A Visit to the California State Railroad Museum

7 03 2013

While in Sacramento for the World’s Greatest Hobby show, several of us jumped at the opportunity to visit the California State Railroad Museum. The museum is widely regarded as one of the best in the country, and with good reason. It should definitely be on every train lover’s travel list.

Gov Stanford

The Governor Stanford provides a powerful welcome to the Museum.

One thing which clearly sets this museum apart from its peers is the presentation of the trains themselves. Visitors enter the main hall, either directly or through the orientation theater, to see the Governor Stanford emerging from a tunnel in the mountains before them. The locomotive, a 4-4-0 built in 1862, is one of only two surviving locomotives from the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.

As you walk into the exhibit, the locomotive is part of the larger narrative of the story of the construction of this engineering wonder. Passing through the tunnel alongside her, you enter into a new room filled with the stories of the rails and the history of California itself.

Sonoma and cab forward

The beautiful Sonoma looks almost toy-like as she peeks out from behind SP Cab Forward No. 4294.

From the golden era of train travel, to the opening of California’s produce markets, to railroads’ impact on our daily life and culture, these exhibits tell many amazing stories through artifacts large and small. Visitors can explore the inside of a Fruit Growers Express reefer,Great Northern RPO, Santa Fe Diner from the Super Chief and a Canadian National Pullman set on rockers which give the feeling of motion as you walk through the car.

And of course you’ll want your chance to sit in the engineer’s seat of the last remaining Cab Forward locomotive! This gigantic articulated is the largest artifact in the museum. It stands in strong contrast to some of the “diminutive” narrow and standard gauge Nineteenth Century locomotives seen nearby.

Model Trains

toy trains

The Museum’s model train exhibit features an absolutely amazing variety of toy trains – and this is only the introduction to the exhibit!

The Museum’s collection and display of these full-scale artifacts is well-known. But what you might not expect to find here is one of the best displays of toy trains anywhere in the country.

Overlooking the great hall of locomotives and railcars, the Museum’s toy train gallery features toy trains from every era from the amazing collection of Thomas Sefton. Like the displays in the hall below, the quality of the collection of models themselves is complemented by the fine finish of the surrounding displays which include many full-scale representations of some toy train classics – even the shanty from Lionel’s Gateman serves as a home for the toy-train workroom.

Lionel trains

Recognize any of your favorites?

Lionel trains are extremely well represented in the exhibit (and show up in other places around the hall as well.) From standard gauge classics to rare scale 2-rail models, to the Polar Express, the entire history of our company is here. You can even here vintage radio ads and the first steam whistle sounds.

These exhibits are poised to get only better as the Museum partners with the National Model Railroad Association on an expansion of the model train exhibits in the near future.

Visiting the Museum

Most train lovers are going to want to devote an entire day to see the Museum. The Museum is open daily from 10 to 5 and closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.


Pacific 2467 serves as a backdrop for an interpretation of locomotive maintenance. The Museum sits within sight of the historic Sacramento Shops.

Nestled in historic Old Sacramento, you’ll find lots of other attractions, shops and restaurants within walking distance. Included among the buildings is the original office for the Central Pacific and the station where you can board the Museum’s train ride during the summer months.

Convenient parking is located just across the street and if you want take the train, the Amtrak station is just a few yards away. For admission rates, directions and more information, just see the Museum’s website.

It must be said that for all of the accolades given to this museum, the volunteers and staff responsible for all of these are more than the equal to the world-class stature of the collection and exhibits. All of us at Lionel would like to thank the many staff and volunteers we met for our warm welcome in Sacramento. Thank you for your time, your hard work and your passion which make this place all that it is. We can’t wait to get back!



2 responses

7 03 2013
Russ Lutz

FANTASTIC !!! Thank you for the article….

7 03 2013

Dear Sir, I collect department 56 Lighted villages and am looking for trains from the Dickens Era that would have been in service in the UK. Can you help Frank Hazelwood Toronto Ontario 47-342-7712 fhazc529@rogers.com From: Lionel Trains >To: fhazc529@rogers.com >Sent: Thursday, March 7, 2013 8:31:26 AM >Subject: [New post] A Visit to the California State Railroad Museum > >lionelllc posted: “While in Sacramento for the World’s Greatest Hobby show, several of us jumped at the opportunity to visit the California State Railroad Museum. The museum is widely regarded as one of the best in the country, and with good reason. It should definitely be ” >

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