Sacramento will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad from late April through May with a series of events focused on railroad history, and those looking to get the most out of the sesquicentennial celebration can opt to take part in a tour that offers unique behind-the-scenes access to locomotive workshops, guided train rides and more.
The Transcontinental Railroad was completed May 10, 1869 when a gold spike was driven into the last piece of track at Promontory Summit, Utah, and it forever changed United States History. At that point, both coasts were connected by reliable overland transport for the first time, and in addition to easy travel, the U.S. Mail was carried aboard the trains, and telegraph wires were laid between stations, spelling the end of the fabled Pony Express.
Before the completion of the railroad, "California might as well have been an island, it was so difficult to get here," says Ty Smith, director of the California State Railroad Museum. Learn more about the importance of the Transcontinental Railroad and the California State Railroad Museum in the current issue of the Sacramento Visitors' Guide.
A series of public events are being hosted by the Railroad Museum beginning in April.
April 25-27: Heritage Rail Conference
Railroad historians and supporters from throughout North America will gather to kick off the 150th anniversary. Many conference events will be open to the public.
May 8: Sesquicentennial Community Day
A free public event beginning at 10 a.m. will recreate the parade that took place May 8, 1869, to celebrate the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Visitors can also enjoy excursion train rides, period melodrama performances and a community picnic with live storytelling.
May 11: Sesquicentennial VIP Gala
This unique event benefits the museum and a includes dinner, dancing and a private walkthrough of exhibits. Cocktails begin at 6 p.m., with dinner at 7 p.m. Black-tie attire is optional.
May 24-26: Waterfront Days Heritage Event
This event is free and held over Memorial Day weekend. Friday is Education Day with a focus on school groups, and the community festival is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
For more information on the above events, visit the California State Railroad Museum website.
Get the Most Out of the Sesquicentennial Celebration With Exclusive Tours
Photo courtesy MacLean Adventures
For a unique opportunity to learn about the railroad, ride trains, explore the locomotive workshops and enjoy some of California's food and drink, join one of the tours being offered around the event by MacLean Adventures.
Running from May 8-11, the four-day tour begins with a dinner in the Old Sacramento Waterfront at The Firehouse with a Mark Twain impersonator.
The second day, May 9, includes a private tour of the locomotive shops in Sacramento. Closed to the public, the shops offer a snapshot in time of the railroad's glory days.
"The place reminds me of the last scene in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' when the ark goes in the massive warehouse -- that's how big the shops are," said Hawley MacLean, owner of MacLean Adventures. "It's living history. You could bring in 10, 20, 25 locomotives into the buildings, and there's massive cranes that could move them around, up and down the shops. The boiler shops are the original buildings, and there are a lot of the tools they used to work on them from the late 1800s all the way up to the '70s and '80s. One row has nothing but hundreds of smokestacks -- it's like a massive Home Depot for trains."
Later that day, tour attendees will board a train to Napa wine country and -- in addition to dinner in the Dome Car on the Napa Valley Wine Train -- will be able to explore the Napa Valley Wine Train Yard, which is also closed to the public.
Day three of the tour includes bus transportation to Rail Town with a barbecue, train ride, live band and dinner.
On the final day of the tour, participants get another train ride, this time on the Sacramento Southern Railroad, and will tour the California State Railroad Museum as well as attend the black tie gala.
"It's an adventure of a lifetime," MacLean said. "There are some amazing things happening here, and you get to celebrate what brought this country together."
Tour pricing can be found on the Maclean Adventures website, and Maclean said it's designed to be very flexible. For those visiting from out of town, rooms at the Embassy Suites are included, but those who live in and around Sacramento can opt to partake in just portions of the tour.