feather River Rail Society" continue the tradition of the Western Pacific Railroad employees at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum. It is the Feather River Rail Society that owns the Western Pacific Railroad Museum, which sits on 36 acres at the former Western Pacific diesel facility in Portola.

The museum had its beginnings when Norman Holmes, an engineer for the Western Pacific gathered volunteers to help build a small working railroad on his property in Portola. The Feather River & Western was completed in 1976 with a small fleet of freight cars, a locomotive, and a wooden Western Pacific caboose. The name of the organization changed to the Feather River Rail Society in 1983. Union Pacific, its new owner, donated a locomotive to Portola. With its new locomotive, Norman got a lease for Western Pacific's vacant Diesel facility. This led to the creation of the Portola Railroad Museum. The museum was known as the Portola Railroad Museum until it changed its name to the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in 2006. Today, the museum has over 100 pieces of equipment, such as locomotives, cabooses, and cars.

In addition to running the museum, the Feather River Rail Society handles a collection of photographs, diagrams, ledgers, and other documentation from the Western Pacific Railroad. Despite running both the museum and curating the archival collection, the Feather River Rail Society does not receive any local, federal or state funding. Instead, the society is funded by admission costs, train rentals, sales from the museum store, and donations that are both monetary and in-kind.

The Willing People, Western Pacific Railroad Museum. Accessed January 20th 2020. https://www.wplives.org/willingpeople.html.

The Feather River Rail Society, Western Pacific Railroad Museum. Accessed January 20th 2020. https://www.wplives.org/frrs.html.

Passenger Cars, Western Pacific Railroad Museum. Accessed January 20th 2020. https://www.wplives.org/passengercars.html.

Western Pacific Railroad Company Records, Online Archive of California. Accessed January 20th 2020. https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8qn6c9f/.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Image from Wikipedia.org.

Image from Wikipedia.org.