For some, museums can be boring, and typically, I fall into that category of society. However, and thanks for the AMC series Hell On Wheels, my husband and I decided to take the short drive up to Sacramento and check out the California State Railroad Museum.
If you have not seen Hell On Wheels (which is currently on Netflix), the premise is this: a Western television series about the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States. For the majority of the series, it focuses on the beginning of the Union Pacific and the whirlwind of story lines between characters. About two-thirds through the series, they introduce Collis Huntington, and the Central Pacific, as a rival to Thomas Durant and his Union Pacific Railroad. In the final season, the Central Pacific becomes the main focus of the series, which is where my interest in the non-fictional parts of the story was peaked.
Being born and raised in Northern California, it was really interesting to see towns like Sacramento, San Francisco, and even my favorite mountain town, Truckee, be such a major part of of our countries history. When I then realized that it was only a 30 minute drive to the California State Railroad Museum, I knew I had to go and see what it was all about.
Exploring the three story layout you encounter either replicas, or refurbished original, locomotives, all of which played a role in the railroads history, from the beginning to present time. One in particular is The Gov. Stanford. This locomotive was the one to pull the Central Pacific’s first excursion, revenue freight, and scheduled passenger train, as well as being a crucial part of the construction of the Central Pacific over the Sierra Nevada (which was also a big part of Hell On Wheels season 5!) There were also a couple exhibits of what the train cars felt like when in motion. Walking through the slim walkways, it took every bit of my balance not to have to grab onto the wall with each shake. It was also amazing to see how they basically fit all the amenities of a hotel (kitchen/dining, bedroom with attached washroom) all on a train car! Nowadays this may not seem like a huge accomplishment, but to think they made all this work in that era is impressive.
One of the final exhibits was, “The Last Spike”. The museum has one of the four ceremonial golden spikes on display that were used to join the First Transcontinental Railroad by connecting the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific in the Utah territory in 1869. It is engraved with the names who were involved with both railroads along with the date of the ceremony. There was also a painting of the ceremony itself hanging on the opposite wall of the golden spike.
Whether you’re a history buff or not, and are in the Sacramento (California) area, I think the California State Railroad Museum is definitely worth checking out. And if you are no where close to Sacramento, I bet there are some historical sites/places you could visit to learn a little more about the area you live, or grew up in. It never hurts to explore…
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