Sunday, August 30, 2015

Building and riding the rails

HH is a gem at going along with anything I want to do. He is unique among anyone I've ever known in that he is never, ever bored. Ever. And everything interests him. Granted, some things interest him more than others, but I've never encountered a topic that he won't engage in a discussion about. It's an impressive attribute, and he keeps me hopping.

The first photo I saw of him was with a group of fellow photographers. It was a casual gathering - those in the front row were lounging around in chairs, smokes in their hands, laughing and chatting. The rest of the group was standing behind. HH was at the far end of the back row and his expression of what I thought was bemused detachment I later understood to be what is now familiar: he was thinking. He doesn't remember that particular day, but agrees that there was some thing he was figuring out how to solve or build or move. He does love all things mechanical, from farm equipment to trains.

He most agreeably went with me to the Haggin Museum in Stockton several weekends ago. A docent there told us that the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento was worth going to, and I decided I could do that if he could suffer through an art museum for me. Come to think of it, though, there wasn't a lot of suffering going on because half of the Haggin is art but the other half is history, with lots of farm equipment on exhibit.

The railroad museum is in the Old Town section of Sacramento. It was a gorgeous day and there were swarms of people on the streets and in the museum.

Once inside, we split up and HH went to look at machinery and I took in the archival and museum material, occasionally getting back together when one of us would hunt the other down to say, You have to see this.

Like many museums, this one is kept dark and I could shoot handheld only, so just like at San Juan Bautista, nothing is as sharp as I'd like it to be.

I've often said I don't know how I got along without the internet. When I got my first smart phone I couldn't imagine any other use for its internet connection than to research prices of children's books (which I collected) when I was at an antique store or book sale. That narrow focus didn't last long, and thank goodness for unlimited data use then. I don't have unlimited data anymore, but then I'm not usually in a place where I can actually get data. This little discussion of changing technology segues me into the telegram below and its subtle boasting about the "new multiplex automatic system" and eight telegrams being printed automatically. I'm sure there was no less awe at this marvelous method of communication than there was when I realized what utility that first smartphone would eventually offer me.

If there's one thing they do really well at this museum, it's dioramas. They're so skillfully executed that I stood in front of this one for a while, systematically looking at the wall section by section until I could see where the 3-D snow shed left off and where the mural began. The reflection in the mirrored wall on the right added to the illusion.

The Central Pacific's first locomotive was a classic American type, and was purchased in 1862 from a factory on the east coast. After traveling around the tip of South America, it arrived in Sacramento and was named the Gov. Stanford after Central Pacific's president and the governor of California (at the same time?). It was donated to the Leland Stanford Jr. University in 1895 and, while this photo doesn't show its fine condition, it still looks nearly new after 30 years' service.
A giant poster on one wall capitalizes on the romance of California, the Golden State.

For the first time, thanks to an exhibit label, I understand what's meant by railroad gauge. It's the distance between the inside edges of the rails. In the US and much of the world, Standard Gauge is 56 1/2 inches. When track was first being laid in this country, what some called "English Gauge" was used, but because it varied between 56 and 57 inches it wouldn't have been useful nationwide.

Subsequent railroads in different parts of the US proceeded to use a half-dozen different, and of course incompatible, gauges. This meant that passengers and freight had to unloaded and reloaded whenever a different gauge track occurred at a junction.

In 1862 Lincoln set what was to become the national standard of 56 1/2 inches for the Transcontinental Railroad. On Memorial Day, 1886 the remaining odd gauge tracks were re-spiked to the "new" standard. The only other common gauge left is 36-inch narrow gauge.

No one knows how the 56 1/2-inch gauge originated. It may have been related to the wheel spacing of ancient Roman carts, and the early English tramways from which the railways evolved just adopted that spacing as well.

In addition to having a standard gauge for railroad conformity nationwide, railroads created Standard Time and time zones to bring safety and uniformity to train operation. The concept of clock time was still new to the US when the first trains began running. What was the importance of clock time to an agrarian society? If the sun was just coming up, go feed the cows. If the sun was directly overhead, it was lunchtime. For every 13 miles one moved east or west, Sun Time changed by a minute. But as railroads grew longer, coordinating accurate time became difficult; the Union Pacific used six different times on its route between Omaha and Salt Lake City. It took 50 years of being confused until the railroads agreed on a uniform, nationwide system of time.

November 18, 1883 was "The Day of Two Noons." At the prescribed hour, every railroader in the US and Canada awaited countdown to the new Standard Time when each railroad timepiece was set to the new Noon. Railroad time became America's standard time.

The monthly Official Guide was the standard reference for passenger train schedules in the United States and Canada.

Railroad torpedos were new to me and, surprisingly, to HH. A fellow museum-goer who heard us puzzling over them explained: when work was being done on a rail line, someone would go some distance up track and fasten the soft metal of the clips around the track. Then, when a train came chugging in the workers' direction and rolled over a torpedo, the small explosion it made could be heard in the engine car as a signal to come to a stop. Brilliant, really, and so simple.

Religious tracts were distributed to railroad workers in an effort to save their souls via the hell and damnation route. You have to admire the creative writing.

How realistic are these figures? This diorama demonstrates the tight conditions of a typical galley. Chefs could turn out four-star meals three times a day from spaces no larger than this.

A different view into the same galley as above.

This is one of three chandeliers that hung in the Oakland train station from 1912-1989. It is believed that the glass was produced at the Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company. The Botti Studio of Architectural Arts in Evanston, Illinois has records from the early 1900s that show an order for "chandeliers for the railroad depot," leading museum staff to believe that that is where the three were designed and built.

A small exhibit label shows a photo of two of the globes in place in the train station:

Another realistic diorama shows workers swinging a pick and levering a pry bar while maintaining a rail line outside a small station building. There is no shortage of work: a mile of track may have over 3,000 cross ties, 1,000 bolts, and 15,000 ties.

The mail car was interesting because a former worker was there, telling the story of his years running the rails. This form of picking up, sorting, and delivering mail was discontinued in 1977. More photos of this particular car and a history of the railway post office can be found on Wikipedia.

A refrigerated car exhibited old fruit crate labels, a lost art form. The addition of the twitter icon on the peach box from Costco that serves as my fruit and vegetable bowl just isn't the same.

The long drive to Sacramento proved to be worth every mile. We found a nice restaurant for lunch, and on HH's suggestion, I bought three wooden train whistles to mail to my grands. Paybacks are bliss.


On a completely different topic, I forgot to add a photo of a rainbow that we saw as we left the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in July. It was spectacular, so much so that the highway came to resemble a parking lot as people pulled to the side to photograph it.


Thought of the day:

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!

              - Robert Louis Stevenson, From a Railway Carriage