6427 Miles: A Tour of America by Car

By Gerard Forgnone

Day 7

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fairfield, CA to Truckee, CA

Heading out from Fairfield, thanking Ken and Nancy for their hospitality!  We met in the early 80's, when they moved into the same trailer park in San Luis Obispo.  Ken was going to Cal Poly with me, and Nancy had already graduated and was working at a bank in town.

Sacramento!  This museum ended up being the very BEST railroad museum I saw on the whole trip.  So much rolling stock indoors, lots of displays, a great place down by the Sacramento River.  This area is actually the site of the first settlements of Sacramento.

Stylized painting of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point in 1869.  There are photographs of the event, and I don't recall seeing any women.

What this placard DOESN'T tell you is that the 30-foot rails weigh 560 pounds EACH!  There were 2 teams of 4 men each carrying the rails forward.  Using tongs that weighed about 10 pounds each, this means that each man had to lift 150 pounds for EACH rail, carry it forward, drop it, then run back for another.  The track moved an average of 1 mile per hour.

The 10-Mile Day has NEVER been topped, EVER, even with automated machines.

A beautifully restored original steam engine from the 1860's.

This is a "cab-forward" steam engine from the 1940's.  The snow tunnels crossing the Sierra are very long, sometimes 10 miles.  When the snow covers them, there is little fresh air.  The conventional locomotives would have the engineers behind the smoke, and men were being suffocated.  This "cab-forward" design alleviated the smoke problem for the engineers, but not for the caboose men.  Oh well!

1960's era Diesel-Electric locomotive.  A large Diesel engine in the middle generates electricity, which is then used on the electric motors driving the wheels.

This is the nearby Sacramento River.

While I was inside the train museum, my camera died.  The lens would no longer close.  It was 5 years old, and didn't work well in low light anyway...I missed most of the good shots inside the museum, because there just wasn't enough light, and the flash isn't strong enough to capture an entire locomotive from the distance you have to stand away to get a locomotive in the frame.  So, off to Fry's for a new camera!  The selling point for me on this one is the forward-facing display for good selfies, which, when you're traveling alone, is important!

Interstate 80 fairly well follows the Transcontinental Railroad.  Going up I-80 from Sacramento, you see the railroad often.  At a rest stop, there was this marker, in honor of the Chinese Railroad Workers who skillfully blasted solid granite to build the railroad.  The job would have never been done without them.

At the top of Donner Summit is the 1659-foot Summit Tunnel.  It was blasted with black powder by the skilled Chinese laborers from 1865 to 1867.  They averaged 8 inches per day, working from 4 faces simultaneously.  They bored a hole down from the top to work from the inside out, and blasted from each end.  The tunnel was used from 1868 until 1993.  This is the Western end, which is now a parking lot for the Sugar Bowl ski resort.

The exit of the Summit Tunnel is off to the right in this shot, which shows Donner Lake.  It was windy here!

The China Wall is the fill in the middle of this shot.  The walk up to the railroad bed was very easy and quick, even at that altitude.

This is a view from the second tunnel looking back West.  You can see the red gate I was parked at earlier.

I was in awe of the surface of this tunnel.  Blasted out over 146 years prior, it was quite an emotional thing to be standing there.

Home for the next 3 weeks!

Up the hill, you can see the snow sheds along the ridge. 

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