In September 1869, just four months after hammering the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, the Central Pacific Railroad built the final leg of the original transcontinental rail link through Niles Canyon.
Now, a new pictorial book, featuring more than 200 black-and-white images of the area's rich railroad past, has been published.
"Niles Canyon Railways," by Henry Luna and Pacific Locomotive Association, captures photographs from the first train to officially enter the winding canyon in 1866 to the modern-day "Train of Lights" that illuminates the route each Christmas season.
It is the second book about Niles history to be released by Arcadia Publishing. Last year, Fremont historians Phil Holmes and Jill Singleton compiled photographs and wrote captions for "Niles, Fremont."
The 128-page railroad book should appeal to both train enthusiasts and the general public alike, said Luna, who in 1961 became the association's first president and is its longest-serving member.
"When a husband and wife come into the gift shop, the husband is usually the rail fan and the wife is just happy to be along," said Luna, who owns a Walnut Creek-based Amtrak tour company. "This should appeal to both of them."
The photographs, which were compiled from collections of both private historians and historical societies, focus on the Southern Pacific era. But they also portray historical pictures of rail equipment, heritage locomotives and railroad structures, such as the original Farwell Bridge and Sunol depot.
Today, the all-volunteer association operates the Niles Canyon Railway as a living history museum, with steam and diesel train rides on weekends.
Proceeds from book sales will go back to the association to help pay for things such as restoring stream locomotives, extending track and improving facilities.
But for Santa Clara resident Al McCracken, the book more importantly will fulfill an educational purpose: to explain to future generations how the railroad played a central role in the development of the West.
"The Great Race" between the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads concluded May 10, 1869, in Utah, and has been well documented, he said.
"But the untold story is that of the construction of the transcontinental railroad that went south from Sacramento through Tracy, Livermore and Niles Canyon immediately after Promontory Summit," said McCracken, who runs the Sunol depot and is one of 490 association volunteers.
"It's nice that this chapter of the transcontinental railroad is finally being told, so we know what history is in our own back yard."
Copies of "Niles Canyon Railways" ($19.99) may be purchased at the Sunol depot, 6 Kilkare Road, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. Call (925) 551-7772 or e-mail