Steam Department

Since the inception in 1961 of the Pacific Locomotive Association (PLA), the owners and operators of our Niles Canyon Railway, steam locomotives have been a central focus of the group. Initially formed to document and promote varied excursions behind the quickly disappearing steam engine, the PLA soon morphed within just a few years into a group concentrating on the preservation and operation of steam locomotives and beyond. First undertaken on the PLA’s Castro Point Railway, the work of preserving and operating steam locomotives for the benefit of the public has not changed and remains central to our mission today on our Niles Canyon Railway, a place we have called home for over 30 years.

Before moving to Niles Canyon in 1988, the PLA operated the Castro Point Railway on trackage at Castro Point. Steam played a central role there as we see both the museum’s Pickering Shat #12 and Clover Valley Lumber Co. #4 under steam in 1984. Photo by Jim Maurer – Used with permission.

The Niles Canyon Railway Steam Department restores, maintains and operates the museum’s collection of steam locomotives with varied histories, but all tied in some way with the state of California. From engines used on steep and winding logging railroads in the forests of California to high speed engines that shuttle commuters up and down the Peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose and beyond, the museum has a varied collection of engines preserved with three currently operational and two under active restoration.

Southern Pacific #2479 joined the collection of the NCRy in the fall of 2022 after spending many years at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. The #2479 is an active restoration project.

The Steam Department has a core of dedicated volunteers that hail from all skills and backgrounds that work together to keep the craft of steam locomotive maintenance and operation alive. We are always looking for new people to come and volunteer with us. Skills of any kind are welcome and more details are available on our Volunteer page. The group has also learned that collaboration with other museums and steam experts around the country is critical to keeping these rolling pieces of history moving down the track. The museum has a lot of wonderful collaborations with other museums as a way to share resources and know how. Most recently we have been working with the California State Railroad Museum who has graciously allowed for our contractor and volunteers to use their facilities for wheel and axle work on the main drivers for our Southern Pacific #1744.

Contractor, Stathi Pappas, of our contractor Stockton Locomotive Works, keeps an eye on the machining of the main drivers in the backshop at the California State Railroad Museum in 2022.

The Steam Department’s reach extends beyond just our steam engines, but into the maintenance and restoration of our historic freight cars which both support the Steam Department (holding water for the locomotives) and give us period correct cars to use for special events and photo freights. We are always looking for new hands to help us restore and maintain our historic freight cars.

Our Union Pacific drop bottom gondola before restoration. – Photo by Christopher Hauf – Used with permission.
Our Union Pacific drop bottom gondola after restoration. – Photo by Christopher Hauf – Used with permission.

The Steam Department typically has volunteer work sessions every Saturday, however, there can be volunteers in the shop during the week working or preparing engines for an operating day. We also volunteer on an occasional Sunday especially when we need to prepare an engine or engines for a weekend operating day. Please contact us if you are interested in attending one of our volunteer sessions or need more information.

Steam Department volunteer works on pad welding the frame of Southern Pacific #1744 to fill areas where the boiler furnace bearers wore into the frame.

Planned projects for 2023 include:

  • Continuation of the multi-year restoration of Southern Pacific #1744, a 2-6-0 ‘Valley Mallet’, including frame cleaning/repainting, frame repair, cab repair, running gear restoration, tender restoration and more.
  • Continuation of the the multi-year restoration of Southern Pacific #2479, a 4-6-2 Pacific locomotive, including reconstruction from movement to Niles Canyon in 2022 from Santa Clara, boiler work, cosmetic work, and more.
  • Running maintenance and repair on our operating locomotives including Robert Dollar Co. #3 and Clover Valley Lumber Co. #4 along with visiting steam locomotive Skookum #7.
  • Cosmetic restoration of our Associated Oil Co. triple dome tank car.
  • Infrastructure improvements including the planning & execution of a new locomotive shop next to our to our current steam back shop.
  • General shop work, organization and improvements.

Can you help? Please consider joining us and volunteering with us.

Support the #1744

We also welcome donations to help with our various projects. Please visit our donation page for more information or click the button below to give via PayPal to our current restoration priority, SP #1744.

Our Collection


Clover Valley Lumber Co. #4

Robert Dollar Co. #3

Columbia River Belt Line #7 – The Skookum (Visiting / Not owned by NCRY)

Under Restoration

Southern Pacific #1744

Southern Pacific #2479

Preserved / Stored / On Loan

Pickering Lumber #12

Pickering Lumber #5

Quincy Railroad Co. #2

Sierra Railway #30

Southern Pacific #1269

Southern Pacific #2467

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