Pride of place at the entrance is given to the Governor Stanford, the locomotive that pulled Central Pacific's first passenger service. By the way, those strange funnels that American locomotives have are spark traps. Early American engines burned wood, not coal, and needed to keep sparks safely inside the furnace. If you see coal being shovelled into such an engine in a movie you will know that Hollywood has goofed again.
My favourite exhibit was the Canadian National sleeping car, St. Hyacinthe. This has been fitted up with sound and motion to give the impression of travelling on a moving train. The museum guide stationed on the car said that this was "to give people who have never been on a train some idea of what it is like". This, of course, is a bizarre notion to us Brits, but apparently vast numbers of Americans have never set foot on a train.
Another imaginative exhibit is the Santa Fe Railroad dining car, which has been used as an excuse to display collections of various china patterns commissioned by railway companies. The museum is certainly trying hard to make itself interesting to people other than rail fans.
Taking steam engines through long tunnels such as those cut through the Sierra Nevada was a dangerous business. One exhibit, Southern Pacific 4294, shows an imaginative solution to the problem. This huge locomotive is built back to front, so that the crew can see clearly ahead while the steam spews out behind them over the carriages. Some 256 of these "cab forward" locomotives were built, but 4294 is the only survivor.
If your brought the kids, and they are getting tired of running over locomotives while dad admires the rolling stock, the upper balcony has a play area well stocked with Brio wooden train sets.
Finally, of course, there is the gift shop. Lots of books, lots of videos, and absolutely masses of Thomas the Tank Engine merchandise. This struck me as highly amusing, because Thomas and his pals are of course British locomotives. Thus, in this cathedral of American railroading, I found good old Duck, resplendent in Great Western Railway green. I think Brunel would have been pleased.
For more details, see the museum web site.
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by Cheryl Morgan
February 22, 2001
From journal Sacramento & Folsom: Heart of the Old West
by C. A. Fliedner
La Palma, California
December 4, 2000
Train rides are offered on Saturdays and Sundays from April to September. During the Halloween season, the old-fashioned steam train -- now renamed the "Ghost Train" -- is decked out with cobwebs, ghosts and goblins. It runs through town, past the huge pumpkin patch, and costs very little to ride.
From journal Return to the Past in Old Sacramento