Dunsmuir Railroad Days

This past weekend, we surprised the kids with an impromptu excursion in Dunsmuir that coincided with the annual Dunsmuir Railroad Days.  It was a great family getaway, delighting everyone.  I was even a little surprised with how much #1 enjoyed our accommodations.  The photo here shows her reaction as we pulled into the resort.   We stayed in the Southern Pacific caboose shown below.  As we settled in, #2 exclaimed, “This is my dream!”  as he quickly dropped his bag and ran outside to begin exploring the grounds.  
In its golden era, Dunsmuir was once an important, thriving railroad community. Formerly named “Pusher”, this was the spot where additional locomotives were added onto the trains, to “push” them up the steep grade to Mt. Shasta. In 1968, the Murphy family, local descendents of pioneering railroaders, decided to collect and preserve the old rail era, by transforming rail cars into beautifully renovated units. A collection of cabooses, flat cars and box cars were acquired and work was started. “Murphy’s Pond” a popular swimming pond was the first phase of the project. In the years following, additional cabooses were transformed into motel units as well as a swimming pool and spa which completed the project. The Murphy Family still proudly owns and actively operates this family business.

After a quick picnic dinner, we drove into Dunsmuir for a quick tour of the quaint town.  We checked out a few of the train cars and marveled at the roundhouse.  We were excited to learn that the following day, we could climb aboard the engine as it went turned around on the turn-table.  We returned to our caboose later that evening and enjoyed a soak in the spa.  We met a kind gentleman from San Francisco with whom we exchanged stories of our travels and adventures.  We can’t wait to check out some of the places he recommended to us. 

On Saturday, we returned downtown to further partake in the festivities.  The kids participated in a Little Mister and Little Miss Engineer contest – whereby #1 brought home a trophy for her age group.  Sadly,  public speaking has never been #2’s strong suit and he competed against a 9 year old returning champion.  He earned 2nd place and was given a ribbon – but he was in tears.  A good learning experience nonetheless. 

 
A highlight was the Speeder Car ride up the track.  Speeder Cars, otherwise known as railway motor cars, werformerly used on railroads around the world by track inspectors and work crews to move quickly to and from work sites.  Although it is slow compared to a train or car, it is called speeder because it is faster than the human-powered vehicle that predates them.
Speeder cars were replaced in the 1990s with pickup trucks with flanged wheels.  Now Speeders are collected by hobbyists who refurbish them and use them for short excursions and outings.   

California State Railroad Museum

This has been a long awaited trip … the California State Railroad Museum is well known throughout the western states and it’s been on Buddy’s ‘Bucket List’ for years.  Now that we live in California .. the trip was an easy few hours drive from home.  The museum is located within Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

As the commercial center of the California Gold Rush, Sacramento became a crossroads of transportation, connecting steamboats to San Francisco, supply roads to the mining regions, and to Folsom by the first railroad in the West.  Though the commercial district gradually moved east of the the riverfront, today there are 53 historic commercial structures on 28 acres that make up Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

While the focus of our visit was the Railroad Museum – we’ll definitely be back again when our history studies bring us to California.  The railroad museum houses more than 20 restored locomotives and railroad cars along with thousands of smaller artifacts and a variety of exhibits in its exhibition facility. In addition, the Central Pacific Railroad Passenger Station and Freight Depot make up a part of the historic district.

The passenger station is a reconstruction of the western terminus of America’s first transcontinental railroad (circa 1876).  Here you’ll find the ticket office (where we purchased tickets for the Spookomotive Train event), telegraph office, main waiting room, and a separate waiting room for women and children only.  The museum’s steam-powered excursion trains arrive and depart from the reconstructed late 1800s transcontinental railroad freight station.

We planned our trip to coincide with the Spookomotive train ride – a whimsically decorated train staffed with an entertaining ‘skeleton crew’.  We had hoped for a spooky ride – perhaps a little mystery in which we’d get to take part onboard.  As it turned out – the ride was a simple down and back along the riverfront with the crew wearing skeleton printed t-shirts and passing out silly plastic toys.  It was suitable for ALL ages.
Buddy’s favorite exhibit was the 4294 locomotive.  The unique cab-forward design of the locomotive saved engineers from being asphyxiated by smoke fumes in Southern Pacific’s numerous long mountain tunnels and snow sheds.  Sweetie’s favorite exhibit commemorated the completion of the transcontinental railroad and the ceremony that took place at Promontory Point, Utah.  We were surprised to learn that the paintings we see so frequently in the history books portraying this event were staged.  Some of the people pictured were not even there when the infamous gold spike was nailed in place.  Sadly, the people that were responsible for the construction of the train – most of whom were immigrants from China and Ireland – were not featured at all.
While we were there, Buddy completed the Junior Engineer assignments.  He was disappointed though that his special award was game token for Old Sacramento Historic Park.  He’d hoped for a patch or lapel pin.  Ah well – the important thing was what he learned not the tangible reward.

Canada’s Railway :: Book Sharing Monday

The Kids Book of Canada’s Railway and How the CPR Was Built 
by Deborah Hodge

  
We stumbled across this book at the Friends of Jasper National Park gift store in Jasper, British Columbia. Buddy became engrossed in the illustrations immediately.  I purchased it for him and to our delight, it became very useful when we discovered the Spiral Tunnel in Yoho National Park.  Prior to this trip we weren’t familiar with this engineering marvel – I had heard of similar tunnels in Norway but I didn’t know they existed in North America.

Buddy was spellbound.  Though it was very cold we waited for a train to pass through the tunnels while we were there.  Fortunately, on the drive to the viewpoint from Lake Louise, we had passed by two trains traveling in that direction so we knew if we were patient enough, our efforts would be rewarded.

November 7, 1885, marked the completion of one of the longest, most expensive, most challenging engineering feats in the world — the Canadian Pacific Railway. A ribbon of steel now united Canada from east to west. It took 30,000 workers less than five years to cross the wild land.  Working from both directions, teams of railroad workers laid track and blasted through the mountains.  When they finally broke through, the teams were within centimeters of matching perfectly.   

This is the story of Canada’s first transcontinental railway and the thousands of people who made the dream of a united Canada a reality. This is also a look at the freight trains, school trains, troop trains and passenger trains that helped shape a country, the people who worked and rode on them and what our railway system looks like today.  We’ve read it several times – it is fast becoming a favorite.

On our drive home, my little guy talked endlessly about the trains and began to describe a model that he planned to build upon our return.  He got started right away, collecting materials for the track (small sticks) and landscape (old pine cones for trees).  I was very impressed with his ingenuity and how well he and his sister worked together.  She had asked him if she could help and he was delighted.

Needless to say, we were very impressed with the prevalence of Canada’s railways and look forward to a future transcontinental journey aboard a passenger train.