Railfair '99 Trip to Sacramento on The Capitols

Dave Schultheis

My friend Glenn and his son Christopher (age 4) arrived at the San Jose Amtrak Cahill Diridon Station just a few minutes before I did. True to form, something went wrong almost immediately. The parking lot ticket-vending machine was jammed, so I was unable to purchase a ticket to put on my dashboard. Fortunately, I happened to have an extra ticket from a prior trip.

We went to the Amtrak counter inside the depot and bought our round-trip tickets for The Capitol trains 722 and 733 without any delay. Remember: showing your AAA card saves you money. A full-price adult round-trip ticket was $42, but it was only $38 with the AAA card. The four-year-old was half-price because we were traveling on the weekend (otherwise kids are "free" during the week).

We seated ourselves immediately in the Lounge car. Train 722 left the depot right on time at 7:40 a.m. (Okay, it was 7:41 a.m. That's still pretty much "on time.") I went immediately for the famous Amtrak Breakfast sandwich and some juice. We ran into my friends Herman and Henry, who were sitting elsewhere on the train.

Other passengers were sitting near our table, watching for the abandoned community of Drawbridge, so I pointed it out to Christopher and to these other folks.

Things were fairly normal (see previous Capitol Train trip reports) until we reached Davis. A few minutes after leaving the depot, the train stopped. The public address announcement said that we were waiting for Train 727 (which should have left Sacramento at 10:40 a.m.). After several minutes of waiting, we were passed by a very slow-moving westbound auto-rack train. After several more minutes of waiting, and no public address announcement, Train 727 came by.

Then we went into a reverse movement, back to the Davis station, just beyond a track switch. Radio traffic indicated that there were "three freight trains backed up" but there were no public address announcements. After more waiting, we were enroute to Sacramento at 11:10 a.m.

Meanwhile, I visited the nearest lavatory, only to find the bowl full and plugged. The next nearest lavatory also featured a full bowl and when flushed, water was sprayed from the bowl like a shower. Yecch! I notified the Conductor, who assured me that the restrooms would be serviced in Sacramento.

We arrived at the Sacramento Depot at 11:28 a.m., more than 30 minutes late.

We used the lavatory facilities at the Sacramento Depot (no paper towels!) and then walked the short distance to the California State Railroad Museum. Railfair tickets were $16 per adult at the gate; the four-year-old was free.

Like any good Railfair-goers, we wandered aimlessly and purposelessly, looking, listening and smelling everything good! I was able to buy a pin from the 3751 group, climb through the cab of BNSF 4418 (fully computerized and air conditioned locomotive), climb through the cab of the former SP 4449 Daylight, and looked at a myriad of other steam locomotives, including the UP 844, UP 3985 and Santa Fe 3751. We rode the 1863 horsecar from the San Jose Trolley Corporation. We watched the SP maintenance of way steam-powered crane lift a switch engine several feet off the ground several times. We watched the bridge across the Sacramento River rotate to let a passenger boat through.

UP steamers 844 and 3985 had stairs adjacent to the cabs, allowing visitors to talk with people sitting in the seats but NOT to climb aboard the engines. The lines were long, we didn't think we'd have much to say, and there's not much fun if you can't climb aboard. But we did enjoy seeing the old girls anyway.

Since it's warm in Sacramento in June, we decided it was about time to visit the museum and check for properly-functioning air conditioning. It worked just fine! We waited a short while for the film introduction that starts the tour of the museum. The place was packed with other air conditioning inspectors, but we were able to see nearly everything we wanted.

I was a little disappointed that we could not find the Canadian Pullman car exhibit, but it its place was a 1937 dining car, complete with numerous displays of various railroad table settings from over the years.

We were able to take a brief walking tour through the private car "Virginia City" and then the privately-owned UP business car 103.

I was able to find and purchase a couple more train pins: UP 844 and UP 3985.

After a few photographs of Christopher on Thomas the Tank Engine and some cool fruit drinks, we sat to watch the Black Irish Band under the shade of the Budweiser tent.

After some rest we were ready to go again and toured the Discovery Museum (admission was included). The have many exhibits covering lots of things that happened in "the old days," not just railroad-related things. Christopher was quite enamored of the conveyor system that had been used at a canning plant and which was moving cans about the museum.

We scurried back to the Sacramento Depot just in time to see the westbound Amtrak Train 5 ("The California Zephyr") leaving the depot. We got on Train 727 feeling a little like sardines. We headed for the Lounge car and said "Wie Gehts" to the female attendant ("E.") from Germany that we had chatted with on previous Capitol rides. We ordered pizza and juice but there was no place to sit, so we stood for much of the trip home.

The female conductor (whom we could barely hear, let alone understand, when she made public address announcements) stated that we were at "standing room only," and that it would get worse: they expected another 80 people to board at Davis (college students taking their laundry home to mom, since it was Saturday evening). She further stated that they had already called Customer Service but that nothing was being done to alleviate the problem.

Amtrak-savvy passengers commented that if the Capitol trains were made "reserved seating" like the San Joaquins, this problem would not occur. Non-Amtrak-savvy passengers commented that since Amtrak knew how many people they had brought to Sacramento, they should have known how many would want to go home and made some type of arrangements. Furthermore, they clearly knew that Railfair was in progress, having announced it many times on the public address system on the way up; and that they could have put more cars on the train.

At one point the announcement was made that the train was carrying over 600 people with seating for approximately 400.

Lavatory report: in Car 2, one lavatory was barely usable because there was no water for flushing and no water for hand-washing, the other lavatory had no water for hand washing either. In Car 4 there was water for hand washing.

The return trip was mostly uneventful until we left the Centerville (Fremont) station. We had to stop and wait for Amtrak Train 14. (A nearby passenger commented that this happens because of the single track in the Agnew area.) This put us late into the Santa Clara/Great America stop and of course, late into San Jose, arriving 20 minutes late at 9:20 p.m.

On the other hand, all of our cars were still in the parking lot and nobody had received a parking citation, so I guess it was a successful trip.

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Created on June 20,1999. Last updated on July 6, 1999.
David W. Schultheis, San Josť, Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County, California, USA