A TRAIN BUFF ON EVERY BLOCK: While censuses and surveys cover a wide swath of subjects, rarely do households get asked to count every train buff living under the roof. If such a survey did come along, the results would surprise no one: Lovers of all things locomotive are pretty darn legion, and the chance to spend a leisurely weekend day exploring that interest is one that doesn't choo-choo into view often enough. So we turn to books and movies, the fictional tales that are full of train lore and imagery, to enjoy our enthusiastic passion. But there are spots, such as Old Sacramento, where the sort of trains found in those tales regularly run, or at least on occasion. Look to the annual collaboration between the California State Parks and the California State Railroad Museum, a 33-year-long partnership that oversees the Sacramento Southern Railroad's weekend excursion trains. The word "excursion" should say it all: These relaxed rides are all about the journey, and what's out the window, and what engine might be at the lead. If you book a ride you could have the pleasure of being pulled happily along by Granite Rock 10, a vintage steam locomotive, or "historic diesel locomotives on periodic weekends." If Granite Rock 10 rings a vintage-clear bell for you, the kind of ding-dinger sometimes found on older trains, well, this is why: It recently underwent a major refurb, one that has restored its former/forever glory.
THOSE WEEKEND EXCURSIONS... open on Saturday, April 2, and toot-toot right into September. A ride is 45 minutes or so, which translates into six miles, and much of it will be along the Sacramento River, a waterway that is among the Golden State's most legendary. Will you and your train-obsessed companions discuss the pioneers, and the seekers of gold, as you pass the glinting surface of the celebrated river? Or simply take in the experience of the train in a silent and reverent fashion, either in a closed car or on an open-air gondola? However you approach your ride, there's one thing that's for sure: No survey can capture the captivation many a Californian feels for old-school engines and the stories they convey. A start and finish at the Central Pacific Freight Railroad Depot, and a swing through Old Sac, only enhances that experience.