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Library, Archives, and Small Artifacts Collection

The F. M. Smith Memorial Library is open to the public on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month, from 11am – 4pm. A circulating collection of books is available to members when the library is open, and we often present programs and films on railroad history. See the latest Museum programs and events.

The Library is closed on major holidays.

For research inquiries, contact the Chair of the Archives Department, Allan Fisher at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 707-374-2978 ext 116.


The Bay Area Electric Railroad Association’s Archives began soon after the organization was founded.

Mr. W. W. Nelson, the Sacramento Northern’s Superintendent of Transportation, was the featured speaker at the Association’s first annual dinner on December 6, 1947. Mr. Nelson had started with SN’s predecessor company, the Northern Electric Railway, in 1906 and used the occasion of the Bay Area dinner to announce his retirement. In addition, he presented his personal collection of Northern Electric and Sacramento Northern employee timetables to the Association.


From this modest start, the Archives has grown as corporate files, maps, drawings and other records from numerous street railway, interurban and electric operating mainline railroads have been donated either directly or through private collections. Donations from private collectors have contributed hundreds of books on the histories of individual companies and the industry as well as many technical books that assist in the Association’s restoration program. The Association has been beneficiary of the work of many long time member/photographers and collectors.


The Association’s mission statement has always listed the acquisition and preservation of such material as one of its goals as a resource for the membership and for public scholarly research.

A New Home

As the Association’s museum project began to develop, the need for a home for the expanding body of Archives material became clear. The Association acquired a heavyweight steel baggage car from the Santa Fe Railway for use as a secure and fireproof home to store the collection. That was augmented by a small portable building and storage space in boxcars and freight containers.

The need for a permanent facility with adequate space for archival storage and access had long been clear. Fortunately these inadequate facilities have all been replaced with the new 3800 sq. ft. Archives and F. M. Smith Memorial Library in the new Visitors and Archives Center. The new Archives facility includes 2900 square feet of climate controlled storage space.

Collection Strengths

While the collection is constantly growing, major strengths already exist in original corporate documents from the Key System, Northern Electric, Oakland, Antioch & Eastern, San Francisco – Sacramento, and Sacramento Northern; operation records from the Napa Valley Route, Sacramento Northern and Market Street Railway; and engineering drawings from the Southern Pacific and Western Pacific. The planning, construction and growth of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) is particularly well documented.

Reasonably complete files exist of industry and hobbyist magazines. Photographic coverage is extensive, especially in the post war period for San Francisco and Oakland, but by no means complete. This only represents a beginning; continued acquisitions will make a much more complete and useful resource.

Archives Database and Collections Catalogue

The Association’s archives are constantly being catalogued in an integrated, computerized database that enables researchers to review all pertinent material at one sitting by entering one set of search parameters. The computerized screen response will indicate the presence and location of all requested material whether it be photographic, a drawing, corporate records, a book, pamphlet or article or any other item that exists in the collection

You can download a full listing with a basic inventory of the Archives collection here: Download Archive


The original F. M. Smith Library was established as a technical resource for employees of his Oakland Traction Co. and the Key System. The new library was named in honor of this California traction pioneer and industrialist. His faith in mass transit at the turn of the twentieth century was an important factor in the development of the East Bay as part of the San Francisco Bay Area.

At the Western Railway Museum, the library serves members and researchers as the interface to the Archives. A circulating collection of books is available to members. The Library is open on the second and fourth Saturday of the month. Other hours are by appointment. Serious researchers, especially those traveling from a distance, are advised to contact the Archives Department in advance for advice on what is available in their area of interest.

Car Card Advertising Project

The Western Railway Museum is fortunate to have an outstanding collection of the original car cards used in streetcar advertising. Sources for our collection include cards that came with the cars, from the operating companies, private collections, and the files of Fielder, Sorenson and Davis Advertising of San Francisco.

The use of these cards began before the turn of the 20th century and continues today on some transit operations.

Originally done on a local basis, by the beginning of the 20th century the Baron G. Collier Co. of New York contracted with most streetcar operators in the country for all of their advertising space. They then contracted with national, regional and local advertisers for placement of car cards to whatever level of market penetration they wished to purchase. Because one national agency controlled all of the space, a standard size for car cards was practical (11 x 21 inches) and major economies of scale in printing and distribution were possible.

The original car cards in the collection are far too fragile and rare to use. They are conserved in the Association’s Archives as part of a reference collection where they are scanned and digitally reproduced for display in the Museum’s cars.

The goal of this project is to outfit the cars at the Museum with car cards appropriate to the locale of the car’s operation and the era of the restoration. When completed, cars will reflect a vanished era and very different era in America when smoking was socially acceptable, the train was the way to get to Los Angeles, blueing and starch were an essential part of washday and Coca-Cola was still a nickel.

Provisions For Your Collection

Our Archives may be an excellent choice as an eventual home for your collection. Too often heirs have no idea how to deal with a lifetime’s collection of important railway memorabilia. The importance of many collections is their breadth in specialized categories and this can be preserved by including it in the Archives. The Archives Project will be happy to discuss the possibility of the incorporation of your collection. The categories and standards of our database and preservation materials are available so that prospective donors can organize their collections on the same basis as the Archives, insuring full information and documentation is maintained for the future. Sometimes, as a result of changing interests, members and friends of the Association have a collection in storage that they are no longer actively using. Frequently such collections contain valuable material that may result in a substantial tax deduction if the material is donated to the Archives. This may be worth discussing with your tax advisor. If you have questions about how Bay Area’s Archives Project can serve as a future home for your collection please contact us.

Endowment Possibilities

We offer numerous endowment possibilities for donors who want to provide for specific collections or projects within the Archives in a personal manner. Some of these possibilities include:

  • Encapsulation equipment
  • Printing or digitalizing specific collections of negatives
  • Binding specific runs of magazines
  • Digitalizing nitrate negatives before they deteriorate
  • Digitalizing glass plates to avoid damage
  • Transfer of film to digital medium
  • Transcription of taped interviews
  • Preservation materials

Museum Location

5848 State Highway 12
Suisun City, CA 94585

(707) 374-2978

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