Niles Canyon Railway is joining with the Essanay Silent Film Museum and the Niles Depot Museum this weekend to present "Nostalgic Niles," a chance to learn more about the colorful past of this historic area, now part of Fremont.
"We have put together an amazing program for just that weekend of short films and silent films, matching our train schedule," Niles Canyon Railway board member Gail Hedberg said.
Niles Canyon Railway is operated by the nonprofit Pacific Locomotive Association, which began rebuilding the line in 1987 and now runs vintage steam trails between Sunol and Niles each Sunday.
May marked the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, when the golden spike completed the country's rail system at Promontory Summit, Utah.
In September 1869, four months after the famous spike ceremony in Utah, the first train traveled the stretch from Sacramento to the pier at Alameda, said Henry Baum, president of the Pacific Locomotive Association. The 20 miles of track through Niles Canyon had been completed by 1866, and it was sold to the Central Pacific Railroad.
"The train went over the Altamont Pass and through the Niles Canyon," Baum said. "That made it the first train able to go all the way on the Transcontinental Railroad."
The Niles Canyon Railway started holding special monthly events in May to mark the historic anniversary, Hedberg said, and Aug. 9-11 will be "Nostalgic Niles" with trains running that Saturday and Sunday, and buses traveling between Niles train station and downtown museums. The Pacific Bus Museum also will have restored historic buses on display.
From 1912-16, Niles was a hub for making silent movies, and Essanay Film Manufacturing Co., based in Chicago, had a back lot at the western mouth of Niles Canyon. The main streets of Niles and the canyon were the setting for many cowboy adventures as well as "The Tramp" starring Charlie Chaplin.
The Essanay Silent Film Museum is a repository of artifacts from the era as well as a theater where fans can enjoy early works in the same place where Chaplin and Broncho Billy Anderson saw themselves on the screen.
Cost of the round-trip train ride is $20 for adults; $15, seniors; and $10 for children 3-12. During "Nostalgic Niles," an additional $10 will buy a wristband that includes the bus ride in Niles to the museums and admission to the movies.
"And if someone has no interest in seeing any of the silent films or investigating the Niles Railway Museum, the town has amazing shops and places to eat," Hedberg said. "It's a nice place to visit."
The weekend of railroad-themed movies kicks off at 7:30 p.m. next Friday (Aug. 9) with a presentation by Baum, who will discuss the history of the railways between Sacramento and Oakland/San Francisco, followed by three silent films.
For the weekend film schedule, go to nilesfilmmuseum.org. For information about train schedules and boarding locations, visit ncry.org.
The latest project of Niles Canyon Railway volunteers has been laying tracks from Sunol to Pleasanton that will eventually end up at Bernal Avenue near Main Street, Baum noted.
"Hopefully by the end of the year, we can be past Happy Valley Road," he said.