By Judy Salamacha ~
Today the San Luis Obispo Amtrak Station welcomes people traveling north and south — from Seattle to San Diego — on Union Pacific-owned tracks, often with a view corridor of the Pacific Coast.
Located just a few steps south of the station, visitors can immerse themselves in railroad history at the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum — transported back in time to the late 1800s and early 1900s — when a booming Central Coast economy hauled more goods than people.
The museum recreates the Southern Pacific Freight House, circa 1894, and features rail equipment that sparks stories from the past.
On the tracks near the museum entrance is their newest restoration project, a 1926 Pullman parlor car named “La Cuesta,” and donated in 2006 by Railroad Museum member, Gordon Crosthwait.
Originally based in Fresno, it is one of five built as a café/observation car and is currently being restored as funding allows. Membership supports operations and restoration. Museum details are online at: www.slorrm.com.
Museum Manager, Diane Marchetti, said the development committee launched the museum in 2013 intending to restore the freight house to its original appearance as much as possible. Even its slate black flooring – created from bitumen once mined in Price Canyon — replicates what was used before. A few modifications, including more bathrooms, were needed to make sure the City of San Luis Obispo’s attraction would meet all codes to host visitors and historians interested in learning and preserving the railroad history of California and the Central Coast.
Visitors discover a mock-up of the freight agent’s office next to a historical photo exhibit by John Roskowski depicting a working freight line. It features a “butterfly contraction,” a primitive devise used to poke a handwritten note towards the train engineer as the locomotive chugged by. It revealed when to pause on track or risk a collision with an oncoming train.
An antique, signal POT light was restored by Cal Poly engineering student, Stephen Hagen. Two locomotive bells demonstrate operating mechanisms that produce unique sounds.
Photographer Brian Lollar shot and donated a color panorama of today’s San Luis Obispo railroad area, duplicating the image in an early 1900s, black and white photograph.
Also featured is the Santa Maria Valley Railroad, owned by Rob Himoto, which today moves crops out of San Maria Valley. Children flock to enjoy the railroad museum’s interactive area.
John Marchetti, a CCRRM and SLO Model Train Association board member, has been creating models since the 1970s and is a font of knowledge about railroads. He encouraged his wife Diane to get involved in the museum as manager after she retired as a math teacher in Atascadero. It is the couple’s daily passion, although the museum is only officially open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The SLO Model Train Association is an affiliate organization working within SLORRM. Upstairs, members are producing two, fully operational, mega model train exhibits. One features the Pacific Coast Railway that took-on and off-loaded freight from ships docking at the Avila Pier. Artisans are modeling historic buildings like the Olde Port Inn and Hotel Marre. Board member Andrew Merriam has completed much of the artwork.
The other project features 1930s Southern Pacific Railroad from Paso Robles to the Surf Station in Lompoc, including Santa Margarita and Cuesta Grade.
The 6th Annual Central Coast Railroad Festival is set for Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 1-4. Curtis Reinhardt, currently on the museum’s events committee, said, “I created the Central Coast Railroad Festival in 2009 primarily to help promote all the regional railroad and history organizations. I also believed that it could be a fun family event that would enrich our local culture. I am confident that the Festival will flourish and grow under the management of the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum.”
Most of the events are free at numerous locations in San Luis Obispo and Northern San Barbara counties. The major venues include the Railroad Museum, the SLO City/County Library, the History Center, Thursday Night Farmers’ Market and Arts Obispo’s Art After Dark that Friday.
Children can participate in a coloring project at county libraries and adults can enjoy a Friday night rail excursion to Pomar Junction Winery on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. A detailed schedule of all events is online at: CCRRF.com.
Judy Salamacha’s Then & Now column is special to Tolosa Press. Reach her at: [email protected] or 801-1422.