Celebrating the Transcontinental 150th in Sacramento

By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor

The HeritageRail Alliance conference returned to Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum (CSRM) for the first time since 2006, when predecessors ARM and TRAIN held their second joint conference. Plenty has happened since then, both for the museum and HRA.

The ARM/TRAIN merger occurred, resulting in the awkward ATRRM name, followed by a rebranding as HRA. Now the organization has found its footing as the premier voice for North American railway preservation.

CSRM has both expanded and contracted. Last year, after over a decade of planning and economic upheaval, CSRM finally took title to a major portion of the former Southern Pacific Sacramento Shops, located just across the now-Union Pacific main line that was the first transcontinental. Specifically, they acquired the cavernous Boiler Shop and Erecting Shop, the transfer table that separates the buildings and the adjacent turntable. The other remaining shop buildings went to the company that will redevelop the 244-acre site.

The Sacramento Shops site as it appears today. The California State Railroad Museum is at lower left. The black lines are museum tracks that lead to the shops, which abut the new Sacramento depot train platforms. The depot is at bottom center where it says “4th St.”.

To understand how the museum expansion fits into it, some background is necessary. The Sacramento Shops date from the founding of the Central Pacific in 1863 and there are buildings, including the east half of the Erecting Shop, that were built in 1869. As the CP’s and later SP’s main shop, it did all the heavy work, including building locomotives. Rail yards filled the area between the shops and the depot to the south.

The yards were completely removed, and the main line and station platforms were shifted north, abutting the ends of the shop buildings. The handsome historic depot was stranded over a city block away from the new platforms, and the two are now connected by a long outdoor walkway.

Looking toward the historic shop buildings and the train platforms from the walkway to the depot. This gives an idea how far apart they are.

A bus terminal and an extension of the light rail system occupy the old rail platform location.

This mural inside the historic SP depot shows the 1863 start of Central Pacific construction.

The site’s first developer coveted the Erecting Shop and Boiler Shop, then leased by CSRM, and tried to prevent their museum use. One of the few good outcomes of the Great Recession was the developer’s bankruptcy. A new developer was brought on who has embraced the museum’s presence.

CSRM has used the leased Erecting Shop to store rolling stock under roof, albeit a leaky roof.

Equipment stored in the west half of the Erecting Shop.

It moved restoration work into the even more leaky Boiler Shop.

Inside the Boiler Shop.

Quite a few pieces of rolling stock, including much of the Santa Fe’s historic collection, were stored outdoors on some remaining yard tracks just north and west of the shop.

Creating a rail connection between the museum and the shops was a challenge in itself. The solution was a low-speed diamond across the UP main.

Although CSRM successfully acquired the shop buildings and track access to the north and south ends of the transfer table, the land under the other yard tracks was lost. The loss of storage space required CSRM to dispose of dozens of locomotives and cars. Homes were found for all, mostly at other museums, but it was a major effort.

During the long lease period when eventual site ownership was still in doubt, it made no sense for CSRM to improve the Boiler and Erecting Shops. The only major investment was a new transfer table to move equipment into the buildings.

The roofs are in terrible shape. All the machine tools have to be tarped when not in use. Reroofing will be the first priority.

Back at the original museum, the changes are more subtle. Large model railroad and toy train exhibits were added to the upper floors some years ago. Major photos collections from Lucius Beebe, Charles Clegg and Phil Hastings have been acquired, along with other important artifacts. The warehousing of off-site artifacts has been consolidated into a single warehouse. The 3-mile Sacramento Southern demonstration railroad has recently been extended a half mile to the Sacramento Zoo, although the location for a loading platform there has not been finalized.

The museum remains one of the premier railway preservation sites in North America.

Located at milepost zero on the Central Pacific, it is uniquely qualified to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and has pulled out all the stops to interpret the event.

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