“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Norden in Nevada County, California — The American West (Pacific Coastal)

The Snowsheds

Hwy 40 Scenic Bypass

Snowsheds Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 30, 2014
1. Snowsheds Marker
Inscription. History
Theodore Judah, who plotted the Central Pacificís route over the Sierra and for whom Mt. Judah was named, thought it was only the mountains that needed conquering as the Central Pacific headed east to meet up with the Union Pacific. He was wrong. The climate needed taming too.

Snowfall on Donner Summit averages 35 feet a year and in extreme years 60 feet can fall. You donít just push that much snow away - although that was the first solution.

Even as they began building over the Summit the directors of the CPRR saw the problem and they began experimenting with snowsheds so trains could continue to run even in heavy snows. Ultimately more than 40 miles of sheds would be built to shelter the trains, at a huge cost.

Solving one problem brought others. Snowsheds were extreme fire dangers because they sheltered spark spewing locomotives. Lookouts, line walkers, and fire trains were maintained to watch and fight fires. An army of snow shovelers worked winters to keep the sheds from collapsing.

The sheds also caused problems for travelers:
“The average passenger journeyed over the Sierras usually utters a deep sigh of relief when his train emerges from the snowsheds. They have formed one bleak, uninteresting section of the journey, relieved only by a monotonous succession
Snowsheds Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 30, 2014
2. Snowsheds Marker
of tantalizing glimpses of striking scenery through the breaks and cracks in a dead wall of grimy timbers. The cars have filled with suffocating smoke and life has been made miserable for a time.” - San Francisco Call October 15, 1905.

Some of the most beautiful scenery in the world to be seen from a train window, and along the Sierra Summit, was hidden.

Pictured here: snowsheds on Donner Summit and under construction. Snowsheds often ran right up to buildings. Here The Summit Hotel is seen through a snowshed. Bottom, Snowsheds at Cisco.

A Good Story
With improvements in snow removal miles of snow sheds have been removed and those that remain are constructed of fire proof concrete. The fire lookouts and snow shovelers are gone as is the danger of snowshed collapse. One legacy remains. Many houses built in the 1940ís on Donner Summit were built of old now shed timbers. They are strong and solid. One owner remembers her mother sanding the insides of the house for years to remove the “patina” that had developed on the timbers from their days as snow sheds. The interior is now gorgeous.
Erected by Donner Summit Historical Society. (Marker Number 32.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the 20-Mile Museum - Hwy 40 Scenic Bypass, and the Donner Summit Historical Society
Constructing the Snowshed image. Click for full size.
By A.A. Hart, circa 1868
3. Constructing the Snowshed
marker series.
Location. 39° 19.123′ N, 120° 18.968′ W. Marker is in Norden, California, in Nevada County. Marker is on Donner Pass Road. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 18133 Donner Pass Road, Norden CA 95724, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Transcontinental Railroad (about 700 feet away, measured in a direct line); McGlashan Point (about 700 feet away); Donner Pass (about 700 feet away); Donner Summit Overlook (about 700 feet away); Donner Summit Bridge (about 800 feet away); Stephens – Townsend – Murphy Party of 1844 (about 800 feet away); Rainbow Bridge (approx. 0.2 miles away); China Wall of the Sierra (approx. ľ mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Norden.
Also see . . .  Snow Sheds: How the CPRR Crossed the Summit - The Transcontinental Railroad. The winter of 1866-67 was the worst on record. There were 44 snowstorms, ranging in severity. The smallest was a squall with only ľ inch of snow accumulation, but the largest lasted two-weeks and dropped at least six feet of snow. The total snowfall that winter accumulated to 40 feet. Tunnels were cut through the snow so that the men could continue the arduous job of boring the granite tunnels
Constructing a Snowshed image. Click for full size.
By A.A. Hart, circa 1868
4. Constructing a Snowshed
at the summit. Snow slides cost both lives and labor with scores of men lost that winter. When the timber trestle at Cisco was destroyed during an avalanche, management at the Central Pacific understood that something must be done, not just to continue building the railroad, but in order for trains to travel during the long winters on the operational tracks.
(Submitted on March 26, 2015, by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California.) 
Categories. Railroads & Streetcars
Constructing a Snowshed image. Click for full size.
By A.A. Hart, circa 1868
5. Constructing a Snowshed
Donner Peak Snowsheds image. Click for full size.
By C.R. Savage, 1870s
6. Donner Peak Snowsheds
<i>Donner Lake, California, Showing S.P.R.R. Snow Sheds.</i> image. Click for full size.
7. Donner Lake, California, Showing S.P.R.R. Snow Sheds.
Here the Southern Pacific snow sheds are easily visible on the sides of the mountains looking north across Donner Lake - the two black lines, one on each mountain side.
Credits. This page was last revised on June 21, 2016. This page originally submitted on March 26, 2015, by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California. This page has been viewed 354 times since then and 23 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on March 26, 2015, by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California.   7. submitted on September 14, 2015. • Andrew Ruppenstein was the editor who published this page.
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