Throughout the California State Railroad Museum's main building, the Railroad History Museum, are 21 meticulously restored locomotives and cars that cover a brief history of railroad travel.
Included in the exhibit that opened in 1981 is the St. Hyacinthe, a Pullman-type sleeping car from the early 1930s. It is displayed as a typical sleeping car traveling at night: a mechanical device built by the Museum rocks the car to simulate motion, berths are made-up, and lights of passing towns and grade crossings flash by the windows. A soundtrack simulates the rhythmic clicking of the wheels, the distant whistle of the locomotive, and the descending Doppler effect of passing crossing bells.
The Southern Pacific No. 1 C.P. Huntington is significant nationally as the sole surviving standard-gauge 4-2-4 in the U.S. Built in 1863, the unique engine is the oldest locomotive owned by the Museum.
The first California cab-forward design was built in 1901 by William J. Thomas, of the North Pacific Coast Railroad. The unique design of the Southern Pacific No. 4294 was possibly influenced by an Italian cab-forward. The configura-tion provided the best visibility for locomotive engineers on sharp curves. Southern Pacific officials also recognized the value of the cab-forward as a design that would save engineers from being asphyxiated by smokestack fumes in the railroad's numerous long mountain tunnels and snowsheds.
One of the most interesting cars was the Great Northern Railway Post Office Car No. 42. I remember the station mail crane that would hold the mail bag to be snatched up by the speeding trains, and I thought the trains merely transported mail to a later stop for sorting.
However, it was evident from the wooden pigeon holes and canvas bags in this car that considerable work occurred on this car.
An eastbound train, for example, would pick up a mail bag with mail for towns along the route to the east. The contents of the mail bag are emptied onto tables and sorted by mail stops along the route to the east. Mail for locations in the area of the stops to the east were put into appropriate bags and put out for the collection cranes.
Most Great Northern Railway Post Office service stopped in 1967.
The 1930s Santa Fe Dining Car No. 1474 Cochiti offered visitors a look into the kitchen of the Dining Car.
The car was built for the Santa Fe Super Chief, judged by many to offer the ultimate in fine dining. The Cochiti was the first in a long line of Santa Fe dining cars which were the pride of the line, noted for custom menus and fine quality meals prepared by trained chefs.
The railroad commissioned Mary Coulter to design new china for the Cochiti with distinctive designs inspired by ancient pottery makers of the Rio Mimbres Valley in New Mexico. Named Mimbreno, this china remained a trademark of the Super Chief for more than 30 years.
One table for four is replete in appropriate Mimbreno-pattern china while the other tables offer an opportunity to examine china settings from the Museum's collections and to interpret the broader story of dining on the rails.
When I first learned that the two men who purchased the 1905 Georgia Northern Railway Private Car No. 100 had traveled the country by hooking this car onto different trains, I pictured Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg wandering the country and writing about their travels.
Well, they did write about their travels around the country, but when we later learned that they spent $375,000 in antique furnishings in 1948 to make the car they re-named the Gold Coast) the most lavish and expensively outfitted car the United States, I realized they "wandered" on a much higher level than I could ever imagine.
(Information about the locomotives and passenger and work cars was found in the California State Railroad Museum's web page.)