Toy Trains and Other Stuff in the California State Railroad Museum

Yesterday I promised you that I would finish the story about the Railroad Museum.  It deserves more than one page anyway.  Think you might like to be a docent?  We had a one-hour tour.  The training lasts 55 hours.  Our tour guide, Bob, is a docent trainer.

I was surprised to see an entire display about the train control station at Allensworth in the Railroad Museum.   The Santa Fe line, built after the transcontinental railroad was completed, runs north and south through the San Joaquin Valley.  It was a line built without customers.  The railroad established towns as they went.  Except for Visalia and Porterville, which were on the Butterfield Stage Coach route, the towns in Tulare County are railroad towns.  

Allensworth is one of the few towns in CA that has been preserved as a model of what life was like in the early 1900s in a rural railroad town.  Allensworth, pictured below, is a rural town with an interesting twist.  Colonel Allen Allensworth, a freed slave, and a retired military officer wanted a town in which African-Americans could prove to the world that they could be productive on their own in spite of prejudice and limited opportunities.  

He purchased 800 acres and founded the only African-American freedom colony in California, Allensworth.  The impact of this town was farther reaching than most non-African-American people realize.

Allensworth is located in what used to be the bottom of Tulare Lake, the largest (but shallow) freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River.  After it was drained for agricultural purposes, alfalfa and other crops thrived in the fertile river bed. The town of Allensworth prospered when the Santa Fe made daily visits carrying their farm goods mostly to LA.  However, the town was more than just a stop. Allensworth was a train control station for the Santa Fe line which meant that it was manned 24 hours a day with men trained to keep trains from running into each other.

In the display below you can see the boxcars which were make-shift homes for some of the railroad workers.   The boxcars had a breezeway to try to keep them cool during 115-degree summer days in an era before air conditioners.

The Santa Fe Railroad went through Allensworth and stopped here to get water for their steam engines.  Trains pumped and used 50,000 gallons of water a day.   You can see the size of the water tower in comparison to the size of the buildings.  

Allensworth had a great aquifer, but after a few years of constant use, the water table dropped, and with it, the easy access to water.  In 1914 the Santa Fe Railroad moved its control station from Allensworth to nearby Alpaugh, and much of the industry began to die out in Allensworth.

Upstairs I was on my own, so the rest of this article is primarily pictures.  The second floor houses a theater, but I did not have time to watch the video.   Also on the second floor is a display of different seats used through the decades.  Keep in mind that you would be sitting on these seats for 8 days if you crossed the country.  That makes them an item of utmost importance.

Inside the seats look pretty typical, leather, cotton batting, and probably horsehair cushioning you for 24 hours a day, for 8 days.  Ouch!

Fortunately, some people could sleep, and you could move around in the cars.

I’m seriously hoping that these two items were separated by more than a foot or two.  That is probably the reason for the picture!

The dining set in the picture below looks like it was from the 1950s to me.  The colors are right!  My mother had a copper-colored refrigerator, sink, stovetop, and turquoise and copper-colored couch with turquoise swivel chairs.

There are some trains with elegant dining cars downstairs in the museum.  Those dining rooms put mine to shame.  The chandeliers didn’t rival the ornate Venetian hand-blown glass chandeliers, but considering the setting, they were beautiful.

At the top of the stairs, as you climbed to the third floor, this gigantic little boy looked like he was waving to you.  NO, he was the epitome of a boy enamored with trains. I wish my dad or grandfather could have been with me.  I would have had a personal tour guide.

However, my husband still has his train set, and every year it tours the circumference of our artificial Christmas tree carrying freight loads of Christmas-wrapped dominoes.  

2 responses to “Toy Trains and Other Stuff in the California State Railroad Museum”

  1. Mary Janzen Avatar
    Mary Janzen

    I love the Sacramento train museum. About the same time you were there, we were at the B&O train museum in Baltimore. I kept comparing the two in my head. The B&O has more early trains but the Sacramento has a better museum and cooler passanger trains (love the 20s-50s decor). Even though the B&O has Monopoly going for it, I give the award to Sacramento. However, I fully admidt that being from California, I am partial.


    1. tchistorygal Avatar

      I can’t say. I did go to a model train exhibit with Hal last summer, though that was pretty cool. I found some of my pics at work, so I may do a follow-up article on that museum.


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