Nicasio Northern Railway

whole room

Panoramic view of the railroad

The Story
The Model
Video: Operations
Timetable and other documents
Alaska Steam
Forty Years Later

The Story

In the early 20th century the farmers and ranchers of the North San Francisco Bay decided that they needed a way to get their product to market. They pooled their resources and built the Nicasio Southern Railroad from Nicasio, Marin County, CA, USA to the port of Bayside on San Francisco Bay. Between underestimating the cost of construction and overestimating the traffic, the railroad failed.

San Francisco financiers saw an opportunity, took over the railroad as the Nicasio Northern Railway, and extended it to Highland. At this time (1925, approximately) the road is surviving, barely.

The Nicasio Northern is a short line, best characterized as a “rails in the mud” San Francisco North Bay railroad. It operates freight and passenger, including a ferry schedule to San Francisco. Its route goes from Bayside to Highland in the north (railroad east). There is a branch from Skalville to Yawn which is the connection to the national rail network. Also a branch to Tomatos (near the Coast) which was abandoned for lack of traffic.

The Nicasio Northern railway weaves through the hills on muddy and slippery roadbed. Need I mention that this is earthquake country? Even if the right of way was once perfectly laid out with straight tangents and smooth grades and curves, it didn’t stay that way. The little steam engines rock and roll as they lead their trains across the pike.

The Model

The Nicasio Northern is an HO-scale model railroad. It is designed for TT&TO operation with JMRI switchlists. It runs only  steam (and a Doodlebug), with Soundtraxx sound in the locomotives and Digitrax DCC for control.  Track is complete and operational.  The layout has a peninsula in the center of the 12 x 21 foot space, and the rest of the track runs around perimeter of the room. Bayside yards and the engine terminal are on the peninsula. It has 28” aisles. It is NOT disabled accessible (stairs).

Operations Video

Operating the Nicasio Northern (Youtube)

Thank you to Adam Palmer!


Click on picture to enlarge.

Bayside Freight on left looking RR west

Bayside opposing view Wharf, roundhouse looking RR east
Bayside passenger
Bayside Passenger in center, wharf on left, freight lead on right looking RR east
Backdoor on lower right, Nicasio-Skalville main at upper left looking RR west
Skalville looking west
Skalville looking west with Dry Creek Trestle in background
Skalville east
Skalville looking east, Steele's crossing
Nicasio station
Nicasio Station, east end of Nicasio
Nicasio looking west, long shot
Highland looking east
  Long view
Bayside on left, Highland on right, telltale strings protecting the stairs

Documents (PDF)

White Pass & Yukon Route Alaska Adventure, April 2011

The White Pass & Yukon Route had a "Spring Steam Rotary Event" which Jon & his friend Robert Gantt Steele attended.  Here are Jon's article and photos and some of Robert's paintings from that week.  The article is in the PCR Branch Line July-Sept 2011 issue.

Forty Years Later: PCR Branch Line Vol 65 No 4 Oct 2008

The Mobile Terminal and Interchange is replaced by the Nicasio Northern.  The story of rediscovering the hobby after 40 years, and reminiscencies of Jon's first layout is on page 37:


Jon Schmidt
San Rafael, CA

Jon is a member of the NMRA and PCR, as well as the Operations Special Interest Group (OPSIG).  Contact him through these organizations or via the Contact link on the main website. (Updated 3/29/2018)