Sacramento, November 5 and 6
A street in the historic Old Sacramento district
Old Sacramento looking toward the CSRM and the river
Sacramento could not have been a more fitting choice for the Exhibit Train’s first stop in California. On January 8, 1863, at the foot of “K” Street, the Central Pacific Railroad broke ground on the western portion of North America’s first transcontinental railroad. Although such a line had been under discussion for more than a decade, the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the border with Nevada had always seemed insurmountable. But a few people did believe in the possibility of scaling the snow-capped peaks, including engineer Theodore Judah, who would describe his plan to anyone willing to listen.
The going was never easy—winter storms and avalanches wiped out work camps and buried materials—but the laborers persevered to create a marvel of American railroading. What makes it all the more amazing is that the vast majority of the work was done by pick and shovel. After only six years of construction, the transcontinental line was completed on May 10, 1869 when the tracks of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific were joined at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory. A cross-country journey that could take from weeks to months depending on travel modes was reduced to just a few days, and the nation’s two coasts were inextricably bound together.
Rather than park the train at the historic Amtrak station, which has a mural depicting the ground breaking of the transcontinental line, we instead partnered with the California State Railroad Museum (CSRM) to display the train on its grounds. Opened in 1976, the museum holds a diverse collection of railroad memorabilia and rolling stock, and the renowned library preserves archival materials from more than 1,000 railroads. Many of the institution’s highly trained volunteer docents signed up to help staff the Exhibit Train and watch over kids enjoying the toy trains and coloring activities in the Chuggington Depot.
Inside the museum, visitors had an opportunity to catch screenings of Amtrak: The First 40 years, 1971-2011, a film produced by Amtrak to commemorate the anniversary of America’s Railroad. Producer Rich Luckin, who is well known for his many films about railroading, was present to answer questions. He and his crew traveled the Amtrak national network in late 2010 and early 2011 to gather material for the documentary, including interviews with former Amtrak presidents and other industry leaders, as well as breathtaking shots of trains set against rolling prairies, majestic mountain ranges, and sun dappled coast lines.
On Saturday evening, CSRM members and supporters were invited to a reception and tour of the Exhibit Train, which found itself in good company alongside a vintage Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Dining Car from the museum collection.
Since the famous Golden Spike was hammered into that last section of track in the Utah desert almost 150 years ago, not much has actually changed in how tracks are constructed. The components—ties, tie plates, spikes, rail clamps, track fasteners, rails, and ballast—all resemble their predecessors, although improvements have certainly been made over the years. For example, on newer higher speed tracks such as those used by the Acela Express, concrete ties have replaced wooden ones, and e-clips have taken the place of spikes.
On the Exhibit Train, there is a mock-up of a typical section of track that allows visitors to get an up-close view of how all these pieces fit together. A nearby plaque also provides information on the meaning of the various letter and number combinations and markings found on the web of a rail (the web is the skinnier section of the rail between the top and bottom). They often reveal important information on the company that made the rail, the date it was produced, and its weight per yard. The heavier the weight of the rail, the more pressure and the higher speeds it can bear.
I could go on and on, but as they say, the railroad never stops—time to head for Oakland where we’ll welcome visitors at the Jack London Square station near the Inner Harbor. Stop by and say hello!