Do you love trains? If so, you shouldn't miss the California State Train Museum, located in Old Sacramento. It's an absolutely wonderful museum, and one you shouldn't miss if you're traveling in the area. Besides that, it's a total bargain, with adult admissions only $3, and kids under 16 are free!
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When you enter the museum, the first exhibit you see right in front of you is a life-size Union Pacific train, coming out of a life-size snow shed, high in the Sierra Nevada. From that moment on, you know you're in a serious train museum. It's massive, and you are suddenly transported back to the 1860s, when primarily Chinese and Irish laborers struggled to build a railroad through some of California's most forbidding territory. It's a grand start to a grand display of trains and train memorabilia.
All the trains are kept in meticulous condition, from the smallest engine to the massive "Southern Pacific Railroad Steam Locomotive No. 4294-Cab Forward." When you stand next to that locomotive, you realize how small we are, and how much power we've learned to harness.
Some of my favorite exhibits are the cars you can walk through, and get a feeling for what it was like to travel on a train in previous centuries. One rocks gently, just like a train en route, and even has flashing lights, to simulate the passing towns at night. There's also a post office car, a refrigerator car, and a dining car. You can also enjoy a remarkably restored Virginia & Truckee Railroad car, from the railroad that served the Comstock Lode up until the 1950s.
Seen enough trains? Well, upstairs you can see a huge variety of model trains, and get a wonderful bird's-eye view of the museum below you. Tired of being inside? Then step outside the museum, and walk about a block toward the river. From April through September, you can take a ride on the Sacramento Southern Railroad. It's all run by volunteers, and costs $6 for adults, and $3 for children aged 6 to 12. 5 and under are free.
We've visited the Train Museum several times, and each time we see something we missed before. It's that kind of a museum, if you love trains and transportation, you'll never get tired of it. They have an excellent museum store located near the entrance, with an outstanding collection of railroad books and memorabilia. (They have the usual touristy things, too.)
The docents and volunteers all seem to love what they do, and love sharing it with visitors. They're usually eager to answer questions and provide additional information if you ask. My only recommendation, don't visit during the week, the museum is packed with school children touring, and can get extremely noisy and full of shoving kids. The weekends we've visited have been just fine, not too crowded at all.
So, the next time you visit Sacramento, make time to visit this wonderful museum. It's educational, interesting, and just plain fun! You can find the museum at Second and "I" Streets, Old Sacramento, California. Call (916)445-7387 for more information. They are open daily from 10am to 5pm. There's also a museum library where you can do more in depth research. Call the number above to find out the hours they are open to the public.
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