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Stateside With Rosalea: Niles, CA – Part 2

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Niles, CA – Part 2

See also… Part 1

I skived off last weekend to Niles, California. It’s just a short BART and bus trip from San Francisco, but is another world altogether. The town’s two main claims to fame are the Niles Canyon Railway, which is maintained and run entirely by volunteers, and the Essanay Silent Film Museum, housed in the building where Charlie Chaplin had his studio. This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Essanay Film Company and in June the museum will hold its 10th Annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival from June 25 to July 1. The excursion trains run the third Sunday of every month.

::Part 2: The train ride::

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When I asked to take a photo of the ticketsellers in the little train booth, the Stationmaster stepped outside and posed for me. His name is Al McCracken.

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There’s a mix of open and closed cars, with an engine at each end. Only occasionally do they have steam engines, and the engine pulling us to Sunol this day was a 1947 diesel engine featured in the History Channels MegaMachines series.

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The train and the tracks are maintained and operated by volunteers, most of whom have never worked for the railways. They go through federal railroad training every year instead of every two years like actual railroad employees.

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As we arrive in Sunol, where there is a picnic ground and time to explore that town if you wish as several return trips are made, we’re greeted by groups of children who are going to have their birthday party on the train. It’s possible to hire a private carriage or the caboose for the regular trips, or an entire train for wedding parties and the like on days when the excursions are not running.

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One car is fitted out as a dining car, where you can buy coffee, hot chocolate, tea and snacks for a nominal price.

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Throughout the short trip, a volunteer announcer tells us about points of historical interest along the way. Looking for all the world like someone from Thomas the Tank Engine, this is Bud Barlow.

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Speaking of Thomas and Friends.... It was also Lunar New Year, and a lot of Asian families were taking their children on the train to celebrate.

Gung hei fat choi!

Essanay Museum:
Niles Canyon Railway:



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