Railfair 91 and California Gold Country
May 4th-May 7th, 1991

Don Winter

The proximate cause of this trip was the Railfair 91 exhibition and pageant in Sacramento, celebrating ten years of the California State Railroad Museum. Pacific Railroad Society is running a trip to Sacramento that provides a full day at Railfair, plus another day visiting Nevada City and a gold mine operation in the Sierra Foothills, northeast of Sacramento. We’ll travel north on the Coast Starlight, and south on a San Joaquin.

Saturday, May 4th, 1991

This morning, we start our journey by being driven over to Glendale, where we will board our train when it arrives from Los Angeles. In the meantime, we look around the old Southern Pacific station at Glendale. When the train arrives, it proves to have an ex-Santa Fe high-level car for the PRS group. Barbara Sibert, excursion director for PRS, steps off the train to greet tour members joining at Glendale at 10:08 am. Upstairs in the high-level coach, we find a pair of adjoining seats on the left side of the train, and settle in for the trip. Across from us, a tour member has a radio scanner tuned to the operating frequency of the Southern Pacific on the track we’re running on. I find the radio chatter interesting to listen to.

Coast Starlight Route Description

Marti Ann Draper wants to arrange a special dinner seating for PRS tour members, which would be at 4:30 pm, before regular seatings start. We didn’t have lunch until the end of lunch service, and never eat dinner that early, so we decline. Reaching Sacramento, we detrain and are bussed over to our hotel, the Days Inn on Jibboom Street, along the river north of old Sacramento. It’s after midnight, so we go right to bed.

Sunday, May 5th, 1991

Arising mid-morning, we walk along the riverbank to the Railfair 91 grounds. In the grounds, including the area around the California State Railroad Museum as well as the river levee area of Old Sacramento, are many operating and static exhibits of the history of railroading. There are three replicas of locomotives from early railroading: 0-4-0 1, Locomotion, of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, a 1975 replica of an 1825 original; 2-2-0 Tom Thumb from the Baltimore & Ohio, a 1926 replica of an 1829 original; and B&O 4-2-0 13, Lafayette, a 1927 replica of an 1837 original. Original locomotives present are: Virginia & Truckee 4-4-0 22, Inyo, built by a Baldwin predecessor in 1875; Eureka & Palisade narrow gauge 4-4-0 4, built by the same Baldwin predecessor in 1875, Union Pacific 4-6-0 1243, built by Cooke in 1890 (which arrived here mounted on a flat car and has remained on that car); Sierra Railway 4-6-0 3, built by Rogers in 1891; Bear Harbor Lumber 0-4-0T 1, built in 1892; Highland Railway 0-4-4T 379, Dunrobin, built in 1895; Great Northern Railway (England) 0-6-0ST 1247, built in 1899; Imperial Irrigation District 0-4-0ST 151, built in Alco’s Cooke works in 1918; Knowles Company 18’ gauge 0-4-0WT Gwen, built by Hunslet in1920; Southern Pacific P-8 4-6-2 2472, built by Baldwin in 1921; Edison Portland Cement 0-4-0T 3, built by Vulcan Iron Works in 1923; SP 4-8-4 4449, built by Lima in 1941; UP 4-6-6-4 3985, built by Alco in 1943, and UP 4-8-4 844 (in two-tone grey), built by Alco in 1944. Santa Fe 4-8-4 3751, built by Baldwin in 1927, was invited but was not completely restored in time to come.

There are two geared locomotives: Hillcrest lumber 9, a Climax built in 1915; and Phenix Marble 1, a Heisler built in 1922. Diesel locomotives present are: Electro-Motive Division FT 103A & 103B, built in 1939; FNM (Mexico) 19, an Alco PA-4 built in 1947 and previously owned by Santa Fe and then Delaware & Hudson; UP 6936, and EMD DDA40X, built in 1969; and Santa Fe GE B40-8 554, built in 1990. Miscellaneous equipment includes Central California Traction freight motor 7, built by Brill in 1929, Santa Maria Valley railbus 9, built by Fairmont in 1932, and a CSX caboose, as well as museum or exhibit cars from UP, CSXT, and FNM. There are exhibits including a railway post office car, railroad telegraphy, maintenance of way machinery, as well as the usual exhibits at the California History Museum and CSRM, both located within the fairgrounds.

Several times each day of the fair, a musical revue on the “History of Railroading from 1825 to 1991” is staged, with participation by Tom Thumb, Lafayette, Sierra 3, SP 2472, UP 3985 and SP 4449.. We have tickets for a mid-afternoon performance of the pageant—during which, when a nearby spectator sees 3985, he exclaims “holy moly!” We ride the excursion train along the riverbank, south of Old Sacramento (UP 0-6-0 4466, built by Lima in 1920, plus heavyweight cars), which is starting at Front and R Streets for the duration of Railfair. (It normally runs from the original Central Pacific depot in Old Sacramento, which is in the middle of the Railfair grounds at present. We also meet Dale Green and his family, just before heading back to our hotel. Dale has driven up from Sierra Madre for the day, and is about to leave to drive back.

Monday, May 6th, 1991

Today’s tours start out with a short bus ride to the State Capitol, where we are taken on a guided tour of the chambers and offices where state government is conducted. Then the bus heads northeast out of the Sacramento valley to the Sierra foothills, where we stop in the picturesque town of Nevada City for lunch on our own. A number of us choose to eat in an elegant restaurant with an old-time stylish atmosphere. After lunch, Chris and I find a nearby store selling small stuffed cats, made out of real fur. (Unfortunately, the stuffing used proves to be contaminated with insect eggs, and the resulting insects eat their way out of the confines, leaving small holes in the fur.)

The bus then takes us to the Empire Mine, a former gold mine with still-operable workings. After a guide explains the workings using a lovely scale model, we take a ride down into the depths of the mine, using old wooden ‘trams’ on a rope-worked incline. Between the exquisite model and the preserved working mine tramway, we get a real feel for the way this part of the gold mining industry used to work.

Tuesday, May 7th, 1991

We’re returning to Southern California by taking the Ambus from Sacramento to Stockton, the train from Stockton to Bakersfield, and the Ambus again from Bakersfield to Pasadena. In Sacramento, the bus leaves from the area between the depot and the tracks at the Sacramento Amtrak station (former SP). It heads south on Interstate 5 to Stockton, then to the Amtrak depot where we interchange to the train to continue south.

San Joaquin Route Description

The PRS folks more or less manage to sit together on this train, since we have no special seating. Most of us eat fast food from the snack bar, but Bill Smith goes to the tables on the back end of that car and asks for one of the plate meals (microwaved airline-style food). At Hanford, a diesel locomotive painted in a scheme no one recognizes is parked to the east of the running lines. People scramble to get photographs, and Bill Smith jokes about submitting a picture to Flimsies.

In Bakersfield, many members of the group get on the busses bound for Los Angeles, but a few of us get on the one going to Glendale and Pasadena. From the latter, we take a taxi home, in time for a late dinner.