The 150th Anniversary Celebration of the Transcontinental Railroad

The 150th Anniversary Celebration of the Transcontinental Railroad

Association News

By: Tiffany Connolly | Photos courtesy of Truckee-Donner Historical and Truckee Railroad Societies

The blast of a train whistle rips through the pines, resurrecting Truckee’s ghosts and eliciting a nostalgia for a distant past. It is the sound of commerce and exploration – an impression of Truckee’s past careening into modern times.

Truckee’s history of breweries and brothels, of Chinatowns and gunslingers, is the result of visionaries who made the Transcontinental Railroad a reality. Completed 150 years ago on May 10, 1869, the Transcontinental Railroad linked the east to the west, making trade and human migration safer, cheaper and faster. No longer would ships have to cross the Isthmus at the Panama Canal or make the perilous journey around the tip of South America. Prior to the railroad, journey by land was especially arduous, requiring passage over mountains and through planes, rivers and desert.

The Transcontinental Railroad is means for celebration of growth and expansion, but it also harbors a dark side. The displacement of Native American tribes and the discrimination of Chinese rail workers are reminders of the cost of progress. But Truckee cannot discount the importance that the Transcontinental Railroad plays in its history. While Truckee is now home to world-class ski resorts and recreational opportunities, the heartbeat of Truckee is the railroad.

The Truckee-Donner Summit Historical and Railroad Societies invite you to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the Transcontinental Railroad with over 40 events spread out over the next four months. Join in on a jam-packed summer of education and adventure to learn about and explore the rich and often tumultuous history and spirit of Truckee and the Transcontinental Railroad.


1845 – Asa Whitney proposes the Transcontinental Railroad to US Congress

1848 – The Gold Rush is sparked by a speech by President James Polk

1850 – California is admitted as the 30th state in the Union

1860 – Theodore Judah reaches Donner Pass and identifies it as the ideal route for the Pacific Railroad
The “Big Four” become the principle investors for the railroad and the first board of directors for the Pacific Railroad Company

1861 – Judah returns to Washington with maps to lobby for appropriations for the Central Pacific Railroad Company

1862 – Lincoln signs the Pacific Railroad Bill

1863 – Leland Stanford shovels the first load of dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony in Sacramento
The Central Pacific spikes its first rails to ties
Theodore Judah dies of illness while in NY looking for investors

1865 – Chinese make up 80% of the crew that begin hand-drilling tunnels in the Sierra Nevada

1867 – Chinese rail workers strike and lose their fight for higher wages
Workers blast through Summit Tunnel on Donner Summit

1868 – The first passenger train makes its way over the summit and into Reno, NV

May 10, 1869: The Golden Spike is set when the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads join together in Promontory, UT


May 10 | Ribbon Cutting Celebration

May 10 | Art Show Opening

May 31 | Music on China Wall

July 4 | Truckee Fourth of July Parade – Theme: Transcontinental Railroad 150th Anniversary

August 31 | Celebration Picnic

To learn more about the people, the past and the politics of the Transcontinental Railroad, attend one of the many events being offered as part of this monumental celebration. Find more information at


PASSPORT PROGRAM: Visitors and locals can pick up “passports” at the Truckee Visitor Welcome Center and visit various locations around Truckee and Donner Summit to get their passports stamped with a unique stamp from each site. Runs May 10-September 15.

TRUCKEE RIVER TRAIN RIDES: Enjoy a scenic loop around the Truckee Regional Park on a scaled-down steam and electric train ride. Open to children and adults. Visit for schedule.

OLD JAIL DOCENT-LED TOURS: Check out the old jail on Jibboom Street that was in use from 1875-1964. Open from 5-8PM on Truckee Thursdays beginning mid-June and on weekends from 10AM-4PM Memorial—Labor Day.

TRUCKEE RAILROAD CABOOSE MUSEUM: Explore stories, artifacts and images that depict rail history especially as it pertains to Truckee. Open every weekend from 10AM-4PM (weather permitting).


Come hear your Tahoe Donner neighbor, Jerry Blackwill, speak at The Giving Fund’s 5th Annual Dinner and Silent Auction at the Lodge Restaurant & Pub on July 18. Jerry is President of the Truckee Donner Railroad Society and board member of the Truckee History – Railroad Museum. Tickets are on sale now. More information at

There are several other Tahoe Donner members playing key roles in the planning and execution of these celebratory events. Ed Czersinski, Ed Larson and Jim Colbert are active members of the Railroad Society. Dave and Judy DePuy are actively involved in both the Historical and Railroad Societies. Thanks for all your hard work!