|Redesigned Galleries Highlight Railroading's Human Face|
"We've Been Working on the Railroad"
In early September 2005, the California State Railroad Museum officially unveiled a series of reinstalled galleries and all-new exhibits throughout the 100,000-square-foot building's first floor. These improvements have one thing in common: they highlight railroading's human face by focusing on those who performed day in and day out the diverse, unique, and oftentimes demanding work of the railroad.
Railroad work is American work. By providing the mobility necessary to transform America into an industrial society, railroads and the people who worked for them made possible the ways of life we enjoy today. Railroad men and women, performing an amazing variety of jobs, created an astonishingly effective and richly textured industry through their individual and collective efforts. In turn, the railroad industry helped develop California and it also shaped the attitudes and structure of a continental nation. In short, railroads and railroad workers made America.
What's New at the Museum?
Throughout the Railroad Museum, guests now encounter life-like figures representing real people at work on the railroad. Appropriately attired and placed in settings that replicate actual work environments, these figures help bring to life the challenges, hazards, triumphs and rewards that were an everyday part of railroading America's first big business. Surveyors, construction managers and laborers, locomotive engineers, station agents, conductors, Pullman porters, dining car cooks and waiters, and track workers are among those represented.
As they look more closely, guests will note these workers came from diverse backgrounds: African American, American Indian, Chinese, Scottish, Irish, Mexican American, and Italian American, to name a few. Interpretive panels, photographs, and artifacts communicate the contributions of these workers, the duties of the crafts in which they were employed, and other interesting information about their work and their lives. The goal of the project is to help Museum guests understand and appreciate that railroad history is American history and that this history involves thousands of diverse people, along with locomotives, passenger and freight cars.
Two new exhibits debuted as part of the overall reinstallation. The first, "Developing California, Making America," helps guests put the railroad and its workers into a larger context of California and American history. A timeline contrasts major events in railroad and railroad labor history with more widely known happenings in state and national history. In addition, an all-new railroad photo gallery, "Faces of Railroading," showcases the people of the railroad from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century. The second new exhibit, "Railroad Work, Railroad Life," explores how the lives of railroaders differed from the lives of other Americans, and how railroaders' personal and family lives were often intertwined with their work. Text panels, photographs, artifacts and archives suggest that railroad employment really was a kind of work unlike any other.
Other aspects of the reinstallation include stunning, newly hand-painted murals that immerse guests in the Sierra Nevada's higher elevations as they tour the Museum's Transcontinental Railroad gallery; the creation of a working telegraph system linking a re-created 1938 train station with a newly installed public information kiosk; and the rearrangement of several exhibits in the Museum Roundhouse to provide for more appropriate interpretive groupings. Frequent guests of the Railroad Museum will definitely notice these and many other changes!
A $486,775 grant from the North American Railway Foundation, received in 2002, helped the California State Railroad Museum kick off this major gallery reinstallation project. The Museum's reinstalled galleries and all-new exhibits now present America's most comprehensive story about the human side of railroading. This story also, in the process, helps guests understand how the railroad and its many individual workers from diverse backgrounds developed California into a trend-setting land of opportunity and made America into a world power.
Operated by California State Parks with financial assistance from the nonprofit CSRM Foundation, the California State Railroad Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Widely regarded as North America's finest and most-visited railroad museum, the complex of facilities includes the 100,000-square foot Railroad History Museum plus the reconstructed Central Pacific Railroad Passenger Station and Freight Depot, 1849 Eagle Theatre, and Big Four and Dingley Spice Mill commercial buildings in Old Sacramento State Historic Park.