Sunday, October 6, 2019

The National Narrow Gauge Convention - The CSRM

In my previous post I described the tour of the Sacramento Locomotive Shops, where the California State Railroad Museum (CSRM) stores its collection of historic locomotives and cars.  The museum itself is located on the other side of the Union Pacific main line in Old Sacramento.  On the day after the shop tour I visited the museum.

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.

While it was easy to be caught up in the elegance of these wonderful 19th century locomotives, the museum also included examples of more modern steam engines, such as this heavy 0-6-0 shifter with Walschaerts valve gear looking like it just rolled in from a long day in the yards.

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.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The National Narrow Gauge Convention - The Shop Tour

The 2019 National Narrow Gauge Convention was held the first week in September at the Hilton Double Tree Hotel in Sacramento, California.   My wife and I arrived on Monday, the 2nd, giving us a couple of days to familiarize ourselves with the area.  For me, the convention really began on Tuesday with a tour of the historic Sacramento Locomotive Shops, a short walk from the California State Railroad Museum (CSRM) in Old Sacramento on the banks of the Sacramento River.  We began our adventure in the former headquarters of the Central Pacific Railroad.

Walking past the adjacent CSRM the group descended into an underpass beneath the Union Pacific tracks to the mammoth shop complex.

This was a special treat, as the shops are in daily use by the CSRM for housing and working on their superb collection of historic locomotives and rail cars, and visitors are generally not allowed.  We were met at the entrance to the machine shop by a group of docents who guided us through the facility.  Hard hats and steel toe boots are normal requirements for entrance.

The complex consisted of two long structures separated by the tracks for a transfer table (visible in the distance) used to move engines and cars from one building to the other.

The shops date from the middle of the 19th century.  Standing at one end of the machine shop one can see the original roof trusses and beams stretching away into the distance.  At the height of their use thousands of men worked in these shops.  The noise must have been deafening.

After a brief visit to the machine shop, the group walked across the transfer table track to the locomotive shop, where much of the CSRM's collection is stored.  The tour group was divided into two sections, and each was assigned a docent who walked us through the facility, pointing out rare and one of a kind exhibits.

When the shops were built back in the 1860's, they were much smaller than they are today.  The Central Pacific decided it was too expensive and time consuming to send locomotives back east for service and repair, so they built the first shop at what is now one end of the locomotive shop.  In the early days machine tools were powered by overhead belts and pulleys, the supports of which can still be seen hanging from the rafters.  As the railroad grew the buildings were enlarged by extending them into the structures as they exist today.  But there are still parts of the facility in use that are over 150 years old.

The shop complex is a huge, echoing place where time appears to have stopped.  Here are some images of what we discovered in dusty corners of the facility.


The CSRM has an incredible collection, most of which are standard gauge, but there are some examples of narrow gauge locomotives and cars.  Here is a sample of what we saw on our tour.

There were plenty of examples of more modern equipment, including diesel electric locomotives  that were turning points in locomotive power and design.

The size of these enormous machines was impressive, but the museum also has examples of technical advances that made modern railroading possible.  We saw an example of the 1930 Winton diesel engine, one of the forerunners of modern prime movers.

Our guide then led us to one of the direct descendents of this early example of diesel technology, a modern 16 cylinder prime mover used in the Amtrak locomotive next to it.

My first electric trains were, as for so many of us, Lionels.  One of my favorites was a Santa Fe war bonnet diesel that pulled a string of fluted silver cars around the Christmas tree.  The diesel and cars are long gone, but I was delighted to find the prototype for my Santa Fe engine in the shop museum.

I lost touch with allmost all my old Lionel trains until a few years ago.  A cousin of mine called from New Jersey to ask if a cardboard box of old trains in his attic might be mine.  It was, and 60 years after I last saw it a Western Pacific A-B lashup is now on display in my train room.  It is the spitting image of the WP diesel we saw in the Sacramento shops.

This concludes part 1 of my report on the 39th National Narrow Gauge Convention.  Part 2 will focus on the California State Railroad Museum itself, with a glimpse of the new exhibit being prepared by the National Model Railroad Association.