POLAR EXPRESS at the Rail Museum

A Trip Report! By Robert F. Mac Donald

The California State Rail Museum ushered in the 2007 holiday season with cookies and hot chocolate. To the delight of kids, young and old, they were invited on board the Museum’s “Polar Express” at the old Central Pacific Depot in “Old Town” Sacramento, CA.

This “Polar Express” was a “Rail Buff’s” dream, made up five vintage cars, and pulled by a tank steam engine- the Granite Rock, No. 10. For the pajama clad pre-teenagers, the sound of the steam whistle echoing along the banks of the Sacramento River brought them to the reality of the sounds known to their forebears since the 1860’s.

Since we were second in line to get our boarding passes, we were able to ride the rear car, the newly refurbished car-“El Dorado”. The El Dorado
was built in 1924 for the Union Pacific Railroad and was acquired by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1928. It is now in beautiful shape, with its polished woodwork and gleaming brass. Yes it has something new! Its new sound system would make any one in the twenty-first century jealous. The car attendants and the train crew were in full garb, just like the movie.

On the advertised, the train whistled off, and we, on the “El Dorado” were off on another rail adventure. After we passed through “Old Town” and the Tower Bridge, we were told that we were on the way to the NORTH POLE, and to meet Santa. With that, the story of the “Polar Express” came to life with words, music, and live actors. First, we were told the story of the young boy’s ride on Christmas Eve. Then came the dancers with their trays of hot chocolate and cookies, and then the car attendants served each of us our own paper cup of hot chocolate and a chocolate chip cookie.

The ride is to BATH, three miles down the pike! For the holiday season this Station is renamed the NORTH POLE. The train ride is on the S. P.’s former Oak Grove Branch, which is atop the east levee of the Sacramento River. When we arrived, sitting on flat cars on the spur at the NORTH POLE was Santa, his sleigh, and his rain deer.

At this point, the engine was cut off the train, and passed through the siding, to run-around the train. Once out on the Main Line again, we watched as Engine No. 10 backed up to the car “El Dorado”, and the crew coupled them for the train’s journey back to “Old Town”.

Under way again, there was a commotion at the other end of the car, and then a “Ho, ho, ho!”. Santa had come aboard with his sack of goodies for the lucky boys and girls. Santa handed each of them a silver bell, like the one in the story. Santa gave the little girl sitting next to me a silver bell, like the one in the story, too. Of course the little girl was named Jeanette,
AKA as Mom, Grandma or Auntie!!!

Once Santa departed the car, the engine crew treated railroaders, future railroaders, and passengers to a unique train operating experience, i.e.,
a steam blow off on the run! Oh, yes, out on the river, a pair of “jet skiers” raced the train to the river bend.

As we went by the Tower Bridge, the bells on the crossing gates announced that we were back “home” again, and would soon depart our train. It was good-bye and Merry Christmas to our fellow passengers. To lucky ones clutching their “Silver Bell”, it was “will we see you next year?” To the train crew and staff, we said “Thanks”.

The ride on the “Polar Express” was great!

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