Joy Magazine

Riding the Rails of Another Era

On a recent trip to Palm Springs, my husband decided we needed to stop by the Sacramento State Railroad Museum. The idea didn't thrill me but it gave me leverage for when I wanted to spend some time later in the shops so I willingly agreed.

Wow, was I surprised! It was easy to find, an inexpensive admittance ticket (only $8.00) and chalked full of really fascinating exhibits. And 10 minutes into it I had forgotten about the shopping. Amazing, I know.

Getting There

Located at the corner of Second and I Streets in Old Sacramento, the museum is open daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day) from 10 a.m to 5 p.m.

Cost is $8 adults; $3 youths ages 6 to 17; children ages 5 and under are free. Cash, personal checks, travelers' checks and the following credit cards are accepted for payment: VISA, MasterCard, and Discover.

For more information go to or call the museum's front desk at (916) 323-9280.

Life-like mannequins are positioned in daily railroad tasks, graphically showing the hard life that those men and women lived. Nice signage at each exhibit details the history behind each train and a rotating photo exhibit shows some of the most stunning black and white pictures of trains I've ever seen.

Children are welcomed with some hands-on exhibits and April through September train rides are offered just down the street.

First opened to the public in 1976, the California State Railroad Museum is one of Sacramento's most popular destinations and having toured it for more than two hours (me, someone who doesn't really like trains), I now understand why. The exhibit area is vast and totals 225,000 square feet. It's bright and colorful and really very interesting. As for the trains themselves, I was amazed at the beauty and sheer size of these steel and iron beasts.

There are more than 21 perfectly restored locomotives, but perhaps the ones that most intrigued me were the elegant Pullman-style sleeper and diner cars.

When you board these trains there is a simulated movement to the car that is exactly the feel of a train moving at 35 miles an hour (their typical speed) and I had to stop for a moment to get my 'sea' legs. The berths look incredibly small for two people — folks were definitely smaller then! The tables in the dining car are set with the elegant railroad china of another era and the menus are delicately hand-printed and primed to water the mouths of all the upper-class folks riding the rails that night. I noticed that a steak dinner was a whopping $1.65. Outrageous! A conductor, dressed in the period uniform, walks the aisles and answers any questions that visitors may have.

We were also able to have a peek into the kitchen (complete with the chef and his helpers) as well as a look at the tiny bathrooms. Some of the really high-end cabins actually have an attached, albeit very small, lavatory. It is most certainly a window into another, more refined era, and I found it fascinating.

Like me, you may not be a real train lover but this museum will certainly open your eyes to another time when life on the rails was hard and dangerous and the railroads brought huge economic and cultural changes to our country. And besides that, it's just a lot of fun.

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