The CSRM has its origins in 1937, when a group of railroad enthusiasts formed the Pacific Coast Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. When they were unable to develop their own museum in the Bay area, the organization donated 33 historic cars and locomotives to the California Department of Parks and Recreation as the nucleus for the museum in Sacramento. Today the museum facilities include the restored Central Pacific Railroad passenger station, Sacramento Southern Railroad and Museum of Railroad History, and the historic Sierra Railway Shops at Railtown 1897 in Jamestown.
The CSRM is built in the shape of a roundhouse, with tracks converging on an external turntable. The exhibits rest on rails that allow them to be moved or removed if needed. The museum has three floors. The main floor holds most of the exhibits. A mezzanine includes a theater, while a gallery on the third level provides a children's play area, toy train gallery and the future home of the National Model Railroad Association's new exhibit on model railroading. A unique narrow gauge exhibit in located on the third level as well.
When I entered the museum, I passed the ticket counter and gift shop and followed signs to the main floor. Suddenly I was confronted by a massive wall of black steel. It took a moment to realize that I was staring at the enormous tender of a Southern Pacific cab forward. Number 4294 is the last steam locomotive purchased new by the SP, and the sole survivor of the 256 cab forward engines developed for use in the Sierra Nevada. Retired in 1956, the 6,000 horsepower giant is a monument to modern steam power.
On the left of the locomotive I discovered a stairway leading up to the crew access door on the engineer's side. Supposing it gave a peek through the window, I climbed up and discovered that the door was open to the cab. Inside a docent invited visitors to sit in the crew seats as he answered questions. It was a unique experience. Unlike ordinary locomotives, the controls were actually behind the crew except for throttle and brake levers. Driving a cab forward was more like flying an airliner. In front of the engineer and fireman were large windows that looked directly out at the track ahead. In the following photo, an Australian friend I met at the convention, Garry Walden, looks down from the platform leading to the cab,
The museum not only displays historic locomotives and cars, it also gives one a sense of time and history. Located alongside the last steam engine to be purchased by the SP was the railroad's very first locomotive, the C. P. Huntingdon, purchased in 1863 from the Central Pacific. The unusual 4-2-4 "bicycle" type engine ended its career as a weed burner around 1900. Later restored by the SP it became the corporate symbol of the railroad.
Nearby I discovered the very first locomotive of the Central Pacific, the Governor Standford, which was shipped around Cape Horn by sailing ship, arriving on the Sacramento waterfront in late 1863. It was set up and put to work just a few feet from its present location in the museum.
North Pacific Coast No. 12 first operated in 1876 in Marin County. The "Sonoma" spent almost 60 years on the Nevada Central Railroad pulling trains between Austin and Battle Mountain. Retired from service in 1938, the Sonoma last operated in 1940. Today it is the finest restored example of the American Standard locomotive and displays the care and artistry lavished on engines of the 1870's.
The legendary Virginia and Truckee No. 12 "Genoa" pulled crack passenger trains between Carson City, Reno and the Comstock Lode from 1873 to 1908. It has been restored to its 1902 appearance and is exhibited pulling V&T combine No. 16 over an 1884 wrought iron truss bridge.
In addition, the museum also included a variety of rolling stock, from ornate Victorian passenger cars of the late 19th century to modern era cars like this sleeper, with sound and motion effects. As the on board docent explained the evolution of the Pullman car, the coach rocked back and forth while the clickety-clack of steel wheels on steel rails and passing lights and crossing signals in the windows gave the impression of rolling through the night.
Another exhibit featured a Great Northern railway post office car, where we could see how the mail was sorted and prepared for drop-off.
One of the more fascinating exhibits was a dining car, where you could see the kitchen where meals were prepared in the days when train travel was both elegant and comfortable.
At the end of the week a special tour was arranged for a tour of the NMRA exhibit on the magic of model railroading. We were greeted in the lobby by former NMRA President Charlie Getz, who gave the group an overview of the exhibit, which will be open to the public later this year.
We then filed up to the third floor to an area still under construction where we were able to see examples of some of the finest and most iconic model railroads of the last fifty years, by modelers as diverse as John Allen, Malcolm Furlow and Jim Vail.
From Charlie's description, when the NMRA exhibit area is completed, it will not only present a history of model railroading, but will also engage viewers in the hobby in ways that will encourage them to explore the magic of model railroading for themselves.
The CSRM is a magical place.I have visited railroad museums from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Baltimore to the French National Railroad Museum in Alsace, France, but this is one of the best collections of early and modern railroad history I have seen, If you have a chance to visit Sacramento, this is one place you won't want to miss.