Amy Edgett

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July 5, 2012
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Old Jail Museum | Not another tourist trap

TRUCKEE — Many, many, years ago — OK, in 2009 — in the back corner of downtown Truckee on Jibboom Street, an unsuspecting couple ventured into the cool, dark Old Jail Museum, one of the few surviving 19th century jailhouses. The old Bastille, used continuously from 1875 until May 1964 and a virtual strongbox, looked inviting with artifacts from industries including lumbering, box manufacturing and ice harvesting.

“The door was open, and we thought, oh, what small-town charm, just boxes for a donation,” said Anne Flamm, vacationing with her husband Scott Flamm.

They were downstairs in the back room, when they heard a noise and joked, “We're going to get locked in!” The Flamms didn't pay much attention, until they realized about 20 minutes later, they really were locked in. A Truckee Donner Historical Society member had dropped by and departed, unwittingly locking the Cleveland, Ohio visitors inside.

The Old Jail walls are 32 inches thick at the lower level, with no windows unless you count the vents for each cell, set with irregular rows of two-inch steel bars. The ceilings are plate steel, insulated with dirt, and lined with narrow gauge railroad tracks. All doors are riveted steel, weighing an estimated 200 pounds each.

Fortunately, they had a cell phone — and a sense of humor. The calls ping ponged from the Truckee Donner Chamber to the TDHS to the town of Truckee police. Keys were secured and TPD Officer Jeff Safford approached the Old Jail.

“Boy, they were thrilled to see me,” said Safford of their 30-minute wait. “They were pretty jovial, joking they were going to be ‘free at last.'”

“That's one of the comforting thing about being in a small town,” said Anne. “Everybody knows each other.”

A serious rescue effort

City of San Francisco exhibit

A life-threatening event occurred in 1952 when the luxury streamliner City of San Francisco was stranded in deep snow on Donner Summit. A heroic rescue effort ensued (find Mark McLaughin's account at

Truckee's history centers on railroads, tourism and dealing with the “storm king.” The railroad is a common thread in the area's history. The 1952 snowbound City of San Francisco train rescue is one of the monumental Sierra tales, which captured the nation's attention.

Truckee played a key role in the rescue operations. The 2012 Truckee Old Jail Museum Exhibit highlights the harrowing yet successful rescue from a personal perspective. Stories from passengers and crew members, rescue effort participants and surviving family members are told.

Museum hours are Saturday, Sunday and holidays through September, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; and Truckee Thursdays through Aug. 23, 5-7 p.m.

Also exhibited are artifacts from the Truckee's early winter sports era, including early skiing equipment and historical photographs. Other exhibits pay tribute to the film industry, which thrived in Truckee during the 1920s along with gambling and bootlegging.-

Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy in the memorial garden behind the Old Jail. The always friendly and often entertaining volunteer docents are happy to answer questions.

Truckee Donner Historical Society Old Jail Museum, 10142 Jibboom St., Truckee, 530-582-0893,

— Barbara Czerwinski, TDHS volunteer, contributed to the article, with information from

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jul 5, 2012 05:08PM Published Jul 5, 2012 04:23PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.