State Fair 2000 Trip Report

By Dave Schultheis

As usual, the AMTRAK telephone reservations people didn't know about the Special Deal until it was loaded into their computer well into August. I called the 800 number again about a week before the trip, and was pleasantly surprised to talk to a knowledgeable and capable clerk who promptly made my reservation. A couple days later, while in Salinas on other business, I stopped at the AMTRAK station and bought the tickets. It was another pleasure to talk with the clerk there because she was also knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. (Besides, she wanted to come outside and admire my motorcycle.)

Six people made this year's trip. All of us took advantage of the AAA discount and ended up paying $38 for the round trip train fare again this year.

Four of us congregated in the San Jose Cahill Diridon Depot at 6:15 a.m. (too early!) and the clerk was able to ticket Bryan K. with a minimum of confusion. (Yes, there was delay, but not much.)

We boarded AMTRAK's Capitol Train # 722 to find Elsie on duty as the lounge car attendant, so I brightened her day with my annual "Wie Gehts!", which is about the extent of my knowledge of German.

We found our seats (and I got my breakfast) and the train left right on time at 6:34 a.m.

The first stop was at Great America/Santa Clara, where we picked up Mike and Barbara, then continued north past Alviso and through the mud flats that are the former community of Drawbridge.

If you've read the last few reports, you already know that the train picked up more passengers during stops at Fremont/Centerville, Hayward, Oakland/Jack London Square, Emeryville, Berkeley, Richmond, Martinez, Suisun/Fairfield and Davis.

The railroad uses a varienty of radio frequencies during the trip; from San Jose to Oakland they're on 160.320, then north of Oakland they change to 160.800 and later to 161.55 as we approached Sacramento.

I noted as we arrived in Martinez that they are building a new, larger depot a few hundred feet from the old one; this will be happy news for those locals who have to wait for the train to block the crossing while loading and unloading. I would guess that this new depot will be up and running by this time next year.

Then it was over the Benicia-Martinez bridge and along the car-storage area, past Travis Air Force Base and into the Sacramento Valley.

For a while the tracks parallel Interstate 80 along the Yolo Causeway and car traffic was a little slow. We were glad to be on the train and not in traffic.

We arrived at the Sacramento depot at 9:43 a.m., several minutes early. There was one bus in the depot area, and it was not the right one. Most of us used the time to check the porcelain, and I discovered that the men's room had been remodeled again, and this time they included security buzzers and cameras for access to the rest rooms late at night.

Over the next little while several buses arrived and (shockingly!) one of them actually had a sign saying "State Fair" in the front window, in addition to signs for the places the bus usually goes. Unfortunately, there was a long boarding delay which was never explained. After we had boarded there were several more delays, most of which were not explained, and we finally got under way at 10:26 a.m., over twenty minutes late.

The bus driver left the depot, taking us through downtown Sacramento and onto Hy 160. He just about missed the turn for Cal Expo but one or two passengers mumbled "don't forget the Fair," and he made a sudden correction/lane change to take the proper off-ramp.

As we passed the front of Cal Expo we saw some covered parking available, and a sign indicating that parking was $5 per car. We stopped at the AMTRAK bus stop and he told us to be back at the AMTRAK bus stop at 5 p.m.

We walked to the main gate and forked over $8 per person for a Fair ticket, then walked upstairs to the Monorail for the overview of the grounds (compliments of your host). This year the recorded announcements were virtually useless because they were not timed properly to what we were seeing. When the announcement said "on your left..." the monorail operator picked up his microphone to tell us that we'll see that place later, etc. It was just stupid.

After the monorail ride, we split into three groups and agreed to meet near the exit gate (or on the lawn) between 4:40 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Mike and I got out our Family Radios (FRS) and agreed on a channel, but before long we were beseiged with repeated, almost constant alert tones and children playing with the radios to the point where they became useless. So much for the triumph of technology. It made three of us glad that we are hams and that if we really needed radio communications, we could use amateur frequencies.

The first thing that struck me as we entered the grounds was a tremendous amount of General Motors advertising this year. Almost immediately we were greeted with car displays and offers to win General Motors vehicles. The new Chevrolet sport utility (Avalanche) and the new Pontiac sport utility (Aztek) were on display. There were cars and trucks and sport-utilities at many locations around the fairgrounds.

As we wandered through the Commercial Exhibits (which were about the same as always) and the County exhibits, I was shocked to see that Santa Clara County was represented (for the first time in my memory). It was a very simple display with a photo montage of various activities and services available in the county (parks, transportation, sports, etc.). And, in all fairness, it had won an award, but it just seemed that the people in so many of the smaller counties had worked so much harder on their displays and they looked so much nicer. But at least we were represented.

The University of California at Davis - School of Veterinary Medicine was well represented again. We arrived to find some students demonstrating how to check for proper pre-birth position of calves, and no, I will not explain further. Of course there were piglets born a few days ago and people were allowed to hold them. The students sprayed visitors' hands with some type of cleaner both before and after handling the piglets. They handed people piglets that were asleep because they were easy to handle; as soon as they woke up and realized they were not next to mama, they started squealing and had to be put back.

We noted that the Budweiser Clydesdales were not present this year. Fair management had removed all of the interior walls from the stable building where they are normally kept, leaving just the roof, and had converted the area to a children's play area. Too bad for draft horse fans.

We saw fingerlings in tubs, the "Chia" flatbed pickup, Insect World, the old gas-powered tractors, the forest products exhibit and the race track. In this age of modern technology, most of the ticket clerks at the track had been replaced with video vending machines. The horses weren't running so we didn't place any bets.

Cal Expo trucked in several thousand pounds of sand, which was piled on the ground near the food wagons and a group of professional sand sculptors was invited to work on it. There was only one sculptor on duty when we went by, but she was working hard at building something. They had already shaped buildings, towers, people and animals.

We took a cursory look through the industrial arts buildings and found that there was a brand-new exhibit put on by the U.S. Postal Service. They displayed a history of the postal service and some of its forerunners (Pony Express), followed by an actual letter sorting machine (amazing!), some postal vehicles (remember the three-wheeled "Mailster" and the early postal Jeeps?) and miscellaneous junk you could buy. It was pretty interesting.

In an effort to see everything, we finally found the commercial exhibit inside the big tent, and looked at various products, including flag poles, salt-water taffy and sewing machines. Those things have really "gone computer" since my mother used to patch our clothes back in the good old days.

After asking around and finally remembering where I saw them, we found our way to the CHP exhibit. They had a brand new Ford patrol car with all the bells and whistles (okay, it was really lights, sirens and radar) as well as a new BMW motorcycle with all the same stuff. Pretty fascinating. They had an excellent poster (to give away - but there was no way to transport it properly on the train) that showed patrol cars, motorcycles and a helicopter, with four Traffic Officers standing in the roadway, captioned "When you drink and drive, we provide the chaser," or words to that effect.

Having found the family radios to be useless, we didn't even bother to try to contact the others, but met out on the grass in front of the fairgrounds shortly before 5 o'clock. I asked some of the valet parking people (valet parking at the State Fair? Yes) about motorcycle parking. There is such a thing available near the handicapped parking. Something to try another time.

All six of us made it to the bus stop in plenty of time, as did one Fairgoer in a wheelchair. Unfortunately, the bus driver had never operated the lift before and didn't know how to do it. While he banged and rattled certain parts, some of us helped and some of us stayed out of the way. It took about 15 minutes to get the man loaded, then we got on our way back to the depot.

Of course, the Capitol Corridor administrators never have to actually ride the trains, so they make no provision for people to board the trains in a timely manner. We had to wait and wait and wait for the crew to materialize and open the doors, all the while standing in the sun.

I headed for the lounge car and was disappointed that there was no cheese pizza (a fully stocked train has cheese pizza and pepperoni pizza) so I got some liquids and took a seat in the lounge car. (Later I decided to get a pepperoni pizza and remove the pepperoni slices; this worked out very well.)

We waited a few minutes for the drawbridge over the Sacramento River to be put back into position, so we left just a few minutes late at 5:49 p.m.

The trip back was relatively unremarkable except for the car on the tracks in Hayward. We heard about this on the railroad radio some time prior to arriving in Oakland. The train dispatcher told our train to hold short of the location and sent an employee to report on conditions. When the employee got there he reported that a car was stalled on the tracks but that a tow truck was on scene. We had to wait a few minutes for the tow truck to hook up and take the car away, for the worker to declare the tracks free of damage, then a few more minutes for the worker to explain to the CHP officer that the flare ("fusee") had to be extinguished or the train could not move, and then we were on our way again.

We arrived at the San Jose Depot at about 9:20 p.m. and went our separate ways. Bryan and I waited for his ride and then *poof* we were gone. Another AMTRAK adventure to Sacramento, and we made it back in one piece.

See you next year!

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Last updated on September 12, 2000.
David W. Schultheis, San Josť, Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County, California, USA