California State Railroad Museum

Tucked into the edge of Old Sacramento, on the banks of the Sacramento River and overshadowed by busy freeway viaducts and old river crossings can be found one of the jewels of the California State Park System, the California State Railroad Museum.

This is not just a museum for train fans: it’s packed with history and wonderfully restored artifacts and displays that tell the story of what I call the the “railroad century” in America: the one-hundred years from 1850 to 1950 when railroads facilitated the explosive growth in population and territory and economic power that defines the United States even today. Without speedy railroad transportation, we couldn’t have hoped to become a single unified people from Atlantic to Pacific.

No state in our union owes more of its fortunes to the railroads than does California, and this museum tells the story of that development and success. When California became our 31st state in 1850, the next closest state was Missouri, 1500 dangerous miles away across two treacherous mountain ranges and inhospitable territory. Getting to California took four months. When completed, the transcontinental railroad shortened that journey to only three days, making travel to California feasible and allowing for exports from the state. The subsequent invention of the refrigerated boxcar meant that produce grown in California’s favorable climate could be shipped to the markets back east. Indeed, California owes its development and status as our Golden State to the railroads. The State Railroad Museum celebrates this and so much more.

You’ll see a dining car from the golden age, the first half of the twentieth century, restored to the shiny appearance it had when it ran for Santa Fe. Inside, you can see tables set with the fine china and silver from a dozen railroads as they would have been for passengers on board. As you walk through the car, you can check out dining menus from the era and see the galley configured as it was eighty years ago. Railroads had chefs on board who cooked real dinners to be served to passengers. It’s a far cry from the reheated catering meals we’ve come to expect from airlines today.

Also on display is a Pullman sleeping car, restored to its 1930s look. The car gently rocks and sways as it would if rolling down the rails, giving museum patrons a sense of what it felt like to sleep on the train.

For me, the most interesting display was the mail car. I learned that mail cars were actually staffed by employees of the US Postal Department — and not by employees of the railroad. In fact, because the car was, in fact, a post office, the mail car was off limits to passengers and crew — even the conductor had to request permission before he could enter. The docents on hand explained how the employees sorted the mail as the train rolled down the track.

At small towns where the train did not stop, outgoing mail would be hung in a bag next to the track and the postal workers would snatch the bag with a giant hook as the train sped by. For the mail on board which needed to be delivered to the town, workers would kick the bag of mail out of the car as it whizzed past. Again, the entire operation was ingenious and fascinating.

Some views of the mail car operation, including a docent’s demonstration of how postal workers “hooked” the bags of mail.
There was also a collection of locomotives both from the steam and diesel eras. The Leland Stanford, the first locomotive owned by the Central Pacific, was built in Philadelphia but had to be shipped to California around the southern tip of South America on a boat because the Transcontinental Railroad had not yet been built. There is also a behemoth Southern Pacific locomotive with the cab in front — to prevent asphyxiation of the crew inside the many tunnels and snow sheds over the Sierra.


Upstairs, kids will be captivated by the amazing model train collection. The museum has an elaborate layout equipped with controllers that allows kids of any age to operate the model trains along with a good display of the various scales for modeling.

Admission to the museum is very reasonable, just $12.00 for adults. The museum is located at 125 I Street in Old Sacramento. Take the J Street exit from I-5 and follow the signs to go around the block and duck under the freeway to the museum.

Another option is to ride Amtrak; that’s how I got there from Fresno. The Sacramento Valley Station, the main depot for Sacramento, is only 300 yards away. Amtrak runs more than thirty different trains to or through Sacramento every day including multiple runs on the Capitol Corridor from the Bay Area and on the San Joaquin route. What could be more fun the riding the train for a day trip to the train museum? If you’re a Sacramento local, the RT Gold Line will bring you here, too.

The California State Railroad Museum is a worthy stop.

Happy Travels!

 

Displays documenting the snowstorm of January 1952 when 300-plus passengers on board the City of San Francisco were stranded on Donner Pass for three days when the train got stuck in the snow.  At right is a massive track plow.

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Some Things We Do Better in the US

Politicians and whiners love to carp about how this country or that does things so much better than the United States does. From health care to government-mandated vacation time to public transport to energy use, politicians, activists, others with an agenda are quick to make comparisons, perceive shortcomings, and condemn the US.

Well, as one who has traveled quite a bit, I have gained perspective and am able to make comparisons. I think I’ve found a few things that we do better over here, too.

Mark Twain once said that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” I find it very useful to compare notes. Sure I love the bullet trains that speed across France at 186 mph, and I appreciate being able to walk into pharmacy and buy basic medication without having to go first to a doctor to request a prescription. Yes, I wish the US would embrace nuclear power the way that the Europeans do, and I’m pro-metric. But these things are not going to blind me to what’s going well here over here, and, let’s face it, there’s a lot to be happy about in the United States, too.

So, without further ado, here goes my list…

Accessibility. Just climbing the stairs in the metro in Rome or Paris is enough to leave you wondering how someone with mobility issues could possibly manage using public transport. Even on a trip to Canada, we encountered a Spaghetti Factory in Calgary where the restrooms were down a flight of stairs.

It’s been nearly 30 nearly years since the US enacted the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the progress shows.  Only in very old buildings which have not been renovated at all are there no allowances for people who cannot climb stairs.

 

Littering.  All of those Woodsey Owl and Iron Eyes Cody “Keep America Beautiful” commercials made a huge impact on American behavior.  Americans, as a whole, do not throw trash along the road or in the streets. Of course, I’m not saying that the US is 100% litter-free, but when you travel, it’s plainly obvious how much better we do than many other places around the world. I just wish I had some data to quantify it.

 

Smoking.  The United States boasts one of the lowest percentage of people of smoke in the world, and the lowest of all developed nations. Fewer than 1 of 6 adults (about 16%) in the United States is a current smoker — and it’s even lower in the Western part of the country.

One trip to Europe always leaves an American wondering, “Does everybody over here smoke?” Of course, not everybody does, but the percentages there are much higher, and it’s just one more thing that we do better here than over there.

Immigration – You wouldn’t know it from listening to the politicians, but the United States admits more immigrants than any other country on the planet, every single year, and it’s generally not even close.

In 2016, 1.1 million people immigrated to the United States as permanent residents. A whopping 13% of the entire population of the country, about 40 million people, were born in some country other than the United States. That’s more that one out of eight. Despite the hyperbolic rhetoric, we continue to be a welcoming, opening, accepting place.

About 700,000 people become naturalized citizens every year. That’s a new citizen every 79 seconds, around the clock, throughout the year.  Those naturalized citizens are not second-class citizens; they become full participatory citizens of our country with every right that I and every other other native-born American have. They even could run for office and serve in the government. (The sole exception is that a naturalized citizen can not run for president).

The United States grants automatic citizenship to every baby born on American soil, regardless of the citizenship or status of the baby’s parents. Only a minority of countries around the world do that. Here, it is guaranteed in the Constitution.

Free Restrooms – Let’s face it, we have have to go to the bathroom multiple times every day, and we don’t always have a dollar handy whenever nature calls. When you travel in Europe, you know that you must keep a couple euro coins on your person at all times because restrooms don’t take credit cards.

 

In case you think I forgot a couple of biggies. I try to eschew politics on this blog, so I intentionally avoided examination and comparison of tax policies and free speech, but just so you know, I think we’ve got a superior hand on those, too.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/index.htm

https://www.usnews.com/news/slideshows/10-countries-that-take-the-most-immigrants?onepage

San Marino

San Marino is one of the five so-called “micro countries” in Europe. Along with Andorra, Liechtenstein, Vatican City, and Monaco, all are actual sovereign countries that merit at least a day’s visit when you’re in the area — if for no other reason than to pad your country count and be able to brag that you’ve been some place that most people have not.

San Marino is located on the Italian peninsula, completely surrounded by Italy, Continue reading San Marino

Lava Hot Springs: Easy day trip from the Wasatch Front

Only two hours north of Salt Lake, Lava Hot Springs makes for a great road trip with an interesting destination. Located not quite to Pocatello and only ten miles off the freeway, just set the cruise control on 80 once you pass Brigham City, and you’ll be there in an hour.

Hot springs bubble up from the earth all over town, Continue reading Lava Hot Springs: Easy day trip from the Wasatch Front

How to Find Evel Knievel’s Jump Site

To those of us of a certain age, Evel Knievel was a part of our childhood; a daredevil who gained fame by performing jumps on his motorcycle over objects in increasingly longer distances; audacious stunts that were televised live. In the mid 1970s, Evel Knievel’s media events were must-see TV for kids of the time (I imagine that they were for lots of adults, too, but since I was a kid, that was my perspective).

After seemingly having run out of things to jump his chopper over, Evel was looking for something grand, something that would outdo all of the things he had jumped before, and he found it near Twin Falls, Idaho, the 400-foot deep chasm of the Snake River Canyon. In the ten years leading up to this spectacle, Knievel had powered his motorcycle over a variety of challenges including a pits of rattlesnakes, lines of cars, beer trucks, Greyhound busses, and even the fountains at Caesars Palace. [Wikipedia]

On September 8, 1974, Knievel attempted his jump over the Snake River Canyon Continue reading How to Find Evel Knievel’s Jump Site

One Year of the Selfie Traveler

When I started this blog last August, I wasn’t sure exactly how it would play out. Rattling around in my head were more than dozen or so ideas of possible topics, and my plan was to write about and post those once a week or so. After that, I figured I’d come up with more topics.

I haven’t quite managed to keep up the once-a-week pace, but this post represents 37 posts within the first 52 weeks, so it’s pretty danged close! Additionally, I have a collection of partial posts that I’m still working on and additional topics that I can finalize in the coming weeks to keep the content coming.

Although Europe was the focus of my original posts, I haven’t been back to Europe since I began this blog. On the other hand, I have been on trips to Cuba and to Hong Kong and Thailand within the past year; I’ve already blogged about Cuba once, and I have more posts coming up from my experiences in both areas.

My most important purpose in sharing these posts is to provide accurate information related to the topics I write about in well-written form, accompanied by photos which enhance the text …along with an occasional selfie or two!

In the coming year, I hope that I might also expand my content to YouTube, where I envision a channel that will show you how to put together travel arrangements on your own, with particular focus on how to use the transportation systems in the various places.

It has been a fun year, and I look forward to sharing so much more in the coming years. Thanks for reading and following.

Happy travels!

Daniel Stober
August 15, 2018

Why No One Rides Amtrak at SLC

The first time I ever visited Salt Lake City, I rode Amtrak. It was Spring Break in 1984, and my dad was working in Utah, so we rode the train from California. It was cheaper than flying, and it seemed like a good way to have an adventure!

Now, fast forward to to the present: I’ve lived in Utah for nearly 25 years, and I’ve taken a trip on Amtrak only one other time. Why is that?

Well, there are a few reasons that come to mind: Continue reading Why No One Rides Amtrak at SLC

Budapest

Back when I was in college, I never imagined that I would ever be able to visit places such as Berlin, Prague, and Krakow because they were located in the Eastern bloc and ruled by authoritarian governments. Back then, the division of Europe into free and communist spheres of influences was very real.

But history happens and the world changes. The Wall fell in 1989. Suddenly, places that I once had thought would be forever inaccessible were opened up. Many of them now are even a part of the European Union. Continue reading Budapest

When in Rome, Don’t Stand in Line

A lot of bucket lists include a visit to Rome. With great food, awesome history, and incomparable sites, the Eternal City rarely disappoints. The Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and Pantheon do wonders to help people to forget about that long flight. However, at a couple of the most popular attractions in and around the Italian capital, visitors who have not planned ahead often face waits that seem even longer than that transatlantic flight was. Continue reading When in Rome, Don’t Stand in Line