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FRRS Historical/Archive Department Collections

The Feather River Rail Society is dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and education of the public as to the history and people of the Western Pacific Railroad. This web page provides access to some of the collections in our archives.

Please note, this set of web pages is a work in progress. We will continue to add more material to it from our archive over time as our volunteers make it available.

Go to index of all captioned photos in our H/A collections.

Go to Unabridged table of the captions form all non-Meeker H/A photo collections.

Jump to collection: AWK   Carl Walker   Charles R. Pfenning   Frank Hibbs   Garth Groff   Meeker   Norm Holmes   Portola Railroad Museum   Robert S. Webber   Virgil Staff  

AWK Collection

The FRRS is the home for the Arthur Walter Keddie Library. More information about the AWK Library is available HERE!

Carl Walker Collections

Charles R. Pfenning WP Dispatcher Collection

A collection of rail passes, photos, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia of his father's career was donated by Gary L. Pfenning in memory of his father.

Frank Hibbs Collection

Frank Hibbs was a Western Pacific photographer and modeler. He was a chief refrigeration engineer for Union Ice Company. Being along side the Western Pacific Stockton yard he for many years photographed an extensive collection of WP equipment. His photographs in color, using a medium format camera, are some of the best taken of each diesel locomotive of the Western Pacific. After retiring early with 30 years of employment he moved to Meadow Valley where he still followed the Western Pacific.

Garth Groff Collection

Garth has made tremendous contributions to the FRRS and WPRM over many years. To learn more about Garth, please see the article on the East Bay Hills Project - Sacramento Northern On-Line & Garth Groff web page.

Meeker Collections

The Meeker Collections are named after Kenneth J. Meeker, long time member of the Feather River Rail Society.

Ken was an avid fan of anything railroading. He was a Western Pacific employee and longtime photographer. In addition to the WP, he worked for the Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and the Altamont Commuter Express. He was also an author and accomplished amateur photographer. He was the author of the book “Western Pacific” published by White River Publications.

Ken collected hundreds of Western Pacific railroad photographs, documents and artifacts during his lifetime. His collection also included parts of the Western Pacific Railroad corporate records, timetables, drawings, maps, etc.

Ken passed away May 8, 2010 in Stockton, CA after a courageous battle with a lengthy illness. He was 52 years of age and was born on July 9, 1957 in Baltimore, MD.

His personal archives were donated to the FRRS in Ken’s memory and serves to showcase the past of the Western Pacific Railroad and Ken’s passion for the WP. This important archive consists of two collections:

Norm Holmes Collection

With the arrival of the NPOAZ (mail, pigs, autos) in Portola Sept. 28, 1987, Union Pacific Engineer and Feather River Rail Society founder Norman Holmes brought his railroad employment to a close. Having reached age 60, and with the incentive of an early retirement separation allowance, Norm figured forty-two years with the railroad was enough.
Norm loved trains and particularly the Western Pacific from as early as he could remember. At age 17, he went to work as a steam watchman in San Jose. As soon as he turned 18 (August 1945) he started on his student fireman trips "covering the road" from Oakland to Portola. His first pay trip as a fireman was on a steam switcher in Stockton, doubling through from an afternoon shift to a midnight job--16 hours. A brief stint in the Army in 1946 cut into his career and when he returned to civilian life he was cut off from his firing job. In 1950 and '51 Norm worked in Portola and Stockton, but it wasn't until 1953 that year round employment was available. Norm worked switchers and locals in the Bay Area, made 90 round trips as a fireman on the Zephyr and was promoted to engineer in 1959.
In 1970 Norm decided to return to Portola with his family. They bought 15 acres of pine forestland, built a home in 1971 and lived there for 31 years. Norm's last assignment was in the freight pool between Portola and Winnemucca--211 miles.
Railroading has been important to Plumas County since the first rails were laid in 1887. Regular passenger was started in l895 linking residents by rail to the outside world via Reno.
Western Pacific rail were being laid in 1908 with the first passenger train operated through the Feather River Canyon August 22, 1910. It wasn't until the advent of the California Zephyr in 1949 that tourists discovered the beauty of Plumas County from the vista-domes of this "most talked about train.” While most earlier train schedules traversed the canyon during darkness, the Zephyr was scheduled for scenery. Unfortunately jet aircraft cut into passenger train travel and operating costs increased so much that the Western Pacific discontinued passenger on March 22, 1971.
Western Pacific was absorbed into the Union Pacific System on December 22,1982. In an attempt to preserve equipment from the WP, Norm Holmes organized the Feather River Rail Society and arrangements were made with UP to donate a “covered wagon" streamline diesel locomotive for preservation at Portola. The unit was formally presented to the Greater Portola (now Eastern Plumas) Chamber of Commerce at the Feather River Railroad Days in August 1983.
An agreement was reached with the Union Pacific and the City of Portola to lease the abandoned diesel shop to establish a railroad museum. A grand opening ceremony was held on Memorial Day weekend, 1985.
Under Norm’s leadership, the museum grew from literally an empty building to what it is today.
In the early days, Norm and his wife Barbara operated the museum gift shop. If you ever needed to find him, you would just go to the gift shop and ask Barbara, she would know where he was at on the museum property. Both Norm and Barbara worked almost every day at the museum; you could find him working on equipment, painting locomotives and everything else that needed doing.
In the 1980’s Norm met Ken Roller (Ken passed away 12/31/17), Norm invited Ken to the railroad museum and from that the rest is history.
Norm also wrote several railroad books, one of the more popular books was My Western Pacific Railroad, An Engineer’s Journey.
In September 2012, Norm found it necessary to move out of Portola, looking for a better location for him and Barbara for health care reasons. They moved to Carson City Nevada, where he still lives today.
Over his career of railroad employment, Norm collected railroad artifacts and memorabilia; he was an avid photographer, taking several hundreds, if not thousands, of photos and slides.
Norm has recently donated his collection to the society and they are now in safekeeping for the membership to view as soon as we get them inventoried.

Portola Railroad Museum Photos

The FEATHER RIVER RAIL SOCIETY, a tax exempt California Corporation, operates the Western Pacific Railroad Museum at Portola which was originally called the PORTOLA RAILROAD MUSEUM at Portola, California. The name was changed in May, 2006. The FRRS was Formed in February, 1983, to establish a railroad museum in Portola with the purpose of preserving local railroad history in general and Western Pacific Railroad history in particular. As a Society we are involved with restoration and collection of railroad equipment, photos, artifacts, historical information and data specifically Western Pacific.
In doing so, the FRRS has become the Historical Society of and for the Western Pacific Railroad. The WP LIVES on in Portola for the benefit of railfans, authors, modelers, historians and friends of the FEATHER RIVER ROUTE...
from 1985 FRRS Brochure

Robert S. Webber Collection

Virgil Staff Collections

For some background on the donation of Virgil's collections to the FRRS, please see the Train Sheet article: Virgil Staff Collection-by Rod McClure.

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