Saturday, April 15, 2017


Tripping back in time:
A visit to the Western Railway Museum

There was a time, not so very long ago, when rail travel was the preferred mode of getting from here to there.  Even in an area as remote as California’s northern Sacramento Valley, for pocket change, one could hop aboard an electrified interurban car in the morning, and by evening, arrive in San Francisco.  Post World War I, it was how you got around.

A few weeks back, the local paper reported that the folks at the Western Railway Museum sponsored Wildflower runs every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday in April.  I’d driven past the Museum countless times, stopping only once before perhaps thirty years ago, to wander among the derelict rolling stock and wonder about the bucolic nature of early 20th century travel.  This would be our chance.  We packed a picnic.

The Northern Electric Railway ran from Sacramento to Chico with side routes connecting many larger bergs in the valley.  Merging with a route that ran from Sacramento to Oakland, the Sacramento Northern Railroad was established.  Large self-propelled passenger conveyances used either overhead lines or third rails to supply electricity over the one hundred eighty-three-miles of right-of-way.  It was the longest and most extensive interurban rail system ever.  Rails tunneled through the pieces of the Coast Range and bridges spanned the Sacramento, the Feather and the Yuba River.  Trains would roll onto ferries to cross the Suisun Bay and then roll off on the far shore.  For a time, the Sacramento Northern even ran trains across the lower deck of the Bay Bridge.

Folks and freight sped along the valley floor bringing farm wives to shopping – much to the chagrin of Sears Roebuck and Co – and goods and produce to market.  A peach picked in a Colusa orchard on a Wednesday afternoon, could be enjoyed for breakfast on Thursday morning in “the City.”  Seemed like a pretty good system.

But weather events wiped out bridges and, in the 40s, the advent of the automobile provided greater travel independence.  The Sacramento Northern suspended passenger operations, substituting a bus line that would later be subsumed by Pacific Greyhound – then a subsidiary of Southern Pacific. 

Electric operations soon ended to be replaced by diesel motive power.  I can recall the big Sacramento Northern General Electric diesels lumbering up Chico’s Main Street dragging a half dozen or so freight cars to the Continental Nut Company’s almond processing plant at Lindo Channel; thence five miles further to the WWII era airbase that then and now serves as the town’s municipal airport and industrial hub.  Once or twice a month, some automobile driver, thinking he had the right-of-way discovered that several hundred tons of freight train: a) couldn’t stop on a dime and b) could render a righteous amount of damage to the family sedan.  For this reason, and many others, I’m sure, the Western Pacific, which by then owned the Sacramento Northern, halted operations.  Ultimately, the rails were pulled.

The volunteers at the Western Railway Museum have recreated the heyday period of interurban (latin: between cities) transit, finding and restoring many cars. 

In the 1920s, car number 1005 looked like this:

Today, and a quarter of a million dollars and countless hours later, she now operates:

With a beautifully refurbished interior:

The Wildflower Tour, although short, does tug at the nostalgia of those earlier days.  The route leaves the barn area a Rio Vista Junction:

Passes an old filling station that once served as a terminal for passengers heading to or from the delta:

Then rumbles along five miles of restored track adjacent to Suisun Bay.

A delightful journey of a century or more in less than an hour. 

Heading home, I recalled a scene from the Disney movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” where the villainous character voiced by Christopher Lloyd shares a vision that would kill LA’s Red Car Line of great strips of concrete where every five or ten miles you could fill up your car or get a hamburger or snack or sleep in a little room and then get back on the road and be on your way and I realized the Disney film, animated though it was, was far from fiction.

It is interesting how much history slips into the forgotten.


Notes:  The easiest way to get to the Western Railway Museum is to exit I-80 to State Route 12, west of Fairfield, heading east on 12 toward Rio Vista.  The museum is about half way between Fairfield and Rio Vista.

Also out this way, California’s Delta provides engaging roads, scenery and lost-in-yesterday towns like Isleton, Walnut Grove, Locke (an historic Chinese colony dating back to the Chinese exclusion act – more forgotten history), Ryde, Courtland and Clarksburg (visit the Bogle Winery).

For details on the Western Railway Museum, check out their website and plan a visit:


Resources:   “Sacramento Northern” (Interurbans Special # 26) by Ira Swett.  Pentrex Media Group, Pasadena CA, 1998.  Photos, timetables, history.

“Sacramento Northern Railway” (Images of Rail Series) by Paul C Trimble.  Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC, 2005.  One of those cool little collections of historic photographs.  Arcadia publishes similar volumes – always fascinating to me – about cities, towns, and unique historic elements.  They are easily available in just about any place you visit and are about any place you visit.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, April 10, 2017

An Open Letter to Triumph Motorcycle LTD re: Dealer Closures

10 April 2017

Mr. John Bloor, CEO
Triumph Motorcycles Ltd
Normandy Way
Hinkley, Leicestershire LE 10 3BZ
United Kingdom

Greetings Mr. Bloor:

I am writing to express my disappointment in the loss of the Triumph franchise by my local dealer Santa Rosa (California) BMW Triumph.  My interactions with the dealership have always been positive and professional whether when servicing my BMW, consigning my Moto Guzzi or purchasing my Triumph Thunderbird.

Rumor on the street suggests that the loss of Santa Rosa’s franchise – and that of other small dealers – is related to a requirement on the part of Triumph that dealers maintain a greater minimum floor space, locate closer to other motorcycle or automobile dealerships and operate their businesses six days per week.

While such requirements make sense and may prove beneficial for Triumph sales in larger markets, smaller dealers are confronted with simple economic question: meet the requirements and lose profit margin or kill the brand for the area.  Sadly, it appears that many dealerships are opting for the latter.   As a result, enthusiasts such as myself, must scramble to find authorized service or to simply drool over a new Bobber or Bonne 1200.

The owners of Triumph motorcycles with whom I have come into contact are passionate about their machines, the brand and the legacy.  Corporate decisions that limit small dealers’ access to Triumph cause me to wonder whether the passion riders hold for their Tigers and Bonnevilles is shared reciprocally by Triumph Ltd. toward their riding customers.

I look forward to the day when the Triumph brand returns to California’s North Bay region.


Sunday, April 2, 2017


…skip one good riding day
and you’ll always be one behind…

Somebody’d reported yesterday that there were acres upon acres of California poppies carpeting the rolling hills along 128 in the Yorkville Highlands.  Perhaps there’d be lupine, too.  Either was good enough to set me on a renewed Saturday ritual.   

Back the Subaru out of the garage, center the big Triumph, give it a thorough spring cleaning – it could sure use a bath…

Polish this beauty until I can see my reflection in the paint and the chrome blinds innocent passers-by.  Then set off to check out those flowers.  At least that was the plan.

After backing the Sube onto the street, I automatically, and needlessly hit the down button for the garage door opener and entered the house without hearing the BANG!  Ten minutes later, armed with a bucket of warm water and a bundle of soft towels, I hit that button again.  Buzz.  Nothing. 

And again.  Buzz.  Nothing.

I pulled the release to manually raise the thing.  Wouldn’t budge more than a couple of inches.  And when I let go, the door slammed back to the floor.  My fifteen or more minutes of trouble-shooting and WD-40 brought me no closer to a solution.  Bang!  Buzz.  Bang!  Bang!

The cacophony drew interest from my bread-baking wife indoors.  In seconds, she pointed at something above the garage door and asked:  “Does that spring always look like that?”

It’s been a longer-than-usual non-riding season.  The weather gods had dumped record amounts of rain on northern California this winter and the medical gods put me on the DL for six to eight weeks recovering from some knee work.  So when the weather turned very, very nice, and word was afoot that the hills were carpeted in wildflower burst, I didn’t need any additional encouragement.

California’s State Route 128 heads west from US 101 at Cloverdale twists over a rugged volcanic ridge and into Mendocino County (where the pavement is much better) before dropping into the Yorkville wine-growing region.  There, wide sweeping turns invite an easy throttle and thanksgiving for spring riding days such as these.  Boonville is a nice waypoint for coffee.  And there there’ll be that carpet of poppies.  Plus if I choose to motor further, an hour will see me touring the spectacular California coast along highway 1.  I’m due!

Well, maybe not.  The T-bird is trapped.

According to the video, changing the tension springs on a garage door is about a one-hour task.  It requires few tools and just a bit of safety precaution.  Parts are less than $150.00 and the company is now custom-making the springs to the specification I ordered.  With enhanced shipping, the kit should be here by the end of the week.

Just as those poppies and lupine begin to fade.


Notes:  The tension spring video:

…and it turns out, the garage door can be opened manually – it takes two people to do this – but the busted tension spring will not allow the thing to stay open without the application of some remedial physics.  I’m leaving things status quo until the parts arrive.  Makes for a better story.

But, I did manage a wildflower fix by hopping on the old Peugeot - better therapy for the knee, anyway - checking out offerings in our small downtown and it’s hinterlands.  Thus, these:

Showy loco – perhaps

Red bud

Desert star – maybe, maybe not.

Something yellow

Vinca – beautiful, but invasive: not native to the west


California poppy

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press