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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

The Railroad Museum: For All Ages

Pssst!  Hot tip:  this is the time of year to go to museums.  Once students are back in school, they really don’t take many field trips for the first few weeks.  Hence, empty museums, did you hear me:  EMPTY MUSEUMS!  So head out now if you can take a weekday for a fun getaway.

Today we’re highlighting the California State Railroad Museum, which is a one-of-a-kind stop for adults and children alike in Sacramento.  Whether you’re interested in full-sized steam engines, the toy trains, the history of the transcontinental railroad, or even the California Gold Rush, this is the museum for you.  (They know nothing about me, thus, the totally unbiased review here.  I knew nothing about them, too, once upon a time.)

I’ve been to the museum a couple of times, after I had kids, naturally.  Trains are one of those things that, unless you’re a guy, or a child, I don’t get the interest in them.  However, once I took a small steam train ride in the Colorado mountains with one of Benedetto’s sisters and her family.  We sat outside on the open top car of the train in the brisk summer air and small specks of black ash covered us.  It was really quite fun.  Generally, I’m too busy being Serious to have time for Serious Fun.  But it was.  Anyhoo, back to the Railroad Museum.

Our kids enjoyed the trains that simulated motion.  We actually felt the slight tossing and shimmying of long-ago train travel.  We walked through the dining car with its elegant china place settings, each table representing another of the 100 or so complete sets that the train line regularly used.  We made our way past the sleeping berths with their heavy curtains separating each double-decker bunk from the corridor.

The children learned about the mail-sorting that took place on the train.  There were big bins and small pigeonholes  where letters were organized in terms of their destination along the route.  The efficiency of bygone days amazed them.

In the bookstore (let’s face it, a highlight of any museum), I bought a book about the orphan trains traveling between 1854 and 1929.  I had heard of these trains before, carrying orphans to points west in the United States.  The orphans would stand on train platforms or on stages in nearby meeting halls and interested folks would check their teeth, muscles, or general appearance, and take them in, adopting them into loving homes, or using them as help for their farms or mothers’ helpers.  It’s was generally a win-win situation.  But from where had all of these orphans come?

Turns out that many were from immigrant families, during a time when newcomers were flooding America, the “land of opportunity”.  Unfortunately, for many families either living in urban tenements, ten to a room, or heading west to claim land, the mothers often died in the extreme conditions, or, without work, could not afford to feed their children.  There were estimates of 30,000 abandoned children living on New York City streets alone.  The Children’s Aid Society and the early train systems did their best to help.  About 250,000 children were relocated over the course of these years.

No matter whether your interest is a simple diversion of toy trains, or whether you wish to visit and learn more about American railroad history, the California State Railroad Museum is the place to go.  And you might even choose to take a featured ride on some of the trains they still have in operation.  Learn what it took to be a conductor, engineer, or Western Union telegraph operator.  Study the lives, the land, and the legacies changed by early railroad expansion.



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