ECW Weekender: The California State Railroad Museum

Riding the rails is a minor occupation of many Californians. We are familiar with the huge impact the railroad has had on the growth and development of our state, and we honor that tradition in many ways. One of the premier attractions in our capital city of Sacramento is the California State Railroad Museum.

Visiting this museum is an interesting way to spend time any time, but they are currently offering an exhibit of special interest to Civil War buffs: Abraham Lincoln: Building America and the Union Pacific Railroad. This powerful exhibit begins with the early history of President Abraham Lincoln and his steadfast support of the railroad, culminating with the signing of the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862. The exhibit highlights the construction of this – the world’s very first transcontinental railroad – and continues on to showcase how the Union Pacific Railroad has helped with “Building America” through natural disasters, wars, and a changing transportation industry.

Building America

Museum visitors can view a wide variety of artifacts, images and memorabilia, including a souvenir gold album locket from the late 1850’s displaying a picture of Abraham Lincoln during his presidential campaign. There is also a large stylized map of the famous route of the first transcontinental railroad, colorful railroad-related advertisements, posters and marketing materials, and a rare uniform from the 1930’s once worn by nurses/stewardesses who traveled aboard passenger trains assisting elderly or ill passengers and children prior to World War II.

Along with this delicious Lincolniana, there are nineteen steam engines dating from 1862 to 1944. This large collection illustrates the development of steam technology from its beginning in the mid-nineteenth century to its climax in the 1940’s. The engines range in size from the diminutive Southern Pacific No. 1, “C.P. Huntington,” to the million-pound giant, Southern Pacific articulated cab-forward No. 4294. Fewer than 45 full-size steam locomotives built prior to 1880 exist in the United States. The Museum has eight of these, including Central Pacific Railroad locomotive No. 1, “Gov. Stanford.” While the locomotive collection of the California State Railroad Museum is extensive, only a portion is on public exhibition at any one time. The remaining engines are either undergoing restoration or awaiting restoration in the Museum’s shop facilities.

The Governor Stanford Locomotive Engine

There are also activities directed toward school children that include many STEM-themed, hands-on experiences, and you can take a 45-minute excursion ride, or if the season is right, join the Museum’s Polar Express ride. You get cookies, hot chocolate, an hour on a train, and a silver sleigh bell from Santa to mark the occasion. The Polar Express runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, November 23-25, and Wednesdays through Sundays November 28-December 20.

Polar Express Goodies

No matter where you are or what time of year it is, please, good readers—take some time to find a local train experience and come aboard. There is a nation-wide movement to restore and maintain this fascinating part of our history, and every ticket helps. Abraham Lincoln would have approved.


  • Location: 125 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
  • The Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day
  • Admission is $12.00 for adults, $6.00 for youth ages 6-17, and children under 5 are free
  • Cash, personal checks, travelers’ checks, Visa, and Mastercard are accepted
  • A small number of limited-term, metered parking spaces are available on the streets of Old Sacramento. Street parking is metered from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. However, these spaces are not suitable for guests visiting longer than 90 minutes

All-day parking is available at two parking garages located at both ends of Old Sacramento:

  • Old Sacramento Garage– Entrance at I Street between 3rd and 2nd Street
  • Tower Bridge Garage– Entrance on Capitol Blvd and Neasham Circle near the Tower Bridge.

All images courtesy of the California State Railroad Museum

1 Response to ECW Weekender: The California State Railroad Museum

  1. This museum is one of the great “jewels” of the state park system in California. There is an “old town” along the Sacramento River in which the museum is located. And you can watch the Amtrak trains pass by over the Sacramento River behind the museum, which adds to the train atmosphere. You can pass over the Donner Pass on any given day, but on weekends the museum has docents, much like myself, who ride over the Donner Pass on weekends with the passengers to Reno, Nevada and back.

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