In 1983, shortly after the Western Pacific was folded into the Union Pacific railroad through a merger between it, the WP, and the Missouri Pacific, a group of railroaders and railfans lead by Norman Holmes formed a new organization called the Feather River Rail Society. The immediate goal was to build a small railroad display in the Portola area, a division point on the Western Pacific in beautiful and scenic Plumas County. Over the next year, the organization expanded it's objectives by acquiring the former WP diesel shops in Portola and began establishing a working railroad museum. As most involved at the time understood it, the name Feather River Rail Society was chosen because the original intent of the group was not specific to the Western Pacific Railroad, but rather to all railroads in the greater Plumas County area (hence the name Feather River instead of Western Pacific). Specifically, the original intent of the FRRS was to try and preserve the history of railroads like the Sierra Valley & Mohawk, The Feather River Lumber Company at Delleker, the Boca & Loyalton, NCO, etc., along with the Western Pacific and current Union Pacific operations over the Feather River Route.
In an early membership application (circa 1984), the purpose of the FRRS is stated as follows: "...primary purpose of preserving local railroad history in general and Western Pacific Railroad history in particular." Additionally, property improvements to be made include a "...library, replica WP passenger depot, freight depot, section house, water tank...". Issue #7 (1984) of The Train Sheet stated "The FRRS...is doing restoration and collecting of WP equipment and data." Issue #9 of The Train Sheet states: "At this time we are going to grow into the Western Pacific Historical Society. We have a yard full of WP equipment and members over flowing with WP history and information. So starting with this issue, The Train Sheet will also be the publication for a Western Pacific Historical Society as, in fact, The Feather River Rail Society is a Western Pacific Historical Society". Issue #10 of The Train Sheet continued this theme with a note from then FRRS Director John Ryczkowski that stated "Just to clear up any confusion about the WP Historical Society, it is not any new group, but that the FRRS is now the official organization to disseminate info on the Western Pacific, and the FRRS is the WP Historical Society" .
Over the years, the FRRS continued to be promoted as the Western Pacific Historical Society in their newsletter and by initiating publication of The Headlight, a professional looking historical society publication. Since The Train Sheet had become too congested with museum and organizational news, a separate publication was needed to meet the obligations of the historical interests. John Ryczkowski and his staff did a wonderful job of developing a first class publication dedicated to the Western Pacific and the Feather River Route. But unfortunately, as more and more equipment came into the museum, the historical aspects of the WP and the Feather River Route were diluted by the continued transformation of what was then called the Portola Railroad Museum, into a "first and second generation diesel locomotive museum".
With the publication of issue #10 of The Headlight, the magazine had not been published for the next two years. In addition, there had still been no work begun on a library or any historical displays at the museum. Some directors of the museum even began to denounce the notion that the FRRS was a historical society at all. It was even argued by some that the sole purpose of the FRRS was strictly to operate a generic railroad museum and that the establishment of the WPHS had been done without the authorization of the FRRS Board of Directors. Apparently, there was nothing in the FRRS charter concerning the establishment of a historical society as a function of the FRRS.
In 1996, several current and former FRRS members lead by John Walker joined together to persuade the FRRS that it was time to reaffirm it's original objective; fulfilling the role of being the Western Pacific Historical Society. The group requested a time slot to address the FRRS Board of Directors and on March 16, 1996 the group of WPRRHS supporters that included John Walker, Mike Mucklin, Thom Anderson, Bill Shippen, John Ryczkowski, and Pete Solyom, addressed nearly, if not the entire FRRS Board of Directors with the concept as well as solutions to some of the ongoing issues that had been hanging over the organization. Several of the FRRS directors, including FRRS President at the time, Steve Habeck, agreed with our position that the historical aspects of the FRRS had deteriorated over the years and they allowed us to initiate the formation of a new WPRRHS subsidiary to help the FRRS meet it's historical society obligations. The new WPRRHS petitioned to take over publication of The Headlight, begin development of a library and archives storage facility, and sponsor some social gatherings for the good of the entire FRRS. The FRRS Board of Directors was extremely cooperative, planting seed money for the early conventions, underwriting the cost of producing The Headlight, and establishing a financial account allowing us to raise money for a library.
Since this would result in a change in the FRRS Bylaws, the FRRS membership was asked to vote on the idea which was wholeheartedly endorsed in June of 1996. The FRRS Board of Directors accepted a proposed WPRRHS charter later that year and a board of officers was selected to administer the new organization. The new WPRRHS was formed to dovetail into the FRRS, formally establishing the outstanding concept of a WP historical society that was originated by John Ryczkowski and others in the early years of the FRRS. With the FRRS as parent to two sister organizations, it's easy to understand the structure if you think of the WPRRHS as the "historical wing" of the FRRS and the Western Pacific Railroad Museum as the "operational wing" of the FRRS.
Today, all FRRS Active and above members are considered to be WPRRHS members and all WPRRHS members are considered FRRS members with full publication benefits (The Train Sheet and The Headlight), voting rights, and member discounts.
The WPRRHS was chartered with three primary objectives. The acquisition of Western Pacific and Feather River Route related historical information, and dissemination of this information primarily through a web site and an official publication, The Headlight. The development of a library to store, care for, and catalog this information. And finally, the promotion of an annual convention.