California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento is a tribute to the Iron Horses and the people who sacrificed to make it possible in connecting California to the rest of the nation. The museum features restored locomotives and cars, some dating back to 1862. First opened to the public in 1976, the Museum is visited by Over 500,000 annually.
The Museum displays many meticulously restored locomotives and cars. Numerous exhibits illustrate how railroads have shaped American people’s lives, the economy, and the unique culture of California and the West.
The first steam engine that welcomes you into the museum is Central Pacific (CP) No 1, named Gov. Stanford named in honour of the railroad’s then president, Leland Stanford, who was also Governor of California. This steam engine, built in 1862, hauled the CP’s first excursion train, first revenue freight on 25th March 1864 and first scheduled passenger train on 15th April 1864. It remained in service until retired in 1895. It is now on static display at the museum, restored to its 1864 appearance.
Southern Pacific No1- C P Huntington is named after the company’s vice-president. It was built in 1863 and was used to help build the transcontinental railroad as well as haul passenger trains. It ended its service being used as a weed burner, clearing the tracks.
Virginia and Truckee Railroad (V&TRR) No 18, named the Dayton, was built in 1873 to haul passenger and freight trains. Later, it was employed on snow-plow duty and was retired in 1926. In 1937, the locomotive, minus the plow, was sold to Paramount Pictures who repainted and renumbered for use in the filming of motion pictures.
The VTRR No 13 – The Empire was built in 1873 and saw service as a freight engine. In 1910, it was converted from a wood burner to an oil burner, and was renumbered #15, perhaps due to ‘ Triskaidekaphobia‘- the fear of number 13. The locomotive retired in 1931. In 1978, based on period photographs and original drawings, it was restored to #13 status of 1873.
The Sonoma, a narrow-gauge steam engine, was built in 1876. The engine is believed to have initially pulled both passenger and freight trains, though no photographs or records exist. The Sonoma has been restored to its as-built appearance, utilising available drawings and specifications.
Union Pacific No. 4466 is a Switcher type steam locomotive built in 1920 to perform switching chores and transfer runs – ‘shunting’ in railways parlance. In 1978, it was donated to the museum, and in 1984, it was restored to service and it also pulled the museum excursions. In 1999, new California emissions regulations banned the operation of coal-fired steam locomotives, which caused the 4466 to be put on indefinite static display.
The first California oil burning, cab-forward design engine was built in 1910. The configuration provided the best visibility for locomotive engineers on sharp curves and saved engineers from being asphyxiated by smokestack fumes in numerous long mountain tunnels and snow-sheds. The engine is equipped with two independent sets of driving wheels, enabling it to follow the rails flexibly. 4294 was in service from 1944 to 1956, hauling both freight and passenger trains until replaced by diesel engines. In 1981, it was restored, repainted, and refurbished.
Wooden Combination (Passenger & Baggage) Car No.16 was built in late 1874 for the VTRR. As the small wooden coaches in use until then were crammed beyond capacity and passengers frequently had to stand, in late 1874, VTRR procured two combination cars – cars No 15 and No 16. The car featured elegant interior ash, oak and black walnut woodwork. The Car No 16 served on the VTRR until 1938. The car was gifted to the museum in 1969 who undertook extensive restoration and returned to its 1875 appearance.
This Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad combination narrow-gauge first-class Car No 1 was built in 1874 for the short-lived Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad. The car was saved from a scrap heap to be restored with great difficulty as there were hardly any photographs or images available.
This narrow-gauge passenger car built in 1881 was named the Silver State after the Nevada state motto. The coach saw irregular service as a first-class car until the early 1900s. The car was restored in 1977 with new exterior wood and all colors that matched the original paint. All hardware in the car was re-plated with silver to match the original finish which is typical of an 1880s passenger car.
Experiments with refrigerator cars began in the 1860s and by 1872 meat was being shipped successfully within the Eastern states. The idea of shipping fruit and vegetables as well, quickly caught on. This 1924 built refrigerator car called Reefer needed Icing Stations at regular intervals. The scheduling had to ensure that trains reached the icing stations before the ice melted. This steel-framed wood-sheathed car carried out its duties until retirement in 1962.
Georgia Northern Railway private passenger car No 100 – The Gold Coast – was built in 1905 as Saloon Car No 97. In 1948, it was sold to railroad historian Lucius Beebe and his partner and photographer Charles Clegg, who were one of the first gay couples to have a relationship well known to the public. They refurbished the car and named it The Gold Coast. They made the car their home and during that period wrote three books and entertained many world-renowned guests. Beebe died in 1966, and The Gold Coast was donated to the California State Railroad Museum in 1969. The car also houses many photographs and other works donated by Clegg in memory of Beebe.
This Railway Post Office No 42 was built in 1950. It was in service until 1967 when the Railway Mail service ended. It operated as a US Post Office on wheels with armed postal clerks sorting mails as the train chugged through the Wild-West.
The California State Railroad Museum serves its function is to collect, preserve, interpret, and display objects of artistic, cultural, or scientific significance for study and education of the public. Various restored engines, rolling stock, railroad artwork, and interactive exhibits are sure to delight both rail enthusiasts and first time visitors alike.