California Railroading; northern California, May 6-13, 2017 GPS Map

Frank Ackerman did an outstanding job of telling us the history of railroading in California, a lot we didn’t know. He was capably assisted by his wife Jo, and by Tim and Blake from Black Sheep Adventures and Heather from M.I.T. Travel.

I’m so glad I went!

M.I.T. alumni at the Sugar Pine Railroad in the Sierra Nevada.

Best Western Plus Bayside Hotel, Oakland, California, Saturday, May 6

Thanks to my daughter Beatrix for dropping me off at the Phoenix airport. We flew northwest over western Arizona and the Colorado River and on to Barstow, where I-40 and I-15 meet and where the Santa Fe meets the Union Pacific. Then it clouded up. When the clouds parted we were over the San Joaquin Valley, following I-5 for a while before we came on in to Oakland. I sat next to an older couple who spoke Spanish.

They’ve extended BART to the Oakland Airport, on an elevated line. So next time, instead of the Fremont BART Station hotfoot we can do the Oakland Airport BART Station hotfoot, and take the El.

At dinner Frank Ackerman introduced the trip and told us a little of the history of California railroading. There are 17 of us, including Jack and me from Frank’s Colorado railroad trip three years ago. I was talking with Rich, who lives in Hawaii and had to come here yesterday in order to make it on time.

Geese and goslings like it here.

Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn, Oakhurst, California, Sunday, May 7

Last time I got on the train in Oakland it was 1980. Clara was a baby. Jacque and I took the girls from Oakland to Gerber to visit their grandparents in Red Bluff. Today, we got on the Amtrak San Joaquin from the station at Jack London Square. It was a ride down memory lane all the way to Stockton, which we reached on the former Santa Fe tracks.

From Stockton we rode the vans to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, where they have a roundhouse, turntable, and rolling stock going back to Central Pacific days. We got a tour of the roundhouse. One of the steam locomotives, No. 3, is a movie star. Others are in various stages of restoration. They have to make parts, and if they need a tool and don’t have it, they often have to make the tool. So there’s a blacksmith shop.

We took a ride on a Sierra Railway train. It was a round trip through the high country. At the end they moved the diesel locomotive from one end of the train to the other to take us back to Jamestown. Then we got back in the vans for Oakhurst, where we’re spending the night. I’ve had a good time talking with other alumni about trains and all kinds of things.

Amtrak California leaves from Jack London Square.
The Santa Fe depot in Stockton.

Central Pacific
Anvil, but no chorus.
If we need a tool, we make it.
Cold metal? Single handed?
Moving the locomotive to the other end of the train.
Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana - California Poppy

University Plaza Waterfront Hotel, Stockton, California, Monday, May 8

Our High Sierra train ride was on the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine, the best survivor of many logging railroads in the Sierra Nevada. We sat in an open-air car made of big logs that had a lengthwise notch sawed out of them, so the cross section is like Pac-Man.

The train made a loop trough the forest, though I never could figure our where the track looped.

Afterwards we had lunch at a resort, then rode to Merced in the vans to catch the Amtrak San Joaquin to Stockton. It was over the same tracks I rode on the Santa Fe in 1965 to go to San Francisco. My aunt met me there, and I went on to be a co-op student at Lockheed Missiles & Space Co. in Sunnyvale.

Tonight we’re staying at a downtown hotel in Stockton. We all went out for dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant.

Frank explains the history of the Sugar Pine Railroad.
Our locomotive is a Shay.
M.I.T. alumni line up by the locomotive.
Two busloads of kids joined us.
We rode in open-air cars made from logs with a Pac-Man cut.
Taking on water.
Come On Baby Light My Fire

Santa Fe depot in Merced.
BNSF diesel locomotives roll through Stockton.

Coventry Inn, San Francisco, California, Tuesday, May 9

Everyone got up early to take the 7:05 ACE commuter train from Stockton to Santa Clara. It goes through Altamont Pass on the same route that the California Zephyr once traveled. The Southern Pacific tracks along a parallel route were torn up. Frank and his wife Jo live in Fremont, not far from where the train went.

When we got to Santa Clara we left ACE and hopped on CalTrain to San Francisco. It ran on the tracks which I rode in the late 1960s and early 70s when Southern Pacific was running the commuter trains. Lots of changes. For one thing, there was no BART when I first came to California.

In San Francisco the depot is at 4th & King instead of 3rd & Townsend. We rode cable cars on the California Street and Hyde Street lines, and also MUNI light rail cars, PCC cars, and buses. At the Cable Car Museum they have the four sets of pulleys that keep the cables moving. Each cable is a continuous loop, which has to be replaced regularly.

In the evening we had a reception and dinner with members of the M.I.T. Alumni of northern California. I enjoyed talking to several of them.

We caught the 7:05 ACE train in Stockton.
Changing trains in Santa Clara.

Witt cars on the Embarcadero.
California Street cable car.
Keep those cables moving!
M.I.T. alumni in a PCC car.
PCC, Kansas City style.

Coventry Inn, San Francisco, California, Wednesday, May 10

The Skunk Train took us as far as Crowley, site of a ghost town in the high country. There’s nothing now but a tiny railroad shack. We didn’t get all the way to Fort Bragg because Tunnel #1 reamins closed by a landslide. The train did make it through Tunnel #2. Our locomotive was struggling just to pull two passenger cars up the grade. Frank explained how they don’t make diesel locomotives like they used to.

It was a lovely train ride through the redwood forest. The weather couldn’t have been better, and everyone was in good spirits.

On the way back we stopped at a high overlook of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. There was some fog, but the sun was shining on the city. Very windy!

Skunk Train in Willits, California.
The train had an open-air photographers’ car.
Tunnel #1 is still open.
#64 will get us there.
What’s left of Crowley.
The high country.
A lonely shack by the railroad track.
We pass some rolling stock along the way.

San Francisco
We’re across the bay in Marin County.
Fort Point was the only Civil War fortification around here.
Let’s celebrate!

Hilton Garden Inn, Sonoma County Airport, California, Thursday, May 11

The San Francisco Bay-Delta Model is a scale model of the whole bay and delta region, as big as a football field and with water accurately simulating the tides and flows. We got a special tour and walked around to see how everything goes in a simulated day. The bay model was built in 1957 by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Today it serves as a museum and educational center.

From there we went to Napa to ride the wine train. It’s the best-kept, most luxurious train I can remember riding. The train took us north through Napa Valley past many wineries. We were served a glass of wine, and a fine lunch in a restored dining car.

Our last adventure was a walk in the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve near the Russian River. There was time to walk a nature trail and see some giant redwoods and a lot of other vegetation of the coastal forest.

The entire Bay Area is represented.
The Bay Bridge was 21 years old when this model was made.

On board the Napa Valley Wine Train.
The train goes past miles of vineyards.

New life from a fallen tree.
Tree ring dating shows the exact year.
This one has me stumped.
Ground cover.
The tree, not the colonel.
Like walking in a cathedral.
The trail crosses a mountain stream.

Hilton Embassy Suites, Sacramento, California, Friday, May 12

The SMART train wasn’t ready for action, but we got to take pictures and see it leave the station on a test run.

Then we visited the Sonoma Mission and the Army barracks just across the street. It was all part of New Spain, in an effort to stop the Russians and make the Indians into loyal subjects. Then Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821, lost a war to the Americans in the 1840s, then the Americans bought Alaska from Russia in Seward’s Folly, 1867.

The California Railroad Museum in Sacramento has fantastic exhibits of railroading through the years. My favorite was the Southern Pacific cab-forward locomotive, SP’s last steam locomotive, which could have the cab in the front because it burned oil.

Our farewell dinner was tasty. Then we had to say good-bye to new friends.

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit

The Bear Flag of California.
Flowers grow by the Mission San Francisco Solano.
Inside, a place of worship.
Barracks for the army of New Spain.
Should the captain be canonized?  Not with this!
Hmmm, those wheels look substantial.
Sonoma City Hall

Arriving at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
Now hear this ...
How’s the ride?
The last Southern Pacific steam locomotive was a cab forward.
What’s inside an F-7.
No cover over the boiler.

Mesa, Arizona, Saturday, May 13

Started for Oakland early, because Mike and Judy had a long drive ahead of them. I was the only one going to the Oakland Airport. Thanks to Tim for taking me there, and to my daughter Clara and my wife Jacque for meeting me at the airport in Phoenix.

  Arizona Hike Pictures updated March 8, 2018