Monday, April 6, 2015

Western Railway Museum

Other than occasionally crossing the border into Emeryville, Berkeley, or Alameda, I don't leave Oakland very often, but Saturday K joined me for a trip to Suisun City. The trip is less surprising when you learn that some Oakland history was involved, with a day at the Western Railway Museum.

The day was a great two-fer, with not just Oakland railroad history, but a ride on an historic train with wildflower viewing and wine tasting. After some lunch (they've got some lovely areas for picnicking) we explored the museum. The visitors center includes some displays, a gift shop, and the F. M. Smith Memorial Library. But outside is where the real fun is, with two car barns, a restoration workshop and grounds full of historic railroad equipment.

Railroads (along with earthquakes and freeways) have been a big part of shaping Oakland's history. The first transcontinental railroad was a joint project between the Western Pacific, the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific, and had its terminus in Oakland. This led to countless people settling in Oakland, like C. L. Dellums who left Texas and came to Oakland and worked as a Pullman Porter. F. M. "Borax" Smith and his realty partner bought up small streetcar lines and built the Key System, the first unified transit system in the East Bay. The Sacramento Northern Railway was an electric interurban railroad that ran from Oakland to Sacramento to Chico.

There are other pieces of California railroad history at the museum, like the Richmond Shipyard Railway, a special train the U.S. Maritime Commission hired the Key System to run to transport shipyard workers during WWII, some old SF Muni cars, and railroad cars designed to carry different fruits and vegetables from the farms of California. Some in Oakland might remember the Southern Pacific's electric interurban railroad, the East Bay Electric Lines, with its distinctive red cars and round front windows. We were shown around one of the car barns by historian and author Paul Trimble, who literally wrote the book on the Sacramento Northern Railway and co-authored Ferries on San Francisco Bay. Both are subjects dear to me, because my grandfather worked as a machinist for the Sacramento Northern in their repair shops at 40th and Shafter, and my great-grandfather worked on one of the Southern Pacific ferryboats that traveled between Oakland and San Francisco.

Our visit finished with a ride on a trained pulled by the historic Comet of the Sacramento Northern Railway (shown above crossing Lake Temescal). They do regular rides through the day, but during April, they do a special wine tasting and wildflower viewing trip. In addition to a souvenir glass from the museum, we tasted 4 local wines, were served tasty h'ordeuvres and learned some about local history. I think even the folks who were less interested in railroad history enjoyed the trip.

All in all, a visit to the Western Railway Museum is highly recommended for Oakland history buffs, railfans and wine lovers.

Lots more pictures from the museum:

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