Imagine a time before modern engines.
Travelers to California came here through the use of muscle — human and animal. Technology helped some, via sailing ships (and more human muscle).
But once you landed here … you walked, rode or drove animals hitched to something. Even Native Americans, who came here via the Bering Strait millennia ago, hitched travois to dogs to haul goods. That’s the way it was … the way it had always been.
Enter the 1850s.
California pioneers were a tough, hardy lot. With the discovery of gold — and the need to supply a growing population of miners, entrepreneurs and other adventurers — there was a need to transport people, goods and animals in a more rapid manner.
Twenty-four years earlier, Col. John Stevens demonstrated the feasibility of steam locomotion on a circular experimental track in Hoboken, New Jersey, and that was just three years after the perfection of a practical steam locomotive in England.
Visionaries such as Charles Lincoln Wilson and Theodore Judah set out to make rail transportation a reality in Northern California. Their efforts led to the first railroad west of the Mississippi River — the Sacramento Valley Railroad. The SVRR line to Folsom was completed in 1856.
The residents of Placerville needed a way to haul heavy freight to the Comstock Lode silver mines. In 1862, the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad was formed.
In a brief span of 20 years, those gritty, hard-working and innovative pioneers catapulted this land into the Industrial Age. The Golden State truly was golden in the arenas of mining, agriculture and the ability to develop the talent to embrace high technology.
The rail line from Folsom to Latrobe eventually became the biggest cash cow in Southern Pacific Railroad’s history. It remained so for decades. As times changed, so did the need. The line to carried pears and other produce from the area to the nation. The Pear Blight of the late 1960s affected the entire area. Business dropped. Camino farmers adapted to a new crop and became Apple Hill, but it was too late for the railroad.
The engines of industry that rode the rails from Folsom to Placerville fell silent when Southern Pacific sold off its rail system in the 1980s and early ’90s. The local rails were donated to a group of rail buffs who are passionate about the preservation of our local history. They chose to keep the name Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad.
Fast forward to today.
In addition to the preservation of the rails and the restoration of vintage locomotives and equipment, the PSVRR is dedicated to sponsoring special events to educate the public and to eventually become an attraction that boosts our community’s reputation as a place with a great quality of life.
Having interesting things to see and do here not only boosts tourism dollars – it’s good for local real estate values, too.
On the weekend of Sept. 21-22, the SPVRR will host the fourth annual Folsom RailFest at the Hampton Station, located at 155 Placerville Road in Folsom. (It’s right by the In-N-Out Burger).
This is a unique event, featuring vintage railroad motorcar rides: a County Line Limited ride (45 minutes) and the White Rock Express (20 minutes). Model train displays, antique tractors and equipment will be on hand, as will food and craft vendors, musical entertainment and more. There will even be a bounce house for the kids.
Riding the “Skagit” motorcars on the rails south of Highway 50 is a real hoot!
There are relics of the past to be seen, in addition to the flora and fauna of the region. If you are lucky, you might see a bobcat or a golden eagle. Careful observers will see bridgework from the 1860s that is still fully functional today.
And you will have a taste of what it was like, during those heady days of those industrious pioneers.
Guaranteed, you will have something unique and interesting to share with your co-workers on Monday.
The fun begins at 10 a.m. on both days, and runs until 5 p.m. on Saturday and until 4 p.m. on Sunday. For more details visit psvrr.org.
Send your event for consideration in Susan’s column to [email protected]