Saturday, August 08, 2009

A trainy day in Sacramento

The same visitor from Germany who wanted to see the San Andreas fault is still in California, and when he's not curious about local geology, he's interested in all things railroad. It was a remarkably cool day for Sacramento in summer at only about 85F (30C).

The plan was for both of us to take the train to Sacramento, getting on at our respective stops. I had never gone to that train station from this end of town, and it was perhaps too early a morning for me, so I missed it on this end and ended up driving, instead. As frustrating as it was to be on the wrong side of the road watching the train go by, I'm now glad I drove. It meant neither of us needed to rely on the train schedule to get home, and in any case, I met him and his train in Sacramento just before 10am.

Sacramento has an old-town section that's right near the river, and right near the train station. It also has the California State Railroad Museum, which I figured was a necessary trip for any serious train fan. It's an impressive museum, displaying an assortment of locomotives and cars. Visitors are invited to walk through an old Pullman car and a dining car with place settings from different railroads on each table. There are also stairs up into the cab of a large steam locomotive (my guest could probably tell you which one). It may be sturdy, thick metal, but the back of the cab is the front of the boiler, which the docent tells us is not so bad as long as the train is moving and the windows are open.

The smaller second floor displays model trains in a variety of sizes. There's actually one train on the second floor, too. They got it there with a crane, through a large window in the wall.

We stopped for lunch in Old Sacramento along the water and went back to a part of the museum that most visitors probably don't even know they miss. In the Big Four building (named for the four businessmen who helped underwrite the surveying and building of the western half of the Transcontinental Railroad), there is a hardware shop and gift shop. There's also a door that leads to a staircase and up to the second floor, where the Museum Library is housed. It's a bunch of old books that I wouldn't recommend it to parents of young children who just want to see big trains, but for a Wikipedian and train buff who takes an active interest in railroad timetables from 1870s, it's just the place. We spent perhaps an hour there, talking to a very helpful librarian, leafing through various old train directories and schedules, and even requesting something that was stored on another floor. The librarian dispatched a dumbwaiter in the building, followed it down (or up?) the stairs and sent the materials back in hinged cardboard boxes (much like bakery boxes, only not pink).

From there, we walked a few blocks to the capitol building, stopping briefly in the public library along the way. We turned a corner from the library and somebody coming the other way asked me if the library was close. I'm normally not the right person to give directions, and I don't know that area well, but they asked me the one question I could possibly have answered at that moment about navigating Sacramento, so I told them.

I have been to Sacramento before, but I had never been into the capitol building. I normally carry a Leatherman, but I left it at home yesterday in anticipation of visiting, and they do indeed screen visitors and their bags at the door. The capitol building is well equipped for visitors. Most of the hallways, the museum area, the galleries for both the senate and the legislature, and even the anteroom to the governor's office are all open. We followed a tour guide around for most of these stops and then went back through some of the areas that the tour didn't visit. It's a beautiful building with a lot of history, and I enjoyed seeing it.

I drove him back to the house where he was staying, since it was basically on my way. We stopped for buffalo burgers in Davis at the restaurant formerly known as Murder Burger, where we sat outdoors and watched two Amtrak trains and a freight train go past on the tracks nearby. We took a brief tour of the campus by automobile on our way out, nearly the only time I have ever tried to navigate the Davis campus by automobile.


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