Trains, trains and more trains! Old trains, new trains, red trains, blue trains! All Aboard! Toot, toot!
My father-in-law loves trains. He told us when he was a young boy, he would drag his tricycle up the steep metal steps of the pedestrian bridge above the huge rail yard in Chicago. Then, as fast as his little legs could peddle, he’d race back and forth through the black coal smoke of the locomotives passing beneath him.
On other days, he’d patiently wait for what seemed like an eternity by the tracks, just to see the sleek chrome plated engine and passenger cars of the Burlington Zephyr streak by, looking for all the world like a spaceship. What impressed him most was the breathtaking sense of enormity, the blast of wind that nearly blew him over and sheer mass of those old engines as they thundered by him.
We were excited to visit the California Train Museum, where they still have these Goliaths on display, along side a display of the State’s high-speed bullet train that will soon take their place. The museum is gargantuan. Scores of locomotives, passenger, Pullman and freight cars stand on display, set against realistic backdrops. These aren’t scale models either; they’re the real thing!
The Pullman Cars were used by long distance trains where people spent days on board traveling across the country in style. They had full kitchens, white linen table service dining, cozy sleeping berths and club cards for entertainment.
Most train lines even had their own elegant trademark china and table settings. It was truly luxury travel for those who could afford to travel by America’s railways.
Black Porters in starched whites worked in all manner of service jobs in the Pullman Cars at coveted positions passed down from father to son in generations of waiters, cooks, room and service attendants.
While Chinese and Irish laborers laid the thousands of miles of track across country, women too worked as Switchmen, telegraph operators and ticket office administrators.
Someday these dinosaurs of iron and steel will reside only in the few cavernous museums that can afford to house them. High-speed rail is being laid alongside the old tracks to make way for the new age of railroad transportation.
We were thoroughly amazed by the enormity of the trains and memorabilia on display at the California Train Museum in Sacramento. It was a well spent visit and we could easily return to view some of the exhibits we missed.