The substation at East Nicolaus on the former Northern Electric mainline was one of the SN's most impressive structures, and was a landmark for years even after the tracks were gone.
The East Nicolaus substation was built in 1908, shortly after the Northern Electric line reached Sacramento. A portable substation was sited here before the permanent installation, though which car is not known. East Nicolaus was designated substation #8.
The substation building was of poured concrete, with graceful arched windows in the end facing the tracks, flanked by cast medallions featuring the NE's maltese cross. The permanent machinery consisted of two Westinghouse 400 kilowatt, 600 volt DC multipolar compound-wound generators turning at 500 rpm. The generators were driven by three-phase 2200 volt, 60 cycle induction motors, mounted on the same bases and connected to the generators by a shafts. The control boards were from General Electric. Power was purchased from Pacific Gas & Electric Company.
East Nicolaus was originally the only substation between Marysville and Riego. It was some 16 miles north to Marysville, and 11 miles south to Riego. These were big gaps which caused very slow operation due to power losses, especially when more than one train was on the line. Another substation was plugged into the Marysville-East Nicolaus gap at Plumas (#7) in 1916. One more was sited at Pleasant Grove between East Nicolaus and Riego at an unknown date. Though these substations greatly enhanced operation, especially for freight trains, the the SN always suffered from power losses on the North End.
The SNRR made several improvements to their substations over the years. All but one were automated beginning in 1923. It is not known when East Nicolaus was given automation, but certainly by 1929. By 1928, East Nicolaus and all but two other substations had their motor-generator sets replaced with 6-phase rotary convertors.
In 1944, after a child was electrocuted playing around the third rail near Del Paso, power was turned off between Marysville and Sacramento, except for special movements. Freights were operated at night out of Sacramento using borrowed WP diesels. Following the war years, equipment from the unneeded substations was sold or scrapped, including East Nicolaus. With SN trains routed over the Western Pacific mainline between Sacramento and Marysville, the former NE mainline track was lifted in 1962. The end came for the stately building itself in the early 1970s when it was finally destroyed.
Special thanks to Ina Young for her patience, and to Sandy Burton for his photographs.
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