Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Train Trip

In the U.S., Labor Day weekend typically marks the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. My older kids have been doing school for a couple of weeks now, but the holiday gave us a chance to squeeze in one last hurrah. Our destination: "Gold Rush Days" in the historic section of Sacramento, our state capitol. We roused the kids early and headed off to the local train station to start our day.

Amtrak Station, Martinez CA

Doesn't everyone look excited? Well, no, but they should. Train travel is eminently civilized, as Adwoa routinely proves. Sadly, this entry will not have glamour shots of typewriters-in-the-wild as her posts do. It's about 7:30 AM in this photo, and the kids (not shown) are alternately sleepy/excited about the trip north. They've been up here before, but this was my first time.
Leaving Martinez

Boarded and heading out now, we're heading for the bridge near the middle of this photo, which spans a long eastward-reaching bay. If one were to put a boat in the water and paddle west, you'd eventually pass beneath the Golden Gate bridge. This is an industrial area, with oil refinery storage tanks visible on the hillside. This is a typical morning view, with the fog still coming in from the bay.

The Capital Corridor

Across the bridge and heading north now, and you can see what I like about living here. When we first moved, the brown hills of late summer looked dead to me, coming as I did from a very wet climate. Now it just looks normal to me, and green hillsides seem strange. We rarely see rain between April and October, so most of the summer the hills are golden like this. That's the fog rolling back along the top of the hills. We're "inland", which means we have temperatures about 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit above what's felt in San Francisco, just a few miles on the other side of these hills. Today promised to be a hot one: it did not disappoint.

Hot Air Balloons near Davis, CA

About half an hour more to the north now, and you can see that we're moving away from the hills. We passed some kind of hot-air balloon launch, just a handful of them, rising up in the morning air. That might have been my second choice of travel, if there were some way to do it on the ground. I've got a few pictures of Sacramento, but most feature my kids, which I don't like to post publicly, so you're going to have to settle for a few establishing shots, and more narration. Unlike most of Switzerland, there's simply not that much history in the U.S.: our oldest monuments and structures may date from the late 1700's at best, and in California, it's even younger. Most of the "olde timey" booths and actors were recreating the 1850s or later. So, quite a few tents selling modern takes on period fashion, like these hat pins:

Hat Pins

And most of the acting was of the Wild West variety, including a mock shootout:

Shootout on K Street

Not shown: the small Women's Suffrage demonstration that wound through the crowd just before this show, which mortified my teenage son. He kept us safely out of embarrassment’s way on the opposite sidewalk. In the spirit of recreation, the streets are covered in dirt, and with all the horses and horse-drawn equipment making laps around the city, a number of other "natural" products as well.

Send in the Cavalry

By this point, it was early afternoon, and getting hot. These guys had the right idea, waiting it out in the shade. We headed in for lunch and air conditioning, and planned out the rest of the day. Tragically, we seemed to have missed "The California Fire Brigade Rescues the Burning Brothel" show. Another opportunity to mortify my son wasted, though we did manage to rattle him quite a bit when we explained what a brothel was. Loudly.

Red Circle Dancers

After lunch, we took in the Red Circle Dancers, and by "take in" I mean "accidentally happened across." My wife and I insisted on forcing the kids to get educated, dammit, so we stayed and watched. This show, plus the Buffalo Solidier tent shows that Gold Rush Days depict a Kindler, Gentler, More Equitable Wild West. By now, the kids were in Full Grumble Mode: it was hot, and the crowds were picking up. Conveniently, there are a number of museums right in this section of Sacramento, and they all offer free admission during this weekend, so we circled the troops and headed off for the nearest one, passing a few costumed ladies from the brothel show en route, giving my wife and I the chance to point them out. Loudly.

Printing Presses, Linotype

Naturally, the insides of the museums are generally far too dark for photography, at least with the small lens and sensor on my digital camera, but I did manage one retro-typographical shot, near the historic presses and Linotype machine in the area sponsored by the local newspaper, the Sacramento Bee. Of course I had to see it up close, and for a small donation, had a old-timey Western WANTED posted made up for my daughter. I explained the whole process as they ran the paper through as only an obsessive can, and the volunteer working the press offered me a job. I might have to go back...

Being the contrarians that we are, our family went through this museum backwards, starting with California's role in modern agriculture, and then rewinding through the two world wars, early settlement, and the gold rush that made this area famous. A few typewriter spottings, including a Pittsburgh and a Sholes in a very dark cabinet (sigh), and a three-bank "Noiseless" set up on a display. No pictures, alas, but they're there. Our youngest -- age three -- had taken charge by this point, and was pulling us past the displays in search of Something Less Boring (bad news, kid!) so we left the county history museum and headed next door to the train museum.

Now, I am not -- mercifully -- a Train Nut, and aside from an HO scale layout I had as a kid, I've never seen the draw of trains. There's a small section devoted to train-related toys, a display celebrating the completion of the trans-continental railroad, and several restored engines and cars inside. But the high point of the trip -- as my kids promised -- was a walk through a restored Pullman passenger car and matching dining car. The Pullman is rigged up so that it has a slight rocking motion, and plays a loop of sounds and lights through the windows simulating a nighttime ride. I had to go through twice. Ah, so very, very elegant. I'd ride one of those in an instant, even with the teeny-tiny berths. I'd like my time machine now, please, and a cross-country ticket. (Also spotted: a Royal QDL inside the glassed-off luxury compartment.) Sadly, I had to sacrifice a third trip through in the name of ice cream -- I'd planned on hiding in a berth and just taking a nap -- so we left the museum behind and headed out in search of a final treat. Typically, we happened along another crowd, this time around a demonstration of a period cannon.

Fire in the hole!
It looks innocent in the photo, just there in the middle of the lawn, but was enough to give a massive chest-pounding THUMP when fired. You can see there's quite a crowd now, and still more as we fought our way down for ice cream. A bit of a line greeted us at Sacramento Sweets, but the air inside was cool and diabolically (or diabetically) sweet-smelling. We all came out with ice creams bigger than our heads, and polished them off in short order.

The last stop of the day was the military museum, by request of my son: one can only take so much gingham and calico and brothel-talk. I was less awed by the displays of superior firepower and more by the ice-cold water available in the downstairs fountain. High temperatures for the day were expected to be in the upper 90s, and we met and exceeded expectations. After admiring all the forms of lethality on display, it was time to gather up the kids and trundle back to the train station for the return journey. As we clacked along in big aluminum and steel tube, I have to admit that my mind was still back in Sacramento, sitting in a private berth behind that QDL, rocking gently side to side as a night many generations gone slipped by outside the window.


Rob Bowker said...

A great day out Mike, thanks.

Mike Speegle said...

Whatever, man. You think you're so great with your vacation thing that went smoothly and didn't involve any significant trauma.

Just kiddin'. Actually sounds like it was pretty cool. And you should totally go back and take them up on that job.

Cameron said...

Very interesting post. I'm from Sacramento originally but have never been to the railroad museum. (Weird how that can happen with locals, who don't see things in their own towns.) I've been meaning to go for years -- looks like you all had a good time in Old Sac. How fitting to take the train there & back.

Adwoa said...

My kind of post! I love seeing pictures of local scenery and life in general, although it may seem old hat to you. And I have gone on many a train trip with nary a typewriter to be spotted at the final destination (sadly)!

Strikethru said...

Sactomato! Birthplace of me! Glad to see someone giving it some respect. Lord knows I never did.

Strikethru said...

Oh and Cameron -- same. Never went to the RR museum although I lived there 20 years!